Tag Archives: Bristol

Love and pride

It’s a strange thing these days to watch a Pride march pass by.

I always cry, but increasingly these are tears of nostalgia.

Soon I suspect I won’t cry at all, and after that, most likely I’ll feel peeved.

On Saturday (11th July, Bristol) I cried at those sections of the march occupied by folks who, I suspect, still face some hardships because of their sexuality – the uniformed police officers still feeling it necessary to cleverly disguise their epaulettes with rainbow flags, the few straggling and forlorn teachers who brave the social media ridicule of their colleagues and pre-pubescent pupils, the ambulance workers.

And I cried for the older marchers – the flagging drag queens who have fought all the long, bitter battles and proudly bear the scars of their victories.

But they have won.

So how long will such celebrations last?

I remember broaching the tender topic of sexuality with my young children, suggesting that they be true to themselves and promising their family would honour and cherish them whatever their sexual identity.

They laughed at my old-fashioned sensibilities. My children – and many of their (Western) generation – no longer do sexuality. It’s a little passé.

They do sex and intimacy. They genuinely don’t care whether they find their joy with another or others of the same sex, the opposite sex, or both, or neither. They care about the joy.

Those Pride warriors have given this generation all the tools they need to rewrite societal norms. They are changing the code.

And that’s worth a party, for sure.

Not that our youth are escaping controversy- even within their own ranks – but one can’t help feeling that joy will slowly and gently conquer the backwashes of misogyny, conservatism, and oppressive masculinism that currently swirl like effluent dispersing into a clear, fast flowing stream.

Already this generation is navigating its internet porn-fuelled, image-bombed, hyper-connected milieu; knowing it for what it is, absorbing it, emerging beyond it.

I have high hopes that in some future far from my knowing they’ll have deconstructed and reordered the dominant model of monogamy (gay, straight or other, obv), and child-rearing too.

So at what point do the drag queens start to do just that, to drag?

Already such large-scale, public displays of ‘deviant’ sexuality are no longer ‘deviant’. I used to cry at the sight of two men or two women holding hands on a Pride march because it was the only space in which they could safely do so. Now, thankfully, it’s a common sight on the high street.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, whatever- these are all mainstream now.

And that’s still something to be proud of; it’s still something new.

But how long might it be before such loud, proud, glorious displays will be likened to similarly loud displays of heterosexuality – to the stag night and the hen do? In generational terms it isn’t long since women reclaimed the right to wear minimal outfits and get leary in the streets. Yet now coming across a gaggle of women invoking that right is invariably simply tiresome.

What do we march for now?

A strange urge

I recently popped into Bristol’s Arnolfini to immerse myself in the brilliant Table of Contents: ‘a durational movement installation co-created by Siobhan Davies, Andrea Buckley, Helka Kaski, Rachel Krische, and Matthias Sperling, each using their own history as a choreographer and performer to question how dance is archived.’

This was a wonderful series of pieces performed interactively with the public; each dancer taking it in turns to lead or direct a work. Amongst these glittering gems a very simple piece caught my imagination.

The dancers each invited a member of the audience to work in partnership with them. Each dancer then laid down on the floor. Their partner simply had to instruct their dancer to stand up, movement by movement. The dancers were very reasonable, but very disciplined in following their instructions precisely.

The difficulty of this simple task quickly became clear, with dancers contorted into all sorts of unsustainable shapes.

The piece succinctly demonstrated the limits of spoken language, of logos.

Yet I couldn’t help musing that if the partners had been able to give instruction through any natural sign language, the task would have been achieved quickly and efficiently.

Australian scholar Dorothea Cogill-Koez has argued that the elements of sign languages known as ‘classifier predicates’ are remarkably similar to ‘typical systems of visual representation’, such that sign languages use ‘two equally important channels for conveying explicit propositional information, the linguistic and the visual’. Although I disagree with some of the further detail of her argument, that sign languages do not always have to rely on the linguistic to communicate information was a premise of my own doctoral study.

Because sign languages can visually represent the physical acts involved in standing up, the communication would have been conveyed much more easily, the dancers spared their agonies.

But more than that sign languages are languages that are inscribed through the body; they are body-conscious languages operating through, around and in relation to the body. Sign language helps me to locate emotions and sensations in my body, to read them in others, and it provides a physically-centred orientation in the world. What was so striking about the struggling speakers at the Arnolfini was how very dis-embodied their speech was.

So why did we ever adopt it as a form of communication? What were the evolutionary advantages to the urge to speak?

Although deaf people are often very noisy signing can be a remarkably quiet form of communication (good for hunting), and is much more efficient across distance. It is very useful in noisy environments, too. The only advantage speech offers, as far as I can see, is that it can be used in the dark (although in one’s humble opinion using sign to communicate on the body of another in intimate situations is far preferable).

So did humans find a sudden need to hunt only at night? When did all the lights go out?

Isn’t it time we switched them back on so we could all see each other more clearly?

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