Thursday, 14 September 2023

Red White and Royal Blue

I know what you're thinking. He's been watching more gay romance, hasn't he?

Well, yes, yes I have.

Following on from my enduring enjoyment of both series one and two of Heartstopper, I finally got round to watching Red White & Royal Blue. These light-hearted gay romance movies and shows are now becoming a more accepted and common feature in the schedules of major streaming companies and this is Amazon at it's very best. That such a movie can go right to the top of their streaming viewership is no longer a surprise.

I haven't read the best-selling book that the movie is based on yet, but I do intend to and it has been on my radar for a little while. No doubt there are changes from one medium to another, but this is true with all adaptations and one needs to learn to roll with it.

I get that the whole enemies to lovers trope has probably been played a little too much over the years, but it is a tried and true method to introduce just enough drama into a movie and here, although it is managed with maybe just a little too much lightness, it does work well. From the outright antagonism of their first on-screen encounter at the wedding it does seem to move towards grudging acceptance of each other just a little too quickly for me. I can accept that the movie needs to move the story along, but I would like to see them struggle a little harder to find common ground.


The big take-away from the film, though, is that movies can now show gay couples being intimate without it appearing to be anything other than loving and enjoyable for all concerned. The fact that they can do this while maintaining a 12 rating (though possibly only just and rated by Amazon) is even more of a positive. When so much of the world is moving in the wrong direction on LGBTQ+ rights, it is wonderful to see modern media in the west just getting on with it.

What is also made clear as the plot progresses is that for many people, that fear of leaving the closet is a very real and deeply affecting one. I have to admit to being able to relate to this in a very personal way and perhaps this is what makes this sort of movie a delight for me in my latter years. That continuing feeling that I would have lived a better life if the portrayal of gay relationships in the media were like they are now when I was much younger never leaves me. It is tempered by a hope that, for young people who now do have the opportunity to see such endearing and uplifting work, they can gain strength and comfort from seeing excellent representation in the media.

Ultimately, everyone enjoys a happy ending and Red White & Royal blue delivers where it counts.

It is available to stream on Amazon Prime HERE.

Saturday, 19 August 2023

Heartstopper Season Two

I don't generally wait with much enthusiasm for a new television show's new season to be released, but I'm definitely prepared to make an exception for Heartstopper. I'm not going to go so far as to suggest that season one was life-changing, but it really was life-affirming. I've already documented here just how much it made me reflect on my past and how things could have been so different if the world was a more tolerant place when I was the age of the target audience for this wonderful show.

It's taken me a couple of watches to get my thoughts in order about season two and overall I'm very happy with the series. It truly carries on where it left off and follows the original material close enough to give a number of nods to the scenes in the original graphic novels. As many commentators and reviewers have pointed out, one of the key successes of Heartstopper as a whole is the family-friendly nature of the show. It may be unrealistic to portray a couple of teenage guys limiting themselves to kissing, but it makes the show suitable for the target teenage audience.


As is to be expected, the acting is of a very high standard and the whole cast seem to slip seamlessly back into their roles from season one. There is a little more drama this season and the underlying issues with Charlie's mental health are strongly hinted at as the season progresses. The storyline is shaping up to potentially be one of the best depictions of teenage mental health and eating disorders ever. Even Isaac's turmoil and uncertainty about his potential asexuality are well handled. I'm sure everyone feels the need to tell their friends to mind their own business once in a while. 

The overarching theme of this season is that coming out is hard and it shouldn't be. I can only agree wholeheartedly. Straight people will never understand because they never have to explain. I've been lucky enough to have had no negative experiences in my personal journey of self-acceptance, but I'm certain that the story would have been very different if I'd been honest enough with myself to be open about my sexuality forty years ago.

Sadly, as I've made clear here, there are still many places in the world that are not as accepting, tolerant or understanding and perhaps shows like Heartstopper that emphasise that love is love can slowly make these places understand the reality of life.

So, if you have Netflix, I'd recommend giving Heartstopper a try. Do watch the first season though, or the story will make little sense. Personally, I'm going to struggle to wait a year or more for season three.

Sunday, 26 March 2023

I Will Not Go Back

I might have mentioned, when writing up my trip report on my recent safari to Tanzania, just how saddened I was by the fact that Tanzania is one of those African nations with a poor LGBTQIA+ tolerance record. Fundamentally, the more comfortable I become with myself, the less comfortable I feel being in the intolerant places.

Uganda, perhaps more than the other places I have visited, has consistently had the most toxic atmosphere when it comes to being gay. This week, they have once more voted to make the laws surrounding homosexuality even harsher than they already are. There's been a lot of hype surrounding the use of capital punishment, but this is meant to be only for "aggravated homosexual acts". Yes, maybe, but the wording is so vague that anything could happen to anyone.

What is much more egregious, however, is the fact that it will be illegal to even identify as gay. Just saying "I'm gay," could leave you in prison. When I travel to Africa with my friends, I'm the gay one. I'm the one with the pride badge on my sun hat and the jacket with rainbow-flag coloured, almost kissing, male lions embroidered on the back to travel in. I travel to Africa because I love the scenery and the wildlife. I don't travel to Africa looking for sex - frankly, with the HIV rates across the continent you'd be insane to do so -  but then I don't travel anywhere else looking for sex either!

Lake Mulehe and the Virunga Volcanoes, Uganda

Uganda is a wonderful country. It has stunning scenery, magnificent wildlife, welcoming people and a vibrancy that is hard to compare. I have travelled with these people, work even now with some of them and would love to go back to those places that I like so much again in the future. Like much of Africa, however, the country is dragged down time and again by corruption and self-interest.

With great sadness, I will not be going back for the foreseeable future. It's bad enough when a place has laws that makes it illegal to love, but when they step over the line and make it illegal to even say who you are, then they've gone too far.

We, the collective West - although these days that really just means Europe and the predominantly white Commonwealth nations, you are getting to the point where the USA isn't a tolerant country anymore either - will not change the minds of the people in power in Uganda. They are driven by hatred, greed and a constant desire to find someone else to blame for their own failings, politically, socially and economically.

They may change their minds, if other nations threaten to review their aid programs. They may say tourists are welcome, whatever their orientations or identities. They will, one day, come to realize that inclusive society is a better option than an exclusive one. There will be pain and there will be suffering before they realize this though.

More likely, they will simply happily stew in their religion-fuelled self-righteousness, praying to God that their wives don't find out about their mistresses and thanking Him fervently for giving them the wealth to pay for one more night with their favourite prostitute.

The world is short-sighted enough without bigotry and the only choice I can make is to leave them to it.

Farewell, Uganda, I'll miss you.

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Romance and Love. Heartbreak and Heartache.

Romance

I've been reading a lot of romance lately. I don't know what started this change in my reading genre - possibly Heartstopper - but I actually enjoy a good love story now and I'm clearly not ashamed to admit it. Also, rather unsurprisingly, there's a lot of really good gay romance out there to be read. Now, some of it - quite a lot really - gets a bit steamy (well actually really steamy), but I'm okay with that too from time to time. Some of it is a bit to "angsty" for my liking, but you have to take books one at a time - not all will be to your taste. Just like most people though, I do love a happy ending!

The best part is that there's loads of it available for free - or for cheap - on sites such as Tapas.

Aromantic

I do think it's odd though, that I like reading about love and romance, as I don't really relate all that well to the whole romantic attraction thing. Thinking about it, I begin to wonder if I should class myself as "aromantic". That's one of the meanings for the A in LGBTQIA+ - the other being asexual, which I'm definitely not.

Like every term on the queer spectrum, being aromantic can be a matter of degree. Most people, myself included, are not totally one thing or another. I'm most comfortable these days defining my sexual orientation as gay, but for a time I preferred bisexual, as I do have some attraction to the opposite sex - just much more towards men than women. Being aromantic isn't an orientation and can mean different things to different people and isn't an all or nothing state of being. See HERE

So, for me, I can and do feel physical - or sexual - attraction, even though I don't feel it strongly and never really had a crush on anyone as a teen. I don't, or at least only very slowly, feel any kind of  emotional attraction or romantic feelings for someone, even if the physical attraction is there.

Coming back to fictional romance, I can now see why some of the protagonists have a hard time with that big declaration of love. Saying "I love you" in a romantic situation is a big deal for many, and possibly an even bigger thing for someone who is - knowingly or not - aromatic.

Love

When I first told someone that I loved him, it was because I though I was losing him. I told him that I loved him as a way to make him understand how I was feeling - of course - but, also, as a way to articulate what I though I was losing. Now, I know he didn't feel the same way, but for me, even thinking about our relationship in terms of love was something of a difficult concept to grasp.

We'd been in our comfortable, fairly casual, mostly uncommitted physical relationship for a couple of years. I really hate the term "friends with benefits", but in some ways that does describe what we had fairly well. When he decided he wanted to step back from the physical side of our relationship - he wanted to be straight (or at least thought he did at the time) and was going to date a girl - I spiralled because I though I would lose my friend as well. It actually took me a while to realize that I was actually in love with him and he was breaking my heart by - in my mind - abandoning me and what I thought we had.

Heartbreak

Alfred, Lord Tennyson may have been genuine in his feelings when he wrote " 'Tis better to have loved and lost" when speaking about the sudden loss of a dear friend, but most scholars accept that he was talking about brotherly love, not romantic love. That's "brotherly love" in the sense of friends and family.

Whatever Tennyson thought, having one's heart broken is a very real and painful thing. I took more than two years to recover to any real degree. I needed therapy and I needed medication, to deal with the associated depression and anxiety. This despite the fact that we soon returned to our normal friendly, beneficial relationship status.

I had taken years to fall in love with him - or at least, years to realize that I loved him - and only moments to have my heart broken by him. There is no blame here. He said and did what he felt was best for himself - and maybe even for me - at the time. I cannot and do not blame him for being him.

Our relationship was never quite the same afterwards. We still sometimes needed each other physically, but we just seemed a little distant. Very slowly, we drifted further apart and finally just stopped even contacting one-another for several years.

When we did, after a long break, finally talk to each other again, it was a very different dynamic and it was clear that much had changed between us. He was gay, out, open and in a long-term relationship. I was still me. It is possible to still be friends after being more, but it really is difficult and almost seems to be too - I want to say tentative, strained, anxious - forced. He did make me realize that it was okay to be gay though and that helped greatly with my own decision to come out and be more comfortable with myself.

Heartache

So, I might be aromantic, but given time - and, of course, the right person - I can feel love and be in love with someone. Sadly, that also means that I can have my heart broken.

Heartbreak turns into heartache in time. For me, just as I was so slow to love, so am I slow to recover and the heartache remains - perhaps for all time - as a dully remembered pain deep inside my chest. Sometimes, the related depression wells back up to the surface and, perhaps for a few days when the nights are long, dark and lonely, I feel the heartache more strongly and struggle to think of the good times rather than the bad.

The worst part is that, having loved, I now miss the feeling. Even if, for me, the feeling can take so long to develop, I sometimes wish I could feel love for someone again. All my other anxieties and fears make this highly unlikely - I'm never going to get out there and socialize, am I - but now I have a few nice romance novels to lose myself in when the need arises.

Tennyson may have been right, but a part of me still thinks that, if I had never fallen in love with someone, I wouldn't now have to live forever with the heartache of losing him. And, sometimes, randomly, it does still hurt - and I hate that!

Therapy is HARD

This is one of the hardest posts I've written in some time. Any that are tagged as self therapy or mental wellbeing are deeply personal and emotionally draining. I'm afraid that that's the point of what makes them therapeutic. The writing process here gets this stuff out of my system and, ultimately, I find this helpful. even if no-one reads them, I still have the knowledge that I bared my soul to some degree.

Writing about this man who played such a big part in my emotional and physical life is also hard. I'm very conscious of not saying too much and have even gone back and forth for several days now, unsure of whether to post or delete this. Wellington may have said "Publish and be Damned!", but I don't seek damnation or notoriety. I don't just write a stream of consciousness and press post. I, hopefully, pick my words carefully.

Very few people even know that there was anything more than a friendship there and no-one knew at the time. There doesn't need to be a name here. It's not my place to say. If he happens to read this, I hope he understands that it's a commentary and not a condemnation.

Saturday, 11 March 2023

The Pride Pride Updates

I've just been doing a little work on The Pride Pride website. It is always a work in progress, but I do like to keep things up-to-date when there's the possibility of a new book (or books) in the works.

Hop over using this link or by clicking on the option on the main toolbar above to get all the latest.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Tanzania 2023 Trip Report

As always, there is a comprehensive report on my latest Safari trip to Africa. It's been more than three years since the last one and I've worked hard to get this one done quickly.

I found it a very hard trip - I am older every time after all - but much of that was soon overcome by some fantastic mammal and bird sightings. As a big bonus, the camera and lens that I'd worried so much about spending a small fortune on worked wonderfully and helped me capture some of the best pictures I've ever managed.

Follow the link to start reading: Tanzania 2023

(Note: I updated the text on 8/3/23 to bring it in line with my master for the upcoming paperback version and the version available on Blurb.com)