Curing the gays

We’ve been getting a few emails concerned about Conservative candidate Philippa Stroud and her religious inclination to ‘cure’ those who prefer a bit of healthy man-on-man, or gal-on-gal action to the other mixed-sex variants once popular in the nineties. A Guardian article outlining the story is here.

I’m not interested in politics, and don’t wish to comment on this as a political issue. I have, however, attended these sorts of church sessions and even courses which set about healing the ‘brokenness’ of homosexuality. Their premise is that we should be straight, as intended by God, but that when our early relationships with same-sex parents are unfulfilled, we develop an unmet need for identification and closeness from our same sex which is then eroticised during adolescence. Make of that what you will: certainly it’s not uncommon for  us whoopsies to have struggled a bit with parents of our gender, but whether that’s a cause of sexuality, or a result of it, or not at all related, is a different issue. Offering counselling, holding courses, and authoring various books on the subject are a number of people once gay, but claiming to have turned straight through the Grace of God, and through healing those broken relationships. When these people are questioned closely, they do not so much as talk about a full ‘conversion’ of sexuality, more that they have learnt to not respond to their homosexual urge (and which they still acknowledge from time to time) and that they have found a place in their lives for a straight relationship. Again, make of that what you will. Certainly it seems to me that if you’re offering the promise of change to people who may (for whatever reason) desperately want it, it’s important to come up with the goods. I don’t believe that it does really come up with the goods, which will come as no suprise, I’m sure. So a word of warning to anyone unhappy in their sexuality who is considering this route. It’s more likely to cause further depression than stop it.

At the time I was fascinated by its claims, and like many people wishing their sexuality would pass or change, hoping it would be effective. Looking back on it, it is of course simply misguided and damaging. A good friend of mine was very active in the movement for years, eventually realised he was not changing, and is now very happy in a  gay relationship, having dealt with the ‘guilt and embarrassment’ of ‘failing’, as it inevitably seemed to him.  For all that, he has become a firmer Christian, so I wouldn’t presume to say that he regrets his experience of it all. Faith is a funny thing.

I share the distaste that many feel for this. Regardless of how ridiculous (and offensive, if you take offense at such things) it may sound to ‘cure’ gay people, there are plenty of unhappy people – especially, I would imagine, those holding a religious belief – who would welcome the idea of an easy change to being straight. It would be lovely to think that a church at least in part devoted to peace on earth and making people happier would turn their efforts towards the far more helpful cause of educating people to accept  (through whatever complex play of nature and/or nurture) how they or others have turned out in life. I’m sure plenty of Christians – even Tories – find such ‘therapy’ quite distasteful, however confusedly well-meaning it might be within the world of the gross religious presumptions it inhabits. I hope that both groups have the sense to publicly distance themselves from this confused and probably quite harmful practice. I read of such things now and shiver.


Liverpool and Blackpool

Two big one-nighters: the Liverpool Empire and the Blackpool Opera House. Phwor. Both were lovely gigs, with great, great audiences. Thank you if you came along. I managed to break my mic in the second half in Liverpool, and had to call to the in-house crew at Blackpool to keep the conversation level down backstage, but despite these minor mishaps they were both good shows.

One fun aspect of chatting to the in-house crews is hearing the tales of ‘stars’ who have appeared there. Crews have a huge amount of power, and if they take exception to an arrogant star they can amuse themselves at the performers’ expense. I have heard tales of crew urinating in the rain machine for a production of Singin’ In The Rain. Of a spotlight operator purposefully missing a famous comedian with the light for the whole show because of a racist comment that was flung in his direction. Of a very well-known comedian defecating into the puppet of his warm-up ventriloquist, whom he loathed, who then had to do the whole act with excrement dripping down his arm. Of course I love asking about the big-name ‘psychics’ who tour, to see if there’s any gossip. In Liverpool, one very famous medium appeared and was spotted by a crew member sneaking in three old ladies through a side entrance (one seemed to be his mum)… old ladies who then played along during the show. Another, watched every night by the same crew, was seen to use the same ‘stock readings’ in every show… precisely the same stories, the same names, the same ‘details’ lazily thrown out to an audience who would make it fit their own situations every time. Doris Stokes would apparently have people come to her hotel for private readings during the day, and then invite them along to the show in the evening, where she would come out with the same information she had garnered from them during the afternoon. I thought that was particularly inspired.

Yesterday in busy, bank-holiday Blackpool I visited Carnesky’s Ghost Train, just next to the Pleasure Beach. Ooh, it’s rather good. I had been to her earlier version in London and been a little disappointed, but this is definitely worth a visit. It’s a scary, intelligent, layered, disconcerting experience. The girl in front of me was proper freaking. Everyone involved does a great job – thank you all those who were tweeting afterwards following my visit. Took me ages to find a working cash-machine, but it was well worth it.

Now some time off. Hope to start a new portrait of Rufus Wainwright. Searching for decent hi-res source material. Ta-ta.

Derren Brown Interview – Pop Culture Word News

Derren Brown, the phenomenally popular psychological magician, and star of the Channel 4 shows DERREN BROWN: MIND CONTROL and the recent four-part series, DERREN BROWN: EVENTS, where on the first episode Brown predicted the national lottery numbers, thus securing him 3.1 million viewers, is currently in the midst of the second leg of his ENIGMA tour across the UK. Playing ninety-four dates, Brown’s goal with ENIGMA is to, “Create a theatrical event that shocks, surprises and defies explanation. The audience will be taken for a roller-coaster ride, and I hope it’s an experience that they will never forget.”

Brown recently sat down to discuss the tour as well as his exceedingly busy schedule.

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Birmingham and Rufus

(Rufus Wainwright by local artist, who is aiming to do a new one of him next, as soon as he gets the chance)

A really lovely run in Birmingham. Warm, responsive audiences (comparatively reserved at the end but hugely up-for-it throughout: a kind of opposite of Cardiff audiences) and a beautiful city. Birmingham has such a pride to it: when they re-developed Bristol’s city centre they did so with no sense of delight or style. Birmingham, by contrast, has become a truly enjoyable place. Found myself staying in the same hotel as Cameron and Clegg following the debates… I suppose I completed the trio, seeing as the other Brown had headed home. Hmm. I think I missed an opportunity there.

Thank you for coming if you did. I understand that some people were waiting for hours in the rain by stage door after being repeatedly assured that I had left (I had to dash off to a dinner appointment): apologies, but please do take it at face value if they say I’ve gone. They shouldn’t ever say it if I haven’t.

Spent much time around the canals, two excellent lunches at Bank, the best hot chocolate in the country (and excellent coffee) at Cafe Vergnano at the Mailbox (there’s one in Charing Cross Rd too, though the Brum one is friendlier and nicer), pottering around at snail’s pace, listening to Rufus Wainwright’s new album on my headphones. The new album – All Days are Nights: Songs For Lulu – is such a beautiful thing. I listen to RW continuously while painting, and am a hugely devoted fan. Last Monday, on a rare night off from the tour, I took  group of us to have dinner and see him in Oxford, a wonderful evening. The first half was a sing-through of the new album; we were instructed not to applaud until after he had (preposterously but brilliantly) exited the stage, the second a relative lightening of mood with a bunch of old favourites. Afterwards he appeared to us few invited guests, somewhat distant as he always is, to say a quick hello, mascara in stained rivers down his face, almost as if it were still part of the performance. As often seems to be the case, Helena Bonham Carter was nearby too: I have adored her ever since watching her being interviewed on some awful red-carpet thing going into the Willy Wonka premier, inside which I was already tucked away. One sits for hours before the film starts and watches a broadcast of an endless stream of stars answering inane questions from a dedicated hapless interviewer parked outside, and occasionally a brilliant and irresponsible answer from an interviewee breaks the turgid atmosphere in the auditorium and causes a burst of grateful applause. I cannot remember what HBC said, but she was so brilliantly unruffled by the whole thing, so couldn’t-care-less for any of the nonsense, that her unperturbed answers lit up the sham of the whole ritual’s absurdity. Since then I have found myself alongside her many times, normally when in Rufus’ company, but never said hello. On each occasion I pass by imagining she wouldn’t know me from Adam: then, when I leave, I wonder if she might have done, and whether I had seemed rude. Such are the conflicts of C-rate celebrity.

If you do not know Rufus Wainwright, he is a staggeringly talented singer/songwriter, with a style that is difficult to define, leaping from heartbreaking eulogies to a tragic self, to bawdy high camp, but in the main occupying a perennial, epic, tortured dream-space of self-apotheosis and virtuosic performance. His voice is as unusual as his music, and his articulation sometimes mellifluous to the point of incomprehensibility. For some this proves a stumbling block: equally, the songwriting is unyieldingly internal and coded, leaving me for one pretty clueless as to the meaning of some of the pieces. But this is part of the Rufus experience, and as a devotee of Bach’s equally solitary suites for lonely solo instruments, I revel in such ‘private’ music. Others, I know, just find him whiny and self-absorbed. To me this is like the criticism of Bach as sounding like a sewing machine: yes, all those things, and then some, if you must.

If you’re considering getting hold of an album, I’d recommend Want One as a good starting point, and be prepared for the songs, like anything of superlative quality, to yield their secrets over time. They are not all an easy listen to begin with.

We are returning to the Alexandra Theatre in six weeks or so, and looking forward to it hugely. The crew were one of the nicest we’ve met on tour. And the audiences just lovely. I shall look forward to more dreamy wanderings, having now missed for good my chance to tinker with the election candidates.