Looking back and looking forward

Posted on Fri 27 Nov by AlexK / Sexual Health, Documentary, Film, porn, Open Discussion

by guest blogger MK Margetson

London, as a queer city, experienced various changes in identity throughout the last century. In the 1980s during and following the AIDS crisis the queer counter culture mecca of Soho gave itself a makeover in response to the way the health crisis affected the image of gay people worldwide. The following sanitisation of Soho is visible in the constructed image of many of the area’s existing establishments, as well as in the political conviction (or lack thereof) of its current scene which, even if queer, primarily has assimilated into the mainstream. A mainstream gay identity can be identified all around us: on London buses, and corporate-sponsored Pride parades. The BFI Flare festival, whilst consistently reaching the highest standards of critical acclaim in its programme and outreach is also able to be considered a commercial success, rather than a niche endeavour.

In 2011 when its funding was cut, and its length and programme reduced to only a week, a small group of East London queers began commenting on Facebook that another festival could be set up on this side of the city in response. They began Fringe! to meet the gap left by funding cuts, and from then the festival, and the team behind it, has morphed and grown and changed.

In the twentieth century (the century of establishing ourselves as gay people) the Pride movement has been a glorious success: a widespread commercial and consumerist event for Western cities. Gay and some queer people are accepted within the mainstream as “just like everybody else” in 2015. The Gay Shame Movement has been catalysed into responding to the essentialist, apolitical, gay identity they see in the Pride movement. 

Beginning in Brooklyn in the nineties, heralded by speakers like Kiki and Herb, Eileen Myles and Penny Arcade, and developing into a direct action collective and loosely connected party group, Gay Shame became a label under which to deride the corporate presence in queer society. Embracing of counter-culture ideology and avant-guardism, Gay Shame identifies queer people as different to straight people. In particular our experiences and politics cannot be the same as that of straight people, and neither should our image in the world, nor our festivals.

Fringe! has managed to cultivate some impressive alternative credentials throughout its years: its DIY ethos, enacted throughout planning and production stages; its alternative representations of sexuality (from S&M workshops to Chemsex) rather than cultivating a pink washing of the queer image; its programme’s international and interracial focus, which includes works that are critical of their societies, as opposed to being pure prestige pictures; the fully intersectional political identity Fringe! has established: feminism, queer theory, trans* inclusivity, body positive, sex positive, anti-racist and anti-ableist.

The best 5 alternative events taking place in Fringe! this November, from feature films to panel discussions and performances:

  • Liz Rosenfeld presents her Surface Tension trilogy, which repositions famous and infamous women from history as queers in modern day Berlin and, in doing so, queers Berlin’s history. 
  • This year’s Fringe! also welcomes feminist erotica in titles, Shutter and When We are Together… which feature tantalising, original scenes of queer women and non-gender conforming people whose sexualities choose pleasure over convention. 
  • More anti-conventional erotica comes in the form of Fringe! favourite Antonio da Silva, who presents 3 new works dealing with the virtual nature of modern sex, combining pornography, art, and narrative film, as well as perhaps the most alternative erotic offering, documentarist Jan Soldat’s Prison System 4614. All this alongside a sexy programme of erotic shorts, and spanking and shibaru workshops on our Sexy Saturday. 
  • Pushing for PrEP (as well as the reflective documentary Chemsex), as well as other discussions Taking up Gay Spaces, and Sexile, wherein we address the varied material experiences of queer people, from our health, to our location and community, and address them as activists. 
  • Finally the documentary A Queer Aesthetic attempts to define those experiences that unite us, without creating an exclusive ‘unified gay identity’ or identifying a set of essential qualities; A Queer Aesthetic queers the idea of unity in its findings through filmed interviews and documentary footage of its varied subjects. It’s screening alongside An Afternoon with Mike Kuchar, which discussion the radical artist’s life.