by Frances Reece
"Jesus died on the cross for our sins and Freddy Mercury died of AIDS so Dove could sell us soap"
I have the flu. It's windy and my face burns at the Customs House theatre down by the water near the mouth of the Tyne. Me Ma' and me Nanna are excited to see Bohemian Rhapsody but I'm mostly just excited to leave the house even though fluids are screaming to flow out of every orifice in my head. I heard before, on the internet maybe, that this was some "paint by numbers" music biopic half directed by a pedophile and aye, probably, but there was something there that resonated with me, sitting there pale and delirious, my nostrils raw and my face burning from this fucking flu. Am I supposed to say "alleged" before "pedophile"? Aye, probably.
I'm crammed in a sea of queers at London Pride 2018, holding the single Heineken I could afford since the vendors are only taking cash. On the stage before us, a drag queen reports that England have just scored against Sweden and there's a halfhearted cheer and I see a straight guy almost pretend to care then realise where he is and that he doesn't have to. The sun is blazing down and I'm doing a poor job of savouring this beer which is 3/4 of the way done as the drag queen introduces the next guest or act or whatever. There's another cheer as a Reverend Jide Macaulay, the "Happy Holy Homosexual" comes out and sure as fuck he's happy and I'm finishing the drink, thinking about those lesbians marching earlier 'cause they don't want transgender people in their bathrooms. "God adores you! God accepts you!", the Reverend bellows when I tune back in and another wave of cheers crashes through the sea and I look around, seeing pride everywhere but there's none in me and the sun is blazing down and my face is burning.
Freddy is revealing to his bandmates that he has AIDS and in the theatre next to me, me Nanna is weeping softly at the plight of this poor gay man. I'm thinking back three weeks. When we were in her sitting room watching one of her soaps. I forget which one but there was this lesbian storyline and two women were kissing in the back of a truck or something and me Nanna makes this "eugh!" sound. This kind of automatic gut response that escapes out of her and I look at her smirking. I love her.
Jesus side eyes us from atop a chest of draws... His knowing eyes burning into my face.
I cannit talk
And I cannit sleep
"You just hate to see that" she says and I'm full on laughing now as Jesus leers down at us from her wall and another Jesus side eyes us from atop a chest of draws... His knowing eyes burning into my face.
I'm in some cheesy pop bar on Canal Street, Manchester. It's sometime in September, 2016, and I'm sucking on a bottle of Becks, getting felt up from behind. I've just sweated it out at an L7 show and as a hand slips up my top I'm feeling tired, drunk, and disgusted in myself. I'm downing the drink and walking out briskly, my head down, reaching into the inside pocket of my jacket but there's people shouting and I think they're shouting at me and when I stop and turn around there's a very tall drag queen standing inches away from me and she's asking what's in my jacket and when I pull out a box of cigarette filters the concern on her face turns to relief as she turns and yells to the bouncer "It's just cigarettes". Then she looks down at me and says "you're lucky you're pretty" and somewhere behind her a girl calls me a cunt and my face is burning with shame. Burning with the guilt of forgetting I'm a paki in a gay bar less than two months after the fucking Pulse shooting.
"Happy Birthday Freddy Mercury!" he's crooning at a piano, trying to drown out his parents talking about his heritage to his friends or his girlfriend or both. They're incredulous when he explains that he's changed his name legally. "Got a new passport and everything" he's saying as I'm trying but failing to tell me Ma', who's sitting two seats away, the same thing. I would have took her name if she had one.
My Mother is white My Mother is white
My Father is not I am not
My Mother is pretty My Mother is pretty
My Father is not I am not
My Mother is good My Mother is good
My Father is not I am not
I don't like staying in the sun too long and I'm secretly saving up for a nose job. I'm torn between pride in my blood, shame in my blood, my blood being at odds with my ideal self image, forgetting about my blood altogether... Fuck, at least I don't get randomly searched at the airport anymore. Happy Birthday Frances Reece.
We're standing outside the Theatre smoking tabs and me Ma' and me Nanna are saying how excellent it was and they're asking me if I liked it and I'm shrugging and saying something like "Aye, canny good". I don't think I've ate today and I'm exhausted from all the navel gazing I just did in there, half ethereal, thinking Jesus died on the cross for our sins and Freddy Mercury died of AIDS so Dove could sell us soap.
Now Paris is ashes
And Queen feels fake,
Trapped in Trafalgar
Feeling Pride for Pride's sake.
It's looking good now
But how long will it take
To be stuffed under a mattress
Or burned at the stake?
I guess I'm feeling kind of kindred with Freddy's shame or maybe I'm just craving the days of glory holes and sewing circles... Boston marriages and confirmed bachelors... There's nothing wrong with being ashamed. There's nothing cool about being a victim. There's nothing sexier than having a secret. I'm taking one last drag and wondering if I could ever feel that pride I saw on all those beautiful faces last summer.