You’ve just had quite a lot of media attention for Never Again Ever! from the Guardian and you have been interviewed on Radio 5 Live and BBC World Service. Something I found very interesting that you spoke about was this idea of an “infrastructure of fascism.” In what ways does this still exist today, and how can we challenge it?
You see it in the culture of blaming: just saying “it’s their fault” rather than looking at the eternal dynamics of austerity and inequality in the UK, and in a general culture of ‘othering'; when politicians call migrants “swarms”, something that is very prescient if you look at what people called Jews back in the day. One of the things that we did earlier in the year, which I think will probably be the highlight of my life, was a cabaret in Nigel Farage’s pub. It was called The Beyond UKIP Cabaret. Loads of different groups – people living with HIV, migrants, women, mothers, got together and said, we’re sick of this discrimination. Rather than sit at home and be depressed, we got together and learnt from each other’s issues.
I wanted to talk a little bit about the idea of ‘inherited trauma’ – in the same interview you spoke about the fact that a lot of third generation holocaust survivors are very active, whereas the second generation are not. Why do you think we are more active than our parents?
There hasn’t been time – you need space to grieve, and to grieve collectively as a community. That idea of "better out than in": being able to talk about sad things will create the space to be happy. When you’re traumatised by inherited trauma you can’t see the root cause: of course my family don’t ask, "Why does war happen? Why does genocide happen? How does it start?" These are the kinds of questions they need to ask, but they’re too stuck in the fog of, "I can’t believe this happened". If we truly want to create change we’ve got to look at the root cause of everything rather than the symptom of nothing. A favourite revolutionary theorist of mine is Paulo Freire who wrote Pegagogy of the Oppressed and spoke about the importance of asking questions as agents of change – asking questions creates change. This starts with the second generation after trauma.
Speaking of grief and mourning, you staged an RIP Pride funeral march this year at London Gay Pride. Do you think that Gay Pride is dead?
At the time I thought it was dead because of Barclays, Starbucks, the military, police, fucking UKIP. But now I think it’s come back to life but it’s gasping, it needs CPR. Loads of people, after the RIP Pride, got in touch and were like, "Actually I’ve been thinking this for ages – let’s turn it into something good." That shows it’s not dead. The march was fucking brilliant because the funeral invaded right at the front. It was so surreal – there we were right at the front with a coffin.
In Kevin Clarke’s recent book on Charles Leslie (founder of the Leslie and Lohman Gallery for Gay and Lesbian Art) there is a section that discusses the fact that young gay men are far less politicised – as a radical, transgressive movement – than their predecessors. Do you think that this the case and why do you think it’s so important for LGBTQI movements to remain transgressive and radical?
Yes – it’s so sad to see the destruction caused by the corporatisation and the pink pound culture of the gay community. It’s deathly. I know so many young gay guys who are going to die because they are on a path of self-destruction. If you look at the gay liberation front 40 years ago, things have changed so much – people forget that they’ve come from a struggle and from oppression. It’s been so quick because we ‘won’ our liberation struggle – we can get married now, we can enter into a patriarchal tract – an oppressive context. I very much live by the principle of what Hannah Arendht called, in the Eichmann trial in the 1970s, “the banality of evil” – how you must challenge being complicit in evil situations.
We’ve forgotten what the meaning of ‘queer’ is – peculiar – which is about being proud to be different. People are being bought out by this idea of, ‘you’re normal now because you can get married’ without questioning the oppressive context of marriage. The superficial environment that gay people have been fed since the more radical days has become internalised and is not good for your soul because it undermines your ability to question, to unpack the surrounding reality. You don’t get as many outspoken, intelligent, critical-thinking gay people anymore because people have been too sucked up the vacuum of shit, superficial capitalist culture. What we have to do is create alternative community structures to be able to live the lives that we truly inhabit. One of the best bits of advice anyone has ever said to me is that the one thing in life to do is to inhabit your soul.
Alongside that, can you talk a little bit about the closure of queer spaces at the moment, and what you’re doing about it?
There is a pattern of closure. It’s not just isolated incidents; it’s a specific attack on the gay community because of the heteronormative white male privileged society that is in the House of Commons. Among those closing down there is, The Black Cap in Camden, The Joiners Arms in Hackney, Madame Jojo’s in Soho, the lesbian bar Candy Bar in Soho, Vauxhall Superclub area in South London. The Royal Vauxhall Tavern is being threatened, the gay community inhabiting it can’t afford to pay the rent of a listed building. It’s awful what’s going on in so many ways. If you look at the impact on queer community of the austerity cuts, one in four homeless youth are queer and therefore need somewhere extra supportive to go to. They’re very necessary spaces. Though these spaces are for fun and getting off with each other, they’re actual safe spaces for people to get support and counseling and a sense of affirmation and belonging and identity in the world, let alone sexuality and having sex (which is also not a crime).
Having fun is so important to me – not in a superficial way, but the theory of it too. Max Neef, a Chilean Economist, did a research study in the 60s on the fundamental wheels of human needs. Its findings was essentially that every single person in the world has the same needs, whether you’re a fisherwoman in Alaska or a bus driver in King’s Cross: food, water, shelter, protection. Once you have the ability to meet these, then you can meet your secondary needs of affection, ambition, creativity, idleness. This is why I talk about fun because it’s really important to do nothing, rather than having this agenda and fucking hyper-individualist attitude where people ‘find’ themselves through their fucking work. We can and should chill out and be humans and not be defined by the capitalist concept of productivity: that is fundamental to you being a fully alive, active and functional human being.
Words Madeleine Dunnigan
Dan writes in the Sex Issue about his show Shafted! and sex as HIV positive.