Searching for Elephants - Episode 8
This week we talk LGBTQ+ History Month.
Angus is joined by Shaukat Ali, Maddy Gunn and Andrew Parker and they talk about everything from Queer as Folk and It's a Sin creator Russel T. Davies to eating Cake in the Garden centre.
Maddy Gunn - I'm like hidden under my blanket. Did you tell us to do that or have I made that up?
Angus Baigrie - That is brilliant.
Shaukat Ali - Like a den!
Angus - Yeah.
Maddy - That's why I have my camera switched off because I look like a weirdo.
Angus - So as long as you're comfortable then great.
Maddy - It is quite cozy in here.
Andrew Parker - In here!
Maddy - Like being a kid again making a den under the table chairs.
Angus - February is LGBTQ plus History Month. And as such I am joined by Andrew Parker Shaukat Ali and Maddy Gunn. Hi, everyone, how are you all managing lockdown three and or do you have the community around you the support that you feel you need?
Andrew - And I'm not sure that anybody I suppose is particularly enjoying this are they whatever the dynamics or the makeup of your your home, lots of us are just kind of missing that company of being in offices or just touring around as many of us leaders do, it just kind of adds a bit of variety and kind of break up to the week rather than five consecutive working days. Working 10 meters away from your bed.
Shaukat - We need that change don't we?
Maddy - Yeah, it's fine for me, I've got the house to myself during the daytime. And then obviously my other half, Ant, he's at home in the evenings and the weekends. So I look forward to that. I'm itching to get back in an office and see some faces and just see the people I haven't seen for nearly a year now. Which is just crazy.
Shaukat - I think for me like a man half normally split time between up north and in London. Since lockdown, he's moved up here and so yeah, it's nice to have that time together. It's a funny story, because when I met him, it was just before my birthday. And we decided to go clubbing on Canal Street in Manchester. And back then you never used to get ID'd or nothing. So used to be able just to walk in. So I literally had to climb on my fourth floor bedroom window jumping onto each of the roofs as we jumped down.
Angus - Oh my god.
Shaukat - Jump over the fence. And then we headed to Manchester. And that's where we met them. We've been together ever since.
Angus - How old are you now, if you don't mind me asking?
Shaukat - Er... 37
Angus - God that's a long time. And living together is is going well?
Shaukat - Yeah. Like he's not domestic at all. Like he can't use the coffee machine or the vacuum or the washing machine. But I'm teaching him bit by bit.
Andrew - I think it is difficult, isn't it? If you live alone, there's also the issues of, of loneliness and not being able to see people but then if your parents just now having to homeschool as well as being full time workers in whichever job and you know, parents, teachers, all that kind of stuff that must be impossibly difficult.
Shaukat - I think you realize it's the most basic things you missed or you like going out for coffee or it's not even like the big things. Yeah,
Maddy - yeah, we were saying the same at the weekend just to be able to go for a coffee and a bit of cake in the garden center would be a godsend right now, even though we're not in, you know, retired or what have you. It feels like that would be a massive treat.
Angus - Yeah, totally. And that that shift for you, Andrew from touring around, as you said to to being being stuck at home. As that been? Has that been lonely for you? Yeah, for sure.
Andrew - And I think I've been very honest with with my team and people around me that I've struggled at times with my mental health, I've gone through phases of being very highly engaged and delivering and just thinking, right, I've got this, I'm all over it and just kind of making stuff happen as I always do. But then plenty of other days just kind of waking up staring at the ceiling thinking it's Groundhog Day. And here we go again, and really having to give myself a good old chat to try and get myself in a in a zone. Or actually just some days just accepting. I just haven't got it in me today. And just going for a nice, long walk or reading a book for a while just to try and kind of take my mind off things. I suppose it's been really difficult.
Angus - Yeah. And do you think so much of gay culture revolves around those bars that become community hubs in their own right, especially, I mean, you live in Brighton. How have you and your friends kept a hold of that community whilst not being able to go outside?
Andrew - That's a really good question. And I'm not sure without sounding too dramatic, we have been able to kind of hold much of the community together when you can't socialize indoors. You know, when you can only have one other person from a social bubble indoors. That's really difficult, isn't it? You can have a sense of community when you're by yourself or with one other person once or twice a week, you might have a movie night or ordering a pizza or something. I don't know how you form a sense of community. Yeah, and you're absolutely right in your Brighton especially, I suppose is perhaps one of the more famous gay metropolises of the UK It's all about going out. The whole world kind of revolves around that. And to some degree my social life does. Whether it's you know, kind of direct drag queens Sundays, where you kind of bounce around from bar to bar watching different trag queens or quiz nights or just even just kind of hanging out, catching up with friends. Brighton's a very sociable city like that. So you're kind of feels like the, again, without being too dramatic. The kind of the heart has been ripped out of the city and the community for a while.
Angus - Yeah it's super sad. Talking about community, the elephant in the room, is that our panel is not as diverse as I would have wanted it. We've got Andrew and Shaukat who are gay men, please correct me if I'm wrong. And Maddy you're straight, right?
Maddy - Yes, I am. Yeah.
Angus - Yeah. Maddy's an ally. So you might here when listening to this podcast a lack of diversity across the queer spectrum. And that is because, whereas LifeSearch has 3 times the number of people who identify as LGBTQ+ people when compared to the most recent census data working for it, I rely and this podcast rely on volunteers and obviously I'm not forcing anyone to take part so year this podcast is a little less diverse than I would like but we carry on and hope to make some magic. The major talking point of TV in recent weeks has been it's a sin. Have you all seen it?
Andrew - I've watched the first one. I've got the rest of my box to watch. So don't spoil anything.
Maddy - I've seen them all.
Andrew - I've got a rough gist of where it's going though.
Angus - Shaukat, what about you?
Shaukat - I have not seen it yet.
Angus - Gutted.
Shaukat - It's Olly Alexander right? The guy from years and years?
Angus - That's right. Yeah, he's the Yeah, I wouldn't say he's the only lead. It's an it's an ensemble cast, but he is a major character in it. So to the layman, who is not up to date on this at all. Why is it important to watch this show covering this particular subject matter? And why is it important that it's on such a major channel, like Channel Four?
Shaukat - I think Channel Four has always been forward thinking because look, when when queer as folk came out, I remember watching that, and then going to school the next day, and everyone was saying I'm so hip now cause I watch Queer as Folk. And I was like, No, you're not hip, you just watch the TV program. But it's so groundbreaking for the time. Because I remember when EastEnders when Simon and Tony got together do you remember that Andrew? And I remember that was the first gay kiss on like on primetime TV show. The next day, then all the newspapers came up with all the headlines like sick this sick that. I remember reading it and thinking, if people are reading that now. And even just a couple of weeks ago, I think it's about our program, the Sun printed something about it. And it was very disparaging, and then they took it down. Because I think everyone complained, I think the fact that people are still making desparaging comments about it still shows you why it needs to be at the forefront of everyone's conversations. Because people a lot of people still don't see as a normal healthy relationship.
Angus - And what was Queer as Folk? Sorry, I just never heard of it.
Shaukat - It was set in Manchester. It was such a good program when it first came out. It's about two main gay guys. And then there was Charlie Hunnam as well. It was such groundbreaking for the time, though. Like, I don't think I've ever seen anything as like a whole program devoted to gay culture. They've set it around Canal Street and a lot of clubs down there and I'm like I've been there. I was such a Yeah, it's such a ground breaking. Russell T Davis is his own who's done the new one. Isn't he?
Angus - Oh, did he write it?
Shaukat - It's a sin? Yeah. He, he wrote and I think Channel Four was a perfect channel for it. Because like I said, I've always been forward thinking in regards to queer culture and LGBTQ plus culture. But yeah, it was interesting seeing everyone's reactions at school the next day. I watched this. Do you see this? Do you see that? I'm thinking Yeah, I did.
Andrew - There really had been nothing like it on TV at that point. It came out in 1999. And truly, there'd been nothing like it like a Shaukat just entirely sat around many gay men, gay men, their lives, their friendships, their romances, their nightlife. You know, very graphic, you're physically in terms of some of the things that happened. It also touched I suppose of how difficult it is sometimes for gay men to have relationships about the kind of undercurrent of drugs that you often find in the gay world. It was just a heck of a thing to watch. Yeah, it really shook things up. It really did.
Shaukat - Very good.
Angus - Sounds fantastic.
Andrew - Still on all four. It's been on there I think since all four launched 15 years ago. Worth a few hours of your time.
Shaukat - It's still on there
Andrew - That is a really good question. Angus. I've just been mulling that over a Shaukat was talking, I guess maybe each community if that's an okay, word to use has something that's really powerful and personal to them. And we use I suppose the phrase kind of never forget it in many different circumstances. And yeah, AIDS you know, for 30 odd years, 40 years nearly has been absolutely kind of central to most gay men's lives. And when you look at yes, globally, over 30 million people have died from AIDS. And as we're living in an era now where we're being affected by another pandemic that's kind of racing its way through the population. It seems like a timely place to just to kind of stop and reflect that. Whether it is HIV or Coronavirus, or many others. Yeah, these things happen. These things come along these things kill people. But I guess HIV just had a stigma attached to it, which perhaps Coronavirus and others doesn't necessarily have that it was largely afflicting gay men.
Angus - And there's some debate, actually, I mean, the I've seen it recently, people often saying this is the first epidemic since the Spanish Flu of 1920, or whatever it was. Because some some scientists call the HIV AIDS an epidemic, and others call it a pandemic, there's division. And I personally wonder if that division is caused by some kind of discomfort, some kind of disparaging thought.
Andrew - Just thinking Actually, I guess maybe because Coronavirus and Spanish Flu are just kind of airborne things that you pick up. Whereas with HIV, there has to be an act almost isn't there, whether it's a sexual act, or the use of needles, whatever, there has to be an act in order to contract it. Maybe that just gives it a layer of just something unpleasant in other people's minds.
Maddy - I think the other thing that program has done is just remind everybody how recent things were as well, that that was only in the 80s, I think it just goes to show how little things have moved on in some ways, and how well they have moved on in other ways, too. And I think if you talk to somebody, now a younger person, now their views are very different and perhaps don't quite understand stigma, and attitudes that were in place, even just that, you know, 40 years ago in the 80s, that might have been around so kind of helps people learn that bit of history.
Angus - And when you say that, some some areas haven't moved on at all, what areas are those specifically?
Maddy - I think there's just pockets of sort of opinion and beliefs aren't there that struggle to accept, you know, there's no badness or dirtiness about, you know, somebody's sexual preferences or somebodies gender identities and things like that. Because in their local community, it just wasn't something that they haven't had many people that are gay in that community or trans in that community. So they're not used to it. They're not familiar with people like that. So it's unknown to them. It's almost something learned, I suppose.
Andrew - And I think there's even groups or people within the LGBTQ plus community that needs to have their their views on things, you know challenged. I think that this there clearly is a problem within the community of I suppose kind of bigotry against other parts of the community. Very often I've been out with, with gay male friends who have heard them say some quite unpleasant things about trans people that might be in the bar that were in or, or gay women. And also, when you look at racism within the LGBTQ plus community, there was a bit of research done, I think it was three years ago by Stonewall. And that said that half of BAME LGBTQ plus people said that they'd faced discrimination within the LGBTQ plus community, half of them, even within our community that there's a lot of work for us to be doing before we start almost having a go at other communities for the way they view us.
Shaukat - I walked into a gay bar and the bouncer said to me are united again. Yeah, I do. And I think it's just a preconception of, of who's gay and who's not gay.
Andrew - Yeah, I've had that plenty of times over the years as well. I think most people would say I'm not the more kind of flamboyant end of things that some people can be in a very often when people have realized that I am gay, either at LifeSearch or beyond a proportionate have been quite surprised to hear that. So yeah, I've been challenged no end of times about you. Do you notice as a gay bar maintain you? Yes, I do. And it's exactly the reason I'm here.
Angus - Brilliant. That's brilliant.
Shaukat - It's so fun. It still makes me laugh. I think the community thing like it took my parents a while to read my mom a long time to get used to the fact that we've only started speaking again after about seven, eight years. So my dad's still can't get the fact that I'm gay. Like he don't understand it at all. Like what is gay? Just some of the conversations. Yeah, so she still has a moments but then my dad, I don't think he'll ever get used to the fact that I didn't because obviously his Muslim and is brought up that way. And I don't think he would ever comprehend the fact that how someone can be gay.
Andrew - So I think that religion plays a part in that too. My mum was was hugely religious, very deeply Pentecostal upbringing. When I told her I was gay when I guess I was 21/22, kind of 95 ish. And then I started work at roughly around the same time. And so it took me a heck of a long time to work out that I was gay. And actually, what does that mean? So I suppose I was kind of very much a late bloomer compared to some other people. She's just absolutely lost their mind over it. We had no, we've never really had a functioning relationship anywhere. But we certainly didn't for about two years after that we had no contact at all for two years. She just couldn't get our head around it.
Angus - And how's your relationship with her now,
Andrew - As functional as it ever was. Yeah, but now, I'm not gonna pretend for a second, I have a great relationship with my family. But there's actually nothing at all to do with me being gay. So but at least now she can. I don't know she's ever made her peace with it. But yeah, it's a more functional relationship than it was before. And to be fair, that she has met partners of mine since and kind of welcomed them into the family home for dinners and that kind of thing. So to give her some credit, she that she's worked hard to try and broaden her mind.
Maddy - That's nice.
Angus - Shaukat I just want to come back to your your parents, can you just can you talk a bit more about what it is that you think makes it so hard for for them to accept you and to accept? Gay.
Shaukat - I think in the Asian community, especially the Muslim community it's very drilled in from the beginning, like, I went to mosque when I was younger. And it's very much a sin against Islam, you're not supposed to do this man and a woman. So it's drilled down into you. And I guess when I started figuring out who I am, I was it's hard to speak to anyone about it, because you don't know who you can trust and things. So I guess a lot of it was figuring it out on my own, trying to go from there. And then I guess, the way they found out didn't help either cause it was kind of a just got caught. And, yeah, and it kind of went downhill from there for a little bit. But then, like, I've had conversations with might not many conversations like the odd one. But just they come out with comments like oh we should of sent you Pakistan to get married, we should get you married off. Getting me married off isn't really gonna change who I am, to be fair. And I've had mates who have been sent to Pakistan, and have got married to girls when their parents have found out they were gay. And they comeback over here. And then they go out and do their life. And like, it's not really fair on either one of them to be fair. Yeah. So quite hard in the community. Now, still, like, I got mates who are hiding it, and they're in their 30s and 40s. They're leading double lives.
Angus - And I was just saying something recently that that talked about how those, those lessons that you learn so early in life, those like those things that you were taught before the ages of age of seven, really, how they even when you learn how wrong they are. There's still a part of you that holds it. And I'm not I guess I'm not this is not specifically about about sexuality. It can be about anything, really. But I wonder if there's a part of you that remembers the the early, early things that were said about homosexual people.
Shaukat - Yeah, I remember obviously stuff coming on TV and having to switch over quickly. Cuz just not to get embarrassed and things. Like, when I was younger, I always had that part. I had a couple of girlfriends when I was like 11 or 12 years old, I'm thinking if I can get a girlfriend, then maybe it would be working out for the better. But then obviously, it didn't really work out that way. So it's just having to work out who you are as a person and going forward from there. I think that's what I did in the end. Cause I thought, obviously it's not great to be hiding what you are at the end of the day, and think you can do your mental health really bad as well.
Angus - Yeah, absolutely. Talking about figuring out who you are. Maddy, do you want to tell us about Donna?
Maddy - So I was probably around about 1213 around that age. And Donna was actually a friend of my mum's they met through music and some hobbies that they shared. We knew um Donna originally as Duncan and throughout her journey she identified obviously, she wanted to be female she identified mentally as a female and decided that that was the right thing to do for her. It took a long while for her to come to that decision. She waited until her father had passed and things like that before she even acted on bringing that to life and bringing Donna to fruition. So Donna spent some time with us and so my mum sort of spent some time going to some appointments and assessments and things with it, once that process actually started, it was quite a lonely one for her because obviously, she'd lost, you know, her dad and, and waited and kept that part of her tucked away all that time before she felt she was in a position that she could move forward and sort of make herself happy and make herself into who she felt she should be. And yeah, developed into Donna, who was probably one of the most bubbly, lovely characters we knew. But it was, yeah, heartbreaking in a way to see that process and the waiting and everything else that surrounded it as well. Because, you know, back then though it was sort of early 90s, that kind of time there was still an awful lot of sort of stigma and not a lot of acceptance around at the time to so it's quite difficult to see. And yeah, she thankfully felt able to sort of share and open up to my mom, which was lovely.
Angus - I'm quite interested because I remember myself aged 12/13. And yeah, lots of rambunctious little boys running around using lots of horrible words that wouldn't be accepted today. And obviously, you I doubt you're over a horrible little, little anything. But I'm wondering if, if there was any confusion to you, at that time, age 12 or 13?
Maddy - Yeah, of course, there wasn't. There wasn't confusion, such more just questions. And luckily, Mum, sort of mum and dad have always brought us up to be very open and respectful of the fact that there are lots of people in this world and there are lots of people in this world. for a reason, we're all different, we all bring something different to the table. And that can be through views, opinions, preferences, whatever it might be. So kind of been lucky in that sense in that it's quite an open family. And we're taught to question and understand things rather than sort of make judgments. So I'm always grateful for that. But yeah, so more than confusion, it was questions, and luckily enough, you know, because of being brought up in the open environment, we had the opportunity to ask these questions and, and just understand it a bit more. And just in a way that's, you know, as we were always taught, just being respectful, when we're asking and not know, what might happen to you, or willy or something like that. It's more along the lines of well, why do you feel you know, that this is the right thing for you? And just understanding and realizing this is a person and they've got feelings, and you respect those feelings. And if you don't understand something, then you ask a question, so that that can help you to understand it more. So.
Angus Baigrie - It's a really wonderful thing to be raised in that environment.
Andrew - So your parents and awesome Maddy.
Shaukat - Yeah definitely.
Maddy - They're good eggs. Don't get me wrong, you know, other people, and they're certainly judgments and, you know, comments made. And, for example, my brother's a bit younger. And so he was hearing phrases like, Oh, you know, you know, a tranny and things like that. And you're friends with heshe and things, you know, bits and pieces like that.
Angus - Horrible. It's so funny that isn't it, how it's all about the the environment that you create. If you create a questioning environment, then that can really serve anyone kind of born into that environment already and coming into that environment throughout the whole of their life. But if you do the opposite, then it just doesn't. It stifles everyone.
Shaukat - Kids ain't born homophobic.
Maddy - Course they're not.
Shaukat - Are they? Like people are not born rascist, like you said, it's the environment they're brought up in. And then someone is bought up in an environment saying fag this, fag that homophobe he or she. Everything is always a learnt behavior from the environment you're around. So I think it's the it's not the kids, it's the the parents who are mostly installing that into them.
Andrew - Importance of positive role models around you as well to show you a different way of doing things.
Angus - Speaking of which brings me nicely onto my my next topic. You've sparked a thought! So within your your working lives. How has that changed from when you started work to to now?
Andrew - Yeah, I suppose that I started working life that very much coincide. It was still being kind of quite confused about things. So suppose I was asexual, you know, I didn't flirt with boys that I used to work with I didn't flirt with girls that I used to work with. I certainly at school wasn't you know, down the park on a Friday night. With the, you know, the girls and the boys and bottles of cider under the slide, that certainly wasn't what I was doing. Yeah, and I don't think that I ever told any colleague that I was gay for a very long time, I can't even remember who it was. You very much, I think, certainly I did kind of built a bit of a suit of armor around me just to be very kind of straight down the line. And this is Andrew. And then slowly by slowly, then you might kind of start to let people in on a very selective basis, to the point where now clearly talking to 500 searchers and beyond that, I think everybody knows that I'm gay, and it really doesn't matter.
Angus - It's amazing how that shifted. Probably in the last 10 years. I remember, like, coming out of school, and hearing a few of my school friends had come out. And it was like, Oh, my God, no way. It's just such a big thing. And, and now it's just like, and...
Andrew - You kind of shrugged your shoulders. And I suppose just thinking of what role models that I guess is the benefit of role models, isn't it when you see other people around you through school, or college, or friends or neighbors coming out? That almost kind of gives you permission or? Or you to do it yourself? So yeah, I guess I also didn't grow up in the 60s or 50s, where there really were no kind of cultural role models. But sometimes even coming out in the 90s, you know, queer as folk hadn't landed at that point, I suppose we might just have been at the start of Graham Norton's career, I can't think of anybody, even culturally that you would look up to and go. There's a gay man just kind of doing his thing. And is, is all right with it, and people are accepting him. So now that it just is more of a shrug of the shoulders. And we have each of us has more of those role models around us. I think they just that kind of creates the atmosphere for for more people to come out more safely.
Angus - All right, kind of coming towards the end of our conversation. Is there anything that you guys want to share specifically?
Andrew - So there's one thing I've been thinking about, I touched on it a bit earlier is that I think just generally not just in terms of LGBTQ plus issues, but whether it's, you know, racism, or disability or anything, I think we just all need to be a lot kinder to each other. They're just taking our time to kind of educate ourselves a bit more about other people's lives and where they come from and their histories. I think that's one thing I've been thinking about a lot. And certainly having moved to Brighton I did a year or so volunteering at a local, LGBTQ plus drop in center. And anybody would walk through the door with any kinds of issues. I came out to my parents last night, they've thrown me out, I've got nowhere to sleep. What do I do? right through to, yeah, I think I'm transitioning, I think that's where I need to go. But how do I do it? Just all of those kind of stories has really kind of influenced me that you have no idea what other people's backgrounds are. And as Maddie was saying earlier, you just don't know when you kind of walk past people in the street. So let's just be a bit bit more decent to each other.
Angus - It kind of it starts from the most kind of typical and basic of places like talking about someone behind their back and talking about a friend to my mom, that just don't, I don't really know what's going on with that friend. I don't really know. The full story. So who am I? I mean, yeah, we all love to talk we all love to gossip. And and I think we do need it at some level. But it's just where where does the the unkindness begin?
Shaukat - I think some people would be unkind without even thinking they've been unkind, I think sometimes.
Maddy - Yeah, making assumptions doesn't always help. And even if somebody is trusted you enough to come out to you or share something personal about themselves with you. Perhaps try not to pigeonhole them then into something into a category or use certain phrases or terms just because they're told share something with you ask them what they prefer to be referred to as. So for example, you mentioned earlier about using the word queer. Some, some groups have, you know, embraced that and reclaimed it, some have still thoroughly reject it because of the negative connotations that it has, is not necessarily okay for everyone. So, perhaps, you know, ask the people that your friends and everyone you're close to what they prefer.
Angus - Awesome umm right? If you're all happy with with what you've said, then I'll bring this little thing to a close. Thanks so much for joining me. And this has been another episode of searching for elephants. Hope you've all enjoyed listening. I hope you've learned something. And we'll be back soon.
Andrew - Have a nice night everybody.
Maddy - Thank you.
Angus - Thanks so much, guys