Thursday, 30 June 2011

Where's my pension?

I refuse to support the teachers' strike. My Day Job is in the private sector, and we've not got any pension pot, however measly, to look forward to.

If I do my job badly, I get sacked; if a teacher is proven incompetent, it's still near-impossible to get rid of them.

I work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, with 20 days annual leave and a handful of bank holidays to break the monotony; teachers have a holiday of at least a week - and usually two or three, and up to six - every six or seven weeks.

They work on average 10 hours a week less than me, and the majority earn more money.

And finally, there will always be schools; my DJ hangs by a shoestring as we struggle with the recession.

Ultimately, teaching is more than a job, it's a vocation. Teachers should no more strike than nurses or firefighters or police officers. To do so is morally bankrupt. If I don't turn up for work tomorrow, it's not the end of the world. Teachers are supposed to be instilling discipline and values into the children in their care: what lesson are they teaching them by going on strike for more money when the only way they can get it is by penalising a private sector which is already struggling to cope in the current financial climate anyway?

The only option for poor private sector mugs like me is to pay into a private pension fund. How exactly am I meant to do that, and save for a house deposit -- the current average first time deposit is £36,000  -- and try to still make ends meet in the meantime? My choice is simple: I can have a home, or a retirement, but not both. I console myself with the fact that us private sector drudges are going to work 'til we drop: retirement is a luxury that we dream not of.

Me, sympathetic? Don't think so.  

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

As Camp as Christmas

Everyone knows what camp is: it's Graham Norton or Larry Grayson. It's 'oooh matron' and all that Carry On crap. It's funny, and it's sexless, and it's really, really gay.

The mass-market appeal of camp has been obvious for years. From the high-camp of opera, to the low-camp of TV comedy, its appeal is endless and all-encompassing. Ask most people what they like about camp and they'll tell you it's funny, and non-threatening. It's gay, without the threat of sex. It's gay-lite.

Many gay critics over the years have resultantly tried to distance themselves from camp as a form of expression, deriding those homosexuals who still cling to it as old-fashioned and even harmful: they are damaging the advancement of our cause by reaffirming all the old stereotypes that so many people are trying to overcome. In the 21st century, it's cooler to be edgy and aggressive, to demand equality and remind people that we're here, we're queer, get used to it.

This does camp a great disservice. For almost a century, camp served as the only acceptable signifier of homosexual orientation that could be publicly expressed. Camp is all about sex, it's just that no-one ever noticed. That's why it's so effective. If someone sees a young man flouncing down the street, eyebrows may be raised as he passes, but he has still achieved something significant: he has successfully transmitted to interested parties that he's available, without eliciting too much attention from the hetty onlookers. In the first half of the 20th century, that was something to be celebrated. It was a bloody miracle.

By using innuendo, the whole 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink' culture, camp can discuss sex in the most graphic terms, without causing offence to anyone listening in. In using Polari, camp got its own language, and gay men could openly say what they really wanted to, without fear of being understood - or should that be misunderstood? Camp is easily the most dominant force in gay history in the last 100 years, just because it has always been misunderstood. To marginalise it now is to fail to understand camp's role in our collective history and culture.

It is camp that first pushed the envelope; that first gave gay men a visible role in society. There are a million reasons to celebrate it, and be grateful for it. Without camp, the gay emancipation movement would perhaps not be where it is today. Don't sneer at it, don't mock it. Treasure it. You owe it more than you will ever know.

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

A Shameless Plug

Blood & Ash - The Lost Realm Book 1

War is coming...

Ash has never left the palace. For seventeen years he has been kept close by his father and brother, bound by their vow to protect him. He has grown up safe, innocent, and lonely.

Now the fae Realm is under attack, and the witches have threatened Ash personally. To protect his younger brother, Skye has done something unthinkable. He has brought a vampire into the Realm.

Azrael owes Skye a great debt. He takes his position as Ash's guardian out of loyalty to his brother, but everything changes when he finds himself falling for the young prince: the first mortal he's loved in a thousand years.

With his enemies closing in, and the king slowly dying, can Skye trust Azrael to protect Ash while he prepares to defend the Realm? Will Azrael be able to control his feelings for Ash as he reconciles the demons from his past? And will Ash ever feel like he truly belongs anywhere?

Available now on the Kindle

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Short & Bittersweet: Drabbles

“Where are you?” She asked so quickly she could have been repeating the words with every ring. I told her. I paced, frantic, willing the doorbell to sound.

It did. We flew to each other, exchanging each flurried word and burning kiss as if it was our last. “Does this mean you’ll stay?”

“Oh my love of course.” We cheered and cried together as I spun her around, slipping, dizzy, falling on the floor.

In the morning she sat stony faced and pale. “I have to go back,” she whispered through angry tears. It was early, she still had time.

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

No More Happy Endings?

Why is queer literature so depressing? Are we that pessimistic about the future that we can't imagine a gay 'happily ever after'? And why is it, on the rare occasion we do get one, we feel disappointed with it, like it's an unrealistic fantasy?

Of course happy endings can feel trite at the best of times, and if you try and present them against a 'real world' backdrop there will always be the problem of what the future holds for the protagonists when in reality they will probably face some form of discrimination and prejudice for the rest of their lives. Some authors have tried to solve this problem by setting their stories in fantasy lands where homosex is the norm, but these leave me equally uneasy, because their artificiality is so obvious. One closes the book with a disgruntled "well, that would never happen" and dismisses the story.

A neat solution to this problem seems to be to bump off the characters in question, something that is depressingly common in queer narratives across the arts. There was a surge of this kind of ending in the early 1990s following the advent of AIDS, which is of course to be expected. Like it or not, AIDS is a massive part of gay history - and future - and it is unrealistic not to expect that to be referenced in queer literature, but since the 1980s it seems that this is the only way that queer (male) characters ever die: and die they do, in droves. Read any book about sexually active gay men set in the 1980s or 1990s if you don't believe me.

One writer who tried to counteract this trend was Mary Renault, who wrote about (male) homosexual experience in Ancient Greece. By setting her novels in a period and location where homosex was deemed acceptable (at least according to contemporary interpretation) she allowed her characters the freedom to express themselves in a way they couldn't have done in England in the 1950s. Problem solved, except not everyone is that interested in historical novels, which made hers more of a niche genre.

So is there any realistic way of bringing happy gays to the masses? She had previously tried with The Charioteer in 1953, her last contemporary novel before giving up in disgust and focusing solely on the Greeks. What is problematic about this novel is the dilemma the protagonist, Laurie, faces in his choice of partner: does he go for sexless Andrew, who will probably never understand the true nature of their relationship; or sexy Ralph, who's all about the physical. Given that this novel was written during the time of the so-called 'gay pogrom' it was a brave move, but ultimately setting the tone of the narrative as a choice between love and sex perhaps wasn't the best way to present fully-rounded homosexual characters. (He chose sex, of course).

Perhaps the problem isn't so much that there are heartbreakingly few gay happy endings at all, but that there are no male gay happy endings. When talking about men in general, the same stereotypes always raise their heads: they can't commit, they'll chase anything in a skirt/tight jeans (delete as applicable), they're emotionally retarded and they need a woman to keep them on the straight and narrow (so to speak). These stereotypes have virtually become universal truths, repeated by men and women alike. Perhaps the problem is that asking two men to commit to each other and live 'happy ever after' seems unrealistic because of their gender. No-one ever has a problem imagining two women committing to each other for life and keeping to that commitment, yet some of the biggest hounds I know are female.

E.M. Forster believed strongly in the need for a homosexual happy ending. As he put it in his 'terminal note' to Maurice, which I will quote from at length:

A happy ending was imperative. I shouldn't have bothered to write otherwise. I was determined that in fiction anyway two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows, and in this sense Maurice and Alec still roam the greenwood...Happiness is its keynote - which by the way has had an unexpected result: it has made the book more difficult to publish...If it ended unhappy, with a lad dangling from a noose or with a suicide pact, all would be well, for there is no pornography or seduction of minors. But the lovers get away unpunished and consequently recommend crime...the only penalty society exacts is an exile they gladly embrace.

Of course this was written in 1960, when homosexuality was still illegal in Britain, but the message is still the same: happy ending equals argument that homosexuality is not all bad. For as long as people argue that being gay is a lifestyle choice we will struggle to publish and have accepted queer narratives with happy endings.

But does any of this matter? Does anyone really keep track of how many books they read that end happily or unhappily? Ultimately, either a book is enjoyable or it is not, surely that's the only important thing?

I disagree. Part of the process of growing up - gay, straight, whatever - is finding out where you fit into the world around you, and a lot of kids questioning their sexuality read books about gay characters. What kind of message are we sending if none of them are ever happy or fulfilled? Trauma always makes for more interesting literature, and always will, but the prevalence of death, disappointment and loneliness in the queer canon sends a dangerous message about how we view ourselves: it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as the older generation writes that life is hopeless and the younger grows up believing it to be true. We need to find a balance between art and reality that addresses and celebrates all the complexities of the queer experience while maintaining hope for the future. Too few authors attempt this, and many that do, fail.

The realistic gay happy ending may seem like the dark side of the moon right now, but it's out there somewhere, waiting to be born.

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Hello, world!

It's 3a.m. and I have to be up in 4 hours, but hey, I'm on holiday, and that didn't stop me going out and getting blind drunk. I'm lying in my bed, somewhere between life and death, watching the ceiling slowly rotate around me. My head is pounding.

Bang, bang, bang!

God, I'm really drunk.  

"Show us the lesbian!"

Pardon? I sit up and I swear the bed lurched beneath me.

"Where's the lesbian?"

WTF...? I listen carefully to the door. Someone is hammering on it, really rather loudly. My head hurts.

"Bring the lesbian out!"

I'm sorry, did I miss something? Feeding time at the zoo, perhaps? Last time I checked, I was trying to sleep, not put on a show. Unfortunately for me the muppets in the next apartment have also been out, and have brought two very silly girls back with them. I consider opening the door long enough to projectile-vomit in their general direction. I decide I won't make it that far and if I do I'll probably commit something atrocious. I'm trapped.

I shout something unprintable in the general direction of the doorway.

They whoop like they've discovered a new type of beetle in the Amazon. The lesbian lives! More shouting ensues. A security guard may have become involved, I forget the details. I consider opening the door long enough to show them what a queer bashing really is. I decide against it.

Eventually, they realise that however long they stare at the entrance of the exhibit, the main attraction isn't coming out of the cave. They leave.

I sleep through my alarm. Great.

Kate Aaron is an author of queer and fantasy novels and short stories. Find all her books on Amazon now