This honesty malarkey

Do you read Vanity Fair? I like to read it in the bath, or bed on a Sunday morning, with a cup of coffee.  I like to pretend that I earn as much as the people who the magazine are aimed at (ah, aspiration!)  I mention it because there was an article in it this month about Catherine Robbe-Grillet, wife of Alain, who is ‘France’s foremost Madam’.  Not madam in the sense that she runs a knocking shop above a bookies in Lyon, but Madam, meaning that she is a venerable dominatrix.  She is also in her eighties and less than five foot tall, which makes me think that that song about short people by Newman, R. Can go and shove it up its ass.  This woman dominates and sets up parties for others to live out their fantasies, mixing suffering and bliss into an art form.


When I first started reading the article I was hesitant, because sub and dom, in my cloistered mind, means ‘kinky stuff’.  I have memories of Helga from Allo Allo and dodgy politicians and I can’t take it.  But, as Catherine and her acolytes tell, sub dom relationships are rarely about sex, they have impeccable etiquette and no one gets hurt.  But still, my mind persists.


Can you un-hardwire prejudice like this?  The story resonated with me, because I have a friend who recently confessed that she was enjoying fantasy and roleplay and I think, at the time, that I coped with her confession reasonably well.  If I am being honest, (yikes!) My immediate thought was ís she grooming me’? Which is like thinking that every gay person fancies you.  I need to get over myself, I know.  What I was astounded by was her honesty, and why she felt like telling me.


Truth is, if someone comes out, they’re doing it for themselves, not me.  And the test for me is how I handle it, not for them to deal with.  It would seem that I’m squeamish about honesty.  Real honesty.  Most of the time, honesty involves moaning about my day (and is that always true, or just a rather depressing way of starting a conversation?  Perhaps people just assume that you’ve had a lousy day, too, so it’s a means of establishing commonality – so sad.) And I don’t mean honesty in the sense of telling someone what you think about them, because that’s nearly always a reflection of how you feel about the world or a situation.  I mean when the teller is being honest about themselves, for no reason, just to tell.  And I can’t handle it!  I automatically try to think of something that I can do with this information, even when the person isn’t telling me for that reason, just because they love me or respect me and want me to know about them.  Can I help? Give you something?  Offer support?  This may make them think that there is something wrong with them, which is not the case.  After all, it’s me who has the issue with this honesty malarkey, not them.

Don’t come for me, hunty

There’s only one Suarez in Liverpool.


Admittedly, when I signed up for a voguing workshop run by the House of Suarez, I wondered if we would learn how to stylishly bite, dive and offer racial offensives, but I was wrong.  This one had nothing to do with the notorious Liverpool striker, but was run by Darren Suarez and I was more than happy to be one of his children for the afternoon.


Get over Madonna: Have you ever seen Paris is Burning?  Jennie Livingston’s documentary tells all about the origins of voguing and is one of the most affecting films I’ve seen.  It documents the build up and preparation for the balls, which would go on for twelve hours, where New york’s gay community would sacrifice hours on costume and routine to walk the catwalk and be judged for their efforts.  Categories included costume, erotic and my favourite, ‘realness’, where men would pass for Upper West side businessmen or soliders.  Waiting in the Costa coffee across the road from the Contact theatre, I tried to keep my mind of my nerves by thinking of alternative Mancunian categories:  out of town carouser, or harrased M and S worker, perhaps?


It didn’t matter when we got in there.  As Darren explained, the House of Suarez and the balls that he runs are there to innovate, not replicate, the New York scene.  What Darren favours is New-Voguing, which is much more flowing and much less bitchy than the world depicted in Paris is Burning.  Enough backstory: what were we going to do?


Darren slowly and effortlessly walked us through a short piece of choreography, which focused on arm movements, specifically framing the face.  It was much more precise than I’d imagined and bloody difficult to pull off: whenever anyone says ‘ do some voguing’ to me (which is surpirsingly often – I must have that kind of face), I generally pout and flap and pop my hips.  The first time I tried Darren’s routine, I looked like I was trying to untangle myself from a freshly washed polo-neck jumper.


It wasn’t pretty.  After a few run-throughs at half speed and then full speed, I felt sufficiently confident to bring on my key players; the hips and the pout. I thought I looked damn good and as there were no mirrors in the room, you’ll have to take my word for it.  We paused then, to learn some of the slang terminology which form the basis of any episode of Ru-Paul’s Drag Race.  I loved this and will enjoy watching some of these key phrases whizz over the top of my year 10’s heads on Monday.  Don’t come for me,  hun-ty!


Darren must have worked some magic.  My provisos, agreed with my co-Voguee, before we went in were:  we won’t do anything on our own and we won’t do any group work.  We even had a safety word!  After breaking us in, however, I was more than happy to work with my group, wittily named by me: the House of Fraser.  Haha. 


We worked out a small bit of choreography and then we took to the stage.  It was brilliant!  Being an anti-social witch, my greatest fear in workshops is having to interact with unknowns, but everyone had caught the bug by this point and accepted the great workshop truth:  I will never see you again, I don’t even know your name, but for now, let’s make the magic happen …


It was small beans, but I genuinely enjoyed unleashing my hidden diva at 3 in the afternoon in Manchester City Centre and though I’m unlikely to strut a catwalk anytime soon, I will definitely look out for any House of Suarez events.  Sadly, for me, the upcoming ball has sold out, but I’m dead happy that Voguing has a steady, devoted and incredibly mixed audience.  The workshop attendees were 95% women who, like me, probably had serious jobs, or studies, or families.  But for today, at least, we were FIERCE.