Saturday, July 21, 2007

Two in one!

Straight girl in gay central

“Wetter than a lesbian at Wimbledon”; that’s how comedian, television personality and openly gay Graham Norton described the weather on the day of London Pride. But nothing was going to put a dampener on the city’s spirit – not the weather, not the two car bombs found in the capital the previous day and certainly not the heightened levels of security. In its 35th year, the annual London Pride Day comprised of a parade through central London, a political rally and some great entertainment – all carried out with the sole purpose of raising awareness about the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) community. Hundreds of thousands of people turned up to celebrate sexuality – their own and that of their friends and loved ones.

My first and last brush with sapphic love had been in the 7th standard when a classmate at the all girls’ school I attended wrote me fervent letters on Hello Kitty embossed paper and bought me Amul chocolate bars and glitter pens. I, of course, thought she was being overly expressive, returned the gifts as I wasn’t allowed to accept presents unless it was my birthday and ate the chocolates. I now realise her feelings may have been based on more than just a shared dislike of march-past practice at the YMCA ground. It was with these fond reminisces in my head that I arrived at Baker Street, where the Parade was scheduled to start at 1pm before setting off down the famous shop lined avenues of Oxford street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Leicester Square. I followed a group of pinafore wearing Dorothy’s (some with a 7o’clock stubble) along the not so yellow brick road to where the parade was assembling.

Pouring rain, men dressed as Diana Ross, music, rainbow striped everything, Wonder Woman and Marilyn Monroe holding hands – it was like a scene out of a very bizarre dream. A disembodied voice shouted ‘Watch out’ and I stepped back just in time, making way for a group of buff young men sprinting along in nothing but body glitter and metallic red briefs. Further ahead, a group of pensioners who appeared to have taken inspiration from pink cotton candy and inflated prophylactics for their outfits vied for camera attention with a group of Roman gladiators and toga wearing Caesars. Was this the city of Westminster or the sets of Carry on up the Forum? The floats represented everyone from the NHS to Nationwide and the Mayor of London’s office to the Metropolitan Police. An iconic rainbow flag that seemed to flutter on forever was held aloft by volunteers while a rag tag percussion band made sure the weather didn’t rain on the parade. This was the kind of weather that Londoners are forever whining about; and today they were out dancing and singing like it was a sunny summer’s day.

With the rain still pelting down I found myself a part of the parade and not merely a spectator as initially planned. A large, black man wearing a spangled pink ball gown and zooming about on roller skates was pouting and posing for my camera and I was so taken in with him (her?) that I didn’t see the looming parade heading toward us. While Diana Ross managed to make a quick exit on his skates I was swept up by the parade and its revellers. After years of standing behind the barricades and cheering passing parades on, here I was a part of one. People called out ‘Good for you!’ and took my photograph (Mom, if you see me splashed across some newspaper under the heading ‘Lesbians show their pride in London’ I can explain) It was all rather wonderful, until a volunteer noticed me and said “Oi! You shouldn’t be here!” I wondered how she knew. Is there a pheromone lesbians give off that other lesbians can pick up on? Or am I so boringly heterosexual that it’s practically tattooed across my forehead? I briefly considered challenging her but then thought better of it and jumped over a barrier near Selfridges, my fall cushioned by the crowds that thronged the sidewalks of Oxford Circus – there were those who had come to see the parade (including two grannies equipped with folding chairs, brollies and a thermos), shoppers and plenty of bemused tourists - I overheard a middle aged uncle explain the spectacle to his sari clad, Birkenstock wearing mummyji as a fancy dress parade.

And in a way it was. With the Icons theme out in full force and paraders set to outdo one another, everyone from Liberace to Madonna circa 1984 was present and the scantily clad angel look was a hot favourite. If this parade had been in Madras I can bet that the look of the day would have been The Boss - Badshah not Bruce. I bumped in to a group of Asian transvestites dressed to kill in shimmering chiffons and ornate blouses that would have given Jackpot Khusboo a complex. The head of the group, a towering presence gently complained of how their sari borders and pallus were getting soiled in the rain! Next to them, kilt wearing Scots, biker boys and a busload of desis dancing to ‘Kajra re’ poor Lord Nelson looked decidedly drab and out of place at Trafalgar Square where the rally was held. Perhaps a rainbow striped boa would have perked him up a bit. The stage at Trafalgar Square saw performances by Darren Hayes (formerly of Savage Garden) while the Leicester Square stage was the venue for this years Drag Idol contest hosted by the delightfully named Titti La Camp and Lola Lasagna.

But Pride London wasn’t just about having a good time. Amnesty passed out literature that berated Russia and Belarus for not recognising the rights of GLBTs. Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London recounted that when London Pride first set out decades ago, the Royal Parks committee said that Regents Park (the chosen venue) was meant for families and not homosexuals. From there to having the capital’s busiest thoroughfares shut down for the day shows how far this event has come. I spoke to A, a young Indian bisexual who attended the event with her girlfriend “It was my first Pride Parade but I’ll definitely be back next year” she said, “I felt encouraged enough to hold my girlfriend’s hand in public for a couple of minutes. The sight of a girl here with her mother made me wish that someday I could tell my mom and that she'd be proud of me in spite of or because of my choices.” While we do have our Miss. Koovagam contests, I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before a parade and rally like this would make its way down Mount Road or Marine Drive.

As I returned home, boots soaked through and arms aching, I had only complaint - not a single person hit on me. Next year, I’m busting out the Silk Smitha outfit.

An edited version of this appeared here.


A little more mirchi this time round?

Poor Gordon Brown. After years of waiting for Tony to clear out of Number 10 so that he could move in with his fooze ball table and plans for world domination, his day finally arrives. As the new Prime Minister stood outside one of London’s most famous addresses waving at the cameras with his lovely wife, how could he have possibly known that news so colossal was just around the corner, that people no longer cared about his plans for the NHS? No, it wasn’t about Miss. Hilton’s exit interview with Larry King (now that she’s no longer jail bait, who cares that she was curled up in to a little ball crying?) or the startling news that Russia plans to annex 460,000 square miles of the Arctic. In fact it was reports that the Spice Girls were planning a comeback. My first reaction when I heard the news was that of any sensible person – I ducked. Once I was convinced that there was no imminent danger of being assaulted by indecipherable bits of lyric like ‘zig-a-zig-ah’ I emerged from beneath my dining table – a foolish place to have hidden anyway. It’s made of glass.

Do we really want the Spice Girls to get back together? And just when we thought we’d put the nineties behind us too. Sure, as a decade they weren’t as bad as the 80s (printed tights and baggy t-shirts… or was that just me?) but the thought of all-PVC outfits and red, knee-high, lace-up, pleather boots gives me sleepless nights.

I can see why the Spice Girls might want to make a come-back though. Since the group split in 2000, they’ve all gone on to not so successful solo careers and not the best media coverage. Posh is better known as the wife of David Beckham, her many fashion faux pas and an ever shrinking, orange frame. Attempts at a fresh start in L.A haven’t gone her way, with the crew of her reality show reportedly calling her mean and rude (maybe if she ate real food she wouldn’t be so crabby). Poor Scary Spice was dumped by Eddie Murphy on television chat show (and no, she wasn’t on the show with him) and none of the girls’ solo albums have set the charts alight. So in many ways a reunion will be an attempt to recapture their glory days and salvage their reputations. Or will it? I foresee some teething problems.

First of all, there’s the name itself. Can we still call them the Spice ‘Girls’? Now I’m not being ageist or sexist (I think it’s high time the Beach Boys changed their name to the Beach Mamas) but they all seem to be more women than girls to me. Perhaps the name needs a rethink – though Spice Ladies doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, I’ll agree. I’m sure some overpriced branding agency will come up with something, though my only recommendation is to not go to the same people who came up with the London 2012 Olympics logo. Band name aside, there’s also the small matter of their own personal monikers. Can we still call Posh, well Posh? According to some quarters, the lady is anything but stylish while others (her PR agency mostly) insist that her style quotient has risen stratospherically. Who are we to believe? Baby Spice now lives in with her boyfriend Jade Jones and is expecting a baby of her own this summer. And Ginger Spice spent most of her time away from the girl band as a blonde.

So perhaps the Spice Girls need a bit of an image overhaul before they contemplate making a comeback. They could take some pointers from Madonna who thankfully hasn’t stuck to the taffeta wearing street walker look she favoured back in the day (though I slightly prefer it to her last look – Flashdance meets a purple highlighter). Much of Madonna’s success can be attributed to her ever changing look, dalliances with religion (remember the ‘I am Esther’ Kaballah period?) and experiments with interestingly shaped underwear. And according to some, the woman can sing. That always helps.

The girls will no doubt be encouraged to stage a reunion tour after the success of Take That’s sell out concerts last year. But will fans want to be reminded of a time when they wore Doc Martens and embroidered jeans (replaced in the noughties by *gag* glitter jeans)? Will the ‘girls’ be able to get away with lyrics like ‘I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really really really wanna zigazig-ha.’? Is girl power still relevant? Can Geri still carry off a Union Jack dress?

I’m sure we’ll find out the answers to all these questions of global importance once their tour kicks off. But one thing is for sure - The Spice Girls might need to grow up a little. Their fans most certainly have.

An edited version of this appeared in the latest edition of the NewIndPress Sunday Magazine.


Jaisudha said...

I couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before a parade and rally like this would make its way down Mount Road or Marine Drive.

try 150 yrs.

WA said...

Let's make it a group outing for the next year's pride