Boots / They Stripped me of my Sex - a piece of psychobiography



“So he followed me into the toilet and accused me of being a racist.”

“Why?” I ask. I know my colleague is not, unless he covers it well, in any way racist.

“The DMs”.

It strikes me as odd that people would still associate such things with such bigoted views, though there’s always the possibility that I am woefully out of touch with the cultural zeitgeist. 

I had heard the other day that skin fashion was quite big in the ‘vintage’ circles that I knew nothing about. I found this out via a Twitter conversation with a woman I barely knew. She seemed nice and genuine enough, but had compared my appearance to that of Gary Oldman’s in Mike Leigh’s 1983 Channel 4 drama ‘Meantime’, which I’m pretty sure was a backhanded compliment; the virtual conversation stemmed from there, taking in misconceptions of ‘right wing’ styles of dressing. Maybe when they get sucked into the vintage tar-pit then that will, ironically, liberate the look. 

I, at best, pilfer from the skinhead style. I have a beard for a start, but have been given the odd Nazi salute (a memorable incident on Leyton High Road stays with me). I am considering growing my hair out – in a world of aesthetics anything internal doesn’t appear to count, the style is the substance. You are what you are.

I think the vintage people live in Dalston or Haggerston, and keep a stall on Brick Lane on a Sunday. I couldn’t be sure, as I had spent most of my time lately in dives of increasing disrepair as live music, especially punk rock, was forced out further and further from anywhere accessible. The Gaff, for example, on Holloway Road had shut to be replaced by a corporate coffee hole. It was another one of those humdrum, everyday cultural atrocities. 

Because of this, I had just returned from a reconnaissance mission in drizzly Tufnell Park, finding a replacement venue that had a startling likeness to a provincial Scout hall. The trip dampened my spirits as well as my clothing. The conversation with my colleague, about his racist choice of footwear and being squared up to in a Bedford pub, was continuing. 

“I explained that, no, it didn’t make me a racist, it’s just the style of dress that I favour…After that he was alright with me and we had a proper chat about it all.”

His story became stranger.

“But then, later on I was out in the beer garden and some pissed up local starts giving it the usual racist bullshit, looks at me as if to say ‘you know what I mean, right?’ and then had a go at me when I failed to agree with him”.

I had to laugh at this. 

“What a night!” I say.

                                                                        *

If you watch Mike Leigh’s 1983 ‘Meantime’, made for Channel 4, you will notice several scenes filmed on the Regent’s Canal in Haggerston. The vintage people have yet to arrive, a fact reflected by the murky television production values. The place looks a lot brighter now.

Dunston Road is the precise address. E2 then, but E8 now. How do postcodes change?

This is a world of idiotic skinheads (whom I resemble) drinking Special Brew, dole queue lines and accents that my Northern(ish) girlfriend find hilarious. The JSA is a few years off yet – people are smoking in the dole office. Watch the film now you’d be forgiven for thinking you were witnessing a caricature or satire of the archetypal 1980’s working class misery fest. But, no, these things did really happen despite the odd nostalgia that clings to them. Those duffel coats will be vintage by now. Actors who people this piece went on to star in Spiderman 2, Pulp Fiction, Eastenders and Leon, so at least they were not on the dole for long.

David Cronenberg’s ‘Spider’, featuring Ralph Fiennes in increasing states of mental disrepair, is filmed on the same canal, but I don’t resemble him, or at least no one has told me so. 

                                                                        *

“Our own sexual fantasies are being co-opted.”

The Duke of Wellington pub sits on Balls Pond Road, confusing me with its borderland status. I prefer to know which Borough I am drinking in, especially if I wish to complain about the price. Islington or Hackney? Nobody seems to know for definite. Many give me a look that suggests they think it doesn’t matter.

Some pop-up bohemians are drinking guest-ale in the corner. My newly trained eye tells me their clothing may be vintage.

At least the barman is a friend, and I get cheap beer followed by ill advised guest-cider of robust strength. I come to and find myself in a conversation that I am genuinely glad to be in, (rare these days) talking through those important issues that cause acute social embarrassment.

How to discuss pornography and the objectification of the woman as a heterosexual male? It was a cause of genuine annoyance that images I knew to be exploitative, that most likely warped my own proclivities, would also cause my cock to swell in shameful lust. Andrew Marvell would have had a field day.

So we discuss the problems of modern, mainly internet, pornography. Anal sex being considered the norm amongst younger people (not us, no way) – though instead of dumbly nodding along, I do ask where these statistics come from. Not that I have, since the conversation, bothered to check the facts or the stats.

I often feel intimidated in the presence of articulate feminists, feeling lumpen, oafish and embodying all that is wrong with masculinity (especially when wearing the DM’s). Yet I persevere.

So, when my conversational partner says “Our own sexual fantasies are being co-opted!” I have to agree. Sad and angry, then defiant, thoughts of how something as deeply personal as the sexual experience can be homogenised, compartmentalised and bent out of all shape. Worrying thoughts start springing up from nowhere, such as:

1.      If something is not reflected/mirrored on a screen (TV/laptop/iPhone) then does it, in fact, exist?

2.      Relating this to sex, if the way I enjoy intercourse (a way that does not focus on the anus or degradation) is not reflected in the pornography of the day then does it start to lose reality? It certainly cannot be seen as a viable commodity. And love/connection will surely be seen as passé, if we can only see actions in terms of their popularity or commercial appeal.

3.      Therefore, to prove we exist, are people (younger people, we always say, never us) compelled to reproduce the sexual activity they see on their screens as a way of validating themselves? 

4.      Is vintage pornography as sexist and degrading?

5.      What do I find genuinely arousing, and what burrowed in from the world of pornography? Blake’s invisible worm, choking and insidious. It looks like, yes, the rose is sick.

The conversation continues, spirals and morphs into the many other pressing social issues of the day as the pop-up bohemians mill around and more robust cider is consumed.

I end the evening agreeing with a fellow football-hater that it “was good those cunts on Sky Sports got sacked.”