I went down to see the wreckage of the West Pier, a silent beacon, and the very last vestige,stranded and cut off from the land now.
It was merely a barely supported tangle of rusted iron: a metaphor for all the obvious things like general transitoriness, mortality(some psychogeographical skeleton), decay; but also some defiant withstanding of the elements (most recently the battering storms of last year).
I had just read the “Disappearance Boy”(this, that which I am writing now, is a “story”, so I have changed HAVE just read-in reality-to HAD just read, this in the interests of proving some point about my much commented on self-referentiality and over-explication!) by Neil Bartlett, (one of the great novels of 2014); and prior to that, Bethan Roberts’ “My Policeman”(2012), both novels set in Brighton; and the former (possibly the latter too, though I cannot quite remember) includes a powerful and eerily, queerly poetic scene whereby Reggie, the protagonist, wanders in the fog under under the ( this time) still extant Palace Pier, amongst the corroded pillar supports and sees the shadowy shapes of men looking for sex/love with other men; flitting around like spectres.He even kisses one man, but flees back into the (literal and metaphorical) fog; metaphorical in that it is the narrow confines of his magic act and closet.It is the 1950s. “My Policeman” tells of the tripartite situation between a woman, her (suppressed,gay)policeman husband and his (self-acknowledgedly gay)lover, set at roughly the same time. So, both novels inhabit the liminal under/half world of pre-Woolfenden legalisation of male-to-male sex “acts”; a world which is undetermined and largely unsafe; Bartlett’s evocative under-the-pier cruising scene summarising up that atmosphere all too well. So, both books were/ are in my mind fairly freshly………….
I had been, that day, in the gay village in Brighton(St. James Street); encountered the “clappies” (as my Brighton friend affectionately calls them, because they clap their hands with excitement, like seals), these being the extrovert (and, sometimes, bitchy) queans who throng the area; everything now, thankfully, now in the open,unlike the shrouds of Reggie’s day…….
But, the West Pier by night; I said “I” at the start of this “story”; it was actually “we”- myself and the partner I still have; the reticence of changing to the first person SINGULAR due to unknown internalities of self-oppression and, thereby, self-censorship. WE went down to the wooden stumps, which were all that remained of the pier on the shore side; it was pitch dark……
In the 80s and 90s the derelict (even then; it was closed from 1975) Pier was a gay and bisexual male cruising site, and, intra-textual hommage notwithstanding, I too now imagine (looking back to then) the wraithes of gay men of yore(some dead of AIDS), haunting those stumps even now, looking for love, some of them pretending it was only for casual sex.(The cruising still occurs on the beach, I think around the Palace Pier)…..
Polemically,it makes me think how far we have come -albeit very recently-so that I now feel safe enough to read this piece here, sans significant censorship, in this group, right now. Also, that lgb people (and we ARE people)-and, less so, transgender people (who still have a distance to travel)-have only recently, in this country(and not at all in some other countries) had HUMAN rights, that is, since 1999; for instance, as regards housing succession, partner pension rights, civil partnerships, and(from this year) equal marriage rights(except for in Scotland). How- like women, working class people, ethnic minority and disabled/ill people, formerly (and STILL, to an extent, under the current disingenuously “ideological” government)- we were less than even second-class subjects. We were pariahs, our own doppelgangers,and (here the polemic metamorphoses back into my story/”story”, via an image) we were wraiths, slithering between the pillars of established, acceptable “society”. And, slithering back into the polemic, most lgbt peole do not want to know of our past;nor do some non lgbt peole want to be reminded: of the unavoidable fact that we have only had significant human rights for FIFTEEN years, thanks to the likes of Blair,Cameron, Tatchell and Stonewall(behind the scenes) and the influence of the European Court of Human Rights, and every lgbt activist and supporter who lobbied to make us human in law.Extraordinarily,John Major started it, two years earlier, with the lowering of the age of consent to 18(not equal but a beginning)…..
Anyway, self-referentially,back to my “story” story: explaining away as I go !(all the modernists and postmodernists did it, sometimes with acute self-awareness and openness, so there !:); well, there is…. NO STORY, as such; there IS:
1.a potted history of lgbt rights(VERY potted!)
2 an image/metaphor.
4. an overt homage to the beauties of Bartlett’s and Roberts’ texts; and…(lurking there somewhere amongst the gloom of the Brighton fog)
a hiraeth for the West Pier and its heyday QUA a pier; a poignant, voyeuristic interest in its subsequent , gradual decay; and in the shadowy (under)world of gay men cruising…..
One day, I MIGHT write a (derivative) “real” story of two gay men who started with sex under Brighton’s old West Pier, met again, and fell in love…