What ‘Cucumber’ is telling us about the real cost of homophobia.

Warning – this blog contains massive spoilers for Channel 4’s Cucumber, as well as discussion of all kinds of triggers.

Wow. It’s twelve hours on from last night’s Cucumber, and it’s still with me. Right there, at the front of my mind.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Cucumber is a UK Channel 4 series, written by Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk, Doctor Who). The main story concerns two middle aged gay men in Manchester, who have recently separated. In last night’s episode, one of them was murdered by a man called Daniel, because Daniel was struggling to accept the aspect of his own sexuality that was attracted to the same sex. There’s a great recap on Digital Spy, written by my pal Cameron K McEwan, which saves me trying to go over it again here – because that’s not what this blog is about.

We live in a society which is, mostly, seen through the eyes of the ‘male gaze‘. And the owner of those eyes is white and straight. It’s difficult for anyone on the inside to understand how it feels to be on the outside. Obviously, this is why we have equality legislation; to protect those of us, whether female, of colour, non-cis gendered, disabled and so on, who do not fit inside that narrow box. But let’s call bullshit on that right now. We all know that most things in the western world are skewed in favour of ‘the man’. If you don’t believe me, just look at who comprises the vast majority of our governments, our corporations and even our entertainment industry. It’s an unpalatable fact, but a fact it is. So it’s a pain in the arse for those of us who do not conform to that image, but also a pain in the arse for those who do. That’s one hell of a facade to have to maintain.

So, when a straight white man is confronted with feelings he’d rather not acknowledge; feelings that are strange, alien and discomforting, feelings that take him outside of the narrow confines that have been created for him, what does he do? Some will sink into depression. Some will talk to friends and seek help. Some will find the courage to make themselves heard. And some will react with violence – violence to others, or violence to self.

Homophobic attacks make headlines – sometimes. But what about insidious homophobia? The kind that’s there, but never really gets talked about in polite conversation. Here’s an example; I was walking along the street two weekends ago, wearing black jeans, a lumberjack shirt, a black biker jacket and with my hair tied back. A ‘boyish’ outfit? Possibly, I wasn’t thinking that when I put it on – I was thinking it was a practical and comfortable outfit for the day, and one I liked. So it was interesting then, that when I passed a group of teenage boys they felt the need to sneer ‘fucking lesbian’ in my direction. I stopped, and turned around and, being the gobby cow I am, asked them to say it again. They were taken aback, but one had the guts to mutter ‘you’re a lesbian’. I responded, ‘I’ll take that as a compliment. Thank you’ and skipped off on my merry way.

Because I can skip off on my merry way. I’m more than happy for people to think I’m a lesbian. Why on Earth not? But I don’t have to put up with that shit day in, day out.

This is the world LGBTQI people live in. A world where some straight people are constantly telling them they are abnormal. Where everything is seen through that perfect, straight, white, male gaze. What is normal? Who gets to decide? Is sexuality really that black and white? No, of course not. What is normal for me, won’t be normal for you or for Joe Bloggs over there in the corner. But it continues to happen. And stupid straight people will complain ‘why is there gay pride? We don’t have straight pride!’ Memo to straights – EVERY FUCKING DAY IS STRAIGHT PRIDE, okay? We have it good, get over it, move on.

Why did those boys publicly call me a lesbian? What did it matter to them if I was? Is it because they feel the need to pass a social commentary on the sexual preferences of the people living in their local area? Or is it because, being a lesbian would mean I could not relate to them on a sexual level. And that frightens them, because if you can’t relate to a woman on a sexual level, what’s the point of her?

And so, similarly, if you can’t relate to a man on a sexual level; if you can’t slap each other’s backs and talk about the ‘arse on that’ and the ‘tits on that’, why bother with him at all? Surely that makes him ‘other’. And ‘other’ is frightening.

We live in a society where the use of a phrase such as ‘that’s so gay’, is considered acceptable and funny. I got into a very grumpy spat with James Blunt on Twitter when he posted a joke that I considered crass at best, and homophobic and rapey at worst. Yes, Blunt’s joke is pretty minor, but he’s done it before and had been asked not to do it again. When gay people are telling straight people that certain language is offensive, it seems like it’s a bit of a no-brainer; use different language. The point is ALL these ‘little’ jokes, all these words and sayings, mount up to a wall of sound. And that wall of sound is telling LGBTQI people that they are ‘different’, that they are ‘other’. And it needs to stop, and it needs to stop now.

Because, if it doesn’t, more stories like the one in Cucumber are going to happen. Men like Daniel will struggle with their sexuality, because society tells them that being gay isn’t ‘normal’ and ‘okay’, and they’ll lash out at the people around them. Or at themselves.

People ask me why I am so passionate about gay rights, and why I put gay characters in all my work. This is why.

A friend of mine was gay. Quietly, privately. Then he fell in love with another man. He then realised that, to be with the man he loved, he would have to come out. Instead, he killed himself because he could not bear the shame he felt he would bring upon his family.

Please take a moment to think about that.

Until society treats LGBTQI as normal – and it IS normal – there will be more Daniels. There will be more young men and women standing in a darkened bedroom, contemplating the noose they just made, or the pills they have stolen, or the razor blade on the sink. There will be more stupid governments, making more stupid laws that make any sexual preference apart from ‘straight’ a crime. There will be more churches telling their followers that if they are not cis-gendered then they are going to hell.

Suffering and death, simply because of the way chemistry in the human body works.

How abnormal is that?

What the hell is going on in LA?

I love the web series community.  Love it.  99.9999% of people I’ve met in the past three years have been awesome; talented, brilliant, kind, supportive, inspiring and creative people.  Web series have entertained me, inspired me, at times challenged me, and have definitely given me some lovely, cherished friends.

So, when someone messes with the community, I get a bit annoyed.  And that is precisely what is going on right now in LA.

There are three web series events coming up in LA. LA Webfest, Hollyweb Festival and The Indies Series Awards.  Hollyweb and LA Webfest are festivals, The Indie Series Awards is, as the name suggests, an awards show.  I attended all three of these events last year – as luck would have it, they are all held at around the same time in late March/early April.  This is wonderful for non-LA based web series creators, like me, who can then justify the expense of the trip with the triple whammy of events, meetings and networking.

So, I was pretty shocked to hear that, this year, LA Webfest decided to put in place an exclusivity clause, banning anyone from entering LA Webfest and also the ISAs and/or Hollyweb Festival.

I was even more shocked to hear from web series creators themselves that, following the ISA nomination announcements on Wednesday, emails were sent from LA Webfest to ISA nominees demanding that they withdraw from the ISAs within 48 hours, or be banned from not only LA Webfest, but also from KO Webfest, in Korea, which LA Webfest are programming.

Where did this bullying of web series creators come from?

My husband Elisar Cabrera, who is the founder and producer of Raindance Web Fest and who also runs MCM London Comic Con Vid Fest UK, was on the international web series festival panel at the 2014 LA Webfest. During the panel, he talked about the increasing numbers of Web Festivals across the globe and that, within twelve months, he foresaw competition among festivals for the best series.  He was roundly shouted down by one or two people, including Michael Ajakwe, the owner of LA Webfest, moderating the panel, who stated his intention that web series festivals should all be working together for the greater good of the web series creator community.

In hindsight, these seem like hollow words.

Now, I understand that LA Webfest was the first web series festival – it launched in 2010 (the ISAs actually launched the same year, but were an online event in year one). I can appreciate that they want to protect their business, but penalising web series creators is not the way to go about things. Can you imagine if McDonalds put out an email stating that anyone who eats in Burger King is no longer welcome in their restaurants? Ludicrous.

All this situation does is hurt the web series community and, specifically, web series creators.  Most creators work with little, or no, money and deciding to visit a festival is a big decision.  Unlike the film industry, much of the web series industry is not based in LA, so undertaking a trip is a big commitment, both in time and expense.  This often comes off the back of an even bigger commitment of time and expense in making a web series in the first place!

To get an individual series noticed in an increasingly crowded marketplace is a difficult job, and creators rely heavily on laurels as a testament to their show’s value.  It seems unbelievable then that LA Webfest, so passionate about web series and the community that they took the time and trouble to set up the world’s first web series festival, now wants to close shop and are chucking their toys out the pram at anyone who doesn’t acquiesce.

It’s commonplace in the film industry to have exclusivity clauses on festival screenings, but, let’s be honest, this ain’t the film business.  Web festivals are in their infancy, and although massive strides are being made, the industry is nowhere near that stage yet.  Having several events in close proximity, like these, can only increase the number of attendees making the journey, and strengthen the community as a whole.

The big question is – why? Why put in an exclusivity clause at all? Why send emails demanding creators withdraw from the ISAs – again, not a festival folks, an awards ceremony. I assume the same will happen when Hollyweb announce their selections.

I don’t have a vested interest in any of these events.  I’m just a web series creator who hates seeing what this is doing to our inclusive industry, and one who hates the fact that new creators, submitting to the LA festival scene for the first time in 2015, will find themselves in the middle of this terrible mess.

The team who run The ISAs and the team who run Hollyweb Festival are hardworking, brilliant, supportive members of the web series community who run two awesome events.  The fact that they are caught up in this completely avoidable situation is no fault of their own.  Unfortunately, it only takes one event to cause unending problems for everyone else.

So, LA Webfest, please rethink this policy.  Please consider the damage you are doing to the community and to creators with this silly spat.

Please see sense.