Category: LGBT


OK….I’m sure some of you will have predicted this….but I need to talk about EastEnders.

It’s been a hard week. After relatively smooth sailing since Peggy died, we were hit with a big shock on Monday when dead-Ben was in fact revealed to be dead-Paul. I’d anticipated this reveal for a while, but, like Pam, I chose not to accept it. In my head, I’d envisioned him jetting off around the World or leaving for a new life with Jenny. But on Monday night, those visions were shattered as we were delivered the gruesome duff-duff of Paul in the mortuary.

[Disclaimer: Don’t fear for my mental health. I am aware that this is all totally fictional, but for someone who watches regularly, it’s hard not to be affected by last week’s scenes. Here’s why….]

I’ve always been a fan of the Cokers. For two years they’ve been a source of normality within the Square, amongst all the drama from the Carters and the Mitchells and the Beales. The Cokers are not about sensationalism, their storylines are subtle and low-key. (which is one of the reasons why their grief seems so much more real and natural). It’s lovely to have a couple who have so much history and love for each other. (I’ve written about them before – see ‘Kudos to the Cokers’ for more Coker-praise.) And when their grandson Paul arrived, it triggered a fresh new dynamic for the show. The grandparent-grandson set up was interesting to see amidst the more traditional family s
tructures, and Paul’s strong relationship with Pam and Les provided many touching moments. (Giving Claudette a piece of his mind, sharing his suspicions with Pam and supporting Les when the truth about Christine came out.)
But in the last few weeks, things have turned sinister for
our favourite undertakers. First we’ve had the brilliant but wicked Aunt Babe threatening to expose Les’ secret and then Paul’s real mum rocks up and reveals Pam hasn’t been entirely truthful about her departure all along. It looked like we were in for a week of revelations and drama. The simmering tension over Jenny’s arrival had culminated in Pam finally deciding to come clean to Paul (after he’d been unknowingly harsh his mum, thinking she was Les’ blackmailer). It was clear that things were about to get messy for the Cokers, but as an audience, we needed Pam to bite the bullet, tear off the plaster and tell Paul the truth, so that we could go back to hunky-dory-Coker normality – dancing in the launderette and giggling on the flower stall, that sort of stuff.

Then, tragedy. After a night out with Ben, Paul was attacked by a homophobic gang and murdered.

Although, as a result, we’ve had some fantastic television and truly moving scenes, it’s all just so…cruel! Paul was always the figure of support and reason to Ben, so his death, due partly to Ben’s hot-headness, is twist that makes the blood run cold. Harry Reid has put in excellent performances this week as the guilt and shock begins to eat away at Ben, but did it really need to happen? The idea of a sturdy, comfortable gay couple living on the Square was so appealing and Paul and Ben (Pen? Baul?) were the closest we’ve had to that since Chryed. Paul was a refreshingly confident gay character who broke the stereotypes. Paul had brought Ben a long way. He’d helped him deal with his feelings and issues and supported him through his break-up with Abi. He’d been there for Ben when Phil publicly showed his disapproval and things were finally beginning to settle down for them. For a fleeting moment it looked like they might have been…well….happy!  But, I suppose that’s not really Albert Square’s style.

There’s also the matter of Jenny. Paul will now never know the truth about his mother’s departure and lived his whole life thinking she didn’t want him. Isn’t that an awful thought? He died thinking his mother didn’t want him. Not only that, but his death was so sudden. In Friday’s episode he was happily heading out with Ben and by Monday he was a gonner. The fact this all happened off-screen is even more grim as we can only imagine the trauma Paul went through and the fear he felt.

Watching Pam deny the news of Paul’s death was heart-breaking, especially as she remained focused on Les’ health, whilst he kept it together for Pam’s sake, breaking down only when Pam was out of sight – remaining true to what we know about Les bottling things up to be strong for his wife. The scene where Pam and Les return home, Pam silently heading to Paul’s room clutching one of his jackets whilst Les pours away the tea Paul never got to drink, is so poignant and subtle but packs in just as much tension and drama as a Queen Vic fire episode.

What’s most heart-breaking is that none of the Cokers deserve this. When a soap character dies, there’s usually some reasoning behind it. Their previous actions usually justify it somehow which takes the edge off it – it comforts us to find some justification. But there’s none of that for Paul. He was innocent. Loyal, caring and with a fully-working conscience. (As Les said tonight, ‘Hate crime? Who could hate Paul?’). Pam and Les have also kept themselves out of trouble, being the average community members that they are, so it’s tough to see them going through so much trauma. Add to that the knowledge of the pain they have already suffered – losing their son Laurie, suspecting Paul of blaming them, the recent blackmail from Aunt Babe – and their grief makes for almost unbearable viewing. In this instance there is no justification, which I suppose is the writers point. Chillingly, hate crime like this happens all the time to people just like Paul. People are killed because of who they love, who they worship and who they follow, as Twitter confirms every day. This wasn’t just an average soap death, it carried a painful but important message, which makes it even harder to accept.

It would have been great to see Paul get a storyline of his own, away from Ben and his grandparents. Perhaps make some other links on the Square and become a long-term character. Jonny Labey has done an excellent job in his performances but it would have been interesting to have seen a bit more to Paul before he was bumped off.

The last time I wrote about the Cokers, I talked about how Christine’s storyline seemed to come out of the blue from this normal little family, but had such an impact. Well, they’ve done it again. In the aftermath of the huge, sensational storylines like Peggy’s death and Bobby’s imprisonment, the Cokers have surprised us with a humble story of grief and injustice that has been just as powerful. Storylines rarely have such an impact but the cruelty of Paul’s death has left viewers distraught and emotionally drained. (See Pam’s note to Paul/Les’ kitchen sink breakdown/Pam’s breakdown to Belinda/Pam’s speech in the Vic etc. *sob*) Soaps need characters like the Cokers and I hope that they’re around for a long time (I said that in my last Coker-post, and now we’re one down!), and, though I’m sure Lin Blakley and Roger Sloman will be superb, seeing Les and Pam attempt to cope over the next few weeks is not going to make for easy viewing.

It’s been a horrible week. With news of senseless shootings and stabbings and deaths plastered all over the news, the cloud of misery hanging over our country is almost tangible.

In school, the shock has been palpable within the staffroom. We’ve sat in disgust, grasping at thoughts in an attempt to make sense of the headlines. It’s certainly left us grown-ups horrified, and I’ve been thinking about the effect this week will have on our children.

What I’ve been thinking is, should we allow children to be exposed to the hate of the world or protect them from it?  Do we run the risk of terrifying them by showing just how horrible people can be or do we trick them into thinking everything is jolly and Disneyfied. My answer hovers somewhere in between.

I think children should be made aware of the hate within this world as, unfortunately as this week has shown, there is a lot of it about. Mollycoddling them will only set them up for disappointment. However, there is also a lot of good that can be shown. We should be training these children to combat hate with kindness. We should be ensuring that they are not naïve or ignorant, that they are prepared and armed emotionally.

I’ve been teaching in year 4 this week and, as I’ve done on several occasions during those (rare) spare minutes at the end of the day, we’ve watched Newsround on the interactive whiteboard. The children love it and requested it. I was a wary of playing at first, aware that the events in Orlando may not be the most pleasant end to the day, but thinking on, I decided the children needed to hear not just about the horrific attack but also about the surge of support, respect and love that was sparked around the globe. Scenes from around the World, including Orlando and Soho, have been so powerful, I felt they should see that the majority of humans will not let hate win. The children weren’t upset or disturbed or frightened. They were sympathetic towards the victims and their families. They were shocked that another human could act this way. They were supportive.

Back in November, after the attacks in Paris, I was teaching in a school which mentioned the terrible events during prayer time. The children’s questions were answered honestly. There were no dramas from the children or fact-dodging from the teachers. In the classroom, the children constructed a memorial featuring the Eiffel tower and the peace symbol. The children weren’t forced into creating this, they did this themselves after hearing of the attacks and wanting to create a space of prayer and respect for the victims. They were showing empathy. They were just as disgusted and confused over the incident as the adults.

Last year I was in another school teaching RE. We were discussing Islam when a child raised her hand and said ‘My dad told me all Muslims are terrorists’. Wow. This is when I realised how important it is that we teach our children the honest facts. At home, they could be hearing rubbish like that comment or, just as damaging, having World events shielded from them. I gently corrected the little girl, aware this was not her view point, and a discussion followed.

These dreadful events should never happen, but when they do we should be taking the opportunity to involve children in a way that doesn’t scare them, but strengthens them. We should be developing their ability to empathise and care, to recognise hate and to connect emotionally. We should be encouraging the compassion that children are so capable of. It would be easy to shield them from the atrocities, hide the facts and pretend everything is wonderful. But what is that teaching our children? How it that helping them? In their lives, they are going to experience upset and pain. They’ll be seeing acts of senseless horror on the news. Whilst shoving that in their face and screaming ‘This is what the World’s like! This is what you have to look forward to!’ is obviously not what I’m suggesting, I do think it’s important to gently give them a peak at the reality of the World we live in. A focus need not be on the negatives, but the (for want of a better word) positives – in this case the touching displays of support for Orlando, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Love is Love speech, the wonderful work of Jo Cox.

To finish, let’s go back to that little girl with the ignorant father. ‘What is a terrorist, then?’ she asked, and I carefully explained. ‘Oh,’ she said, when I was finished, nodding in understanding. ‘I thought it was someone who travelled the world and visited lots of places’. ‘No,’ I said, unable to resist smiling. ‘That’s a tourist.’

 

I’m never one to be out of Oz for long. Hot on the ruby heels of my re-read of Wicked, I took a twister back into Maguire’s Oz in his sequel novel, Son of a Witch. Like Wicked, I’ve found Son to read better each time I re-read. Although it does lack some of the magic of the first book, fans of Maguire’s Oz won’t be disappointed as his trademark darkness is still evident.

The story starts with a mysterious stranger, later to be revealed as Lirr, suspected (but never confirmed) son of Elphaba, being admitted to the same mauntery where he was born. Liir has been the victim of a strange attack, leaving him comatose and inches from death. He is nursed by the silent Candle, who uses her musical skills to lure his mind into reverie where the truth about the attack is revealed.

We’re taken back to the moment Wicked ended, seconds after Elphaba’s death. In these early chapters, we get to spend time with those familiar travellers from Baum’s novel, though they turn out to be bitchier than originally thought! Their bitter quarrels and the Tin Man’s sassy advice to  Dorothy (that she should invest in a leash for Toto) provide plenty of humour before events turn pretty bleak.

The re-appearance of Glinda is very welcome but Maguire taunts us with the idea of her becoming a more prominent feature and adopting Liir. Unfortunately for both the thought is far too fleeting and Glinda is soon off to her country retreat. Obviously a favourite character from the original book, Glinda’s short and sparse appearances in Son are refreshing, with Maguire still proving he is capable of mixing the familiar with the new. Glinda is still as air-headed as ever but it’s touching to see her so affected by her friend’s death. Her loyalty to Elphaba remains apparent through her support of Liir.

As for our protagonist, Liir transforms from the pathetic, mild-mannered child lingering around Elphaba’s skirts, to a brooding and angry young man, emotionally blunted by the vagueness of his past, his own self-loathing and loss of his (poor) mother figure. By the end of the novel Liir has expressed many of the traits which made Elphaba such a strong hero. He is determined in his quest to find Nor. He shows very little sentiment for others, or himself, and his desire to make some sense out of a very messy situation binds him to the reader. One of the strongest themes of Son of a Witch is that of relationships and, in this story, Liir becomes part of a very modern love triangle. Whilst Liir does love Candle, the mother of his child, he also has a touching relationship with Trism, Minor Menacier for the Ozian Army. Remembering that Son of a Witch is now eleven years old, with Wicked being published ten years prior to that, Maguire’s portrayal of relationships, sexual fluidity and that idea of indecisiveness over our desires is quite contemporary. Liir never actively questions his sexuality – it isn’t an issue of whether he likes men or women, it’s whether he loves Candle or Trism or both! Maguire should be admired for putting a bisexual (or pansexual, it’s never really clear which) character at the heart of his work. By the end of the novel, the reader is left feeling equally torn over which lover Liir should be with. Both relationships are written so delicately and naturally that it is clear both sets of couples care very much about each other. However, at the end Liir is left alone, with both his partners missing, therefore leaving him unable to come to any arrangement. His attentions, instead, are focused on his daughter, who he has found wrapped in blankets and hidden in the barn, abandoned, for reasons unknown, by Candle. Maguire certainly is the master of the cliff-hanger with that final line – ‘She cleaned up green’. Does this confirm Liir’s parentage as he carries the green gene? Will history repeat itself now another green child lives in Oz? Will the child live up to her grandmother’s name? Maguire sets up questions as fast as he answers them.

Another thing that strikes me about Maguire’s work is his ability to mix the familiar with the unknown. Oz is painted in Baum’s book as this wonderful, magical fantasy land, whereas Maguire blends that beautifully with familiar elements which makes Oz appear imperfect and closer to our world. Creatures such as Draffes and Tsebras are often referenced and briefly described, making it clear, without deliberately stating, these are just Giraffes and Zebras, but given a new name in a new world. The mauntery has never been directly referenced as a nunnery but through Maguire’s descriptions the comparison is clear.

As expected with a sequel, Son of a Witch ties up a few loose ends from Wicked but also introduces more questions for the third book. Princess Nastoya is finally released from her human body and sent to death. Maguire tackles Nastoya’s story with striking truthfulness, commenting on her decaying body, diminishing mental state and foul smell in way that creates a tight anxiety about our own mortality and the idea of being trapped in life whilst longing for death. The story progresses rapidly, with few references to events from Wicked and Baum’s original Oz. On the road to the Emerald City, Liir bumps into an old crone and her companion, a young boy named Tip. Tip appeared in Baum’s original sequels to Oz and it’s thrilling to see Maguire continue to reference Baum’s original work. Readers of the full series will also know this is an early hint at a future story thread to be tied up in the next two novels.

Overall, Maguire’s sequel provides a welcome return to his vivid but twisted land of Oz. Though it may just be shy of reaching the dizzying awesomeness of Wicked, Son of Witch still dazzles with its story of frustration and belonging. Liir is a suitable replacement protagonist but, pleasingly, the shadow of Elphaba still looms. Fans of the first novel might be frustrated at the inevitable death of Elphaba, but her presence is certainly felt throughout the second book, not just as Oz recovers from her actions, but as her (suggested, never confirmed) son steps into her boots, dons her cloak and takes flight in her name.

Six thousand strong, they cried in unison, hoping that the echo of their message would be heard in the darkest, most cloistered cell in Southstairs as well as the highest office in the Palace of the Emperor.

“Elphaba lives! Elphaba lives! Elphaba lives!”

EastEnders has always been very special to me. When people ask me if I like it, I say ‘No. I live it.’ For me, EastEnders is a life choice. It’s the only soap I can watch and I think of these characters like real people that I visit four nights a week. (Wednesdays are so depressing).

But enough about my love for Albert Square. This week I want to talk about something deeply moving that has come somewhat out of the blue. Amongst the high-profile storylines like Kathy’s Return, the Linda/Dean Saga and the juggernaut that is the Lucy Beale Story, something modest and almost unnoticed has blossomed into a powerful piece of drama.

I am, of course, talking about Christine.

Dominic Treadwell Collins brought EastEnders back from the brink of death by injecting a mix of believable, edge-of-seat storylines and well-crafted characters. I was a fan from the moment the Cokers arrived. It was lovely to have a ‘normal’ (whatever that is), happy couple on the square. Whilst Lin Blakley (Pam) proved her talent at the emotional stuff when it was revealed Pam had helped her son to die, I was guilty of thinking Roger Sloman (Les) was more of a comedy actor. His gurning and over the top pronunciation painted Les as a loveable misery-guts who perhaps wouldn’t be out of place in a Carry On film. Then Paul arrived and the dream team was complete. It’s great to see the grandparents-grandson dynamic on screen, having been part of that family set up myself. Although I still think we need to see more from Paul, Jonny Labey has created a loyal and confident character, who isn’t without his faults, and who has a strong, protective relationship with his grandparents, particularly Pam.

So, for months, we’ve been speculating over Les’ supposed affair with Claudette (another fantastic character introduced by DTC) and last Monday Les finally revealed to a gobsmacked Pam that he had an alter-ego called Christine. Now, I had my suspicions for a few weeks that Les was cross-dressing (I’m an EastEnders expert – not much gets past me) and I must admit I was worried. After Les’ previous comedy scenes I was worried that the storyline might mock Les and his situation. Thankfully this didn’t happen.

Instead, we got a beautifully written and sensitively performed piece of drama. The focus has been less on what Les is wearing and more on the fact he has kept it a secret for so long. Friday’s scenes were extremely powerful. I found myself wanting to skip through all the Kathy and Ben stuff (even though they have been brilliant) to get back to the Coker’s kitchen table. I felt the same butterflies as Pam as she waited to meet Christine and when she finally made an appearance I was touched by Christine’s fragility. The moment Paul walked in was truly shocking, as the scene beforehand was so engrossing the sound of the front door opening provoked a genuine flutter of panic.

What EastEnders has done is incredible. Les doesn’t want to be a woman. He isn’t transgender and he isn’t gay – he is still utterly in love with Pam. For Les, Christine is a coping mechanism. He spends his days suppressing emotion and acting in the conventional and socially acceptable male way. For Les, Christine is his chance to express his emotions. She is simply another part of Les. EastEnders are giving us a highly believable and modern storyline. I know lots of men who feel pressurised to be that archetypal male. I’ve felt that pressure myself (remember cardigan-gate?). When Les explained that he needed to be feminine in order to express his emotion I completely understood. Les has become a victim of the pressures of society that many of us feel and feels that crying or grieving would betray his masculinity, therefore he has to appear female in order to do those things. I also think that it’s refreshing that EastEnders have chosen to give this story to an older character. I know a few people who would think that only the younger generation experience this sort of crisis, and would proudly say ‘Oh, you never saw this when I was younger!’. Well, they’re wrong. And stupid.

Lin Blakley has been magnificent as Pam has tried to come to terms with no longer knowing the man she loves, whilst Roger Sloman has surprised us with a moving performance as Les and Christine. I hope he gets the recognition he deserves. I’m sure this storyline will continue along a sensitive and realistic path. As much as I understand Pam’s frustration, I really want to see Pam and Les patch up their problems. Pam is a force of support within the Square and I’d love to see her support her husband. I want to see more of Christine and I don’t want to see her used as a figure of ridicule (hmm….not happy with you, Eamonn Holmes).

Whatever happens, I hope the Cokers, all four of them, are around for a very long time.

Very rarely do you come across a book that stays with you long after you have read the final page. I read this book in January and I know I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time yet.

I picked up This Book is Gay after noticing a buzz about it online and wanting to prepare myself for any questions on identity future students might have. I came to the simple conclusion:

This book is an absolute must-read for anyone working with young people.

James Dawson answers all the questions you might be afraid to ask with a warm, comfortable attitude. There is no room for embarrassment or coyness where this book is involved. No dancing around topics with tenuous analogies and awkwardly false scenarios – just straight to the point, no nonsense facts whilst maintaining a comfortable and relaxed tone. And that is exactly how it should be. At some points, reading this book took me back to late-night chats I’d had with friends when we were teens – reading this book is just like talking to a good friend. This Books is Gay addresses every topic under the LGBT umbrella (and what a wonderful brolly that would be!)

Now, this book might not be suitable for those of us working in Primary education, however, for those working in Secondary schools I cannot recommend this book enough. As teachers, it is our duty to provide support, care and guidance for our pupils whenever and however they need it. In today’s times, where sex, sexuality and gender are talked about more openly than ever, it is important that us teachers arm ourselves for any discussions students might need. When I was in Secondary school, I certainly don’t remember any support for students discovering their identity – just a lot of emphasis on heterosexuality and cisgender. In modern times, we need to be there for our students who are finding out who they are – to remind them that however they identify, that’s OK! – and This Book is Gay is an exceptional tool for support.

This book is not just for gay students – in fact it can be of value to anyone regardless of how they identify. Dawson blends factual info and personal stories from contributors around the world with his wonderful quick wit and humour. A former PSHCE teacher, I have a feeling his former students were very lucky to have him on their side. As a writer and a teacher he is an inspiration to those pursuing either career and, as an NQT, I have added him to my growing list of role models.

In short, buy this book!! Dawson has earned that space on your shelf. This Book is Gay not only provides teachers with a handy go-to for support in answering any tricky, unanticipated questions but is also a vital tool for helping students find comfort in their own skin and recognise that it is OK to just be themselves.