Queer is radical, assimilating and party lines are not

When first published in 1968, The UK’s Gay Times reviewed the first memoir of Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant, their reviewer scathingly citing Crisp as a “bad example”, stating the book “should have been published posthumously”.

Crisp’s crime?

He was a high femme gender-bender.

When the UK’s Stonewall group launched in the 1980s, Derek Jarman had some words about its organisers and supporters, folks like Ian McKellan, who kept their sexuality closeted until it couldn’t hurt their careers (I imagine he, like myself, would have made more than a few words about George Takei’s opportunistic reinvention of himself as THE Gay of B-list celebs at a time when it actually could, and did, give his career a boost). In fact, I’ll reprint some:

THE PEACE OF ANONYMITY – STONEWALL WAS A RIOT

The queers of the sixties, like those since, have connived with their repression under a veneer of respectability. Good mannered city queers in suits and pinstripes, so busy establishing themselves, were useless at changing anything.

To be Queer was never respectable – even though you wore a suit. The more conventional, the more desperate the hidden life. Pushed to the fringes, our world existed in the twilight of Heterosoc1reality. and if anyone raised their voice in protest they were accused of endangering the peace of anonymity. A demonstration was likely to frighten the closeted, their inactivity reproached.

Stonewall was a RIOT which occurred in the summer of 1969 in Christopher Street, New York, outside a bar of the same name. For the first time Queers fought back with bricks and bottles and empty beer glasses and burned cars. The best fighters were the trannies2 – a dress was a badge of courage. The riot sparked a revolution in our consciousness. A community of interest was established and a debate was entered. The harder it was fought the more our case was furthered.

Everything that made our world visible reproached the closeted. One day it might be as silly as moaning about Quentin Crisp’s blue rinse as a BAD ROLE MODEL, or, on another, complaining of a rowdy Gay Liberation Front meeting. For them, we were not them. They took everything and did nothing, sat in their interior decoration, attended the opera and did fuck all to help change; their minds as starched as their shirts.

Twenty years later, Stonewall – the self-elected and self-congratulating parliamentary lobbying group – have made more than enough compromise with convention. Did those who rioted at the Stonewall bar fightso that we could so easily be co-opted by a gay establishment? Do they represent our best interests in Heterosoc?

Do they represent us?

Why did one man go to Downing Street to put our case? Why were there no women? Weren’t the rest of us acceptable? It was as if no Queer had ever been in number 10 before, the fuss everyone made.

…..

Part of the con was to steal the name Stonewall and turn our riot into their tea party. We are now integrated into the worst form of British hetero politic – the closed room, the gentlemen’s club – where decisions are made undemocratically for an ignorant population which enjoys emasculation.
So they 0 Stonewall – won’t acknowledge this criticism. They’ll pretend there isn’t a debate. The only way that they can succeed in their politics is through the myth of homogenity and the ‘gay community’. But our lives are plural. They always have been – sexuality is a diversity. Every orgasm brings its own liberty.

— Derek Jarman, At Your Own Rish: A Saint’s Testament, 1992

By forcing a homogenous narrative onto the trans community —by insisting that there’s no difference between us and cis people, by discouraging a plurality of thoughts and experiences and ideas of individual trans people— we are expecting anti-radicalism of the worst kind in our community. By telling us, explicitly or even implicitly, that those of us who are simultaneously a binary and non-binary gender that we’re somehow only really the latter is to throw us under the bus for the sake of respectability.

Furthermore, believe it or not, it is entirely possible to say “we have a fundamentally unique experience of our genders as trans women and trans men from that of cis people, but that does not automatically exclude us from deserving the same rights to space.

The fact that I have pretty much always stated that we trans people have a fundamentally different experience from cis people has never been a secret [1], [2], now has it perplexing me that I’ve been implicitly accused of making ideological bedfellows with some of the most despicable characters in the pagan and polytheist communities. Of course, I also really enjoy Raven Kaldera’s Hermaphrodeities, and it is not at all hard to find pseudo-radical assimilationist trans kids on Tumblr bitching about how the regular reminders throughout that, as trans and other gender-variant people, we have spiritual obligations, as least to ourselves, because of this, hurts pweshuss fee-fees because why can’t we all just be the same???

Sexuality is a plurality, and so is gender. Equal rights and equal access does not and should not erase differences for an assimilationist narrative of trans experience.

I’m really tired of white cis people cissplaining my transgender politics to me. This is something I have been working on within myself, constantly evaluating and re-assessing, exploring, debating, and meditating on for going on twenty years!

The fact of the matter is, TERFs are the ones who’ve perverted our celebration of our differences for their own despicable purposes, as an act of terrorism against trans people, effectively forcing an anti-Queer assimilationist narrative onto the “Voices” of trans justice. I’m sorry-not-sorry, but I’m not going to sit on my hands and let those thumping an assimilationist party line at me, be they other trans people or (ostensibly well-meaning) cis people who want an ally badge, scare me into erasing my differences because Ruth Barrett and others can’t handle the existence of a paradox and the simple scientific fact that paradoxes are a part of nature.


1: Heterosexual society
2: At the time Derek Jarman wrote this, “tranny” was an acceptable term in the queer community as a term of camaraderie and empowerment amongst trans folk and gender-bending gays. This is not a slurred usage, this is historical.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Start Your Week Off Right: A Round-Up

On Dieselpunk Encyclopaedia, Gotham City Revisited focuses on Toronto —gorgeous! Also check out Our Gallery: The Fantastic Art of 600v

For those who share my aesthetic and cinematic tastes:
Slow Motion Angel (Derek Jarman fansite)
Silent Hollywood: The Silent Film Database
Brand Upon the Brain: a Film by Guy Maddin (promotional site)
My Winnipeg: A Docu-Fantasia from Director Guy Maddin (promotional site)
Guy Maddin Blogathon: Confessions of a Maddin Newbie (23 Sept 2011 blog)

…and how about some gorgeous 1920s film posters.

…and some free-to-download recording from Annette Henshaw.

…and how ’bout a Roaring Twenties Tumblog?

L'Aperitif…and while I’m on a Jazz Age / Art Deco sort of kick, have you ever heard of Gerda Wegener? She was a Danish illustrator and painter, and apparently seemed to have done a lot of lesbian-themed stuff —not my cup of tea for eroticism, but gorgeous illustrations, nonetheless. The reason she came to my attention was, oddly, not as an Art Deco illustrator, but because her first marriage (of nineteen years) was to to “Einar Wegener”, the assigned-at-birth name of the first-ever documented male-to-female transsexual Lili Elbe. Elbe lived as a woman through most of the 1920s (possibly the whole decade, the biographical info I’m finding is sparse) and started “dressing full-time” in 1912/13, after the couple moved to Paris. Elbe also modelled for Wegener’s paintings at some time prior to the move to Paris, and in 1913 Wegener’s audience was shocked to learn that her favourite petite femme fatale model was legally her “husband”. Elbe is commonly believed amongst TS/TG history circles to have technically been intersexed, possibly a form of Kleinfelter’s syndrome (though this specific is mainly believed because it’s the most common IS syndrome affecting those determined to have a “male” physiology at birth), because one of the known documents of her surgeries describes rudimentary ovaries or possibly ovotestes; at this point in medical knowledge, it’s uncertain to say much with such certainty about some-one who died eighty years ago. Elbe died within a week after a final, far more experimental surgery, implanting a uterus; her body rejected the organ and went septic, but she reportedly died happily. Gerda was reportedly completely supportive of Elbe’s transition, some contemporary accounts even suggest that she’s the one who encouraged Elbe’s transition. A year or so prior to Elbe’s death, their marriage was annulled by the King of Denmark, and soon after Elbe’s death, Wegener remarried despite her lesbian preferences. Her career as an illustrator and painter soon faded into obscurity, but what she did do in the few years afer Elbe’s death suggest that Elbe’s memory continued to be Wegener’s muse for some time later.

Wait, what? Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Ghost of Gary Coleman?

Oh, that’s right, this is a polytheism blog —how dare I forget?

You’ve all seen Myths Retold, right? Since I’ve posted about one of England’s national treasures over the past week, I just though some of you might want to check out the OLDE ENGLISH tag on Myths Retold.

Patch could use some books on Hellenic death.

As a bit of a mini follow-up to my post about the heart symbol, those of you who are into creative “pubescaping” and are bad at freehanding might be delighted to know that there’s an analogue app for that.

Dver reminds us how to get the most out of local libraries, acknowledging, as I do, that this may all be completely new information to some people (I’m still amazed at this phenomenon, myself, and I’m a little younger than her, even).

ALSO:
Cara Schulz quoted and linked to a post of mine. Hijinks ensue. I lose respect for pagans who comment on blogs. (Apparently, some-one who admits that they are more able of body, and rank higher on income and “straightness” than I do is experienced enough with disenfranchisement to tell me I don’t know disenfranchisement. Gotta love the SuperAlly™!)

And just in case you were curious:
I finally passed 200 hits in a single day this past week! Took long enough, too.


Shit You’ve Probably Read Already:
* 23 Reasons Why Dionysians are the Best Friends
* Star Foster Surprises No-one by Saying Something Over-Generalising; Gets Rather Articulately Pwnd by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus.


Your New Old Word for the Week:
Acritition: sexual intercourse without orgasm.
Some believe the orgasm is the only climax in love-making, but I can tell you of times of acritition that have been far more passionate than most times including ejaculate.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

We are gathered here today to celebrate Derek Jarman

It’s the anniversary of the birth of Derek Jarman, possibly my favourite director. If he were still alive today, he’d be 70, and he’d be fabulous.

My first exposure to Jarman’s work was possibly his most accessible film, Jubilee, filmed during two weeks using a script that changed regularly as filming progressed, influenced by the strengths and weaknesses of its cast, during the year of the Queen’s Jubilee, 1977, and released the following year. Working titles of the film included the subtitles of “An Anarchic Comedy of Sex and Violence” and “A Time Less Golden”. The overall tone and aesthetic of the film is heavily influenced by the newsworthy punk scene of the day, but met criticisms from the self-appointed faces of that scene, including designer Vivienne Westwood, who shortly after released a t-shirt “An Open Letter to Derek Jarman”, with the front and back design being a barely coherent and incredibly homophobic rant that, as best as anybody with decent reading comprehension could tell, spends around two-hundred words to say nothing more than “I hated your film, and you’re a fag.”

My opinion differs from Ms Westwood’s (who has never apologised for her apparent homophobia in the letter, leading one to assume that not only does her opinion of the film still stand, but so does her apparent opinion of “fags”). From the very first time I saw Jubilee, I saw something about myself; this was a film about oppression, a film about the Crown, a film about history, a Queer fable and parody of morality tales, a film about England, and most importantly, it was a film about what made Derek Jarman, well, Derek Jarman.

This is the way it was and is, but not the way it was told. —Derek Jarman

All of his films are like that, or so I would come to learn. He doesn’t re-write history, he doesn’t re-interpret the facts, he simply makes history relevant to his life, and his life was that of a middle class youth who rejected that life for his own, the life of a Queer Englishman who grew to reject the hushed dual life of a lavender marriage for one of the relative freedom that the world of art and theatre could offer, a defender of male femininity even when he appeared only slightly effete on most given days, a radical traditionalist with emphasis on the radical.

I am certain that the world I lived in is preferable to the one my parents lived in. —Derek Jarman

There’s something about Jubilee that says everything I ever wanted to about my British identity indoctrinated into me by my grandparents. There’s something hard to articulate about it, and must be experienced to understand. Something that only people who understand it innately will ever understand, even if those who do not can still enjoy it, still see the inherent value in it.

Jubilee, though, is not his first film, nor is it his most notorious.

Looking at historical figures and wondering: were they gay? They may have had the same sexual preferences but ‘gay’ is a late twentieth century concept. I always felt uncomfortable with it; it always seemed to me to exude a false optimism. —Derek Jarman


Sebastiane is Derek Jarman’s first feature, though technically it’s credited as a co-write and co-directorship. It’s not my second exposure to Jarman, that position is held by his biopic of Caravaggio, but it was my next after, and after Jubilee, became my most-sought.

Sebastiane is an infamous film and one I have previously written about. Two things that really stand out about this one in British cinema: It is the only film by an English director to have a dialogue written completely in a foreign language, and also that nearly the entire thing is shot with the cast in little more than loincloths, and often not even that —only the opening scene is any real exception. Also of note, it is the only film I know of written entirely in reconstructed Latin vulgaris, the common Latin of the Roman peasants rather than the “classical” dialect of the upper classes. Jarman was also very consistent in his claim that the primary reason for the film’s rampant nudity was that they’d run out of budget for costuming, and in context, it made some sense.

An orgasm joins you to the past. Its timelessness becomes the brotherhood; the bretheren are lovers; they extend the ‘family’. I share that sexuality. It was then, is now and will be in the future. —Derek Jarman

The films of Derek Jarman, as his life progressed, became increasingly more personal. This is evidenced even before he received his diagnosis of being HIV-positive in December of 1986. 1980’s The Tempest takes the classic Shakespearean play and subtly morphs it into a homoerotic fable that, if Jarman’s diaries and published prose are to be believed, had been something of a personal interpretation of the story since his adolescence. 1985’s The Angelic Conversation, another tribute to Shakespeare, is composed of a series of silent film clips laid over atmospheric music and recitations of Shakespeare’s sonnets, hand-picked by Jarman for apparent homoerotic qualities, and read by Judy Dench. The end product is something as autobiographical as only an art film can be.

Yes, all men are homosexual, some turn straight. It must be very odd to be a straight man because your sexuality is hopelessly defensive. It’s like the idea of racial purity. —Derek Jarman

Even at his most serious, there’s a clear and distinct humour permeating his films. His last film, made while blind from AIDS-related illness, is Blue; the entire film’s visuals is nothing more than a blue screen, while bignettes of monologues are read and atmospheric music plays. There’s something very tongue-in-cheek about that, a man who always made films about life and history and identity as he saw it in a poetic sense, is making a film that will give the audience a very literal interpretation of the world as he now sees it.

Until I’d enjoyed being fucked I had not reached balanced manhood. When you overcome your fear you understand that gender has its own prison. When I meet heterosexual men I know that they have experienced only half of love.

Because as an unreconstructed man you had to be in control. It is about control. If you aren’t the dominmant partner in the sex act then you are emasculated, you are unsexed. It took a long time for me to realise the falsity of that. ‘He’s uptight, tight arsed’: you’ve got all of these colloquial expressions about anal sex. It’s different to overcome that conditioning. —Derek Jarman

Possibly the primary feat that mainstream Amerika will regard Jarman for as as the director who “discovered” actress Tilda Swinton, or the man to whom Swinton was “his Muse”. Even Swinton rejects these notions, stating that, if any-one was Jarman’s Muse, it would be himself. Furthermore, it was not Jarman who “discovered” Swinton, if anything, it was her own talents, including Edinborough theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and a television mini-series based on the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley that brought her to Jarman’s attention. What kept their working relationship to progress as long as it had, though, was a friendship and fondness of working together.

His background, though, was as a painter and in theatre design. He only started working in the medium of film when a friend gave him a Super-8 home movie camera in the early 1970s as a gift. This is apparent in just about every one of his films, as the visuals are deeply important to the meaning. His biopic of Caravaggio is given mid-Twentieth anachronisms in much the same way the painter himself painted Biblical and Greco-Roman figures in attire and with props contemporary to the 16th Century. The visuals in Sebastiane often come across as a Neo-Classical painting from the Renaissance. And every little cut-away clip during a lengthy soliloquy in The Tempest is just as important as the words.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Eros Day, 433 Eros, & Dr Susan Block

As a worshipper of Eros, I encounter a fair number of real-life characters, some directly, some indirectly. Possibly the most famous of these is Dr Susan Block; she’s obsessed with bonobos and has created something known as Eros Day, a holiday celebrated on whatever day of a calendar year that a vaguely phallic planetoid in the asteroid belt named 433 Eros by astronomers happens to be closest to Earth –usually late in January. I don’t think she’s pagan in the anthropological sense of “polytheist”, and she might only be pagan in the broadest, loosest modern sense —I’m really not sure; if she is, she keeps her practises and even religion a rather personal matter outside of her very public Eros Day celebrations. This doesn’t matter to me any more than it matters to Dionysians that the most “pagan” thing about Jim Morrison was a for-shits-and-giggles hand-fasting he had with a woman whose grip on reality is… tenuous, on a good day —while some may argue that possibly is rather Dionysian, it also says nothing about what he actually believed. This doesn’t matter though, because I do believe that the gods lead us down certain paths whether we believe in Them or not. So do Dr. Block’s religious beliefs matter? I say no. She describes her philosophy as “ethical hedonism”, and it very closely resembles some of the post-Kyreniac Hedonist schools, and she’s also a syndicated columnist who’s written sex columns for several weekly papers and magazines.

Her fascination with bonobo chimps is, too, a philosophical pursuit; according to her, it was Bonobo chimps that inspired her Ethical Hedonism. In her observances, bonobo chimps resolve disputes and frustrations with each-other sexually, suggesting that if we’d all just learn to either fuck away, or at least masturbate away our anger, there would be a reduction in violence; her belief is that our species is as violent as it is amongst itself because of learned sexual repressions that we can and should free ourselves from. I’m not in complete agreement with that, but I can definitely applaud her efforts and see that in at least some people repression leads to frustration, then to anger, then to violence, and so letting go of that will lead some individuals to be less-violent or even non-violent; even leading psychiatrists tend to agree that repressing one’s sexuality can eventually lead to violence in some people.

In the Helios solar system (this would be ours) in the Gregorian year of 1898, there was an object in the asteroid belt discovered and now known as 433 Eros, and it’s the second-largest Near-Earth Asteroid after 1036 Ganymed. It’s also one of the closest, is a “Mars-crosser” (meaning its orbit crosses that of Mars periodically) and in as few as two million years, may become an Earth-crosser. It belongs to the Amor group of asteroids, and unlike 1036 Ganymed, is not occasionally considered a “minor planet”.

“Offcially”, 433 Eros is “peanut shaped”, but seriously now? No, seriously: That thing is phallic.

NASA has sent the NEAR Shoemaker probe to Eros twice, in an effort to learn more about the formation of the solar system, and it’s the first asteroid to be orbited by a probe. Every eighty-one years (the next occurrence will be in 2056), 433 Eros is close enough to Earth to have a magnitude of +7.0 (its typical magnitude is +8.1), appearing to stop and giving it a brighter appearance than any other NEA, excepting 4 Vesta. It’s also noteworthy that 433 Eros never goes retrograde.

The reason I bring these two up is because on the date that 433 Eros is nearest Earth, usually in late January (this year 31 January), Dr Susan Block has designated that date as “Eros Day”, and hosts a party celebrating love and pleasure. Of course, perusing her site, she seems to have set a fixed date for the celebration for 19 January, which doesn’t make much sense to me, but then again, I’m sure she has her reasons.

It’s also of note that this year, 433 Eros is closest to Earth on 31 January, which has been esteemed by Ekklesía Antínoou as Dies Natalis Sancti of Derek Jarman.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane and polytheism as a metaphor for homosexuality

This is possibly one of my favourite films, and not just as an extension of my weakness for ridiculous films about Christian mythos (if you want ridiculous in your Christianity, The Apple is the best yet). While carrying the airs of serious art film, Sebastiane has a ridiculousness to it, don’t get me wrong (from the liberties taken with the saint’s mythos to Jarman’s response to questions about the film’s profuse nudity [“we couldn’t afford costumes after the first scene”] to the fact that it inspired an episode of Father Ted, Sebastiane‘s ridiculousness is hard to ignore), my love for this film has more to do with the fact that the more I watch it, the more I see something that I didn’t before realise was there.

This film is a sometimes shallow, but sometimes incredibly deep metaphor for a closet case (and in case you can’t see it, Jarman has explained this in many interviews and in his memoirs, which span seven volumes). Sometimes the metaphor is so deep, you have to view the film repeatedly to get it.

Ceci n'est pas une pénis.

From pretty early on in the film, its established plot focus is the relationship between Sebastiane, the Christian and one of only two characters who isn’t shown to even surrender to sex with men for lack of women (the other being Maximus, who, on repeated viewing, represents society and the Middle Class that Jarman grew up in, in specific — Maximus is not only disdainful of homosexual preferences [to excuse his own presumed, but unseen, occasional dalliances with boys for “a quick one”], and xenophobic in comparing the openly gay characters to “Greeks”, but he is devoid of genuine spirituality, giving it little more than lip-service and making the rare allegory; his most notable references to the Gods of Rome is to mock the Captain in front of the other men), and the Roman army Captain, Severus, ostensibly a polytheist, and the character with an obsessive and unrequited love and lust for the title character. Severus uses his position of power to force Sebastiane into a debatably S&M relationship (which, interestingly, appears initiated by Sebastiane) in which Sebastiane is the tortured one, and which is periodically interrupted with outbursts of pleading from Severus, because this isn’t what he wants — he wants to love, be loved, make love.

This is all pretty obvious to people who can watch the film and think a millimetre or two deeper than the most literal interpretations of what’s on the screen — which would be a bunch of naked guys running around, mostly shouting at each-other in Vulgar Latin (as opposed to the Classical Latin learned by most people today), and occasionally tying each-other up and throwing hot lamp oil on each-other, and a soundtrack by Brian Eno, because why the hell not? [Aside: All who argue the genius of Eno will be beaten with cement-filled milk jugs, with the exception of Eno himself, as that would be counter-productive to my Eno-veneration.]

One of the fuzzier metaphors is Jarman’s use of polytheistic imagery juxtaposed with apparent homosexual longing and used to contrast Sebastiane’s refusal to give in to this longing and his Christianity. Scene Two opens with Sebastiane showering himself from a well with a large water jug one morning as Severus watches on, and Sebastiane’s voice narrates imagery of an unnamed “young god” conquering Nox before standing in his chariot, “his body glittering” being “like the gold in lapis” as the camera focuses on large areas with Sebastiane’s body covered in sun-sparkling droplets of water. To the untrained eye and ear, as Sebastiane’s voice was heard briefly in the previous scene, this may seem a morning prayer with the unnamed “young god” perhaps being Jesus standing high above all other gods (and I know this, because I’ve had to explain to people, yes, even other GBLTs, that this scene wasn’t what they thought it was); but if you do think just a tiny ways further, it’s apparent that this is either Severus imagining Sebastiane’s voice and such imagery as a manifestation of his own longing, or Sebastiane knowingly indulging Severus this pleasure and thus is reciting it himself, and thus giving himself a measure of disconnect from the scene so that even though he was knowingly teasing the other man, the pantheonic imagery allows him to assure himself that his heart wasn’t in it, absolving himself of Christian Sin.

In one of the soon following scenes, Sebastiane leaves the six other men to be by himself in a secluded pool, and in voice-over from Sebastiane is an odd homoerotic prayer all too careful to eschew not only the mention of a single,transcendental deity, but any of the more obvious Christian imagery (to a largely Christian United Kingdom), in favour of something probably more reflective of Jarman’s degrees in art than anything else:

Hail god of the golden sun
The heavens and Earth are united in gold
Comb your hair in the golden rays of light
In your hands the roses of ecstasy burn
The wheel turns full circle [5]
Cooled by breezes from the four quarters
The swallow has risen in the East
The doors are open
Your body, your naked body
Initiated into the mysteries, step forth [10]
That beauty that made all colours different
Comes forth into the world
Hail god of the golden fire
Your beauty holds my heart captive

I’ve watched this film so many times, this prayer no longer has a concrete meaning. I have reason to believe Jarman wanted it this way. The first line is obviously in lock-step with Jesus allusions, at least according to the fine kooks over at JesusNeverExisted.com(1), but the rest is so steeped in homoeroticism, ostensibly pagan imagery (lines 4, 5, 10?, 13), and the only reliable imagery I can muster up from around that period (~300CE) and that region for swallows would be as a symbol of the household Gods and Aphrodite/Venus. I’d accuse Jarman of intentionally making this pagan if it wasn’t for the fact that I know he was a Christian of extremely liberal philosophies (of course, it’s very clear that Sebastiane is not portrayed heroically in this film, but instead as a creature of pity).

The following scene reveals Sebastiane’s “initiation” of the “S&M relationship” between himself and Severus, by refusing to fight. Following the beatings, Justin, Sebastiane’s sole friend and sympathiser in the film, offers comfort and a vague warning that this could go too far.

In a following scene, Severus watches Anthony and Adrian make love in the sun (and despite 1976’s X-rating, this is tamer than the sex in some episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). He turns to Sebastiane and asks “Are you still a Christian?”
“Yes.”
“Then remove my armour.”

No, seriously, somebody tell me what that branch is from.Severous touches Sebastiane’s shoulder seductively, which Sebastiane refuses. As punishment for this, Severus cock-blocks Anthony and Adrian to come over, after which we see the three of them tying Sebastiane up and out in the scorching sun. Following this, we see the other men playing with a time-travelling Frisbee™ (I can’t really excuse that one, either), and this scene is cut short when we see what is presumed a heat-induced hallucination of Sebastiane’s: Standing over and looking down on him is a youth wearing a leopard skin with head, and carrying a large branch I have yet to identify. Identified as “Leopard Boy” in the credits, he says nothing and apparently fades in and out from Sebastiane’s consciousness. (Feel free to click that image to get the full size; I really want to know what that branch is from — I also apologise for the quality of the image, the film wasn’t shot with the best film, and it’s an inexpensive Kino release, this is honestly the best screen-cap I could catch.)

We then see the other men on a “pig hunt” (because no UK-produced film about anything seems truly complete without allusions to Lord of the Flies, wouldn’t you agree?) During this hunt, Justin throws down his spear and goes to Sebastiane, who is still out in the sun hallucinating Leopard Boy; this is also the scene where it’s made obvious that this is Sebastiane’s hallucination. Justin asks “Why are you doing this?”
“His eyes are so beautiful. He has sky blue eyes.” As does the actor playing Severus.
“What are you talking about?”
“His hair is like the sun’s rays. His body is golden like molten gold. This hand of his will smooth away these wounds….”
Justin looks to the blond Severus, who just then stabs the pig.
“Justin… He is as beautiful as the sun, this sun which caresses me… is his burning desire. He is Phoebus Apollo[n].” Delirious cut to Leopard Boy stepping away. “The sun… is his… burning kiss.”
“This is madness,” notes Justin. “Why don’t you run?”
“His beauty is enhanced by his anger. It is his anger which is divine. His punishments are like Christ’s promise. He takes me in his arm and caresses my bleeding body. I want to be with him. I love him. Justin, you don’t understand. Take it away.” Cut to a pool of blood in the sand surrounded by spears.

Later, there is a scene of S&M-like torture for Sebastiane from Severus, which is conclusively ended when Justin takes some food to Sebastiane and pleads, “You must eat. Why are you doing this?”
“I love him. He is beautiful. More beautiful than Adonis.”

First off, after taking notes from this film last night (including lengthy transcriptions of dialogue by hand because all I have is a desktop computer), and especially after writing this all down for my blog, I’m really confused as to why I’ve ever had to explain this to people — it’s very painfully obvious what’s happening in the desert scene — but for those of you who want to hear it from me, yes, it’s Severus who is being referred to as “Phoebus Apollo” in this delirious speech of Sebastiane’s unattainable desire. The Leopard Boy is most assuredly drawing on Dionysian imagery, implying this may be either a manifestation of Sebastiane’s true nature and desires that he’s cut himself off from, or potentially even divine communique, beckoning Sebastiane to release himself from this pain by allowing himself to love, be loved, make love. The ostensibly polytheist Adrian and Anthony contrast Sebastiane and Severus by being both open and unashamed about their love; the only nay-saying they face is from Maximus, who the other characters seem to barely tolerate. This juxtaposition especially stands out because Jarman’s own Christian beliefs make the positive portrayal of homosexual love between Anthony and Adrian, and the arguable “morality lesson” against closeted and denied homosexual desires of Sebastiane a truly unique specimen.

The comparison to Adonis is also apparently intentionally vague: Is Sebastiane referring to “this” as allowing himself to be tortured as a means to keep himself from giving in to desire, thus he is saying it is Christ who is “more beautiful than Adonis”, or is “this” allowing himself to be tortured just to have Severus touch him, and thus it is Severus who is more beautiful? Perhaps it’s both; actually, considering Jarman’s body of work, it’s almost definitely both. The imageries of both Dionysos and Adonis, it probably could go without noting, are not casual references — these are imageries of life-death-rebirth deities known in Hellenic mythology for bisexuality and (at least occasional forays into) effeminacy. Furthermore, I really can’t help but notice that imagery of Adonis and that of St. Sebastian are often eerily similar.

Hey, look. Goats.

Sebastiane’s execution is preceded first with another S&M scene, one that ends with Sebastiane denouncing Severus as an impotent drunk and defiantly asking “[Do] you think your drunken lust compares to the love of God?” This would be basically a portrayal of “suicide by cop” — lacking the ability to make these desires go away, Sebastiane chooses martyrdom as an easy out. The next scene starts with a virtual ocean of goats on the move, and sitting among them is Sebastiane, in a crown of grapes. This, I had to screen-cap on general principle, it was just so blatantly referencing Dionysos, and really, it has to be seen to be believed. The only conceivable explanations I can imagine for this is perhaps Severus laying one final claim — or possibly Jarman attempting to trick the audience into thinking they’ve seen a Christ-figure in a crown of thorns surrounded by “devils” of goats. Thinking about it for a few seconds, and knowing Jarman’s films the way I do, it’s probably both. But what the hell do I know?

It is instead Justin who is crowned in vines, alluding to Justin as the true Christ-figure in this film, and laying down an implication of Jarman’s own brand of Christianity as all-loving when one considers some earlier scenes in the film (none of which had much, if anything, to do with this piece’s perceptions, so I’ve left them alone for a later time) Severus announces Sebastiane’s execution and immediately falls to tears. At Sebastiane’s execution, Maximus also forces a bow and arrow in the thorn-and-robe-clad Justin’s hands, and makes him pull back and release a final shot — one positioned to seemingly aim for another actor’s buttocks — I believe this imagery was also as intentional as it was to put these characters in that specific scene.

When you re-think Justin as the true Christ-like figure in the film, it’s apparent that the film has Christian sympathies despite Sebastiane himself being very definitely a non-hero and debatably both protagonist and antagonist, as was Severus, but looking at and examining the well-placed polytheist imagery (because the Apollonian and Adonian allusions of St. Sebastian alone simply aren’t enough) reveal that Jarman and his film had other sympathies.

As I’d said at the beginning of this post, the film takes great liberties with traditional St. Sebastian mythos — which tends to portray him as a 3rd Century CE Rasputin (id est, he was hard to kill) — to instead create an Anterotic fable about “the gay closet” and its effective cowardice.

It’s also not lost on me that St. Sebastian is probably one of the Christian saints steeped deepest in polytheistic imagery: His patronage includes not only arrows, but also plague, and even Wikipedia’s writers and editors have noticed the correspondences with Apollon. Being also one of the religion’s earliest saints, it can effectively be said that he’s probably one of the easiest examples of early Christianity syncretising martyrs with the old Gods. At least in my own mind, this makes the Dionysian imagery somehow all the more appropriate, and brings to mind an epithet shared by Dionysos and Eros, “Eleutherios – The Liberator”. Which in turn brings to mind Severus’ relationship with Sebastiane as both “Abros – Tender” and “Algesidoros – Pain Inducer”, both engaged alternated in a futile attempt to release Sebastiane from his self-induced prison of repression.


(1) Like all the best kookery, the Jesus Never Existed people have a bit of truth on there, and a fair amount of internally consistent evidence for their purposes; I also generally agree with them that, at best, the dominating and most consistent “evidence” for the existence of “Jesus Christ” is no more “consistent” than it would need to be to support the hypothesis of “Christ” as a composite of a few rebellious, vaguely Platonic Jews from around 20-35CE of the Roman Empire. I’m outing their “truths” instead as kookery cos the crux of a fair amount of their arguments seem to make their “evidence” into something more than what it is, or outright something that it is not. Don’t take my word for it, though; dig around on their site and judge for yourself.

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.