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The frightening images of Skin Lane

Tue 11 Sep 2007 In: Books View at Wayback View at NDHA

In 1967, Mr Freeman lives a solitary life as a furrier on one of the now-vanished City of London backstreet shops where he skins furs for later processing in his tiny world. Freeman doesn't know very much about the outside world. In itself, that might be possible. After all, it was forty years ago, economic protectionism was much stronger than it is today, and so it was possible for such small businesses to survive, and provide a degree of social insulation (and isolation) for its workers. And so Mr Freeman worked as a furrier for the shop owner, socialising with him and his associate, who headed the sewing department, and then, this forty seven year old single celibate man who never went out much, finished school to enter this specific manual trade and has never experienced alternative forms of existence...meets an exquisitely beautiful eighteen year old male who comes to work at the shop. Mr Freeman is a world away from the universities, theatre scenes and artworld where pre-decriminalisation middle-class gay social networks coalesced and socialised around, and for that matter, it was also a world away from the House of Commons, the Wolfenden Report of the late fifties, and the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which provided a highly constrained form of decriminalisation for gay men who had sex with one another above the age of twenty one... And yes, I can verify that it is indeed possible. For me, it tended to be the case that I first heard the word 'homosexual', or about gay liberation, in 1976. For me, I wasn't aware of it as a self-description until I received a helping hand from a friendly state school eighteen year old rugby player when I was sixteen, in 1978. My working class parents never got to go to university, and neither did my sister, so it was all alien terrain and nothing to do with our lives. However, when I did have gay sex for the first time and started edging out of the closet, at least there was the Colombo Sauna, dear old Out Magazine, The Advocate, the Lambda Community Centre and Gayline. In 1967, Mr Freeman has none of those, and must work out why he has started having these hallucinations about the body of a young man suspended from his bathroom. It's an exquisite, mannered work of a bygone age. Today, the City of London is a high-tech finance district, and if it still existed, the furriers shop would have been converted into a cafe to serve the stockbroker, merchant banker and investment advisors. What would have happened to Mr Freeman and his bygone world? And why is it that apart from Peter Wells and Graham Aitken, New Zealand gay authors cannot write about our own long-vanished pasts? Skin Lane, by Neil Bartlett. Publisher: Serpent's Tail. RRP$35. Available online now at the link below. Craig Young - 11th September 2007    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Tuesday, 11th September 2007 - 1:22pm

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