Real World: Lesbian, Gay, Straight, Bi, Trans, Whatever

Recently described by Fused magazine as 'the UK’s most transgressive gay author', 1 January 2016 saw the launch of sex : male, the collected works of PP Hartnett.

Manchester Pride, August 2015
Manchester Pride, August 2015

Just weeks ago, Hartnett’s spoken word collection The Very Idea entered the iTunes Spoken Word Chart at number one. Beware, Mr Hartnett neither minces his walk nor his words.

‘OK, real world…’ author PP Hartnett begins, ‘…whilst LGBT hate crime statistics appear to be magically down in the UK, such data does not reflect the true picture of stigma and descrimination. Targets of hate crime just aren’t reporting such criminality to police frequently enough, due to a widespread lack of faith in how that form of abuse will be investigated and meaningly dealt with in a magistrates court, if at all.’

Punk boy Rebellion Punk Festival August 2015
Punk boy Rebellion Punk Festival August 2015

Hartnett knows what he is talking about, as a survivor of homophobic abuse by bullying peers and attempted sexual molestation by a priest at a notorious Catholic school run by Benedictine monks in Ealing, West London, back in the ’70s.

Just weeks ago, a neighbour was sentenced after a reluctant guilty plea for long-term harassment of the gay author, currently based in Haworth, West Yorkshire. Hartnett speaks from first-hand experience.

Hartnett has worked extensively with young people with varying needs, as a Head of Special Needs in two secondary schools in London’s Tower Hamlets, as well as units for young people with emotional and behavioural issues in Lancashire. He appears to enjoy a challenge, regularly mentoring students from the London College of Fashion and Blackpool & The Fylde College. He is the main contributor to Youth Club Archive’s online publication,

Documenting alternative youth

‘From the Photography students I mentor with workshops at events such as Graduate Fashion Week and London Collections: Men to Rebellion Punk Festival, the young students of Creative Writing and Fashion-related courses I teach, I have an insight into what young people are both into and up against, and homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are daily hurdles for many.

‘Alongside legendary photographers such as Derek Ridgers, Janette Beckman and Ted Polhemus, I’ve documented the real world of “alternative” youth since 1976. Working with Jon Swinstead and Jamie Brett of the registered charity Youth Club Archive allows such valuable visuals to spring to life on a national and international level.

‘We are now living in an age of greatly-increased integration, a disco mix of sexualities, ethnicities, cultures plus beliefs – alongside pernicious religious intolerance.’

The cyber sewer

As a longstanding author, PP Hartnett’s often controversial fiction addresses the risks that face young people today, especially LGBT youth.

‘Whilst I embrace the digital age, at times I view the internet as a cyber sewer. On the one hand there’s pornography that has the potential of flowing through the screen like a running tap, triggering all manner of thoughts and behavioural patterns from tipsy click to unsuspecting link, on the one hand there are sexual predators intent to entrap, manipulate and exploit. Good teaching should address pornography and how it influences and actually contaminates youth. Nine times out of 10, parents haven’t a clue what their kids are accessing.’

Polly, wearing a pink outfit with a flower on her head. Piercings and make up, UK 1990's
Polly, wearing a pink outfit with a flower on her head. Piercings and make up, UK 1990’s

Understanding LGBT history is key

‘For young people to get a handle on sexuality in a digital world, an understanding of LGBT history is key. Since the trial of Oscar Wilde – since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 60s, the lowering of the age of consent from 21 to 18 to 16, aspects of equality snowballing – it is vital for educational establishments to invite a diverse range of guest speakers to deliver innovative talks and face questions in an informed way. That said, the “b” word always arises. Budget, and budgets for guest speakers have been cut by up to 80%. Fact.

Hartnett says with a smile, ‘I can’t imagine many teachers being able or daring enough to answer questions about…’ and he goes on to list a number of acronyms of the kind typically found on Grindr profiles. ‘Right now, there are a number of challenges facing LGBT youth.

‘Statistics suggest that a scary percentage of the 16-22 age range of young gay and bisexual men are becoming HIV+ in the national hotspots of London, Birmingham and Manchester.’

The first drag king club

He reminisces about his past on the LGBT scene: ‘Back in the ’90s, I co-ran the UK’s first full-on drag king club, Naïve, which attracted far more trans men and trans masculine people than we had expected. I loved that, it was radical, and provided me with an insight away from the “gay” clubs such as Heaven, Trade and Substation.

‘Naïve was an adventure playground and I documented the subjects there with an eye on the future, with such images having a historic significance. That has always been my take on my photographic work and also the fiction that I write. I also have a massive LGBT photographic collection, that reflects same-sex love since the dawn of photography.’

His work is now featured in the Youth Club Archive. ‘Jon and Jamie at Youth Club Archive have encouraged me to continue to collect vintage LGBT images, as well as stalk festivals for directional subjects. I’m interested in the very moving, very brave individuals of the kind we met at Naïve. There’s nothing camp or flippant about such a path of self-discovery or reinvention.’

The New Wave

Hartnett has a history of championing LGBT lives and stories.

‘When I set out to edit the teen LGBT anthology The Next Wave, my aim was to give international youth a platform to voice their feelings. Some shouted, some screamed from the rooftops. I’m not interested in contemporary gay publications such as Attitude or GT, which appear full of eye candy, very much pandering to their advertisers. The current crop of queer online publications function on a pitiful level, again pandering to corporate advertisers keen to tick PC boxes. Lesbian publications, such as Diva, strike me as harder, real. The lesbian community seems more on it, seems to get it right.’

He goes on to add, ‘Many editors are getting integration right, from Holly Shackleton at i-D to Dave and Kerry O’Coy at Fused, or Ben Reardon at Man About Town – all reflecting a positive ethos without making a song ‘n’ dance about it.’

Returning for once last moment to his photography, he discusses the longevity of pictures.

‘I’ve worked as a photographer since 1976. Youth Club Archive represent what is, in effect, a certain legacy. What Youth Club offers arts and educational establishments in truly important in terms of heritage.’

More information

sex : male, PP Hartnett’s collected works, now available as a download.

Date of Birth, Time of Death is a limited edition book, due out early October, 2016.

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