Kip Jones

KIP JONES, an American by birth, has been studying and working in the UK for more than 20 years.
Under the umbrella term of 'arts-led research', his main efforts have involved developing tools
from the arts and humanities for use by social scientists in research and its impact on a wider
public or a Perfomative Social Science.

Jones was Reader in Performative Social Science and Qualitative Research at
Bournemouth University for 15 years.
He is now a Visiting Scholar and and an independent author and scholar.

Kip has produced films and written many articles for academic journals and authored chapters
for books on topics such as masculinity, ageing and rurality, and older LGBT citizens.
Jones' most recent work involves working with Generation Z youth to tell their stories using
social media.
His ground-breaking use of qualitative methods, including Auto-fiction, biography
and auto-ethnography, and the use of tools from the arts in social science research
and dissemination are well-known.

Jones acted as Author and Executive Producer of
the award-winning short film, RUFUS STONE, funded by Research Councils UK.
The film is now available for free viewing on the Internet
and has been viewed by more than 14,000 people in 150 countries.

Areas of expertise
• Close relationships, culture and ethnicity
• Social psychology, sociology
• Ageing, self and identity
• Interpersonal processes, personality,
individual differences,
social networks, prejudice and stereotyping
• Sexuality and sexual orientation
• Creativity and the use of the
arts in Social Science

Media experience
His work has been reported widely
in the media, including:
BBC Radio 4,BBC TV news,Times
Higher Education, Sunday New
York Times, International
and The Independent.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Research as Fiction: “The Return of Rufus Stone” by Kip Jones*

A four-year research project at Bournemouth University, “Gay and Pleasant Land?—a study about positioning, ageing and gay life in rural South West England and Wales”, took place as part of the Research Councils UK-funded New Dynamics of Ageing Programme on ageing in 21st Century Britain. The key output of this effort was the short professionally made, award-winning film RUFUS STONE1. I acted as Project Lead and Author and Executive Producer for the film. The research project’s methods included narrated biography, visual ethnography, auto-ethnography, focus group work and theatrical improvisation of interview data.
In the process of refining the treatment for the film, the Director (Josh Appignanesi) and I faced several obstacles revolving around plot. If the premise was that Rufus would return to his boyhood village after 50 years in exile, there needed to be a reason for that journey backed up by research to support it. Subsequently, I returned to the interview data for more detail (‘evidence’) to support the reasons (‘theory’) for the return of Rufus Stone. I further explored and elaborated both Rufus’ story as a lad and his decision-making as an adult, always constructing these ‘facts’ from stories which were told to us whilst carrying out the research.
Both the film and this short story are fiction, or what I prefer to call ‘fictive reality’. Fictive reality is conceived as the ability to engage in imaginative and creative invention while remaining true to the remembered realities as told through the narrations of others. Several, in fact, may recount a similar incident. When these reports are combined into one person’s story or a “composite” character, a “fiction” is born (Jones, 2013).
By returning to this material to write “The Return of Rufus Stone”, I am creating a ‘prequel’ to the film RUFUS STONE. It is a reworking and refinement of those early writings. By becoming a short story, it fine-tunes the detail by focusing on the reasons for Rufus’ return as literature. Rufus Stone’s reappearance in his boyhood village after 50 years of exile sets up the possibilities for the characters to remember, reassess and even potentially change. This short story explains how that journey became possible.

Read the story here
 * This story was first published on 22 Dec 2013 on the SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION website, Mark Carrigan, ed. 
 Watch the film here:


Saturday, 23 November 2013

A September Song

 Someone had ghoulishly named the canal ‘Styx’ some time ago now and it had stuck. The bridges were so low that you were finding it difficult to navigate the canal in the small craft. The boat was too high to get under the overpasses. You hadn’t thought of these details or really planned very much for the journey. Getting together again after so many years was its purpose.

At each bridge you emptied the boat, carried it up the embankment across the road and back down the other side to the canal. Fitzcarraldo.

Fred came from America for the celebration. Forty years after your relationship had ended, he still held a deep affection for you. You had loved each of them in a particular way and time. Each represented an episode in your love life, as it is called.

Instead, the day became about the bridges and all the hard work to navigate them. The whole event turned into that. You won’t bore us with the rest.

She was shortish, with the curliest natural blonde hair. Her round face and complexion reminded you of an apple. She rushed towards you after the lecture, a white piece of A-4 flapping in her hand.

“That last clip was about you, wasn’t it?” she asked.

 “More or less, yes”.

“It’s in the lyrics; I could hear it” she added.

“Actually, more the visuals. What’s that piece of paper?” you hastened to ask, always preferring to divert attention away from yourself.

“Oh, just some sketches. Ideas really”.

“Let me see… are you left-handed? You draw a lot like I do”.

“I know. I’ve seen your drawings. Most people haven’t. They don’t understand how your work now follows on naturally from that time in your career”.

“You’re right about that. Too little time to explain. Better to get on with the work at hand than …”


Craig was so wrong for you. The wrong age, the wrong time in life, the wrong place. And yet it was beginning to work. He had asked you to move in with him, which was very sweet and kind of foolish. It never would have worked.

The meeting was in a medieval hall, usually reserved for important political and social functions. The old oak panelling and fixtures had a particular smell that most ordinary folks would only recall from churches in their childhoods.

The tables and high-backed chairs were set out in a rectangle in the centre of the room; the meeting was about to begin. This was a British gathering of (mostly) men who thought they had their ‘fingers on the pulse of contemporary male culture’. Such hubris.

You were there. Craig, being in his twenties and from a poor background, was invited to represent ‘youth culture’. Your colleague, Margaret, the only female participant, sat dead centre on one of the long sides of the rectangle.

The truth is that the British only implement change, which they frequently find distasteful, in small increments. A bit like their taking their good old time in getting the fuck out of India. It’s just the way they are. How this particular group ever thought they could recognize cultural change was beyond your comprehension. Nonetheless, the Brits love to bang on about things instead of participating in them.

After a round of introductions (listing credentials like so many cock measurements), a second go-round was conducted—what the Brits like to call a warm-up exercise. Each member in turn was to name a men’s cologne recently introduced to the marketplace.

Craig’s longish hair, cord jacket and screen-printed denim shirt stood out from the rest, of course. They had been expecting Craig to be a ‘hoody’ so were a bit disappointed. When his turn came, he mentioned the little-known maker, Parfumerie Generale from Paris, and it’s new scent, ‘Monsieur’.

Just as he finished, Margaret fainted. Perhaps it was all the talk about colognes or just the over-powering scent of testosterone in the room. Craig rushed to her side, as the others remained immobile and dumb-founded. Craig helped her to her feet and out of the hall. You followed close behind.

“I’m okay now, really. Thanks ever so much, Craig”.

“No problem! Do you want to go to the ladies’ and splash some cold water on your face?”

“Good idea, Craig. See you back in the hall”.

Craig then asked you to join him for a fag in the fresh air. As the pair walked towards the exit, Craig said, “Y’know, I’ve invited Margaret to join us for our party on the canal in September but she says she can’t make it”.

“I don’t think she really approves of our relationship, Craig”.

“No! I’m sure she’s not like that. Why do you think that?”

“Because of our age difference”.

Now outside, the temperature was rising and the air balmy. Craig removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. He jumped from the hall’s steep climb of steps on to the pavement and began dancing and punching the air, imitating Rocky or Muhammad Ali.

“We’re the best! We’re the greatest!” he shouted, continuing to dance in the street.

Your love for him and attraction to his youth, enthusiasm and energy were immense at that moment.

Joining you on the steps and lighting his cigarette from yours, he said, “There’s plenty of time. She’ll change her mind by September”.

Neither of you knew, of course, that by September you would be dead.


Thursday, 3 October 2013

Turning Research into Film published in Qualitative Research text

Just published! A chapter entitled, ‘Turning Research into Film’, by Kip Jones and Trevor Hearing has just been published in Sage’s Qualitative Research for the Social Sciences edited by Marilyn Lichtman. The full title of the Chapter: Turning Research into Film: Trevor Hearing speaks with Kip Jones about the process of creating the short research-based film, Rufus Stone.
Lichtman’s books on qualitative research are well-known and adopted for courses internationally. The Chapter is an an expansion on an earlier interview conducted by the Media School’s Trevor Hearing. HSC’s Kip Jones illuminates several of his responses with excerpts from the story development for the award-winning, research based short film, RUFUS STONE. Hearing and Jones also collaborated on creating the trailer for RUFUS STONE.
The film was recently purchased by the Alzheimer’s Society for use in its trainings nationally.  In addition, it will be screened locally for Dorset Healthcare Trust nurses and staff. The film has been keynoted at events at Cambridge, LSE, Birkbeck and Durham Universities over the past year and featured in both the ESRC Festival of Social Science and BU Festival of Learning.
The unique collaboration forged in making the film has been reported in the New York Times and Times Higher Education as well as in academic journals and other book chapters and featured as ‘inspirational’ in the BU’s Annual Report. The film has been screened in academic settings, for social and health service providers and general audiences in several cinemas. Rufus Stone won two awards for short film at the prestigious Rhode Island International Film Festival.

The film will be screened on the Lansdowne campus in December for staff and students.

  • Monday, 9 December, 1 pm and

    Tuesday, 10 December, 2:30 pm

  • Wollstonecraft Theatre (BG10)

  • Bournemouth House

  • All are welcome! 

    Just a few reactions to Rufus Stone from audience members attending screenings:

“Critically the authenticity of the film shone through – the characters were real and genuine”.

    •   “emotionally gripping”
    •   “technically innovative and striking”
    •   “a brilliant way to portray research”
    •   “beautiful and very intense”
    •   “a quite remarkable film”
    •   “a brilliant film, beautifully crafted and full of empathy”
Cinematographer Annika Summerson and crew set up shot with Harry Kershaw (centre) who plays young RUFUS STONE

 Watch the film here:

Saturday, 7 September 2013

A short reading list for Arts-based Research

I have been using recently to upload my writing to the net.  I have found the response to this very satisfying.  For example, my unpublished PhD Thesis, which remained more or less in oblivion on my personal website for over a decade, now has had more than 275 views since I uploaded it on

All on one site, I can keep up with numbers of views, where viewers are coming from and what keywords happen to land people on a specific paper.

I have, therefore, changed the URLs in the sidebar Reading List here to direct readers to the version.

Below I offer a short list of my papers over time that were central to developing Performative Social Science, or the use of tools from the arts and humanities in carrying out and/or disseminating social science research.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

"Abandon normal instruments!" The Blogosphere: creative solutions to reaching bigger audiences

How does blogging help to maximize impact and open up new opportunities to disseminate research? Rebecca Edwards asked Kip Jones for his comments on a recent blog about the HSC ReThink Project that was featured in the widely read and prestigious LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog. How do blogging and social networking raise the game for academics and how can others at BU benefit from Jones’ experience on these platforms?

BECCA: Why did you decide to write about HSC’s “Big ReThink Project” on a public forum?

KIP: Gail Thomas and I initially wrote up HSC’s “Big ReThink Project” as an academic paper. I then began by shopping it around to various journals, more than a year ago. Too many of us have had the experience, I am afraid, of no response at all or waiting for months and then having to ask for a response from a journal editor. Generally, the answer at that point is often to submit the article for review, but it will be yet another six months to a year until possible publication. This is no longer acceptable in the world of rapid, electronic communication today. Since our Project itself was about alternative approaches anyway, I asked Gail what she thought about putting it up on a blog instead; her reply, ‘Go for it!’

BECCA: How did you get the article published on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog?

KIP: Some time ago now, Mark Carrigan, who was then editor of the London School of Economics & Political Science Impact of Social Sciences blog, asked me to contribute to their ‘Five minutes with … series. This invitation came out of the blue, but I think it was because he was aware of our film, Rufus Stone, and had read and heard about it on the Internet.  I was also asked to participate on a panel at LSE in their Beyond the Book series of seminars around the same time. I kept in touch with Mark following the initial LSE blog publication through Twitter and his own personal blog. I think it is particularly important to develop and maintain relationships, even though they are often completely virtual ones. When Gail and I decided to find a blog to publish our piece, I asked Mark whom I should now contact at LSE, and he recommended Sierra Williams. I sent Sierra the Abstract. She responded that the article would indeed be of interest, but it needed to be shorter and a bit less formal in style, and with pictures if possible. I subsequently edited it down to about half its original length—keeping the inspirational bit, with less of the outcomes of the Project. It was published on 16 August as “Bournemouth’s ‘Big ReThink’ Project: An Arts-based Model for Change in a University”.

BECCA: What has been the reaction to your article being published on the LSE Impact Blog?
Who has responded to the article on social media channels?

KIP: In just the first few days since publication, it has received attention through Twitter and Facebook, with links to other sites through pingbacks, retweets, Likes, and Shares. The link was also circulated globally on The Weekly Qualitative Report site and e-newsletter. Early responses have been from scholars, particularly in the social sciences, arts and education, and the PhD student online community.

BECCA: More generally, why do you find blogging a useful engagement exercise? How does it strengthen your academic credentials?

KIP: In addition to making periodic contributions to the BU Research blog, I maintain two blogs of my own: Rufus Stone the movie and KIPWORLD.  The Rufus Stone blog was set up before the film was made, so it is a good repository of the story behind the research that went into making the film and the production of the film itself. Pages on the blog are now heavily externally linked in articles, books and on other websites.  These days, current contributions are more about dissemination, the film’s continuing impact and future plans for screenings and trainings using the film.  

KIPWORLD is my personal blog where I write about projects that I am working on, but I also use it to develop my writing. A good example is a piece entitled, “How Breakthroughs Come: Tenacity and Perseverance”. First written for the blog over six months ago, it was recently reworked and now includes some reader responses to the earlier version. Through a Twitter connection, it has just been published for a third time on the Social Research Hub, a site particularly aimed at PhD students in the Social Sciences.

The early development of the background story for Rufus Stone was also carried out on KIPWORLD. I have recently written about this particular deviation from more traditional academic prose in an article, ‘Infusing Biography with thePersonal: Writing Rufus Stone’ for Creative Approaches to Research, which published on the same day as the LSE blog and has kept me quite busy on Twitter!

I average about one blog article a month of around 1,000 words in length for KIPWORLD. These are definitely not more typical ‘off-the-cuff’ or ‘stream of consciousness’ blogs, however!  I pore over and rework these pieces, sometimes for days, even weeks.

We are very much in a transitional phase in academic publishing and dissemination, brought about by the Open Access debates, etc. The power balance between academics and publishers is shifting and it is a good time to assert our case for more control over our outputs, how (and when) they are published and how accessible they are. Using the alternative of diverse outlets through weblogs, (both personal and more established), contributes to the potential of different methods of reaching wider audiences with our work, having it seen and, eventually, making a difference.

I will end by adding that writing a blog post can be just a first step; this needs to be followed up by links through social media and additional outlets in order to generate reach and insure impact! The ReThink Project reminded us that initiative and individual excellence are nurtured in small communities that support independence and autonomy. A centralised vision of the few may produce followers, but not leaders, and certainly not innovators in my experience.

“Abandon normal instruments”—Brian Eno & Peter Schmidt, Oblique Strategies

'Obiquity' by John Kay from the School of Life: worth a listen!


ReThink blog Goes Viral 

Sunday, 8th Sept 2013 

In less than two weeks, a report on Bournemouth University's arts-based model for change, the Big ReThink Project has gone "viral", averaging 100 views a day in just its first 20 days. The blog appeared on London School of Economics and Political Science prestigious Social Science Impact Blog on 16 August.

The article highlights a large, long-term project addressing staff concerns in Bournemouth's School of Health & Social Care, written by Dr Kip Jones, Reader and Prof Gail Thomas, Dean of the School. The project used a unique arts-based approach to change management to engage staff in the process.

As of today, the ReThink Project is currently 5th in the list of the past month’s twenty most popular London School of Economics Impact Blog posts by readership. The current number of views as of today is at 3400+ and continuing to rise.

Links to the LSE blog were initially circulated internationally by The Qualitative Report and news groups such as Performative SocSci, Auto-ethnography, ArtNet, Society for Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology, and Qualitative Research for the Human Sciences .

Pat Thomson, Professor in Arts Education, Creativity and Writing Research at the University of Nottingham then blogged her thoughts on the project on her own blog, Patter, commenting, "The process was not only novel but also seemed to me that it would be highly pleasurable to do".

The LSE blog has been highlighted on Active Learning in Higher Education and Creatively Teaching: Arts Education as well.

An article about the viral performance of the blog was published on the web-based Dorset Eye.

The ReThink blog was also highlighted on Sport Balla Trending News and repeated on Alpa Galileo media news.

Links to the Big ReThink blog have been circulating on many social media groups, including Twitter and Facebook and continue to raise interest in Bournemouth University's ReThink Project.
As of 7 October 2013, according to Google Analytics, the Bournemouth Big Rethink Project post has received 3,956 views.

Saturday, 17 August 2013



The recent four-year research project entitled, “Gay and Pleasant Land?—a study about positioning, ageing and gay life in rural South West England and Wales” took place as part of the Research Councils UK funded New Dynamics of Ageing Programme on ageing in 21st Century Britain. The key output of this effort was the short professionally made, award winning film, Rufus Stone. An article published in Creative Approaches to Research unpacks the evolution of creating the film script, with a particular emphasis on the author’s relationship with the biographies, the filmmaking process and, indeed, his own story.
writing Rufus
Through first person narrative and textural bricolage, Kip Jones recounts the processes that went into writing the background, treatment and working script for the film.  This included sifting through copious data, story meetings, writing back story and collaboration with the film’s director. In the final analysis, the author was dependent on auto-ethnography to bring the biographies of others to the screen.

Arts-based collaborative efforts require versatility and experimentation in approaches and a willingness to communicate across disciplines. Knowing when to ‘let go’ in partnerships is key to this process. The article responds to many of the issues, concerns and questions that have arisen at academic screenings of the film. It provides a valuable starting point for others interested in experimenting with arts-based dissemination of research findings. The originality of the use of auto-ethnography itself to report on this process is consistent with the principles of Performative Social Science, on which the project’s dissemination is based. 

"Infusing Biography with the Personal: Writing RUFUS STONE"

 Watch the film here:

Thursday, 25 July 2013


Suddenly, about 11 pm last night, the electricity went out in my flat. Boom! Everything shut down. This has never happened before. I remembered that I have a flash light (torch) somewhere, but also that I meant to get batteries for it.

I have one candle.  It's sort of a votive candle and scented. I fired it up and sat at my computer which, in good times and bad, makes me feel secure. (I could have used the Macbook, but I forgot that it works on batteries--I always plug it in.
I wondered if Wifi works during an electrical outage? I guessed not.)

I looked out on the street and it was quiet.  There seemed to be some lights, but most of the properties were dark. Suddenly, a car pulled up and a young man got out and went to the side door at the MOT shop across the road. The top floor is supposedly a men's club of some sort, but he seemed to have a key. He entered quickly and went up the stairs where the lights then went on. Before last night, I hadn't known that someone lived there.  

I wasn't sure if the blackout was just in my flat or not. I spooked around the stairwell where the hall lights were still working. One flat had light under the door. I went down to the garage and looked at the row of electric meters. Two were dark, the others not moving. I came back upstairs and sat at the computer with my candle. The smell was beginning to sicken me. 

Finally, I called the electric company and was relieved to hear that there were several reports of outages in this area.  She said it would be fixed in a few hours. I said, 'Good, because the meters aren't turning and you're not making any money'. She laughed.  I went to bed then, feeling better that it wasn't just me and that someone got my little joke. 

I woke about an hour later when everything in the flat lit up again. 

Boom! Blackout over.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

"How breakthroughs come: tenacity and perseverance"

The following is a repost of a blog written a while back that describes the process of creating, then publishing,'On a Train from Morgantown: a film script'  in Psychological Studies, an academic journal.

More than ten years ago now, when I was living in a bedsit in Leicester and had just finished my PhD, I decided to write a conference presentation about Ken Gergen and Klaus Riegel. Both scholars played important roles in the development of my thinking for my PhD thesis (Narratives of Identity & the Informal Care Role). During this time I came across a volume (Life-span Developmental Psychology Dialectical Perspectives on Experimental Research, edited by Nancy Datan & Hayne W. Reese, published by Academic Press 1977) that was a result of the Fifth West Virginia University Life-Span Developmental Psychology Conference held at Morgantown, West Virginia in 1976. The conference centred on the work of Riegel and the book included a chapter by Gergen.

My imagination got the best of me. What if these two, both influences on my own work, had a conversation following that gathering? As I recently explained, reported in a Times Higher Education article, "Gergen is a giant to our generation, so it was good to look back to a time when he was insecure...I wanted to examine how breakthroughs come, and the price people pay for them". Thus, “On a train from Morgantown” was born.

It seems a short time ago now, but we must not forget that in 2001 digital production was limited, at the personal computer level at least. I found video-cassette recorded footage of trains that would have been in service in West Virginia in 1976 then convinced a techy at my university to help me cut and edit it. I wrote a script (much like a radio play) and found people to record it on cassette tape (one in Germany, the rest in Leicester). I produced overhead projections for some of the visuals and created lots of sound files and edited music (again, on cassette) to fill out the imaginary train journey.

I packed up all these production materials and caught the ferry to Hamburg and then a train to Berlin and a conference at the Free University to present my grand production … to an audience that would include Mary and Ken Gergen. When my allotted time came, I spent it dashing about starting up a TV, co-ordinating a cassette player, an overhead projector, etc.—a bit like the Wizard of Oz behind his curtain. Ken Gergen responded quite emotionally following all of this. The mostly German-speaking audience seemed a bit confused by it all.

I recall this as a bit of madness on my part at the time, but also in many ways as the public birth of Performative Social Science, or at least the seeds for its future development. Being a visual person, I wanted to ‘show’ as well as ‘tell’--and this frustration became central to my efforts in developing a Performative Social Science (PSS).

Because publication is (is supposed to be?) the end-all of some academic lives, I began to think about how to possibly publish ‘Morgantown’. Because of my visual inclinations, I thought that a film script with all of its optical instructions might do the trick. So I wrote ‘Morgantown’ up as a screenplay, looking at many scripts in order to get a sense of how to present a visual story as text. A bit of a Pollyanna at publication at that time, I actually submitted the script to a few journals which I naively thought might be adventurous enough to publish it. They were not and it was rejected.

I put ‘Morgantown’ in a drawer somewhere and so it languished for almost a decade. About a year ago, the editor of a special issue on the work of Ken Gergen for Springer’s Psychological Studies contacted me and asked if I would be interested in submitting a paper for the issue. I responded that, yes, I do have something that may be fit for purpose. Go ahead, I told myself: ‘I dare you.’ I submitted the script for 'Morgantown'.

To my great surprise, the submission was accepted with no substantial changes and now is published as a film script (also available here) in the special issue on Ken Gergen in Psychological Studies. In my estimation, this represents a great breakthrough for Performative Social Science, or the use of tools from the arts in dissemination of social science research. It gives others a reference in support of their own work in moving academic publishers to being more open, even inviting, to alternative presentation formats.

‘Morgantown’ and its eventual acceptance holds a special place for me. In so many ways it represents ‘working in the dark’ against unknown forces and circumstances, but still being driven by our muses to create and invent. 'Morgantown' represents what I like to call ‘kitchen sink’ work—work produced because creativity compels us to find the means, the ways, the materials and then the outlets. This mirrors the way in which artists frequently work--something that social scientists and policy wags can learn a great deal from. The artist does not wait for someone, somewhere to establish a 'cultural value' for their outputs. They create and damn the consequences! I never want to forget that it is in these personal efforts the potential to make a difference lies.

Some of the responses to the publication of ‘Morgantown’ are repeated below. They convince me that efforts to open up channels previously closed to innovation and experimentation are not unfounded and offer support and encouragement to others:

· Congratulations. This is really amazing. Thank you for your courage. And for the work that you are doing for all of us.
· It’s just wonderful to see the glimpse of barriers breaking down between interdisciplinary research and innovative work. Well done!! It is happening a step at a time and we just need to keep on pushing those boundaries.
· Breaks the waves for academics like me dreaming of more than the written words to portray researched life
· I got very inspired, though, when reading about your publication as I share PSS' engagement and ambition to intensify publications moving in between arts/social sciences/performance …I say/shout "GREAT!!!" from Copenhagen! Thank you for sharing!!
· I continue to watch your career with great interest and derive much hope for my own work from your example.
· Fantastique!!! gives me hope
· Think it is really important to share this kind of news as it gives all of us who research in creative ways hope!
· A massive achievement in the current climate!
· This is fantastic and I received this just perfect for our course in qualitative research methodologies where I am teaching narrative and performative approaches. Will use your article as a brand new example and hope to encourage some of our students to be more daring!

Monday, 27 May 2013

A Fog/Dog/Shag Story

I was a stranger in the city
Out of town were the people I knew …

PHOTO: eelco de wal
The grounds in front of the nation’s oldest hospital were covered in fog. Near the perimeter and behind some bushes, face-to-face, Jake lowered himself onto Steven as he unbuckled Jake’s belt and grasped his cock.  This was how it began.

A new world for both, their relationship lasted nearly three years. In terms of gay relationships at the time, this should be measured the way a dog’s age is calculated in human terms: multiply by seven.  Both computations are myths, however.

Later, Steven coupled with Aaron. They bought property, furnishings, organised dinner parties and attended many concerts and functions over the years. They are still together at that late stage in life  when couples dress, even seem to look, alike.

Jake moved from relationship to relationship, job to job, and was in and out of rehab several times. He is also a success—as an artist and as a scholar. He has lived in three countries and visited many more. He can get by in French, stumbles in Spanish and speaks Italian by quoting lyrics from operas that he knows. His life is one of many romantic encounters.

The story of Jake, a simple country boy who went to the big city to enrol in art studies, begins somewhat earlier, however.

In Jake’s first year at Art College, he met Bradley. Bradley had graduated from another of the city’s art schools that year, having just completed a year’s sojourn in Europe on a fellowship. He was a star of the student art world and the son of the owners of a very exclusive jewellery store. He was living at the time in a townhouse with the owner of the city’s trendiest and most popular gay bar. Bradley had a studio in the bar’s atelier. In fact, the first time Jake ever nervously entered a gay establishment was in the daytime when the bar was closed to help Bradley remove some paintings from his studio above the building’s three uninterrupted ├ętages of gaiety.

Bradley was handsome, talented, sophisticated, and somewhat older than Jake and about to embark on a career move to a New York City West Side loft. He listened to show music openly and without embarrassment, which impressed Jake profoundly. Jake was not so sure of his own sexuality, but certain that Bradley was attractive. Bradley made overtures, but Jake shyly fended them off, nonetheless continuing to fawn over him at every chance he got. He was dazed and confused, but certainly smitten.

Jake offered to help Bradley make the move to his New York loft. They packed up a rental van and left for NYC and a real West Side loft situated in an old industrial building with worn wooden floors, lots of windows and little else. The grimness and decay of this particular West Side neighbourhood was never reflected in West Side Story that was certain.

Bradley had crammed the van with paintings, a chandelier, bags of clothes, a small refrigerator full of booze (from the bar it was assumed) and some mattresses. After the unpacking, drinking and merriment, they (Bradley, Jake, a young woman who always seemed to be hanging around him, and a male friend of Bradley’s from New York who came by the loft to help) settled down to sleep on mattresses on the loft floor. Bradley put himself on the mattress next to the girl because she was feigning fright at her first night in the “big city”. He put Jake on the mattress with the stranger. Jake knew little of the subtleties of social manipulation back then but was learning quickly that night.

Jake spent that long night on the floor attempting to impede this stranger's unwanted sexual advances. He was very upset with Bradley's exploitation by using him as some sort of thank-you gift for his friend's help. Better if Bradley had chosen Jake for himself .  In fact, he probably was ready to ‘give in’ to Bradley that night, he admitted to himself in retrospect.

With little sleep and cast off in such a cavalier way, he left New York for home on an early morning train. He never heard from Bradley again. Returning to his girlfriend, Jake turned his back on the complexities of  this world that he simply did not understand or find very attractive. A relationship with a woman seemed a simpler solution, except for the ever-increasing awareness of the painful dishonesty of the situation, of which he was becoming more and more conscious.

A few months later Jake picked up a newspaper only to see a photo of Bradley on the front page with the description, “Bradley, an artist whose mask was a sensation at the Truman Capote ball at the Plaza last night”. Bradley had “arrived” in New York.

Several years later, Jake found himself easily falling into Steven’s arms on that dark, foggy night. Much had transpired in the time in between—a time consisting of confusion, pretense and grasping at some sense of self in a hetero-normative world whilst coming to terms with a gay one.

What is the purpose of this story? Well, I suppose it is to say that being gay and stories about being gay are never straight forward (no pun intended) or simple. Our life stories are played out in an entrenched heterosexual culture and society, which often produces not only angst, insecurities and complexes, but also the variety and richness of alternative lives and lifestyles as solutions for many.

Before meeting Steven, very much confused and in a fog of his own making, Jake, his girlfriend and his mates made another trip to New York City.  This will be our story for next time.