“Victim” at Mini Cini … International Pronouns Day

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Mini Cini

This week we lunched at the Piccadilly Tavern – the special offer is two meals for £9.00 – before visiting the Mini Cini in Ducie Street Warehouse to watch the brilliant mystery thriller “Victim” from 1961.

Viewed in the context of Great Britain in 1961, it’s a film of courage. How much courage can be gauged by the fact that it was originally banned from American screens simply because it used the word “homosexual.” To be gay was a crime in the United States and the UK, and the movie used the devices of film noir and thriller to make its argument, labelling laws against homosexuality “the blackmailer’s charter.” Indeed, 90 percent of all British blackmail cases had homosexuals as victims.

Dirk Bogarde’s elegant, sensitive portrayal of a man coming to terms with being gay played a vital role in the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967.

Dirk Bogarde plays the barrister Melville Farr, haunted by his (unconsummated) gay desires and threatened by a sinister blackmail ring. His trusting young wife Laura is played by Sylvia Sims.

Blackmailed … Dirk Bogarde as barrister Melville Farr in Victim. Photograph: Rank Film/Sportsphoto/Allstar

Farr, who at the young age of 40 has just been offered the opportunity to become a Queen’s Counsellor. He will lose that appointment, his career and his marriage if he’s identified in the press as gay, and yet he decides that someone must stand up to the blackmailers to demonstrate the injustice of the law. As he tracks the blackmailers through a network of their victims, the movie follows him through the London of the time — its courts of law, police stations, pubs, clubs, barbershops, bookstores, cafes, drawing rooms, car dealerships — showing how ordinary life is affected in countless ways by the fact that many of its citizens must keep their natures a secret.

Farr projects a surface of strength and calm. He only raises his voice two or three times in the movie, but we sense an undercurrent of anger: He finds it wrong that homosexuality is punished, wrong that gays cannot go to the police to complain of blackmail, wrong that hypocrisy flourishes. There is a moment in the movie when he unexpectedly hits someone who has just insulted him, and it comes as a revelation: Beneath his silky persona is a wound, a resentment, and a fierce determination to act at last on his convictions.

Bogarde himself was homosexual, but never made that public; even in his touching memoirs about the life and death of his partner Tony Forwood, he cast their relationship as actor and manager, not lovers. For that he has been criticised by some gay writers and activists, but consider: By accepting what looked like career suicide to star in “Victim,” wasn’t he making much the same decision as his character Melville Farr — to do the right thing, and accept the consequences? Didn’t he, in effect, come out as an actor in that and many other roles (notably as the ageing homosexual in “Death in Venice“)? Was it anybody’s business what he was, or did, in his private life? It is the argument of “Victim” that it was not.

Today, yes, things are different, but Bogarde was born in 1921, and homosexuality was only partially legalised in 1967. As an actor, he risked a great deal to take a crucial role at a time when it made a difference.

Desert Island Discs

An audio collector from Suffolk has discovered more than ninety lost recordings of Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. Bing Crosby, Dame Margot Fonteyn, James Stewart, Sophie tucker and Dirk Bogarde are among the big names who appear in the episodes from the 1960s and 1970s. On 28 September 1964 Roy Plomley’s castaway was actor Dirk Bogarde. His favourite track was “Symphony No 5 in C Minor (Opus 67)” by Ludwig van Beethoven. The book chosen was “The Swiss Family Robinson” by Johann Wyss. The luxury item was “Conversation Piece” by John Singer Sargent – a painting of the Sitwells.

International Pronouns Day

It was International Pronouns Day on 19 October. The Day began in 2018 and seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace.

You may have heard of the singular “they / them” pronouns, often used by non-binary people as a gender-neutral pronoun in place of “she / her” and “he / him”. But while more and more people are becoming familiar with this new set of pronouns, there are plenty of other “neopronouns” that gender non-conforming folks use to refer to themselves such as ze / zim and xe / xem pronouns.

What Are Neopronouns?

If you don’t know what neopronouns are, don’t worry. It’s a relatively new term that describes new pronouns that can be used to replace the usual gendered pronouns like “she” and “him”. The word combines the terms “neo”, meaning new, and “pronoun”, or words that are used to substitute other nouns.

Why Do People Use Neopronouns?

Before we get into why people use neopronouns, we have to discuss what it means to be non-binary. 

For a long time, gender was presumed to be binary: either male or female. But, today, more scientists are acknowledging the idea that gender may be a spectrum. 

Instead of there being just two seemingly opposite genders, experts believe that gender is vast and diverse, ranging from feminine to masculine. Non-binary people are those who identify somewhere in the middle of that spectrum or even outside of it altogether.

However, the English language (along with many other Western languages) still remains gendered – particularly when it comes to pronouns. We refer to women as “she” and men as “he”. This puts non-binary people in a tough spot. When you identify as neither a man nor a woman, how do you refer to yourself in a way that accurately represents who you are?

This problem is compounded by the fact that many non-binary people (but not all) experience gender dysphoria. This is described as the feeling of intense distress or discomfort when one’s gender identity does not match the sex assigned at birth. 

Being misgendered can often trigger gender dysphoria, which is why many trans and non-binary people undergo gender-affirming surgery; make changes to how they dress, talk, and behave; and choose pronouns that they feel best represent their gender identity.

Thus, the birth and rise of neopronouns and gender-neutral pronouns, the most common of which are “they/them/theirs” pronouns. This set of pronouns has actually been around for some time now, contrary to popular belief. The singular “they” can be traced back all the way to 1375, where it was used in the medieval novel William and the Werewolf.

Isn’t The Singular ‘They’ Incorrect?

It wasn’t until the 18th century that grammarians started to call out uses of the singular “they” as grammatically incorrect. This, despite the pronoun “you” being originally used as a plural pronoun before becoming singular, notes the Oxford English Dictionary.

Today, the argument that the singular “they” is grammatically incorrect still dominates discussions. However, English experts will be the first to tell you that language is ever-evolving and that there is no place for prescriptivism in English. 

“People who want to be inclusive, or respectful of other people’s preferences, use singular ‘they’. And people who don’t want to be inclusive, or who don’t respect other people’s pronoun choices, use ‘singular’ they as well,” says the Oxford English Dictionary. 

“Even people who object to singular ‘they’ as a grammatical error use it themselves when they’re not looking, a sure sign that anyone who objects to singular ‘they’ is, if not a fool or an idiot, at least hopelessly out of date.”

How Do I Ask For Someone’s Pronouns?

You can never assume a person’s pronouns just by looking at them. As such, it’s always important to ask. 

A good way to go about asking for someone’s pronouns is by introducing yourself first, along with your own personal pronouns. For example, you can say, “Hi, my name is Robin. I go by “she / her / hers” pronouns. What about you?” 

However, bear in mind that not everyone may be comfortable sharing their personal pronouns, especially if they don’t know you very well. 

Some people may be wary of outing themselves to strangers, given that there are still many people out there who don’t take the matter seriously. Others may still be unsure about their gender identity, and thus haven’t pinpointed which pronouns feel right for them. 

Thus, it’s never good to coerce someone to share their personal pronouns. When unsure what pronouns to use, try using the person’s name instead.

What If I Get Someone’s Pronouns Wrong?

Don’t panic – it’s totally fine if you get someone’s pronouns wrong by mistake. What’s important is that you apologise and correct yourself the moment you realise your error.

The best course of action is to apologise to the person in private. Give a quick apology and try not to make the issue about you. Make a promise to do better, and stick to that promise by making an effort to remember their pronouns. 

The Bottom Line

Pronouns are an important part of communication, and, with the rise of neopronouns, it’s more important than ever to make sure you use the correct pronouns for the people in your life.

Liberace arm wrestling Rock Hudson

3 thoughts on ““Victim” at Mini Cini … International Pronouns Day

  1. I was pleased that Out in the City chose to screen Victim and I really enjoyed revisiting this groundbreaking film. Such an interesting film on many levels. I bet it was food for thought for many of those who saw the film when it first came out, whether it change or confirmed already established attitudes would be interesting to know. We’ll done Tony for screening this.

    Like

  2. Pronouns
    This is an excellent article explaining well the reason why pronouns matter to people and then offering sound practical advice to those who care about the issue. I absolutely agree with this quote,
    ‘Even people who object to singular ‘they’ as a grammatical error use it themselves when they’re not looking, a sure sign that anyone who objects to singular ‘they’ is, if not a fool or an idiot, at least hopelessly out of date.’ : )
    Victim
    Very good review which makes its point well about Borgarde and the the risks he took at the time. It remains important for people in the public eye to stand up in whatever way, and to whatever degree they feel safe doing. I very much admire what he did.
    It’s worth saying that though the film was a huge risk and progressive for 1961, there were obvious homophobic stances such as the abstinence of Farr, as the hero being central. Great film. Thank you.

    Like

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