The anti-capitalist, class war art collective who infuriated the straight and gay establishment alike.
“When freedom is outlawed, only outlaws are free.”
Back in the days of Divinity magazine, we attracted people from across the political divide; the more extreme they were, the more they seemed to somehow get where we were coming from, possibly because we were all offending the same people. At some point in, I think, 1994 I met (some of) Homocult at Torture Garden – the irony of us meeting in London when we were both based in Greater Manchester was not lost on anyone. Subsequently, a large bundle of artwork came my way and I planned a big piece on it – but Divinity bit the dust before that could happen, and so it has sat in an envelope ever since.
Homocult was a collective that started in 1992 in Hulme, Manchester – beginning with two people and possibly (though no one seems to know for sure) expanding to twelve at its peak. Consisting of gay, working-class artists, Homocult was all about righteous provocation in an age when gay rights and gay expression were still very much controlled by the state (the infamous Section 28 still in force) – and where the emergence of a gay establishment meant that alternative forms of thinking and behaving were increasingly frowned upon by people who wanted gay people to be a homogenous group – thinking, dressing and behaving the same way, listening to the same music and had the same income – essentially existing as a mirror image of the straight mainstream, where individuality was frowned upon and class divisions ran just as deeply.
Defiantly Queer when ‘queer’ was not a remotely fashionable or acceptable word to use in polite society and determinedly sex-positive, Homocult set out to provoke and mock not just the straight world and the blatant homophobia of the press, but also the increasingly prissy and conformist Gay Movement, showing that there was an alternative ideology, one that was political, confrontational and challenging of the more cliched ideas of liberation that often came only with the permission of the establishment (and not just the political establishment). It was more concerned with allowing working-class expressions of sexuality – any sexuality – to flourish than to be part of any sort of gay movement that sought to make queer into a commercial commodity that monied people could buy into as a sign of rebellion. As they stated:
“They (the Left) have turned class energy into petty minority and separatist bitching, where they have created a sliding scale of importance based on their own judgement of who’s the most oppressed, and they use this as a measuring rod with which to beat us into separate camps, along with poncy Politically Correct language designed to keep us there.”
And you thought all this was a new phenomenon…
Using cut-up and collage art, Homocult pushed a class war and sexually revolutionary agenda. They’ve been compared to contemporary direct action groups like Outrage!, but they were actually much more provocative, even if their work was essentially sloganeering rather than direct action – a Homocult poster was still more revolutionary and – ahem – outrageous. more pointedly, because they were attacking the new gay establishment as much as they were the heterosexual one – seeing both as opponents in an anti-capitalist, class-based struggle – they inevitably ruffled feathers. Their disdain for ‘respectable’ homosexuality was bound to bring them into conflict with most gay organisations.
Gay Times branded them ‘homophobic’, The Pink Paper said they were racists and sexists, allegedly radical bookshops like Manchester’s easily horrified Frontline Books banned their first publication Queer With Class (the same shop also banned Divinity). London’s Capital Gay was forced into a grovelling apology to Europride 1992 after publishing a Homocult poster of a Nazi Youth girl holding a collection tin with the Europride logo imposed on her. A pointed satire on the idea of ‘European Pride’ and the rise of nationalism and fascism to those who understand satire; a literal attack on Pride for those who choose not to. Then, as now, people deliberately chose to misinterpret a dig at an increasingly corporate organisation and the implications of identitarian ideology in an effort to be seen as holier than thou.
In a sense, Homocult suffered from the same literal interpretations that dogged fellow Mancunian provocateurs Savoy Books with the Lord Horror novels and comics. Little did any of us know what would come in later decades – as shocking as this material was to a middle-class conformist establishment at the time, it is nothing compared to the perpetually offended and outraged of today. And in a world where the gay establishment seems to want to be as bland and inoffensive as the straight world, their work seems more revolutionary and shocking than ever.
Where is Homocult today? Good question. The last activity I can find is from 2013; there’s a Facebook page that seems to have stopped being updated around 2012. Perhaps if anyone involved sees this they can let us know. We need Homocult t-shirts and posters now more than ever.
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