It’s one person’s story about growing up. But it’s also many people’s experiences of homophobia and queer identity. Bj McNeill presents a work in progress and Daniel Perks muses on the message:

He has an instant, fierce fluidity. Fast, punchy statements. Challenging and confident, on the verge of confrontational. He quickly erects a mental wall, a barrier against the anticipated queer bashing, homophobia and onslaught of abuse. The best defence is to go on the offence.

I can relate.

Bj McNeill comes out in a boxing robe, ready to fight. He straddles Sven Ironside and Gabriella Schmidt, dancing and grinding unashamedly. The message – I’ll be whoever I want, kiss whoever I want, screw whoever I want. You got a problem with that? That’s your insecurity, your prejudice. Not my issue.

“I say fuck off when you bait me and bleed me.”

Flawed like a boy

Sven Ironside. Bj McNeill and Gabriella Schmidt

McNeill grew up in Sydney, Australia, a country of liberalism with a laidback attitude to life and the tolerance for you to be who you want to be. You do you.

But only do you if it conforms to the accepted stereotype. Sun, sea and surf. Beer, blondes and barbies.

That’s barbies as in barbecues, if you’re a boy. Barbie dolls are only fine if you’re a girl.

Don’t mix those up Bj. Don’t play with dolls or girls. Don’t call other boys beautiful. You may be young, and not yet flawed by societal prejudice. But you are still under the influence of your parents, themselves a product of their generation.

I can relate.

Flawed ____ like a b_y, a work in progress, is McNeill’s response to growing up in a hypermasculine society. My upbringing mirrors his in many ways. Not Sydney, but Manchester, a city thought to be a Northern mecca for queer acceptance and safety. But scratch below the surface in the 90s and Northern prejudice was rife. The source? Inside the home, stemming from the nuclear families themselves. Toxic masculinity and the power of the penis weren’t overtly paraded in public. They lay hidden in books on how to be a man; in pushy schools that forced football or rugby upon the boys; in being mocked for a walk that wasn’t apish, talk that wasn’t low-pitched and dripping with misogyny.

“A blueprint of the straight and narrow”

Flawed like a boy

Bj McNeill

So, McNeill sticks a finger up to it all. He disturbs the peace – silly string and squirty cream over the audience; engorged penises on display; ‘Put your dick in the air’ blaring across the soundscape. It’s all over compensation to mask how a queer community internalises the oppression and regression it faces on a daily basis. The frustration, the fear, the constant need to fight is ultimately destructive. It forces you to acquiesce, subscribe to heteronormative society – sane, sorted and suited, a model of self-loathing and hatred.

But queerness is not a choice. It’s not something you sign up to. It’s not a club you voluntarily pay a fee to enter.

“Who would choose this?”

I can relate.

And in those darker moments of vulnerability are encounters that connect with many of the queer community. Stark realisations in the light of pre-dawn. Being alone and feeling foreign, stuck in a dangerous situation with no escape route.

McNeill’s was in Amsterdam, in a public toilet.

Mine was in London City, in an alleyway behind some bins.

And with it comes blame and shame. More of the same.

I can relate.

Flawed like a boy

Bj McNeill

But in such times comes self-belief, a projected confidence that McNeill possesses in spades. His dance, his look, his sass, his sexuality are all layers of armour, levels of defiance. As Flawed ____ like a b_y ends, McNeill dances to a Marilyn Manson song, with lyrics so fitting:

“The weak ones are there to justify the strong/

The beautiful people, the beautiful people”

Flawed ____ like a b_y embraces the alternative. It’s anarchic and rebellious. It’s imperfect and unfinished. It’s flawed. Yet within McNeill’s flaws lies nothing but beauty.

To such beauty, I can’t currently relate. In me, I see only the flaws. Maybe one day.

Flawed ____ like a b_y ran as a work in progress at The Glory. For information, please visit the venue website here.