gareth pugh and carson mccoll on modern times and modern love
Gareth and Carson talk openly about their own personal experiences of discrimination, and the issues that still face today’s LGBT youth.
Gareth Pugh and his partner in life, crime and creativity, Carson McColl met eight years ago at the legendary club night, BoomBox. Four years later, at the suggestion of Michèle Lamy (who also works alongside her beau Rick Owens), the pair began working together. We asked London's hyper-creative power couple about the issues still facing today's LGBTQI community and what may lie ahead.
Tell us about your own coming out stories.
Gareth: I didn't have one. I've always refused to have that whole big dramatic thing. I was of the opinion that people are not stupid, and therefore they just probably know. If they were ever to ask me, I would never lie to them, and they did eventually ask me when I met Carson. I never thought it was an issue, so I never wanted to have that "ta da!" moment.
Carson: In Glasgow, where I grew up, there are two main football teams, you are either a Celtic fan or a Rangers fan. My dad was on the Rangers side, and I remember when I came out he said he didn't care, as long as I wasn't a Celtic fan. I was neither, of course, but it he took it well. My mum comes from a more traditional Catholic background, but that was never a worry. She's way beyond that and always has been. Her reaction was also one of immediate understanding. And the rest of my family knew if they didn't respond well, I would be lost to them. So it was dealt with pretty early.
Have you ever been embarrassed about your sexuality?
Gareth: I don't think it was ever an issue with my family. But I think it's one of those things where you go to school and people are calling you names before you even realise what you are yourself. Carson comes from Glasgow and I come from the north east England, and there was a very particular macho culture embedded in people who grew up there. It goes back generations.
Carson: I got the shit kicked out of me on a regular basis at school. I think that was a very common thing, and in that respect Gareth and I come from a very similar background. Sunderland and Glasgow are both very post-industrial, women and men are quite segregated, or at least they used to be, and I think that affects the way people have been brought up. We have that in common, we have shared scars. As a kid I remember constantly checking my behaviour in order to get by. Sometimes it's about survival, or surviving long enough until you work out how to say "fuck you."
Gareth: That said, I think it's important to understand that mostly those people who act in an aggressive manner towards someone who is different to them - act aggressively from a place of uncertainty, a place of fear, it's something they don't understand or want to understand, so it's very complex. Not for us, more for the people on the other side.
What do you love the most about each other?
Gareth: Carson's sense of wonder! Sometimes I think that's something that's been bashed out of me. But I've seen and experienced things that sort of change who you are. I've been hardened; I am a lot more guarded and pragmatic than I used to be. Although I think that side of me is still there, it's just not as pronounced as it used to be.
Carson: I love how grounded Gareth is. He's all about roots, all about home. I think what he describes in me, that "sense of wonder", can sometimes take you away from something that's lasting and meaningful. Having a sense of wonder is really important, but having a sense of home is really important too. I can sometimes get caught up in the magic and end up in this cycle of major highs and lows. And you know sometimes when you are on a comedown and there's only one thing that can make you feel better? For me, that's been having him next to me.
Have you ever experienced discrimination as a couple travelling together? Say, when you are holding hands…
Gareth: Carson is not a hand holder but I'd love him to be!
Carson: I am a very physical person, but I'm not into overt expressions of affection in public. It grosses me out. Which I'm pretty sure comes in part from the way I grew up. The thought of expressing affection in public was terrifying when I was younger, and only ever used as gesture of defiance. Which is why I think that now, whenever we want to do something extreme or provocative - something that scares us - it gives us more reason to do it, because you are doing it on behalf of the people who've gone through the same kind of thing.
What do you think are today's major LGBT issues?
Gareth: It's difficult to look at it as a whole. It was only one or two generations back that it actually became acceptable to be homosexual and live freely - but that only really applies to major cities in the West. And even then people's opinion doesn't change overnight.
Carson: There are a lot of things happening today that we could easily ignore. Just because you've got it good now you can't ever forget about those people who are still fighting. It's worth remembering that earlier this summer, when the world was losing its shit over Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover, Time also ran a cover story regarding LGBT rights titled Out in Africa that would make your hair stand on end. So we have a moral responsibility to remember that there are still horrific things going on in other parts of the world - in Africa, in Russia and in the Middle East, for example - and to help in any way we can.
Gareth: I still find it unfathomable that religious people have such extreme views surrounding sexuality. I just think it's interesting that religion is there to bind people together, but it's also the thing that tears people apart.
Carson: I think that's human nature to an extent - to divide into sects and subdivisions. We've always done that, throughout history. So it is what it is. We continue to fight. With regards to the situation here in the UK, I think the next stage will be when young people no longer have to identify as gay or straight, they'll just have a boyfriend or a girlfriend and it'll be nothing surprising. We need to get to the point where no one cares about the heteronormative bullshit.
How can we move forward?
Gareth: Well we're all guilty of assuming that we're some of the first generations to be openly gay, which is ridiculous, of course. In order to find ourselves here, people had to go through a lot of hardship and we should never forget that.
Carson: But right now we live in a very selfish, materialistic time. And the gay scene in particular can be so divisive and trivial. I mean, I get it - it's fun. But we still need to mobilise and remain politically engaged. We need to have fun and continue to fuck with the established order, and somehow figure out a way of doing both at the same time.