Mask 4 Mask: Should we really be comparing COVID and AIDS? by Adam Kirkbride for LGBT History Month

As human beings, we have a tendency to look back at our history and compare it to what is happening in the present. This, by and large, is a fairly good thing. We get to learn from our past mistakes and exorcise the ghosts that haunt our cultural memory. However, the recent tendency to compare the COVID19 pandemic to the AIDS crisis is, I believe, a tendency that is rooted in ignorance.

The first time that I saw this comparison made was in mid-summer last year, which compared mask use to prevent the spread of COVID to condom use to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. In theory, this is a fair enough comparison; both items are to be worn to prevent the wearer from transmitting a virus, and both are incredibly effective at reducing spread. In practice, however, it is not quite as simple as this. Masks are readily available to all who need them, whereas condoms were rarely supplied freely and accessibly to young gay men during the AIDS crisis. What’s more, is that the two viruses are spread differently, COVID through droplets and AIDS through sexual intercourse, which means that the methods by which the virus can be prevented are vastly different. Especially in lesser-developed countries, COVID was far easier to control than AIDS because far fewer resources are needed to prevent transmission. Whereas HIV/AIDS requires condoms, sex education, PrEP, and anti-viral drugs to control transmission, COVID can be in large part controlled through masks, self-isolation, and social distancing. Can you see how this just is not equitable?

COVID AIDSAnother reason the two diseases are often compared is due to demographic concerns. Both COVID and AIDS were constructed in the media as diseases which affected specific population groups. COVID was presented as disproportionately affecting older generations, and HIV/AIDS as centred on gay men. These attitudes lead to people who do not fit into those categories falsely believing the virus is not a risk to them (which leads to them catching it). Nevertheless, these are different demographics, and deserve to be treated as such. A key example is the fact that the elderly are not currently stigmatised in the way that gay men and IV drug users were during the AIDS crisis. A recent Instagram post by @grundyoxford rewrites AIDS headlines as though they were about COVID. Reading something like “I’d shoot my mum if she had Covid” is shocking, and nobody would argue that this is not totally unreasonable ( But, of course, this was not a headline about COVID. As this post illustrates, we don’t view COVID sufferers in the way that we viewed (and continue to view) HIV/AIDS sufferers. COVID sufferers are victims of selfish individuals, but HIV/AIDS sufferers were (are) viewed as getting what is coming to them for leading a deviant lifestyle. The two are not equitable.

At the time of writing, there have been 2.36 million deaths from COVID19 worldwide, but in just 2004, 2.1 million people died from AIDS related illnesses worldwide. Thanks to the vaccine, COVID deaths will eventually diminish to a negligible amount, but HIV/AIDS continues to ravage populations, killing hundreds of thousands each year since the first cases in 1981. Without wanting to sound like a conspiracy theorist who fundamentally misunderstands science, there is a reason more than immunological differences that we still haven’t found a cure or vaccine for HIV/AIDS in forty years, but have several viable candidates for COVID after just one year. Ultimately, comparing parts of our history with parts of our present is a good thing, but it only a good thing when done correctly and sensitively. For example, it is telling that in both the COVID19 pandemic and the AIDS epidemic, black, Asian, and Latinx communities were hit substantially harder than white communities with very little media representation. Alternatively, gay blood activist Ben Weil suggests that disabled people have suffered institutional neglect comparable to the institutional neglect of gay AIDS victims. ( These are just two examples of sensitive and nuanced comparisons of these two catastrophic events. As socially-conscious adults, we need to be nuanced in our representations, otherwise we run the risk of erasing histories that were barely ever visible.


Looking After Ourselves in Lockdown: Students Share Their Thoughts

Student Top Tips for Lockdown Study and Wellbeing

Continuing in our series of posts by students, two of our Level Five students share their ideas for how to maintain a healthy study/life balance. We hope you find them uplifting and inspiring.

Annie Denton, Level 5, English Literature: The importance of space

When we first transitioned our university studies online, it was temporary. No one could have imagined that this strange system would become our new normal. Or perhaps, we just didn’t want to imagine it so that we could continue our hope of seeing our friends and tutors in September. As the autumn closed in, the glare of sunny screens and book pages fluttering in the summer breeze disappeared, and a darker season took over. There was the curfew, then the rule of six, the tiers and then another lockdown. But how do you keep up with the workload and deadlines with all the extraneous stress and confusion? For me, it was important to separate the spaces in which I work, ensuring that I do not work, eat, and sleep in the same spaces. When possible, I would work in the library or at my desk to ensure that I could mentally differentiate the places and associate them with different tasks. I advise this to anyone who is feeling as though they are unproductive, or not sleeping properly due to their university work, even if you just move to another space in your bedroom. Also, throughout the pandemic, I found my connection with nature has strengthened. There have been so many occasions in York, and at home, that a walk outside has saved my sanity. When the weather is miserable, it is so easy to associate your mood to the weather – I’m convinced all Literature students think about the pathetic fallacy between our thoughts and the weather! I have found that on the darker, more dreary days it is good to curl up with a good book, a hot-chocolate, and a candle to change your day from being ‘unproductive’ to a cosy treat for yourself. This semester should be something to look forward to. Tutors and students alike have had a chance to get used to online methods. We’re leaving behind our January blues, and despite still being in Lockdown, we can look forward to a time when we can safely return to York.

Leah Figiel, Level 5, English Literature and Creative Writing: Have a ‘Favourite Things’ Day

Admittedly, this isn’t my own idea, but a self-care tip that I have “stolen” through watching posts on YouTube by visual artist and filmmaker Shayna Klee on her channel The Purple Palace. The concept is that once a week (or whenever you feel like), schedule in an entire day where you do your favourite things queue Julie Andrews singing. This could include activities such as cooking and/or eating your favourite meal, painting a picture, watching a comfort film or reading your favourite book! Nourishing your hobbies and interests is key when everyday can feel like it’s groundhog day. By planning this time in advance, it allows you to look forward to something, which sounds very simple, but is such an important feeling that we all need, especially in this wintry lockdown.

Remember that if you are feeling that you need to talk to somebody about your situation or mood there is support available here.










LGBT+ History Month Events

York St John University proudly supports LGBT+ History Month in February; details of two forthcoming online events can be found below.
Jamie Windust sat cross legged with their hand on their head weating a bright red turtle neck jumper and patterned jacket. They wearing large red glasses with matching red lipstick. Jamie sits on a yellow chair with a plant in the background.

Jamie Windust in Conversation

6.00pm | Monday 15 February | Free 

Join author and model Jamie Windust and Dr Esther McIntosh, Associate Head of Religion, Politics and International Relations at York St John University, for a fun and frank evening of conversation about the key issues for the LGBT+ community in 2021.

Jamie will discuss their debut book, ‘In Their Shoes: Navigating Non-Binary Life’, and share their thoughts on topics ranging from the need for kindness in the LGBT+ community to the impact of Pride cancellations in 2020.

To book a ticket,  click here.

Beyond the Binary: Scientific Thinking about Sex 1900-1950

5.00pm | Tuesday 16 February | Free

On the left there is a pink female outline on the right there is a blue male outline. Between the two are a gradient of transformations between the two genders ranging from pink to blue. The image is sat against a navy background.

In the last decade, a growing number of young people identify as non-binary. Some governments are now considering recognition of a neutral gender in official documents. However trans and non binary people are still being stigmatised by the media. In these instances science is invoked to help us defend or challenge our understandings of gender and sex to enable systemic change. In this talk Dr Chiara Beccalossi (University of Lincoln) discusses how science increasingly sees gender and sex as a spectrum. 

To book a ticket, click here.

The Show Must Go ONLINE: An Interview with Rob Myles on Modern Day Theatre’s Perseverance Through a Global Pandemic, by Emma Brimelow

We went into the first lockdown the week that our Shakespeare: Perspectives students were due to go on their trip to see The Taming of the Shrew, and, as happened in Shakespeare’s times, the theatres closed, and many people found their livelihoods in jeopardy. Emma Brimelow reflects on the resilience of the theatre community during this pandemic, interviewing Robert Myles, who set the standard for Zoom Shakespeare with his The Show Must Go Online project. As her blog post reveals, innovation and creativity did not come to an end, and she got to review a unique production after all.

Emma Brimelow 

What a lot of people hoped would be ‘the best year of their lives’ has slowly turned into one for the books, and sadly not in the way we had hoped. Covid-19 arrived in late January for the UK, and no later than two months after this around a third of the world has been put into some form of lockdown, Great Britain being no exception. On the 23rd of March, Boris Johnson announced everyone who isn’t an essential worker must stay inside and isolate, and many businesses are currently suffering due to forced closure, the theatre being one of them. In the past I’ve enjoyed watching numerous productions, my last being Dick Whittington and His Cat at Romiley Forum, and so I found myself missing the theatre experience. Luckily, Robert Myles has a solution for those of us who are missing out!

Created in less than a week in response to covid-19, ‘The Show Must Go Online’ was thefirst platform to produce Shakespeare for an online audience using online actors. Created on zoom and streamed on YouTube, TSMGO has been named “the most prolific creator of online theatre” by various academics (Medium, 2020), and after watching their production of The Taming of The Shrew it’s clear to see why. The shows stay true to theZoom shakespeare nature of theatre, including adding intervals, pre- and post-show discussions and adding virtual applause to the Zoom productions on YouTube. The quick response to the pandemic amazed me, with the first show airing the first week of the official lockdown, however I was lucky enough to get in contact with Rob Myles, who shared an exclusive insight into the process of creating TSMGO so fast.

Rob stated that the idea came to him pre-lockdown and was simply an idea until his initial tweet about creating the platform blew up.  The first show The Two Gentlemen of Verona aired just six days after that tweet was made, and since then to this day eight more shows have been broadcasted. Rob stated, “We were able to move so quickly because myself and my producing partner Sarah Peachey both work in innovation when we’re not working in the arts, where fast deadlines and online conferencing are both commonplace,” meaning that he was surrounded by a strong support network to get TSMGO going as quick as possible. However, he also told me that “it would have been nothing without the response from actors and theatre makers” which he claims are still reaching out to him today about appearing in future productions. Rob has helped over 150 currently unemployed actors from all over the world, allowing countries to come together and rejoice in such difficult times.

Before I saw any of the live shows, I admit I was sceptical.  I’ve seen a couple of Shakespeare productions, including more recently Macbeth at The Royal Exchange Theatre, and wondered how a play would function without the scenery and the costumes, and even more important…the interaction between characters. After watching TSMGO’s rendition of The Taming of the Shrew, I was surprised to see just how well the production flowed. The core of the success of the plays are the actors, who week by week learn a new script off by heart in less than six days, yet still manage to perform with such fluency and enthusiasm!

In the productions, the actors try their hardest to DIY costumes and props, some even including their dogs in the readings! In the reading of The Taming of The Shrew, I particularly enjoyed the couple of stunt doubles (who were isolating together) performing the fight between Katherina and Petruchio. It was staged extremely well and brought an aspect of humour to the reading. To put it simply, Rob Myles and his cast are doing all they can to make the best out of a bad situation.

The first production, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, brought in nearly 35,000 views (Ludmon, 2020) and Rob tells me that “thankfully the interest remains just as strong.” They are currently working through every Shakespeare play in chronological order and anticipate that they should make it through every one of his works by late November. You can support Rob and his team of actors through their patreon, which I have linked below and become a theatre patron yourself:

Update: The Show Must Go Online are still going strong! Check out their latest production Cymbeline. All their productions are available online on YouTube.

Check out The Taming of The Shrew for yourself here:

And Estella Green’s review for us here.

Works cited:

Broadribb, Ben. Shakespearean Parody In Lockdown: The Show Must Go Online Presents William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. Medium.  

Ludmon, Mark. The Show Must Go Online- Shakespeare’s Plays Read Live Online. British 30th March 2020.  

Myles, Rob. Personal Correspondence via Email. 9th May 2020. Used with permission.

Myles, Robert. “THE SHOW MUST GO ONLINE” 2020

Wellbeing at YSJ

Students walking on campusWe sometimes hear of ‘wellness’ or ‘wellbeing’ spoken of as some kind of new-fangled concept, but actually, the idea of being mindful of our mental and emotional well-being, as well as our physical health, goes right back to the sixteenth century, and was first used in the English language by Thomas Hoby in his translation of Castiglione’s The Courtier. And in these new and unusual times we find ourselves in, it is more important than ever to look out for and to look after ourselves and our peers. 

I’m really happy to have been asked to lead on promoting wellbeing in our department, initially through a series of blog posts. Over the years, I’ve personally benefitted from the input and support of wellbeing professionals, and the best advice I can think of to give to you is not to wait until a crisis to seek guidance. Of course, if you are already in crisis, it is not too late, either.

So in this first post, I will do two things. I will point you in the direction of York St John University’s own wellbeing and welfare services and opportunities, and I am also asking you to email me with your well-being tips, your queries, the resources you have found helpful, or even your pitches for your own well-being blog posts. These can all cover a range of topics, from Covid 19, to LGBT, Disability, or BAME experiences, to mental health in general, and I hope to get more suggestions from you yourselves. This blog is your space, reflecting your community and your experiences. Email: and put Wellbeing in the subject line.

Our lovely wellbeing and welfare team have been working hard all summer to ensure that one to one chatthey can continue to support you safely during this pandemic. Check out their welcome video here. You can also book to have 1 – 1 online wellbeing chats or welfare chats. A wellbeing chat gives you a chance to talk about any mental wellbeing concerns you have. A welfare chat is an opportunity for you to talk about challenges you are facing.

Crisis information is highlighted at the top of the webpage, but if you scroll down you will find further information about Mindfulness sessions, about the YSJ well-being app, and about Together All, our 24/7 online support community, including professional support.

So as you can see, we’ve got lots to offer you. There is also chaplaincy support available. The chaplaincy team are there for people of all faiths and none.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you with your ideas.

Wishing you all the very best this semester, Saffron.

Dr Saffron Vickers Walkling, Senior Lecturer in English Literature. 

Departmental role: Wellbeing.


Event: Words Matter Lecture 2020 – Dr Alexander Beaumont

The School of Humanities and the English Literature programme are proud to present this year’s annual Words Matter lecture (5pm,  Thursday 15th October 2020). The event is free, all are welcome, and booking is open here. This year’s lecture will be delivered by Dr Alexander Beaumont and is titled:

The Matter of the North: Sarah Hall’s Uplandish Fiction 

Continue reading “Event: Words Matter Lecture 2020 – Dr Alexander Beaumont”

A Virtual Celebration for the Class of 2020

The staff on the YSJU English Literature Programme have put together a very special farewell video for the Class of 2020. The video is introduced below by Third Year Level Co-ordinator, Dr Jo Waugh. 

It is a truth almost universally not acknowledged that sometimes endings can feel a bit anticlimactic. This year, however, that feeling must be especially powerful: this was never how it was supposed to be.

We’d have liked to be doing this in person, but we’ve tried our best to express in this video how proud we are of you, how sorry we are to see you go, and how much we hope you’ll carry with you the things you’ve learnt during your time as a Literature student at YSJU.

So let us take you, just for 43 minutes, to a place of virtual celebration. If you want to recreate the atmosphere, you could place some pizza and chips nearby, but forbid yourself from queuing for them until the speeches are over. Pour yourself a glass of wine, grab a bottle of beer, or whatever you might have been drinking. When you’ve finished watching, you could play some jungle music (Fraser’s playlist last year), and imagine you’re either hiding when the camera comes near you or posing for it with your arms round your friends. Endings are important, and you should mark this one while you also think about the new beginnings that are opening up in front of you.


Every day right now, something is happening that requires – demands – you to use the skills in critical thinking and analysis that we hope you’ve honed in the last three years. There are narratives circulating all around us, many with holes, gaps, and ambiguities that desperately need people like you to question and interrogate them.

This is what a degree in English Literature does for you, and this is why the world really does need you, a Literature graduate, so urgently. Recognize and embrace your power and your privilege here: as a critic, as someone who’s read about historical precedents for some of the dynamics we’re seeing unfold  right now (cough Sick Novels), who’s studied the ways in which forms of power and oppression intersect, and been invited and encouraged to question everything – and keep on questioning, arguing, thinking, critiquing, all your life.

Dr Jo Waugh, Level 6 Coordinator

Literature in Lockdown: Zooming Through The Taming of the Shrew (Estela Green)

Literature in Lockdown is a special blog series in which our students share what they’re doing whilst face-to-face teaching is suspended at YSJU. In our latest post, Shakespeare: Perspectives student Estela Green shares her review of The Show Must Go Online’s Zoom production of The Taming of the Shrew. She watched this in lieu of our cancelled trip due to the closure of theatres back in March. There are silver linings after all. 

(The Show Must Go Online Taming of the Shrew is available for free on YouTube here. Donations also welcome.)

Screenshot from: “The Show Must Go Online: The Taming Of The Shrew.” YouTube, streamed live by Rob Myles, 26 Mar. 2020

Continue reading “Literature in Lockdown: Zooming Through The Taming of the Shrew (Estela Green)”

Autism Awareness at YSJU creative writing event TONIGHT

Today, on Thursday the 12th at 6.00 in HG 101 there will be a creative writing evening themed around Autism Awareness to help generate ideas for the next Autism Awareness Day on the 4th of April, 2020 – please come along and get involved.

The following week on Thursday the 19th at 6.00 in HG 101 there will be a more general evening for queries and questions about the event and any ideas people want to discuss for it.

People can submit their work to 

When the booklet is made they will receive a electronic copy.

Could people only submit either pdfs or word documents. 

Thank you!

Dissertation Corner with Rose Kirby: Political Lesbianism and Fetishization

In this week’s instalment of Dissertation Corner,  Rose Kirby tells us about her project on political lesbianism and fetishisation in early twenty-first century fictional realism.


What is the topic of your dissertation?

Political lesbianism, orientalist, sexuality and fetishes. A lot! 

How did you choose the texts for the project?

I studied both of my dissertation books at different stages of my education. One was at AS-level Literature and Language, and the other I came across whilst I was studying ’Ecopoetics’ (ecocriticism, scientific papers and literature on the environment) on my exchange abroad in Stockholm.

Has your dissertation changed much since submitting your proposal?

Definitely! It’s expanded to include more ideology and methodology than I thought at first.  

What have you enjoyed most and what have you struggled most with?

 I have most enjoyed the freedom to research and get stuck-in with the subject matter surrounding my topics, and realising how much I love it! This is a double-edged sword though, it has been a challenge to keep on top of both researching independently and being a third year student with other commitments. 

What has it been like working closely with an academic supervisor?

It has been really engaging and reassuring, to be able to have an intellectual conversation, where you are able to be influenced and encouraged by their expertise and support has been invaluable.