Max talks about Brexit, Trump and...Percy Pig. Contains frequent strong language.
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I speak to Harriet Minter and Emma Sexton on Talk Radio's Badass Women's Hour about my most recent article, homophobia and the situation in Birmingham.
We don’t get more than one chance at life. The more fortunate among us might get to enjoy eighty birthdays, eighty Christmases, eighty first days of spring, when the smell of the blossom and the gentle warmth of the sun mark the end of the cold, dark winter days and thrill us with the promise of the summer to come. And then, in the blink of an eye, it’s over. The world moves on, but we do not. It’s precious and fragile and fleeting.
Imagine, then, if you had to spend the early part of the brief time we have on this Earth feeling alone, afraid and ashamed. Imagine if the very essence of who you are had to be hidden away like a dirty little secret, because who you are is bad, wrong, sinful. Then imagine what it would say about you if your actions were responsible for inflicting this misery on another person, perhaps even your own child.
When I was five, I liked my friend. I’m gonna call him James, because that was his name. He was my best friend and, when we were at school, we did everything together. We sat together in class, we played together at break times, we ate together, giggling and swapping bits of our lunches.
We held hands.
I liked holding hands with James. It felt nice. I had neither the emotional maturity nor the linguistic dexterity to describe what I felt for him, but I knew I liked him a whole lot more than my other friends, and that I liked him in a different way.
There was a day in year two when we were on our way to assembly and I took James’ hand, just as I had always done. He pulled it away and held it behind his back. I looked at him, confused.
“We can’t hold hands anymore,” he said. “It’s gay.”
I remember this exchange like it was yesterday. I didn’t know what ‘gay’ meant, I’d never even heard the word before, but the look on his face told me everything I needed to know: Being ‘gay’ was a Very Bad Thing indeed.
James and I were still friends after that, but it was never the same. For me, anyway. I still feel that loss today, not because relationships are particularly serious or enduring at ages 5 and 6, but because I didn’t only lose James that day, I lost a part of myself. It was the first day I knew that there was something wrong with me, something shameful that I had to hide.
My secondary school was a dark place. Literally and figuratively. Eight or nine dismal blocks of grey concrete full of Section 28-fuelled homophobia and low-level violence. I was routinely hit, kicked and punched, and I spent most of my days there with the words ‘poof’, ‘queer’ and ‘faggot’ ringing in my ears. I wasn’t out, but that didn’t stop them. They had the weight of the media, the government and their homophobic parents behind them. Fighting the good fight, bashing the queers.
It’s little wonder, then, that by the time I left school, I was so far in the closet that there was the very real possibility I would never make it out. I think at one point I almost managed to convince myself I was straight. I just needed to ignore all the bad feelings, push them right down, and everything would be fine, right?
Needless to say, it wasn’t fine.
I wasn’t a bad person when I was closeted. I wasn’t violent or abusive. I wasn’t one of those who used homophobia as a defence mechanism, and, whilst I didn’t always get it right, I tried to do right by people. Helped old ladies across the road, that sort of thing. I was still me to a point, but I felt like a faded facsimile of who I was supposed to be.
And I’m the first to admit that, because of this, I wasn’t always particularly pleasant to be around. I was often frustrated and short-tempered, converting every negative emotion to anger rather than admitting to myself what was really causing that sad, empty feeling inside me.
I did make it out of the closet eventually, as you know, but by that point, I was quite irreparably damaged. After the initial euphoria of coming out had subsided, I became profoundly depressed and anxious, mourning those lost years I knew I could never recapture, plagued with what ifs that would remain forever unanswered, and wondering whether I would ever feel truly at peace.
I was fortunate in that my wife and son were extremely supportive, more supportive than I had any right to expect, and that is a thing for which I’ll always be immensely grateful. My extended family were rather less supportive, but you can’t have everything, I guess.
Anyway, with their love and understanding, some therapy, a bucketload of tears and many months of difficulty, I found my way back. I still have bad days, bad weeks, sometimes, but I have ways of coping with the fallout now that I didn’t have before. I’m happy now, overall, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be totally ok. Three decades of that level of damage is gonna take some rolling back.
So when I look at what’s happening in Birmingham and Manchester, and no doubt other cities across the UK by now, I feel angry. Angry that we’re having to refight battles we’ve already fought, and which belong firmly in the past; angry that narrow-minded people seek to use the protective veil of religious belief to excuse their hateful bigotry and intolerance; and utterly fucking enraged that another generation of children might have to endure what I and so many others like me had to endure some thirty years ago.
Of all the two thousand or so gods man has invented during the ten thousand years of recorded history, I don’t believe in any of them. The idea of a supreme being just doesn’t seem plausible to me. What I do believe is that, if a supreme being were to exist, she wouldn’t be petty, malicious or vindictive enough to describe one human being loving another as a ‘sin’ or an ‘abomination’. Moreover, I don’t believe she would make beings who are attracted to other beings of the same sex, then punish them for acting on that attraction. Because that would be a fucking dick move.
In 2019, more and more Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews are coming around to this way of thinking. Their belief in their chosen scripture, and their interpretation of it, has evolved over time, as is only right and fitting. So just as it’s no longer necessary for proponents of a particular faith to offer rape victims the choice between marrying their attacker or being stoned to death, it’s equally unnecessary for them to behave like a hateful dickhole to LGBT people in order to appease their favourite deity. Being gay isn’t a choice, but using a centuries-old book to justify your intolerance most definitely is.
If your adherence to a particular faith requires you to oppress those who are different to you, you either need to choose a less abhorrent ideology, or consider whether your interpretation of that ideology might be the problem. Your faith doesn’t trump the rights of others to be safe, accepted and supported.
There is a great deal of debate surrounding how many of us are L, G, B or T. Some studies place the figure at around 5% overall, with younger generations showing figures as high as 8 or 9%. And that’s without including those who are still closeted, so the true figure could easily be in excess of 10%.
But even if we take the lower estimate, if you’re standing outside a school of two hundred pupils shouting anti-LGBT hate into a microphone from the back of a flatbed truck, at least ten of the children present will be left feeling hurt, frightened and alone as a direct result of your actions.
If you are successful in your poisonous, spiteful aim of removing any and all LGBT-related education from the curriculum, those children will grow up thinking that who and what they are is fundamentally wrong. It might even be your own child upon whom you inflict this most grievous and unforgivable harm.
They will remember that day. It will stay with them forever. And just as I am able to sit here as a very nearly forty year old man and shed a tear for the innocent little boy whose life changed forever in a single minute one day in 1985, your own child may very well have to look back and relive the instant that broke them thirty-odd years from now. Will you really be able to live with yourself if the face staring back at them is yours?
Latex-faced Hitler enthusiast, Nigel Farage, announced exciting plans yesterday to march from Sunderland to another bit of Sunderland before getting in a bus full of other horrendous cunts and driving somewhere else.
This ambitious project is designed to raise awareness of the fact that some traitorous elements of the British population are still betraying the Will Of The People by not spending their every waking moment doing a racism, and also to fund that new 60-inch, ultra HD, 5.1 surround sound telly Mr Farage has been after that he might fully enjoy the DVD he just ordered off Amazon, in which Lee Hurst yells the word ‘snowflake’ at people who aren’t malicious fucking pricks for 93 uninterrupted minutes.
For the very reasonable sum of just £50, gullible racist bastards will have the opportunity to walk on roads they can walk on for free literally any fucking time they want to, carrying upside down Union Flags and singing Hitler Youth songs while normal people call them arseholes and empty jars of piss on their heads.
Fascist ham-mannequin, Farage, was in ebullient mood at the event’s launch, saying,
“Honestly, you should fucking see it. The colours are pin-sharp, and you can actually feel the subwoofer right in your fucking taint. I’m off to Curry’s as soon as enough of the dopey little shits have coughed up.”
When pressed for a comment on the thinking behind the stupid fucking walk thing he’d semi-organised, his mood changed.
“Did you know that in Britain today, more than 23% of newspaper columns don’t make any attempt to direct hate at Muslamics, coloureds, or even poofs? That’s not including the Mail and the Express, of course, but it’s still a shocking statistic. We will start walking, and we won’t stop until every single column inch is like one of the sweaty, feverish dreams in which I sticky up my jammy bottoms visualising a racially pure United Kingdom. I say ‘we’, I’m probably just gonna do the first and the last twenty minutes.”
Members of the Brexit Party in attendance at the launch were adamant that they weren't being taken for absolute fucking mugs by the bastard offspring of the KKK and some tweed. Wayne, a hateful dickhead from Stevenage, said,
"He obviously has to fuck off in his private plane after a quarter of an hour because he needs to get back to London and fight the establishment. They're trying to silence him by just letting him have his own radio show, a couple of newspaper columns and sixteen hours a week of unchecked ranting on BBC News. He can't possibly be with us for the whole walk, so it's important he has our support. And also our money."
I put it to Mr Farage that he might be wasting his time on something that’s likely only to make most people regard him as an even bigger twat than they already did, but his response was unequivocal.
“It’s got Freeview and Freesat built in.”
Piers stirred into some misty semblance of consciousness, disorientated, confused. Where was he? He could feel the ferociousness of an angry sun on his scaly, reptilian back, the hot sand burning beneath his detestable, porcine face.
He couldn’t say how long he’d been on the island, but if he was back home, he’d have known that it had been at least a month since the end of the last of the week-long parties that had erupted following the national outpouring of joy when it was announced that he was missing, presumed dead.
He had survived for what seemed like an eternity on coconut milk, seaweed and the bits of Donald Trump’s shit that were stuck between his teeth. But he was tired now. So tired. It was time to stop fighting.
But wait. Were those voices he could hear?
He strained to pull himself into a sitting position, the weight of his inexplicably bulbous and yet somehow still loathsomely self-satisfied head proving quite the challenge for his now emaciated skeleton.
As he was finally able to look up, he gazed into the tanned face of a man around his own age, but infinitely more handsome in spite of the weathering inflicted by a life at sea. The man did not recognise him, as the weeks on the island had taken their toll, but if he had, he would surely have headed back to his ship without a second’s hesitation rather than be the person responsible for rescuing the world’s most reviled human being.
With a kindly smile, the man held out a white paper bag, which Piers snatched from him as though it was his right, and not an act of kindness from a benevolent stranger. The bag was warm, and transparent in places from the grease covering the bounty that lay within. He noticed the unmistakable blue logo and his mouth watered.
He tried to speak, but his voice was weak from dehydration and shouting misogynistic abuse at the mermaid he’d hallucinated. He beckoned the man to come closer.
The ship’s captain obliged and got to his knees next to this wretched creature he had stumbled upon with his unfortunate crew. He leant forward, slowly, and as he did, he heard that uniquely foul and instantly repulsive voice as it whispered despicably into his ear,
“It’s not vegan, is it?”
The government today confirmed to concerned UK citizens that not shitting up almost every aspect of their already miserable lives sits at the very fucking bottom of the list of Conservative priorities, below ‘arsefisting the NHS to death’ and ‘inflammatory xenophobic posturing’.
Following suggestions before Christmas that the parliamentary break should be cancelled or curtailed that they might actually take steps to defuse the increasingly fucking volatile shitgrenade of Brexit, the laughter of many MPs was so vigorous that their bellies shook like bowls full of jelly in the manner of cunty, self-centred Santa Clauses. So ridiculous was the idea that they might actually make some small sacrifice to prevent the entire nation going to fucking shit, that at least three on the Tory benches threw up their roast pheasant in impromptu fits of uncontrolled mirth.
In a further bid to underline the complete absence of fucks given about the thing that promises to render cardboard our most valuable national commodity, Home Secretary Sajid Javid cut short his family holiday today to deal with a ‘major incident’ in which a handful of people displaced by the bombs we drop all over the fucking Middle East made an unsuccessful attempt to cross the channel in quite a small boat.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s office said,
“Look, this is really fucking simple. Although Brexit will adversely affect hundreds of millions of people across the continent, the racist little cunts who keep us in power seem to really want it to happen. Of course Sajid flying home is completely fucking unnecessary, but it panders to those same jingoistic arseholes who’ll ultimately give us the backing we need to continue buttfucking the economy into oblivion for personal gain. Also, when it’s all over, Jacob has offered to take us all out somewhere not as nice as the Ritz but better than a Harvester with his winnings.”
We approached former UKIP leader and current Hitlery jizzpipe, Nigel Farage, for a comment, but he was said to be unavailable, and was last seen heading towards the White Cliffs of Dover banging a yard of metal pipe into his palm and muttering something about there not being any black in the Union Jack.
With Mr Javid set to touch down in the UK in the next few hours, we can at least rest assured that these penniless, non-white immigrants turning up on our shores will be immediately and unceremoniously returned from whence they came, just like his father wasn’t.
Max talks about the whole Brexit mess, and only just manages to do so without weeping. Contains frequent strong language.
I wrote this piece for my son about a year ago when I was coming to terms with some stuff, and I think it feels right to share it today in the hope that it will matter to someone else.
I’ve been thinking for a few weeks about writing something just for you, and it’s taken me this long to marshal my thoughts into anything approaching coherence. There’s much I want to say - to you, about you, about me, the world and your place within it. I hope this piece will mean something to you, and that you’ll look back over it one day and remember fondly all the great times we’ve shared, and the many more we have yet to share.
It’s fair to say I was a pretty reluctant father. You know this, we’ve spoken about it before. I guess I always took the pragmatic view: we’re overpopulated as it is, and another child is just another drain on the world’s resources. Nice, huh?
I always say it was your mother’s nagging that made me agree to start a family, but that’s a little disingenuous. And somewhat unfair, as it happens. What’s actually the case is that she needed to have a baby. She needed to be a mother like a fish needs water, and it would have been a travesty to deny her that. So I actually agreed to start a family because I love Mummy so much, which I guess is the best reason of all.
I still remember the night you were born and, until recently, I never really reflected on it to any great extent. Thankfully, I tend to think about things rather more emotionally now than I once did, and I’ve finally learned to appreciate the significance of that night - of being the first person to hold you after you came into the world. It makes me happy to think of that now in a way I perhaps wasn’t capable of before.
That said, I was never particularly enamoured with the whole baby palaver. I loved you fiercely of course, but, as I’m sure you’re aware, babies don’t really do very much. You put food in one end, shit comes out of the other, and sometimes they cry. The first 18 months are pretty much a case of biding your time until it starts to get interesting. Thankfully, it got really interesting.
I loved the toddler bit. So much. The little outfits; the clumsy, unsteady gait; your little hand thrust comfortingly in mine; the amusing mispronunciations; the adoring looks from the little old ladies you would delight with your endearing turn of phrase; I loved it all. I mourned it for a long time after it was over. I didn’t love you any less, but I felt a sense of loss that those days were gone, never to return. That might seem silly to you, and I suppose maybe in some ways it is, but I suspect you’ll understand one day. I’m also sure a time will come in the not too distant future when ‘Daddy’ will give way to ‘Dad’, and maybe I’ll grieve a little then, too.
The way you have matured over the past year or so, however, has given me cause to let go of any residual sadness about the passing of those days. I look at you now and feel an overwhelming sense of pride at the child you’ve grown into, and deep-rooted feelings of excitement and optimism about the man you will become.
You already have a social conscience and a sense of justice far in advance of most people your age. You refuse to tolerate intolerance, and that’s one of the best qualities a person can have. Never let that go - where you see hate, injustice and victimisation, call it out. It’s easy to hear something offensive and turn a deaf ear, but the world needs people like you to challenge hate in all its forms. As you get older, the world will try to knock your compassion out of you. Don’t let it, because it’s the very essence of who you are.
We’re not here for very long. When you’re ten, it feels like you have forever, but time has a way of running through your fingers like sand. I don’t expect you to grasp that now, but maybe if the grown up you is reading back over this in 30 years’ time, he’ll allow himself a wry smile. The truth is though, that we’re here for a mere fraction of the blink of an eye, so we have to make it count.
That doesn’t mean you have to change the whole world, however. There can only be so many people whose names go down in history as having achieved something magnificent, and even their great accomplishments will ultimately count for nothing. This civilisation will end as all the others have before it, our species will inevitably become extinct (pretty soon if we don’t buck our ideas up), and the universe won’t give even the tiniest of fucks.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that life is futile and there’s no point in even trying to achieve anything, it’s just that, for most people, our accomplishments aren’t particularly important or abiding. At least not on a global scale. But even if you don’t find a cure for cancer, discover life on other planets, or solve the energy crisis that threatens to bring about our untimely demise, you can still leave the world a better place than when you found it.
Every single day, you touch the lives of others. Think of all the people you have encountered over the course of your ten years so far. Or even just one year. Friends, family, acquaintances, strangers who you speak to once in passing: you will have an effect on each and every one of those people. It might be tiny, almost imperceptible, but the sum of these interactions can help to change the world for the better. The more people who extend the hand of kindness, friendship and tolerance to those around them, the more chance there is that one day this will be the norm.
So in the end, only two things really matter: that you are happy and that you are good to other people. It gives me great comfort to know that, at the time of writing, both of those things are true. I feel sure that the latter will always be true because you’ve inherited your mother’s kind, gentle nature; you radiate the same warmth, the same inner beauty.
As much as I want you to be happy, however, I want you to know it’s ok to feel sad sometimes. Or worried or anxious or scared or upset. Don’t ever hide from your emotions, they’re what make us human. Cry if you need to. Hug someone if you feel like it (and they’re ok with it). When you shut down some of your emotions, it’s extremely difficult not to shut them all down. The only one that makes it to the surface in those situations tends to be anger. Anger is natural too, sometimes, but it’s rare that anything good ever comes of it. Embrace your other feelings, let them in, get to know them. Don’t ever let anyone tell you to hide them away. So many of society’s problems could be solved by letting boys know it’s ok to cry, and by giving them a hug when they do so rather than telling them to toughen up.
I feel a profound sense of regret that it took me so long to realise this. Before I came out, I fell into precisely the trap I have described above. I didn’t just repress my sexuality, but so many of my other feelings as well. It had a lasting effect, and one that I’m still trying to come to terms with. I feel guilty that, for parts of your early life, I was prone to anger and irritability in a way that surpassed what was normal or healthy. I worry that you’ll remember my behaviour during these important formative years and judge me negatively. I want you to know that I’m sorry for all of it: the shouting, the snapping, the slamming of doors. I hope you can find it within yourself to forgive me.
I feel much better now, and I hope it shows. I do still feel sad sometimes. I cry sometimes, too. Quite a lot, actually. I think I must be making up for lost time. It’s ok though, because allowing myself to feel sad sometimes, means that I get to feel happy nearly all of the time. I don’t think that was the case before.
As well as apologising, I need to say thank you. When I came out almost a year ago, there were only two people in the whole world whose opinions I cared about. Whatever anyone else has said or done in the meantime, your reactions were always the only ones that really mattered. The grace, the maturity, the love and acceptance with which you handled my revelation is something I will always treasure. The manner in which you’ve taken an interest in LGBTQ issues since then, the way you actively support our community, is both beautiful and heart-warming. However you end up identifying in the future, the fact that you were so supportive of me and others like me before you were even able to describe your own sexuality will continue to be a source of great joy to me.
I want to finish by talking a little bit about Mummy. As you go through life, you’ll meet a lot of people. Some of them you’ll like, some not so much. A few of them you’ll love. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find the one person who is everything to you: your best friend; your counsellor; your drinking partner; the one you laugh with; the one you cry with; the one you can sit in silence with and still know exactly what they’re thinking; the first person you think of every morning and the last one you think of every night. When you meet that person, you’ll recognise them, and they will recognise you. And when that recognition hits you, for fuck’s sake grab hold of each other and never let go. That kind of love doesn’t come along too often, and when it does, you owe it to yourself not to let it pass you by.
So many people ask me whether Mummy and I will split up because I’m gay, but I can honestly say that the thought has never entered my head. All too many people still see sexuality as a simple binary choice, but that’s bollocks. The love we share transcends my sexuality, and I feel sorry for the people who don’t get that. Your presence in our lives has served only to strengthen that bond, and as I watch you grow into a person who embodies everything that I adore about your mother, I feel incredibly fortunate to share my life with the two of you. It was always a wonderful feeling knowing that I had my best friend beside me as I faced whatever shit life had to throw at me, but it’s so much better knowing that I now have not one, but two best friends in my corner.
I guess that’s it for now. I hope it wasn’t too much to take in or too arduous to get through. Maybe I’ll do this again one day when I have more I need to say. Until then, remember that you have my undying love, respect and admiration. None of which means I won’t still tell you when you’re behaving like a little twat. 😘
With all my love,