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?
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We fucked it, lads. All of it. The entire thing.
Ever since our distant ancestors stopped flinging their own shit at each other, stood upright and took their first, tentative steps into the realm of self-awareness, we’ve been in charge of more or less everything. But, stop now: pause for a moment and look around. Depressing as it may be, I’m pretty sure that even the most ridiculously optimistic among us would probably now admit that very little of anything remains unfucked.
The climate’s changing, the oceans are acidifying, species are dying out on an industrial scale; a flabby, semi-literate, incoherent, megalomaniacal tosspot with piss-coloured hair and the temperament of an intoxicated toddler is in charge of one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals; Nazis walk among us, and you’re apparently not even supposed to punch the hateful cunts; the planet has been in a state of more or less perpetual war for the entire duration of recorded history; and, to top it all off, we seek to excuse the nastiness, stupidity and racism of one of our most senior British politicians by saying, ‘Oh, that’s just Boris’. It’s all quite irrevocably fucked, and we were the fuckers doing the fucking.
We set ourselves up as leaders, decision-makers. So concerned were we that women might try to have a say in how things were being run, that we actually invented entire religions designed (amongst other things) to keep women down. Women were a spare rib, an afterthought.
“Need something to stick your cock in when you get bored, Adam? Here, have this.”
They were the reason for our fall from grace, the ones to blame for their own misfortunes and ours, and they were certainly not to be trusted.
Fast forward a few centuries, and little has changed. Sure, women in western society, at least, have been granted something we men like to call ‘equality’, but in reality, it’s little more than a veneer. An illusion. We grant them the minimum amount of ‘equality’ we think we can get away with, as though it’s a thing we own and that we get to dole out as we see fit. We drip feed rights that ought to be inalienable, then have the temerity to expect gratitude in return.
Women can run for office now, but most parliaments and legislative chambers are still predominantly, often overwhelmingly, male. The US has never had a female president, and when it looked like there was a chance of one being elected, the old boys’ network came together to ensure that misogyny won out. And whilst we have had two female Prime Ministers in this country, neither of the two largest ‘progressive’ parties in the UK has ever had a female leader.
Similarly, it’s illegal to discriminate based on gender in matters of employment, and yet, there is still a huge problem with women being paid less for doing exactly the same job as their male counterparts. Even our publicly-funded broadcaster was recently found to be guilty of such unequal treatment.
“Ah, but,” the half-brained twat cries, “if women take time off to have children, they can’t expect to have the same pay and benefits when they return to work as a man who hasn’t had a break.”
Putting aside the obvious point that not all women do take time off to have children, this is a line of argument that neatly encapsulates the problem:
“Hey, women, we can’t have children, so you’ll have to do it for us. You’ll have to pause your careers to bring the next generation of doctors, nurses, teachers and scientists into the world. Then you’ll have to clean up their shit, amuse them, nourish them and care for them until it’s time for you to re-enter the workplace. When that time comes, we’re going to give you worse pay and conditions than men who are doing the same job as a punishment for your dereliction of duty, even though we were unable/unwilling to do this vital job ourselves.”
And while we’re on the subject of equality related to reproductive rights, the whole abortion debate is another area dominated by men when they don’t have any fucking right whatsoever to a say. Once again, we use religion to justify our staggeringly unpleasant treatment of women:
“You can’t get mad at us, God wants us to behave like arseholes.”
If men had to carry children and give birth, not only would the gender pay gap not exist, but we’d be as over-stocked with abortion clinics as we are with tired excuses for our unreasonable behaviour.
“Can you fit me in for a quick abortion this afternoon, Jeff?”
“Sorry, mate. I’m booked solid ‘til six.”
“That is indeed inconvenient.”
“Try three doors down, Dave. There’s another abortion clinic there. Failing that, there are three branches of ‘Abortions R Us’ in the next street.”
And then there’s the sex thing. I suppose there was no way I could hope to get through writing an article like this without discussing the ongoing sexual abuse scandal, much as you might consider it better if I did. Now, I know what you’re thinking:
“Ooh, good. That’s just what the internet needs: yet another man’s take on the sexual abuse and harassment of women.”
With that in mind, I’ll keep it as brief as I can, but suffice to say, I have been nothing short of ashamed of my gender over the past few weeks. It’s not just that we’ve been exposed as having abused our power to perpetrate some fairly hideous crimes against women, but also that our reactions to the revelations have, in far too many cases, been so utterly fucking horrific.
There have been the cries of ‘witch hunt’, the lamentations that ‘we can’t even flirt anymore’ and, most sickeningly of all, those seeking to lay responsibility for the death of Carl Sargeant earlier this week at the door of women who have reported sexual crimes perpetrated against them.
I won’t dignify any of these arguments with an individual response, but I will say this:
If a culture of hyper-vigilance surrounding the sexual exploitation of women adversely affects you in any way, you might want to consider being less of a creepy, sexually-aggressive, breathtakingly contemptible fucking jizzstain.
All of which ties back to my earlier point. We’ve had absolute power forever, and we’ve used it to lay waste to everything we ought to hold dear. It’s not even like we just stood passively by and watched as things gradually turned to shit. No, that wasn’t enough for us. Instead, we decided to mould a gigantic passenger jet out of shit, and crash it gratuitously into the stuff we were supposed to be looking after.
So maybe it’s time for the women to have a go. But, y’know, a proper go this time, unlike all the other times when we’ve just patted them on the arse and said,
“Sure thing, sweet cheeks, you can be equal. Right after you’ve made me a sandwich.”
The time has come for us to relinquish our grip on power. Uncomfortable as some of you may find it, we’re shit at being in charge. And let’s face it, there is literally no way that women being in control of the world could make things any more unrelentingly fucking awful than they currently are.
It’s time for true equality, and we all have a part to play. If women are shouting about something, ask yourself why they need to shout. Then shut the fuck up and listen to what they’re saying. Don’t stand by while casual misogyny goes unchallenged – even stuff that might seem harmless on the surface helps to create a culture in which it’s the norm for women to be treated as second class citizens, as objects for our amusement and sexual gratification.
Even if you’re not one of those men who actively seeks to discriminate against women, we’ve all gained an advantage at some point from a system that favours us in more or less every way. At least, on the face of it we’ve gained an advantage. In reality, we’ve gained nothing, for we are still part of a society that treats half of its members as being beneath the other half. I firmly believe that, when that changes, we all stand to benefit in innumerable, immeasurable ways.