Pride 2020: The loss of a lifeline

This year will be the first year since the 1970s when, in all likelihood, there will be no Pride events taking place anywhere in the UK.

You might think this is a relatively minor consideration, and I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, it is. Somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 people have already died, and many thousands more will die before this is over. Millions have been plunged even further into poverty as this crisis gives them an additional kicking after ten years of Tory austerity, and yet more people will die as a result of this secondary impact of the virus. The mental health toll of the lockdown – being separated from friends and family, being forced to isolate with an abusive partner or family member, worrying whether you’ll keep your home or your livelihood when this is all over (if you survive at all) – is now beginning to bite, and will only get worse as this situation drags on.

So for those of you outside of the LGBTQ community, whether or not Pride events are held as planned is probably so far down your list of priorities that it doesn’t even begin to register. Pride is, I think, largely viewed by straight people as little more than a party. A day out. A piss-up. A colourful parade. A Britney concert.

And yes, for better or for worse, it is all of those things. But for many of us, it’s so much more than that.

Even now, in 2020, in the post-equal-marriage era, we still face a relentless tide of homophobia. Those of you who follow my Twitter account will know that I regularly receive responses calling me a ‘faggot’ or a ‘puff’ (literacy was never their strong point), or encouraging me to ‘slit my throat’. Some of the more considerate ones even offer to slit it on my behalf, which, I think we can all agree, shows a selfless commitment on their part to ridding the world of the scourge of The Gay.

Sadly, though, it’s not just online that we face intolerance. Thousands of young queer people still live in households where they are not accepted for who they are, where they face the choice of continuing to reside with those who despise their very nature, or joining the disproportionately large number of young LGBTQ people sleeping on the streets.

Trans people are now routinely vilified in the press, in public and on social media. This has become as ubiquitous and predictable the seemingly proud betrayal of sociopathic tendencies in a Donald Trump press conference. Transphobia is the acceptable face of 21st century bigotry. It’s not subtle or hidden, it’s just relentless and pervasive and viciously fucking unpleasant. You could justifiably speculate that an existential crisis like a global pandemic might have given these vindictive arseholes cause to think, “Maybe I’ll take a day off from being an unremitting shit while vast numbers of people are dying,” but sadly, such ostensibly reasonable thoughts never seem to enter their heads. Their dehumanising bandwagon rolls ever-onwards, unencumbered as it is by unwelcome and unnecessary considerations like ‘decency’, ‘compassion’, and ‘not being a cunt for five minutes’.

None of these problems are new, of course. They’ve existed in some form since the moment at which bronze age homophobes decided to attribute their anti-queer bigotry to the god they’d recently created. But in these most difficult of times, when LGBTQ people are facing all of the physical, emotional and financial issues cis-het people are facing, they present an added burden to people who, like the rest of you, are already fast-approaching breaking point.

Even those of us who have it comparatively easy, who don’t face homelessness or rejection by our immediate families, still face difficulties that simply wouldn’t occur to most straight, cis people: abuse and prejudice continuing unabated while we’re struggling with the day-to-day worry of all this, further delays to already indefensibly long waiting times for life-saving transition treatment, being cut off, not just from our immediate communities, but from those with whom we are able to truly be ourselves in a way that’s often impossible in any other scenario.

From a purely personal perspective, I know I’m very fortunate. I came out to amazing support from most of my friends, my wife and my son. My housing situation, though not entirely without risk given the perilous economic situation in which we find ourselves, is reasonably secure.

That said, I live in an area with a relatively small LGBTQ population, and with no recognised ‘gay area’ like you might find in London, Brighton or Manchester. So the opportunities to be around others like myself, to mix with people who are less likely to judge me for who I am, are quite limited, even in normal times. I attended Pride in London with some friends last year, one of whom observed that the ‘safe zone’ – that little cocoon in the heart of Soho where you’re less likely to face physical violence for public displays of same-sex affection – had been extended for a day. This was sharply observed, but it’s worth noting that, for many of us in towns and cities outside of London, there is no ‘safe zone’. It simply doesn’t exist.

I’m also, of course, still in a ‘straight’ marriage, and whilst I recognise that this is completely my choice, it brings with it its own unique set of challenges. My circumstances lead those who don’t know me to routinely assume – understandably, I suppose – that I am straight. I’m then faced with two equally poor options: play along and hide my true self as I have done for most of my life, or come out yet again and face the barrage of intrusive questions, raised eyebrows and disingenuous ‘sympathy’ for my poor, put-upon wife.

More often than not, I choose the former option because it’s just easier than fielding enquiries like, “How does that work?” and “Do you still sleep in the same bed?” and the never-not-tiresome, “Is she allowed to see other guys?” But having to make this decision over and over again, and having to deal with whichever shitty set of consequences that decision engenders, is utterly fucking exhausting.

I say all this not to garner pity – as I said, I know I have it better than most – but simply to paint a picture of some of the additional challenges LGBTQ people face, and to underscore why Pride events are so much more than a just ‘nice day out’. For most, they form a vitally important element of our community’s often precarious sense of mental wellbeing.

For me personally, my annual pilgrimage to Pride in London is one of the highlights of my year. It is a time when I can cast off the shackles of my half in-half out, northern existence and allow the real me to dominate, front and centre, without the questioning looks and the whispered, badly disguised speculations like, “Do you reckon his wife knows he’s bent?”

More broadly, it is a time when we can all be who we were born to be, who we’ve always known we are, but for whom we have never felt fully accepted. It is a time when we can hold hands or kiss each other in public without being spat upon or abused. It is a time when we can be unashamedly camp or flamboyant, without having to make a thousand real-time calculations as to whether that’s likely to jeopardise our safety. It’s a time when we can just be, without having to worry about ‘passing’ or ‘fitting in’ with people who don’t mind us being gay, as long as we do so in the very particular, strictly defined and understated manner they have deemed acceptable. It’s a time when, for just a few short, sweet hours of the year, we can be free.

I’ve read a lot recently about how straight people are missing pubs and restaurants and cafes. This is entirely understandable, and I do sympathise, but imagine if your pubs were the only places in which you could safely relax your mannerisms, speak freely about your home life, or hold your partner’s hand. Then imagine that you lived in a city that only had one pub. Maybe go on to imagine that this single establishment only opened two nights a week, from 10 pm until 6 am, when the majority of old bastards like me are tucked up in bed. One place in the entire locality where, if you don’t like sticky floors, banging music and drinking until it’s light, you’re basically excluded anyway. That is the reality for huge numbers of LGBTQ people in the UK, and Pride is one of the few precious moments of relief we are allowed from this frustrating, constrained existence.

The absence of Pride represents so much more than the cancellation of the queers’ annual road-closing, attention-seeking carnival. For many of us, it represents a real and tangible loss that will be keenly felt and difficult to quantify. In normal times, Pride provides some brief respite from the othering, the mistreatment and the denigration that punctuates our daily lives. It provides hope for a brighter tomorrow, and a chance, for one day, to experience what it might be like should we ever finally achieve true equality. It provides an essential mental boost to help us weather the darker times that will inevitably follow this priceless moment of optimism when reality comes crashing back down around us.

This crisis has, distressingly, not even begun to put an end to the attacks our community is so often forced to endure, but what it has achieved is to rob us of one of our most vital coping mechanisms in the face of those attacks. And for that, I will unashamedly mourn its loss.

This article isn’t about Phillip Schofield

Well, ok. Maybe it is, just a little. But it’s more about the wider issues thrown up by Schofield’s decision, at the age of 57, to come out as a gay man, and the predictably grim reactions to that decision in the press and on social media.

Now, as you might expect, and as I’m sure many of you have gathered from my Twitter feed, some of the comments in the aftermath of his announcement were pretty fucking ugly, and it was difficult for me not to take them at least a little bit personally having been in a very similar situation to that in which Schofield now finds himself, albeit without the harsh glare of the media spotlight.

One thing I’d like to get out of the way before I go any further is that I’m well aware that Phillip Schofield is quite possibly a Tory. I’m aware that he posed for a grinning selfie with noted homophobe Boris Johnson prior to the general election. And whilst there’s a conversation to be had about gay men cosying up to people who would describe us as ‘tank-topped bumboys’, and about them appearing to support a party whose evil policies unquestionably delayed us being able to come out safely, that’s not what this article is about. Don’t @ me.

The main issue I want to address is the repeated portrayal of Schofield (and ergo other men who come out after years of marriage to a woman) as a liar and a deceiver, as someone who used his wife to cover his dirty little secret before ditching her when it was expedient for him to do so. I’m obviously not privy to the inner workings of the Schofields’ marriage, but I do know that in a great many cases this grubby insinuation couldn’t be further from the truth.

LGBT people who grew up in the 70s, 80s and 90s did so at a time where every aspect of the public discourse was awash with a particularly nasty and virulent brand of homophobia. The press, the media, even the government – fuck, especially the government – displayed an unflinching commitment to hammering home the message that being gay was wrong, shameful, disgusting.

We were perverts. We were predators. We were mentally ill. We were spreaders of disease. We were paedophiles, hell bent on corrupting children for our own nefarious ends. We were incapable of fidelity, or of love. We were a powerful lobby, to be feared and mistrusted. We were poofs, faggots and queers, dykes, rug-munchers and trannies. We were less than human and fair game for whatever violence came our way.

This mantra was repeated, loud and often, in the papers, on TV, and in the Houses of Parliament. We were not represented in mainstream movies or on TV shows, save for as shrieking stereotypes the other characters played for laughs. We were cut adrift, with no social media or LGBT-positive education (because that was illegal) to offset the damage this would inevitably inflict.

So imagine, if you will, or maybe you don’t have to imagine, being 8 or 10 or 15, and having to come to terms with your burgeoning sexuality in a climate where the very essence of who you are is being dragged through the shit on a daily basis. Imagine going through puberty, with all the attendant difficulties that make this such a challenging time for any teenager, with the added burden of knowing that you are reviled by society, perhaps even by your own friends and family, simply because you are attracted to people of the same gender.

If this was you and you managed to stand up and say, “Fuck you, this is me, and you won’t drive me into the closet,” great. And thank you. Your courage helped pave the way for the rest of us to follow, and we owe you our gratitude. But lots of us, for a whole range of very complex reasons, weren’t able to do that. Many of us succumbed to the closet, usually because it was the only place we felt safe.

But here’s the thing. The closet isn’t just one big homogenous barn that houses all the as-yet-not-out queers. Everyone has their own closet, built to their own unique specification, carefully designed to adequately accommodate their own particular baggage.

For me, and so many others, the closet wasn’t a place where I said, “I’m gay, but I’m going to hide it in here,” it was a place in which I fought tooth and nail, at great psychological cost, to convince myself I wasn’t gay at all. I knew I liked boys when I was about 6 or 7. And I knew very shortly after that that a boy who likes other boys was the very worst thing you could possibly be. So I convinced myself I wasn’t that. You might find this difficult to comprehend, ‘Schofield is a liar’ wankers, but that’s one of the very best reasons for you to not belch out your half-arsed opinions on subjects about which you have zero knowledge or understanding.

I was 24 when I got married, and I can confirm that I didn’t stand there taking my vows thinking, “This is amazing, she has absolutely no idea I’m quite enthusiastically into cock.” I took those vows because I loved my wife, and that remains the case to this day. I would never knowingly have misled her, or undertaken any conscious act that would have hurt her in any way. Sure, there was a deception taking place, but it was a tangled and intricate web of self-deception, from which it would take me a further 13 years to extricate myself.

When I did finally find my way out, however, things improved. For both of us. I had always been a loving husband and father, and we’d always enjoyed a happy marriage, but there was something eating at me a lot of the time that just made me less…available (I think that’s the right word, but even now I’m not sure). She knew it, and so did I. We just couldn’t give it a name.

Not that everything was perfect afterwards. I had issues to deal with. I still do, but now we can work through them together, and with no barriers between us. What it did do, immediately and enduringly, was to bring us closer, and to strengthen the bond between us. Sure, adjustments had to be made, but it didn’t dilute our love one iota. Marriage, and love in general, can be more than one thing.

So when I read about ‘poor Mrs Schofield’ and ‘their poor children’, those helpless, down-trodden victims of his merciless dishonesty, it’s difficult not to be a little bit fucking enraged. I accept that it’s perfectly possible that he entered into the marriage knowing he was deceiving her but not caring, that he subsequently embarked upon a string of seedy, illicit affairs with random men behind her back, and that her whole world has collapsed around her with the realisation that she’s been living a lie for 27 years. What I do not accept, and will never accept, is the automatic assumption that this simply must be the case. 

It’s equally possible that Schofield loves his wife dearly, has always loved her, was in a state of denial about his true sexuality, and has honestly and openly dealt with these issues with her support and understanding. It’s also quite possible that she loves him even more now that he’s come to terms with who he really is, and is looking forward to spending the rest of her life with her best friend.

The point is, we don’t know, but that so many are prepared to jump to the former conclusion rather than the latter (or to not jump to any conclusion at all) underscores just how far we have yet to go to rid our society of these stubbornly entrenched homophobic attitudes.

Based solely on what I’ve read, I don’t necessarily believe Steph Schofield views herself as a victim in all this. If she does, it’s up to her to say that, and not for a million Twitter dickheads to assume it on her behalf. And even if she is a victim, there’s an excellent chance she’s a victim of the same toxic homophobia that kept her husband in the closet for nearly six decades, unable to be his whole, authentic self, and not of the wilful or negligent dishonesty of the man she loves.

Privilege, self-satisfaction and the befriending of bastards

Privilege is a weird thing. Most of us have a certain level of privilege, and some of us even recognise it and try to use it to effect change. Some of us deny it exists at all, labouring under the self-imposed misapprehension that everything we’ve achieved has occurred as a direct result of our own unfiltered brilliance, and not because we live in a society in which more or less everything is heavily skewed in favour of straight, rich, white dudes. Others, of course, are so blinded by their own privilege that they see fit to stand up on national television and lecture those who are considerably less privileged about how they ought to respond to people who are, by any reasonable interpretation, objectively fucking awful.

“When I say be kind to one another, I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”

This was a statement made by US comedian and chat show host, Ellen DeGeneres, earlier this week, which, on the face of it, you might think seems quite laudable. Who could reasonably object to a world where people were kinder to one another, right? This video was widely shared on social media, with lots of other quite privileged people responding with comments like, “Well said, Ellen! What a great message!”

It’s only when you realise that Ms DeGeneres made this somewhat smug, self-satisfied statement to justify her friendship with a guy who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and who predicated his entire political career on denying rights to LGBTQ people, that you begin to see how fundamentally repugnant it is.

In terms of moral cowardice, this argument ranks alongside, “I know that Bundy guy was a little bit murdery, but he did make a lovely lamb casserole, and I just think you have to look for the good in people. We can’t only be kind to those who don’t think it’s acceptable to slaughter dozens of people in cold blood.”

There are, give or take, 7.7 billion people on Earth. Accordingly, there are 7.7 billion differing sets of opinions. It goes without saying that, if we were only ever friends with people whose opinions were aligned completely with our own, we’d exist in the same tragic state of isolation that Toby Young experienced on the night of his stag do.

I have a friend who thinks Star Wars is superior to Star Trek. I have a friend who fancies Chris Pratt more than Chris Hemsworth. I have another friend who thinks putting peanut butter directly onto unbuttered, barely toasted bread (like, it hasn’t even changed colour) is acceptable behaviour. They’re all disgusting people who should be shot at fucking dawn and I love them dearly.

I don’t, I’m proud to say, have a single friend who has overseen the destruction of a Middle Eastern country for their own political ends, or who has sought to deny people like me the right to marry, the right to access goods and services, the right to be housed, or the right to not be fired from my job because of who I’m attracted to. I don’t have friends like that because people like that are fucking abhorrent.

I’m just a little bit really fucking tired of hearing how it’s somehow ‘childish’ or ‘shallow’ to refuse to befriend a person with different political opinions, as though it’s some minor, inconsequential thing like a disgusting peanut butter/toast habit or the mistaken belief that C3PO is in any way more impressive than Commander Data. The fact is, our politics are a fundamental part of who we are. They define us. They are us.

For example, I could never form any kind of meaningful relationship, platonic or otherwise, with a Conservative voter. It’s not just that I disagree with them, it’s that I think they’re intrinsically unpleasant.

People are dying on the streets. Foodbank use is at an all-time high. Welfare spending has been slashed again and again. Mental health funding has been cut to the bone. People seeking to make this country their home are subjected to an environment that the government proudly describes as ‘hostile’. Queer asylum seekers are deported to countries in which they may be imprisoned, tortured or killed for being who they are and told to ‘act less gay’. On top of all that, we’re on the verge of the biggest self-imposed catastrophe ever to befall us, and the Tories are 100% committed to delivering something that will disproportionately affect the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country.

If you voted for any of that, you’re an appalling cunt, and there is no place in my life for you.

Similarly, I don’t care how well-received your sitcom was in the 1990s if you now spend every day of your life mocking, misgendering and directing hate at vulnerable and marginalised people. If I tolerated that kind of behaviour, I’d be as much of an arsehole as you are.

It’s so easy (and a bit fucking selfish) to say, “We should respect everyone’s beliefs,” if their beliefs will never impact you in any meaningful way. But if you’re a rich, white lesbian working in the arts, you don’t get to pontificate to black trans women on low incomes about who they should be nice to. They might just consider that the fact that they’re dying and being killed on an almost industrial scale matters quite a bit, and that offering kindness to those who would eradicate them completely is, in itself, an act of violence.

Views matter. Opinions matter. They are the essence of who we are. Of course it’s up to the individual to decide how much a particular belief matters to them and whether it’s a deal-breaker in any prospective relationship, but let’s not pretend that being nice to everyone makes you a good person. It doesn’t. All it makes you is complicit.

Straight Pride event a roaring success, insist sweaty virgins

Attendees of Boston’s first annual Straight Pride parade have declared the event a resounding success, as up to three dozen rat-bearded, sexually inactive basement-dwellers took to the streets to exercise their constitutional right to parade their toxic white masculinity in front of a bemused and much larger crowd of non-dickheads.

The tragic cockfest unfolded before a heavy police presence, and featured some lamentable tosser with his mobile phone in a belt holster, and that bloated Nazi cunt off YouTube. Not a single woman was in attendance, however, with ladies having been excluded from participating on the grounds that ‘they’re all prick-teasing bitches’.

Drab, colourless floats and thinly disguised racism were the official themes of this year’s event, and were so well-received by the assembled pasty-faced cry-wankers that organisers are considering making this a permanent fixture in future years.

Harold, a 36-year-old sex pest who wished to be known as ‘truthspeaker365’, said,

“My mom told me this would be a pointless mound of shit, and that my time would be better spent looking for a job so I can get my own apartment, but I’m glad I came. The fags get everything these days: parades, marriage, sex…lots of sex, and it’s about time we made a return to the days where twelve of us could kick the shit out of one guy for looking a bit mincey, without fear of persecution.”

When asked to respond to allegations that this was little more than a rally for white supremacists who were cynically using sexuality as a vehicle for their twatty, poptart-fuelled hate, Paul, a prolific masturbator with a misspelled tattoo and actual full-sized tits, insisted,

“It’s not about race, and those who say those things are simply proving our point. Just because I’m wearing a MAGA hat, waving a ‘Trump 2020’ flag and standing on a float bearing the slogan ‘BUILD THAT WALL’, doesn’t mean I’m a raging fascist. The guy who works at my local 7-11 is some kind of ethnic, and I don’t even ask to be served by someone else. At least not when it’s busy.”

Many of those lining the route, however, were less than enamoured with the proceedings. Jane, a woman with self-respect and a functioning brain, observed,

“Look at the sad bastards. It’s like someone put racial intolerance, sexual frustration and petty jealousy in a big fucking blender with some improbably dense shit, and moulded the resulting woman-repelling sludge into these cunts. They’re never getting laid, ever. I wish they’d fuck off back to their sticky-carpeted bedsits so I can pick up my dry cleaning in under two hours without the stench of B.O. burning my fucking nostrils.”

The incel brigade remained stubbornly undeterred by this intervention, labelling Jane a ‘stupid fucking whore’, before heading home to rest up their overactive rage glands in time for Black History Month.

When Pride Month Is Over: How To Be An Effective Ally

Pride Month has drawn to a close. Corporations prepare to take down their rainbow flags, secretly pleased that they can stop pretending to give a shit about the queers for another year. The Home Office looks forward to removing any trace of inclusivity from its Twitter profile, relieved to be able to return to telling asylum seekers facing torture or death to ‘act less gay’. Pitifully inadequate cis-het dickholes will temporarily cease their incessant, pant-pissing whining about not having a Straight Pride month, and begin laying the all-important groundwork for ‘WHEN IS WHITE HISTORY MONTH?’ month.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

I mean, for them it does, obviously, because they’re…just…frightful fucking arseholes, but for you, there’s no reason not to be an effective LGBT+ ally all year round.

Here’s how you can support the queer community throughout the calendar, in the hope that, one day, Barry from Chigwell won’t have to worry about his penis falling off because he encountered a handsome, muscular gentleman in a glittery belly top.

Be visible. Be vocal.

You don’t use the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘a bit shit’? Thanks. You manage to avoid involuntarily shrieking in terror when a butch lesbian enters a public toilet? Awesome. Showing the level of self-discipline necessary not to spend a twelfth of the year standing up in pubs and yelling ‘CHEAP LOUSY FAGGOT’ in time with a lot of other pissed-up straight people? Go you. But maybe you could do more.

Quietly accepting our right to exist is fine, I guess, but in practical terms, it’s not a lot more useful than low-level homophobia. To really make a difference, you need to be seen. You need to be heard.

It’s more or less certain that your place of work, your circle of friends, your school or your social media account contains one or more people who are struggling with their sexuality or gender identity. Being in that position and feeling like you have nowhere to turn is a lonely place to be.

Even those of us who are already out to some extent don’t necessarily feel comfortable being open about who we are in all situations. We might be out at home, but not at work. Open at the gym, closeted at the pub.

We need a reason to come out. We need to know that people exist who will celebrate us for who we are. We need to feel safe and supported to be every bit of ourselves in every given scenario. We need an anchor.

You can be that anchor, but you almost certainly won’t achieve it with passive ‘I don’t make bumsex jokes so what the hell do they want?’ levels of engagement. Being a vocal and visible advocate for LGBT+ equality is probably the single biggest thing you can do to help queer people around you feel comfortable enough with their identity not to have to hide it from all but a selected few.

Talk frequently and openly about your support for LGBT+ rights, your queer friends, and the queer media you have seen and enjoyed. Wear the rainbow lanyard or a Pride watch strap or some other visible sign that you are a person who supports LGBT+ inclusivity.

Call out homophobia or transphobia wherever you see it. Don’t sit quietly by while ‘jokes’ are made at our expense. Don’t allow inappropriate language to be seen as remotely acceptable in your presence, because this is how hate is normalised. If Dave in marketing uses the word ‘poofs’, tell him to stop being such a fucking prick. If Carol in finance says she doesn’t want trans women in the toilets, ask her why she’s concentrating on other bathroom users’ genital arrangements and not on pissing.

We see this stuff. We hear it. It matters to us.

Trans rights are human rights

There is no LGB without the T.

Trans people are a vital, integral part of our community, and they have fought shoulder to shoulder with us as we’ve battled for the rights we currently possess. And, of course, many of them are L, G or B themselves.

Their trans identities, however, are under serious and sustained attack from newspapers, politicians, social media commentators, virulently fucking unpleasant sitcom writers, and even from certain inexplicably shitty elements within the LGBT+ community itself.

It’s up to all of us, queer people and allies alike, to fight back. Trans people are a tiny, vulnerable and marginalised minority, and they can’t do it alone. If you’re the kind of person who speaks out against transphobia in all its forms, and who offers a supportive and understanding ear, shoulder or other body part to trans people, you’re probably already a pretty good ally.

If, however, the extent of your being an ally is attending Pride once a year for a fun, colourful day out dancing to Britney with some white cis gays while you spend the other 364 days looking the other way as trans people are thrown under a seemingly endless line of Craggy Island buses, you’re not a fucking ally. You’re a selfish dickhead who is using the LGBT+ community for their own ends.

Don’t use our identities as insults. Ever.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the following scenario:

Homophobe says/writes something homophobic, ‘ally’ rides in with a truly hilarious riposte about how the homophobe is actually just craving a thick, veiny, glistening, throbbing seven-incher (sorry…drifted off for a moment there) but is just too nervous to say.

This is not helpful.

Yes, sometimes homophobes are closeted gays, obviously, but the majority of closeted gays aren’t homophobic and the majority of people who abuse the LGBT+ community are not closeted gays.

An overwhelmingly large percentage of the vitriol that comes our way is from straight people, and automatically implying that someone who behaves that way must be a repressed homosexual lets straight people off the hook for the pretty unacceptable level of homophobic abuse most of us still have to face.

This lazy trope also reduces queer identities to a frivolous thing we throw at bigots in an attempt to ridicule or humiliate them, and that’s not how an ally behaves. Fucking stop it.

Learn the language

Words are important. What we say and how we say it invariably reflects, in a very direct way, the content of our characters. If you don’t care enough to respect someone’s pronouns, or to understand that the word ‘cis’ is not an insult, how can you possibly claim to be an ally?

Taking the time to learn what terms are acceptable and which are not is the very bare minimum that should be expected of any ally, and it’s really quite easy to do.

Half an hour on Bing (which you can find on Google) will almost certainly yield the majority of the information you need, and if you still don’t understand, you can always fucking ask. Not a single LGBT+ person is going to be irritated or annoyed by someone who genuinely wants to be more supportive of our community asking questions about how they can achieve that. Not even me, and I get irritated by the sound of another person breathing.

Empower the whole community

We are a diverse group.

We are gay, we are lesbian, we are bi, we are trans, we are black, we are brown, we are white, we are Asian, we are asexual, we are gender non-conforming, we are queer, we are intersex, we are butch, we are camp, we are…so many other things.

It’s great that we’re all those things, but not so great that inequality still exists even within the community itself.

Queer people of colour are too readily left behind, bisexual identities too readily erased, feminine gays too readily derided or lampooned, and LGBT+ people on low incomes too readily frozen out of Pride events based on their inability to afford the ridiculous ticket prices necessary to bring in the big name pop diva demanded by white, middle class gays.

An effective ally doesn’t just ask Granny not to say ‘shirt-lifter’ for an hour because Alan’s boyfriend is having tea with us, they understand that different levels of privilege exist in the wide and varied subgroups that make up our community, and actively seek to redress those inequalities. They look outside of their immediate frame of reference and lift up those who would otherwise be forgotten or marginalised, so that the whole community might one day be viewed as equal, both within itself and amongst society at large.

Support LGBT-inclusive education

It’s not ‘inappropriate’ for children to know that queer people exist. It’s not ‘confusing’ for children to learn about families different to their own. No one is getting ‘turned’ into anything they weren’t already as a result of receiving information about LGBT+ identities and relationships.

Section 28 was horrible. Like, really fucking life-threateningly terrible for so many people. And now, these tired old arguments are raising their ugly, intolerant heads again, particularly where trans people are concerned, but also in relation to wider LGBT+ issues, and it’s incumbent on all of us to fight back against it with every bit of force we can muster.

It’s not ‘up to parents’ to decide whether their children get to learn about a simple fact of life, and fuck anyone who says otherwise. This essential knowledge must be given to all children at the earliest possible opportunity so that another generation doesn’t have to grow up isolated, afraid and broken.

This affects you. It affects your children.

Speak to your child’s school today – do it now if you can – and make it clear that you support LGBT-inclusive relationship education right from the word go. The majority of people almost certainly feel this way, but the bigoted cunts who look back on Thatcher’s Britain with a misty-eyed nostalgia boner are shouting a whole lot louder right now.

Let’s drown the fuckers out, and make it so that the next generation of children grow up as natural LGBT+ allies and you no longer have to sit through turgid, rambling shit like this.

 

 

 

Letting kids be kids: the fig leaf of the homophobe

We all discover our sexuality at very different ages. It’s not a thing that happens all at once, of course, but an ongoing journey from early childhood, through adolescence and right into our adult lives. At some point on that journey, however, a moment of realisation occurs about who we’re attracted to.

As children, we’re absolutely bombarded with information about relationships. Our own parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. TV, films, books, and other media. All, overwhelmingly, reinforcing the same simple message: the default relationship is one that occurs between a man and a woman.

This is probably fine, of course, if at the aforementioned moment of realisation, you find you’re attracted to people of the opposite sex. Job done. Identity affirmed. Congratulations! You’re normal.

But what if you’re not?

What if you realise, at some stage along that journey of discovery, that you’re a boy who likes boys, or a girl who likes girls? Or what if everyone thinks of you as a girl, but somewhere deep inside you is the knowledge that this is not who you really are? And what if this happens when the only information you’ve received about relationships and identities from the day you were born has been almost exclusively cis-heteronormative?

I’ll tell you what happens, because I was that child. I knew I liked boys before I’d even heard the word ‘gay’, or had any idea what it meant. I had no language to describe my feelings, and no reassurance that what I was experiencing was ok. When I was eventually introduced to the concept of gayness, it was made clear to me that being gay was a Very Bad Thing, so naturally, I began to hide my feelings away.

I was no more than six or seven when I learned that it was wrong to be who I was, and the psychological damage this knowledge inflicts on a child is profound and enduring. It was a mantra that was repeatedly hammered home through what remained of my childhood and into my early adult life, the fallout from which I don’t know if I’ll ever really finish dealing with.

Sadly, this intolerable situation remains the case for so many LGBTQ children today, and there are those who are fighting with every fibre of their being to ensure that another generation of young people continue to be subjected to this gratuitous emotional barbarity.

“Stop sexualising our children!” they scream. “Let kids be kids.”

Bizarrely, they only seem to have this reaction to the suggestion that children should be taught about LGBTQ relationships and identities, and never in response to the constant flow of heteronormative ideas, which tends to make me think they might just be homophobic cunts who don’t actually give the first fuck about protecting children.

They’re perfectly happy, for example, for children to catch up on the escapades of Mummy Pig and Daddy Pig, but if a programme existed in which Peppa (or some other character) had two daddies, that would apparently be no better than teaching five-year-olds about the intricacies of glory holes and rimming.

And this gets to the heart of the matter. 

To those who aren’t hateful fucking trash, queer folk are just normal people. We go to work, we pay bills, we watch TV, we go for walks, we enjoy opera or sports or books. We have friendships, relationships, families. We fall in love and we break up and we’re flawed and messy and fragile and damaged and…human. 

To those who want to confine us to the shadows, we’re reduced to mere sex acts. We’re deviants, hell bent on corrupting young minds and ‘turning’ them gay or bi or trans.

Childhood should be the best time of our lives. We should be happy and carefree, unencumbered by day to day grown-up worries about paying the mortgage, buying food, getting a job, raising a family or whether we’re going bald. We are, as it happens.

‘Letting kids be kids’ means preserving this feeling for as long as possible, and how can we possibly hope to achieve that if 5-10% of them have no information to say that who they are is valid and normal, and the other 90-95% aren’t taught to respect, or indeed celebrate, this wonderful diversity that enriches all our lives?

‘Waiting until they get to secondary school’ is like waiting until someone is three months pregnant to teach them about contraception. By the age of 11, the vast majority of children will have experienced an attraction of some sort to one of their peers, and will be beginning to develop an awareness of their gender identity. If all they’ve known about queerness until this point is rooted in hate and negativity, the damage is already done.

And if you’re the kind of blistering fucking arsehole who wants to inflict this psychological cruelty, emotional insecurity, constant bullying and poor mental health on today’s children as it was inflicted on yesterday’s, at least have the courage to cease using those same children as a fig leaf for your repulsive bigotry, and just admit that you don’t like queer people.

Knowing that Josh has two mums will not prevent ‘kids being kids’. Sarah knowing that her crush on Jenny is perfectly normal isn’t ‘sexualising’ anyone. Saying, ‘Last term you used to know this person as Erica, but now he’d like to be known as Eric and please respect his pronouns,’ isn’t going to ‘corrupt young minds’.

No one is getting ‘turned into’ anything they weren’t already. If 30-odd years of believing that being gay was about the worst thing I could be didn’t turn me straight, I’m pretty fucking sure a storybook about a boy with two mums isn’t going to turn a whole generation of children into rampant homosexuals.

All that will happen is that these children will feel safer knowing that LGBTQ identities are just as valid as cis-het identities, that they’ll be given the love and support they need to be who they really are, and that their peers will be more tolerant and accepting of their differences.

That sounds like a pretty fucking great childhood to me.

The homophobia we experience as children spreads throughout our lives like ripples on a pond. I remember everything, and so will your children.

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?