Pride Month 2021: Step the fuck up or fuck the fuck off

We did it, queers! We solved homophobia! Transphobia no longer exists and biphobia is a thing of the past! Praise be to Billy Porter that we can now put the long fight for LGBTQ equality behind us and focus on more important things. Like brunch. And interior design.

Yes, this Pride Month has seen almost unanimous appropriation of the rainbow flag by governments, charities, public bodies and private businesses alike, which must mean they all unequivocally support our community and every individual of which it is comprised. Except when doing the absolute bare fucking minimum is a bit difficult for them, of course, in which case they promptly release a statement saying, “Fuck this, homos, you’re on your own.”

I wrote last year about how challenging Pride Month had been for LGBTQ people, how many of us were isolated from our support networks, cut off from our friends and those we might think of more as family than the people with whom we share our DNA, excluded from the only spaces in which we can really be our whole selves. That remains true this year for those of us who have resisted the urge to throw caution to the wind as a more transmissible and at least partially vaccine-resistant Covid-19 variant spreads through the population, but even with the relaxation of the rules some of us have enjoyed, this year’s Pride Month seems even more bleak and depressing than the last.

At the time of writing, we still have nearly a week of June left, and we’ve already seen a seemingly interminable parade of performative allyship that folds in the face of even mild resistance from those who would do us harm. Company after charity after governing body after politician, lining up to demonstrate that they care about us deeply, but only when it’s easy or convenient for them to do so.

It goes without saying that corporate rainbow-washing during Pride Month is nothing new – it’s the same every year – but it feels like there’s been a fairly significant shift this year. Like we’re slipping backwards. Like the examples of organisations using us to tick a diversity box then shitting on us from an orbital height seconds later have been so relentless and egregious that it’s hard to believe they’ve all been crammed into the same month.

Earlier in the month, the official Twitter account of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme tweeted a supportive message to LGBTQ youth, in which they posted links to some charities where they could seek help and advice if they needed it. Charities including Stonewall and Mermaids, for example. Needless to say, this prompted a fierce backlash from the fundamentally evil but well-coordinated transphobes of social media, whereupon @DofE decided to quietly delete their tweet, thereby clearly articulating how much they really value the young queer people on their scheme.

A few days later, after tweeting a message about how much they respect and cherish their LGBTQ students, it emerged that academics employed by the Open University had set up something called the ‘OU Gender Critical Research Network’. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the terminology, ‘gender critical’ is a term transphobic bigots have ascribed to themselves to lend their hateful bullshit a veneer of respectability. And with some success, it has to be said. Whether or not the OU have officially sanctioned this network is unclear, but they have not, to the best of my knowledge, taken any steps to distance themselves from it.

The Royal Academy, their official Twitter account replete with rainbowy loveliness, announced a couple of weeks ago that they would not be restocking the work of a particular artist in their gift shop following concerns about transphobic content on her social media pages. Cue the howls of indignation from those who spend their entire lives trying to strip rights, dignity and appropriate healthcare options away from trans people, followed by the Royal Academy folding like a fucking deckchair and issuing an apology that they had compromised the bigots’ right to free speech.

UEFA, after insisting from their Pride-pigmented Twitter account that football is ‘everyone’s game’, launched an investigation into German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer for wearing a rainbow armband during one of their Euro 2020 group games. They eventually backed down on this after a fairly significant public outcry, accepting that the armband was a symbol of diversity, and therefore not political.

Which made it all the more enraging when they refused a request from the Mayor of Munich for the Allianz Stadium to be lit up in rainbow colours for Germany’s match against Hungary. Their reasoning, somewhat fucking perplexingly, was that such a gesture would indeed be political because Hungary’s government is so proudly and vocally homophobic.

So we’re left with the situation whereby UEFA are expecting us to accept that a symbol of support for human rights is not political, but where that same symbol might upset those who seek to deny us those rights, it becomes political and is therefore impermissible. This is, of course, an entirely coherent and legitimate position, much like, for example, “Yes, we obviously agree murder is wrong, but please keep those opinions to yourself in the presence of my friend, the murderer.”

I’ve heard lots of people saying over the past few days that human rights are never political, but I’m not sure I agree. I tend to think such issues are inherently political, they’re just not remotely fucking complicated. There’s a right side and a wrong side, and it ought to be very simple for anyone with a shred of basic decency to decide which is which.

Everything we do – or, equally importantly, do not do – where equality is concerned is a political act. Choosing, for example, to allow a country with an authoritarian, homophobic, transphobic government to host games in your football tournament is a political act. Refusing to allow another country to respond by saying, “We support the LGBTQ community even if you don’t,” is a political act. So-called neutrality on matters of human rights is never that – it’s simply a means of enabling those who would oppress others to carry out that oppression. Silence is complicity, inaction is tacit support.

This applies across the board, whether you’re the governing body of European football bowing to pressure from a homophobic government, a charity claiming to defend a persecuted minority then backing down because it’s too difficult for you to stand up to ‘gender critical’ trolls, or an individual deciding to stay out of the ‘transgender debate’ (ugh) because it’s ‘too complicated’ or ‘too controversial’.

We face this shit every day of our lives. For some of us, it is our lives. We don’t get to opt out.

I have every possible Twitter filter dialled up to 11, but I still receive daily homophobic abuse. Vile comments equating me to a paedophile, doubting my suitability to parent my own child, wishing me dead. And that’s just the stuff that makes it through the ‘quality filter’. And the thing is, I’m one of the lucky ones. For all the toxicity I deal with every day, it’s but a fraction of that experienced by the average trans person. By choosing to ‘stay out of it’, you are making a conscious decision to allow that abuse to continue, and to continue with your silent blessing. If that’s not a political act, nothing is.

The days of performative allyship have to come to an end. If a rainbow flag and a ‘Happy Pride’ is the best you can manage, we don’t need you. It is utterly fucking exhausting to have to sit here every June and watch organisations and individuals cosplaying support for our rights without lifting a single finger to advance them in any meaningful way. And it’s as infuriating as it is exhausting to see the creeping normalisation of attacks on our community, sheathed in the language of ‘free speech’ and ‘legitimate concerns’, while those who profess to have our backs passively allow (or actively encourage) it to happen.

It falls to all of us to do better. This is especially true for those who seek to profit from the use our symbols – whether financially, professionally or politically – but there’s also plenty we can do as individuals to ensure our allyship is more than just lip service.

Educate yourselves. ‘It’s complicated’ is not an excuse. Follow trans, non-binary and other queer accounts on social media. Listen – really fucking listen – to what those accounts are saying about their lives, their rights and the abuse they face just for existing. Do a fucking Google. Donate to LGBTQ charities, and call out those who profess to support us but fail to do so when the going gets tough. Write to your MP to express your support for GRA reform and a conversion therapy ban. Don’t buy, subscribe to, or visit the websites of newspapers that promote anti-LGBTQ content (this includes the fucking Guardian). Resolve to never, ever vote Conservative (though I accept that certain other parties aren’t much better in this regard). Refuse to back down in the face of homophobic, biphobic or transphobic hate. Don’t raise the profile of hateful people by arguing with them online. Block the bigots and post something positive on your own account in response. Speak out in your homes, workplaces and friendship groups. Make it clear that you are someone who will always strive to promote the rights of LGBTQ people, and that you will not tolerate those who wish us ill. Lose friends, if you have to. Saying, “Julie is a really nice person who helps me with the kids, she just doesn’t want trans women in ladies’ toilets,” doesn’t cut it. Pick a fucking side. Pick a side and fight for what’s right, even when it’s difficult, because that’s what it means to be an ally. 

If it’s easy, you’re fucking doing it wrong.

J.K. Rowling and the Guileful Intolerance

We live in an age of absolutism. Everything is binary: right or wrong, black or white.

There are times when this approach is helpful. Necessary, even. My ‘never fuck a Tory’ policy, for example, has served me well for many a long year and will no doubt do so for many years to come.

But when we try to apply this way of thinking to bigotry, or rather, to judging whether a person is or is not a bigot, it all starts to unravel. There seems to be a popular, and arguably deliberate, misconception that a person may only be considered to be intolerant of a particular group if they have a history of screaming epithets in their faces and/or committing acts of physical violence.

Modern bigotry, however, is altogether more subtle than this. It’s a suggestion, a nudge, a nod or a wink. Nigel Farage doesn’t go dropping the N-bomb on Question Time, as much as we all know he’d love to. He’s fucking thinking it, of course, but he never says it out loud. At least, not on the telly. Instead, he couches his racism in phrases like ‘illegal immigration’ and ‘protecting our borders’, like the worst kind of Pavlovian shithouse. And obviously, the stench of racism wafts off him like the smell of stale chip fat (along with, almost certainly, the actual smell of stale chip fat), but his supporters will argue to their dying breath that he’s ‘not racist’, purely on the basis that they’ve never heard him say the P-word.

That’s not to say there aren’t bigots who are rather more explicit in their intolerance. One of them, weirdly, for such a famously non-racist country, actually managed to get himself elected to the office of Prime Minister, but for the most part, they’re a little more sophisticated. Some are so sophisticated that they get to utilise their massive celebrity status and huge social media platforms to target hate at one of the most vulnerable minorities in the world, and still, somehow, manage to emerge looking like the victim.

Step forward, J.K. Rowling.

The piece published by Rowling on 10 June was an absolute masterclass in the art of manipulating the narrative to suit a particular agenda, while maintaining plausible deniability for the damage that would inevitably ensue. This is unsurprising given that she’s amassed a billion-pound fortune from her use of language. She knows better than most how to tell a tale in a way that will elicit the desired emotional response in the reader, and that’s what makes the piece – and its author – so extremely dangerous.

If you’re not familiar with the cases she cites, if you don’t know the pressure points transphobes routinely exploit to demonise their targets, if you haven’t heard these same, tired arguments recycled and reheated time and time again over a period of 30-odd years, you might come away from Rowling’s essay thinking it all sounded perfectly reasonable. That was certainly the intention, and in a great many cases, it worked like a charm.

She begins, of course, like any halfway competent bigot would, by painting herself as the victim. The first couple of paragraphs are all about her being abused, threatened or ‘cancelled’ by those who object to her harmful rhetoric.

Now, to be clear, threats are always unacceptable. And I would never condone a man calling any woman – not even Katie Hopkins – a ‘bitch’ or a ‘cunt’. It’s misogynistic, unhelpful, and provides easy ammunition for anyone seeking to promote a narrative of victimhood. That said, it’s not for me to judge women who use those terms in anger, or for me to police the tone of the victims’ responses to the abuse they face.

We have a big problem in this country with ignoring the content and the intent of what a person says, and focusing instead on the language used.

For example, if someone said to me, “Respectfully, sir, I believe that all homosexuals are an abomination unto the Lord and destined for Hell,” and I responded with, “Go take a flying fuck at the moon, you Bible-shagging twat,” there are a great many people who would think I was the one who should be censured.

The same applies here. Rowling tweets out barely disguised transphobic bigotry to 14.5 million followers, but because she does so ‘politely’ and some of the responses are, to say the least, extremely impolite, she somehow gets to occupy the moral high ground, and in doing so, tar an entire group with the same brush as its most abusive members. She must accept, however, that if she’s going to take that approach, she must assume responsibility for all the truly appalling vitriol directed at the trans community as a result of her interventions.

So with the victim narrative firmly established, she goes on to profess her undying love for the trans community, and all her many trans friends, like an infinitely more articulate Donald Trump pointing to the African-American guy he’s just appointed to some role or other as proof that he’s definitely not racist.

Then come the tropes:

Any cis man can readily obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate to access women’s spaces for who knows what nefarious purposes, trans teens are simply confused gays or lesbians, children are being rushed into irreversible treatment options that will destroy their lives, ‘trans rights activists’ deny that biological sex is ‘real’, veiled ridicule of trans suicide rates, and, most insidiously of all, the mischaracterisation of trans women as sexual predators.

This last one, as ought to be obvious to anyone who lived through that time, has its roots firmly in the homophobia of the 70s, 80s and 90s. This is hardly surprising given Rowling’s proximity to noted homophobes, and her selection of a pen name that matches the actual name of a high-profile proponent of gay conversion therapy. It’s also, it should be noted, absolute fucking bollocks.

Rowling even introduces her own experience of domestic abuse and sexual assault to underline the idea that trans women are a threat to cis women and girls, despite the fact that her abuse took place at the hands of cis men. I can only imagine the pain that such traumatic experiences must still bring her, and my heart goes out to her and any woman who has had to live through this ordeal. There is absolutely no reason, however, to mention this in a piece about trans people, unless you’re trying to promote a very particular idea.

The fact is that men have been raping, abusing and sexually assaulting women for millennia, and it’s extremely rare that they’ve ever felt the need to pretend to be women to carry out these despicable acts. Does she really think that a man hell bent on forcing himself on a woman will refrain from doing so because they’re not supposed to be in the women’s toilets? Or that they’ll go to all the ultimately pointless trouble of obtaining a GRC, which they don’t legally require to access those spaces?

The vast, overwhelming majority of trans women just want to get changed after their swim, or go for a piss at the shopping centre, then quietly go about their day. They’re not lurking in darkened corners waiting to catch a look at your genitals, or to show you theirs. Trans people have had the legal right to use the facilities of their choosing for well over a decade, and there have been very few reported incidents involving trans women during that time. Countries that have already introduced Self ID have had no reported increase in sexual offences as a result. Of course, that’s not to say no trans woman is capable of being a sexual predator, just that they’re no more likely to be than an equivalent sample of cis women.

But still this narrative persists. The subtle nods, the plays to our primal fears, the gentle, persistent reinforcement of the idea that our wives and daughters will be forced to undress in front of ‘male-bodied’ individuals intent on causing them harm. And this is where so much of the the anger towards Rowling and other transphobes is rooted. I know, because I felt (and still feel) the same anger every time the ‘gay men are paedophiles’ trope rears its head.

The fact is, we have to get better at spotting the falsehoods, the dog-whistles, the misdirections and the fear-mongering, and highlighting them to those who remain blinded by the ostensibly reasonable tone of the ‘legitimate concerns’ crew. Rowling herself would no doubt ridicule the idea that all Muslims are part of some ‘rape gang’ or other, but yet she’s happy to point her readers toward the conclusion that trans people – trans women in particular – present a threat to the safety, and indeed, the very identities, of cis women and girls.

By hiding the iron fist of her transphobic attacks in the velvet glove of her professed ‘love’ for trans people, she has managed to pull off a great deception, and it’s one that will inflict untold and widespread damage on a community that was already at breaking point.

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.