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.

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.

It’s not ‘Gay Pride’, and it’s ok to say so

I have a confession to make: I’m a pedant. I am the sort of person who will react like a steak-deprived Jeremy Clarkson at the sight of an erroneous your/you’re, and who will beat his fist on the desk like a millionaire Tory MP who’s just been told about a proposed £3 per month increase in the rate of disability benefits at the use of the word ‘I’ when it should rightly be ‘me’. For many of you, this will hardly come as a surprise, but it did give me cause to stop and think about my reaction over the past few days to the persistent use of the term ‘Gay Pride’ by a range of news outlets and social media users.

The BBC News channel’s coverage of Belfast Pride on Saturday repeatedly referred to the event as ‘Gay Pride’ (though they also referred to homophobic fuckweasels as ‘religious conservatives’, so accuracy obviously isn’t high on their agenda); that bastion of left wing inclusivity The Guardian told us yesterday that the National Trust had reversed its decision to require volunteers to wear ‘gay pride badges’ (because even those volunteering for charities should be free to behave like arseholes, presumably); and The Star proudly reported how Michaella McCollum (no, me neither) was pictured ‘flashing her nips at Gay Pride in Brighton’, which is presumably the sort of hard-hitting journalism the author, Nicholas Bieber, feels justifiably proud of having produced. The monumental titwank.

Perhaps most worryingly, though, a quick Google search for the term ‘Gay Pride’ brought up the following result:

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I can’t even begin to explain that last one, but the organisers of a Pride event really ought to know better.

Every time I hear the words ‘Gay Pride’, my reaction is similar to that experienced when I witness ‘imply’ and ‘infer’ being used interchangeably: my brow furrows, my buttocks clench (often audibly) and I let out the exasperated sigh of a teenage boy whose parents simply won’t fuck off out so that he can have a wank. Given my self-confessed pedantry, therefore, it was only natural that I should start to wonder whether my objection to this phrase is just another manifestation of my somewhat anal commitment to linguistic accuracy.

The short answer is that it is not. Having given the matter a good degree of thought, I have reached the conclusion that my bristling is actually quite justified. Whereas the first Pride events were routinely referred to as ‘Gay Pride’, this hasn’t been the case now for many years, and rightly so. Our lesbian, bisexual, trans and other queer friends have been with us from the start, playing an instrumental role in the Stonewall riots of 1969, and in organising the very first Pride event the following year.

For the most part, LGB rights have improved immeasurably since the late 1960s, but it’s sad to say that the rights of trans, intersex and non-binary people haven’t kept pace. Whilst LGBT+ people still experience disproportionately high rates mental illness across the board, by far the worst affected are trans people, around 40% of whom will attempt suicide at some point in their lives. And far from looking upon this as a reason for attitudes to change, many a loathsome shit will actually use the intolerably high rates of attempted suicide as a stick with which to beat trans people:

“Trans people aren’t ‘stuck in the wrong body’, they’re just mentally ill - look at their suicide rates!”

What these subhuman sacks of festering excrement fail to realise (or do realise but are simply too fucking vile to care), is that trans people aren’t taking their own lives because they’re who they are, but because of the nasty, small-minded shite fountains who abuse, belittle and attack them for who they are. Their families disown them, their friends ridicule them and a rabid, unchecked right wing media portrays them as something to fear and deride. High-profile commentators, like the arse-faced, steaming bucket of pig jizz that is Piers Morgan, routinely use their platforms to make bigoted statements about trans people with little or no backlash. And whilst it would be nice to lay all the blame at the door of oily, shitty little cunts like Morgan, it’s disappointing to report that it’s not possible to do so. As I touched on in my previous article for Pride Month, casual (and not so casual) transphobia is still rife in the LGB community. All too often, I hear words like ‘tranny’ and ‘she-male’ being thrown around by assorted cis-gay fucktrumpets who, quite understandably, don’t particularly like it when they’re referred to as ‘poofs’ or ‘faggots’. It really has to stop.

Another problem we face as a community is our tendency to dismiss bisexual people as ‘confused’ or ‘undecided’, with a troublingly large minority of gays and lesbians being willing to declare that ‘bisexuality doesn’t really exist’. I have to say, I bear a good degree of residual guilt for the prevalence of such views because, although it’s certainly not an idea I subscribe to in any way, I did feed into this narrative by identifying as bisexual when I first came out. I think my reasons for that were fairly easy to justify (it wasn’t a conscious decision - I actually was a little confused), but it doesn’t stop me feeling like a gigantic twat, all the same. That said, it’s important to note that, whilst there are confused people who identify as bisexual, not all bisexuals are confused. And neither are they an inconsequential part of our community that we can simply forget about when it suits us.

Like it or not, we are in this together. From the lesbian who incited the unrest after being hit on the head by a police officer outside the Stonewall bar, to the trans women who risked everything to throw rocks at law enforcement officials and the bisexual people who fought alongside them; our pasts, and our futures, are inextricably linked. It seems a little like some in the gay community are happy to reap the benefits of the support we received from lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer activists then, and in the many years since Stonewall, without feeling the need to return the favour when it’s most needed.

So I urge you, fellow gays, to drop the term ‘Gay Pride’ from your vocabulary. It erases those members of our community who have stood up alongside us for so many years and betrays exactly the same level of privileged bollocks that so many straight people unthinkingly shit out on a daily basis (straight pride, anyone?). Moreover, if you see others referring to Pride as ‘Gay Pride’, correct them. Whether it’s a 300-follower user of Twitter, your Daily Mail-reading aunt on Facebook, or an international media outlet, it’s an exercise worth undertaking. None of us are free until all of us are free, and it’s up to us to ensure that every single part of our community is represented. It’s patently obvious that we can’t trust the media to regulate itself in this regard, so we have to accept responsibility for saying to them that it’s not ok to erase the LBTQ people upon whose shoulders we are so fortunate to stand.