Oppression, identity and sexuality
Oh yeah, what a lovely, academic-ish name for a post. It’d be even better if it had a colon afterwards, then a subtitle starting with the word “towards”. Oppression, identity and sexuality: towards a poststructuralist hermeneutic of something or other.
See, I don’t like talking about who I am, I like talking about what I do and what I think. So, I was born in the county of Surrey. Big deal. I could have been born in Wiltshire instead if I had been born a few years earlier. Or maybe Somerset. This is all very uninteresting, and is rarely a topic of conversation except with the people who issue passports.1
The same is true for my atheism: if there were no religious people, no religious claims being made, my atheism would be about an important a conversational topic as my preference for milk vs. dark chocolate. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. Go watch Why Are You Atheists So Angry? by the brilliant writer Greta Christina.
Generally the things I am only become an issue when other people make them an issue. My vegetarianism only really is an issue when I’m in a supermarket, raging at the ubiquity and awfulness of Quorn faux-meat burgers,2 or sighing slightly reluctantly when the only non-meat option on a menu in a restaurant is essentially cheese on toast (sorry, melted mozarella and sunblushed cherry tomatoes bruschetta on artisan foccacia bread).3
And it’s only when people are telling me I’m a moral reprobate undermining the fundamental stability of human society and are thus undeserving of equal rights that my sexual orientation is an issue. I usually don’t talk about them because you probably aren’t interested in the gender of the people I find romantically and sexually attractive. Except due to society as a whole not having reached the very minimal standards of decency I expect of it, it remains an issue.
So I’m gay.
I know. Scandalous and shocking, right?
I’m not “proud”, except in the sense that pride is the opposite of shame. It is a brute fact, in much the same way that my birthplace is a brute fact. In a sane and rational society, I’d happily go off and fancy, fantasise over, fuck, marry, whatever, with whoever I damn well please, and it wouldn’t be an issue for anyone but me and them.
But, as I’m repeatedly reminded, everytime I open a newspaper or go on Twitter or walk down the street, this society isn’t a sane and rational society. So I better spell out what the actual issues are.
The only reason my sexual orientation is an issue is because other people have made it an issue.
If I fall in love with someone, we can’t get married. I can have a “civil partnership”. Which is like a marriage, except it isn’t a marriage. I can’t get married because society considers the institution of marriage not fit for people like me, only for other people.
A historical oversight, maybe, but for the fact that there is a big shouty campaign from churches and Lord Carey and that lot to keep it that way.
Why? People like me shouldn’t be allowed to get married because we might wreck it. How exactly? If I fall in love with someone and I want to make a commitment to that person for the rest of my life, how exactly would that destroy it?
Marriage is good enough for my parents and grandparents but not for me? Sorry, but that makes me fucking angry.4
And it isn’t enough just to argue with people like George Carey. I have to point out something fundamental here.
The choice is between equality of all before the law or marriage segregation, marriage apartheid and straight supremacism.
That is what it boils down to. Either marriage as an institution accomodates gay people and gay love, or the state continues to endorse a de facto policy of straight supremacism.
When people are saying that the social and institutional form that love takes in this society ought to remain unavailable to me because of who I am, I cannot remain silent.
I’m gay, and most of the time I’m fucking angry about it.
I’m angry because, well, where do we start?
Okay, let’s start with this. Imagine, someone I know, meets someone abroad and falls in love with them. They date, they love each other, they get into a long-term relationship. And so they marry. They move back to the city where the husband comes from and buy a big flat and they live happily ever after… no, wait, let me stop you there. They don’t marry, because the society they live in, like the UK up until we got marriage-lite, doesn’t recognise gay relationships and gay love. And because they don’t recognise gay love, they can’t get married, and the partner cannot cross the border, and so rather than living together, they have to see each other on tourist visas and do all sorts of bullshit with their family and basically hack the legal system in whatever way they can to get permission to live with the person they love. And then when their partner gets sick, they have all the pain of not necessarily being considered family for making legal and medical decisions or getting access to the person in hospital. And then just as a giant fuck you, when they die, the government bureaucrat writes on the death certificate that the relationship is that of “friend”. As if the person that you love more than anybody is in the same category as the mate from work who you go bowling with.
I’m angry that this utterly uncontroversial fact which I class as being in the same category as the county of my birth, if uttered or acted upon in states like Iran, can lead to execution. I’m angry that Ahmadinejad thinks there are no gays in Iran.
I’m angry that schools aren’t doing enough to put a stop to bullying against gay kids.
I’m angry about Rick Santorum.
I’m angry that gay people have to think twice before holding hands or kissing or displaying affection in public.
I’m angry that lesbians get “correctively raped”.
I’m angry that gay people were subject to electroshock therapy or chemical castration… in our lifetimes.
I’m angry that people think intolerance and homophobia are “family values” that need to be protected rather than eradicated. Hating other people was never a value my parents taught me.
I’m angry that at Wikipedia we have to have an article called Suicide among LGBT youth and that that’s a thing. I mean, if we got to the stage where there was an article on Wikipedia called “Suicide among redheads”, people would be as angry as I am, but when it’s just a bunch of queers, it’s no big deal.
I’m angry about Section 28. I’m angry that it took until 2003 to get rid of a law5 which is based on the fundamental premise that gay people are actually paedophiles and “predators”. I’m angry that such pernicious, hateful idiocy could be passed into law in 1988, that a new homophobic law could be passed a few years after I was born and not repealed until I started at university. I’m angry that in the year 2000, members of the Conservative Party still supported Section 28.
I’m angry that if other people get angry about some of the same things, they get told they have a “victim complex” or told to stop “whining”. Or that they need to be more tolerant of the intolerant.
I’m angry about the hundreds of gay people who have been murdered for being gay.
I’m angry that the best society is able to offer young people who are gay (or otherwise different) and getting bullied in school is the message that “it gets better”. Yes, it’s important to tell people it gets better. And it does get better. But it shouldn’t be bad to start with. Teenagers being bullied, whether for being gay or geeky or just not within the prescribed bounds of social statistical normality, should feel free to jump up with a megaphone and shout “No, this shit is not acceptable. Stop it now.” and not be made to feel like they are the problem.
I’m angry that in the United States and even in certain loonier bits of Britain, a lifetime of love between parent and child evaporates in seconds when the child comes out or is discovered to be gay. I’m really fucking angry when that kid ends up homeless on the street. I’m angry that Christian fundamentalist religion drives people to hate their own children because of the gender of who their children love.
Why is it that so few of us would want our children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren to be homosexual? One obvious answer is that they cannot have families, and most people look upon families as a vital part of human life. That is the very sad fact about being homosexual. We therefore do not want to encourage it. Does anyone want to encourage homosexuality?
I’m angry that such a man is seen as fit to be consulted on the issues of the day, as if being gay is something that the legislature can either encourage or discourage, rather than simply accept as reality. I’m angry that someone might think that if our laws were just a bit more homophobic, people would suddenly see the light and switch. It barely needs to be pointed out, but for straight readers, imagine the scenario: the government decide to pass a law that makes it illegal to have sex with someone of the opposite sex until two years after an equivalent gay relationship. Would you then be more likely to contemplate having a gay relationship? If you feel even slightly insulted that someone would be stupid enough to think that the law would somehow change who you want to have a sexual or romantic relationship with, congratulations, you get it.
I’m angry that someone in 2000 could assume that not being able to naturally have children means that one cannot have a “family”. It rules out the many gay and lesbian parents, single or otherwise, who have children, from adoption, from sperm donation, and so on. But it also rules out many families gay and straight who are either unable to have children or who have chosen not to have children, and still have a family. Whether I’m gay or straight, single or in a relationship, with kids or without, I have a family: I have parents, a brother, uncles and aunts, nephews and so on. That people can deny the real family relationships of real living gay people in order to paint them as sub-human makes me really fucking angry. That they can with one breath deny gay people the chance to form a family in the strict sense through marriage and adoption, and then use gay people’s inability to form a family as a stick to beat them with and to justify the denial of rights makes me apoplectic with bloody rage.
I’m angry that someone like Packenham could derive the wrongness of homosexuality from a male-on-male sexual assault, but not also see the equivalent logic: that a male-on-female sexual assault ought to lead to concluding the wrongness of heterosexuality. The logic of Packenham’s homophobia is the same idiocy that underlines sexism (obligatory XKCD link).
I’m angry that the sort of homophobic idiocy expressed by the late Lord and many others has led to bloody terrible sex education that has been so prevalent for so long. Everyone, male and female, straight and gay deserves decent, comprehensive sex and relationship education that’s compassionate, honest and evidence-based, rather than pandering to the prejudices of homophobes, fundamentalists and the tabloid press. Many STIs, unwanted pregnancies and bad relationship issues are the fault of bad sex education.
I’m angry about Anne Widdecombe.
I’m angry that there are people who believe they can “cure” gay people, as if we need curing, as if we are all “struggling” with anything other than the bigoted idiocy of people like them.
I’m angry that if I wasn’t gay, or I didn’t want to discuss publicly whether I’m gay, getting angry about homophobia and persecution of gay people is likely to cause people to “suspect” I’m gay, as if that’s some terrible crime I need to own up to.
I’m angry that there’s a default assumption that I’m straight, and I’m angry that I have to run the risk-rewards calculation in my head of whether to set them right, and whether I can be bothered to go through all the bullshit that’ll go with it. It’s not that I’m worried about negative reactions. It’s not about negative reactions or positive reactions, I just don’t want it to be an issue. I’m angry that I never hear the phrase “No, actually, I’m straight” because of the default assumption to the contrary.
I’m angry that if someone speaks of a wedding, they have to qualify it as being a “same-sex” or a “gay” wedding if it is two men or two women, but don’t have to qualify it as a “straight” wedding if it isn’t. Every marriage should be a gay marriage in the original sense of the word gay.
I’m angry about Alan Turing.
I’m angry that fundamentalists teach their children that being gay means you deserve nothing but hellfire and damnation.
I’m angry that people have been booted out of their jobs in the U.S. military for being gay and for being open about it. I’m angry that the hard-working and patriotic contributions of gay and lesbian people gets undermined for juvenile idiocy (“but, but, gays might look at my dick when I’m in the shower!”) dressed up in the jargon of ‘unit cohesion’.
I’m angry that who I’m sexually and romantically attracted to gives people the right to opt-out, to “follow their conscience”, because having to provide a service that the taxpayer pays people to provide on their behalf makes them ‘uncomfortable’.
I’m angry that homophobic bigots now think that anyone who tells them they shouldn’t be bigots (or legally prevents them from exercising their bigotry) is being discriminated against.
I’m angry that if you work in a registry office and you refuse to officiate over an interracial straight marriage, you’d be sacked on the spot, but if you refuse to officiate over a gay or lesbian civil union, that’s just “religious conscience” and needs to be respected. No, fuck that. You not liking my sexual orientation is not a reason for you to not do the goddamn job you are paid by the taxpayer to do.
I’m angry that if a TV show depicts characters as being gay and kissing or having sex or having a relationship or, really, just existing, people write to Ofcom. I’m angry that people think gay love or gay relationships are such a ghastly concept that they shouldn’t show them on TV. I’m angry that people who are otherwise able to drive cars and vote and have children think that two men kissing is “sexually explicit” but a man and a woman kissing on TV is just fine. I remember this brouhaha a few years back.
I’m angry about Nadine Dorries.
I’m angry that hundreds of people can express their desire to kill their own children if they happen to be gay. Hundreds of people, in a public forum, some of them with their real name. Have they no shame?
I’m angry that in the US, parents can legally have their gay kids kidnapped in the middle of the night and taken off to “reform schools” for “problem kids” (because being gay means you are a problem and not a person) where they try and make the kids straight through ‘tough love’. I’m not shitting you.
I’m angry that the primary reason given for opposing gay marriage is that parents would have to explain to children that gay people exist. They literally don’t want to have to tell their kids that love and happiness is possible between gay people. Five seconds of having to say “well, mummy and daddy love each other very much and so chose to live together as a family. Sometimes two men or two women love each other very much and choose to live together as a family too.” That you are too much of a goddamn fucking loser to say that to a kid, because you think the mere existence of gay people might infect your kid and make him or her gay, or you are embarrassed to explain the concept to them… that’s the reason? Really? I can’t get married because you suck as a parent?
I’m angry that Quakers and liberal Jews and Unitarians and gay-affirming religious groups aren’t able to marry gay people if they want to. I’m angry that people consider religious freedom incompatible with gay marriage.
I’m angry that people hear the message of radical love and acceptance that Jesus of Nazareth teaches in the Gospels and use that as a weapon of hate.
I’m angry that people have had to live in sham marriages and marriages of convenience. I’m angry for them and for their partners, but I’m angry at society for making such things seem like the only option.
I’m angry that people see issues of sexual orientation as issues of willies and vaginas and boobies and assholes. That’s not it at all. What underlies all issues of sexual orientation is whether or not we can have a truly liberal society where people can live in a way that lets them flourish as free and equal citizens.
I’m angry that people think that if being gay were a choice, that would mean it would be okay to persecute gay people. Even if it were a choice, in a liberal society, people should have the freedom to choose. What, you think I’ve got the right to choose PC or Mac, Android or iPhone, train or car, Tesco or Waitrose… but if sexuality were a choice, you’d have the right to decide for me?
I’m angry that it’s 2012 and we’re still having to argue against homophobic dumbfuckery when there’s still so many more fights that still need to be fought.
I’m angry that if I do decide to tell people that I’m gay, they act all surprised, as if it’s impossible for someone to be gay and not find Madonna fabulous or desperately want to go out shopping or whatever the stereotype of the week is. I’m angry that I have to point out that being gay hasn’t changed the fact that I’d rather be discussing Bertrand Russell than Judy Garland. And I fucking hate clothes shopping and musicals.
I’m angry that I’ve written the best part of 3,000 words in this post and I still haven’t scratched the surface of why I’m angry.
I’m angry that “coming out” implies some kind of Oprah-style self-discovery moment where I’m affirming my identity, or some kind of Freudian emotional cleansing bullshit. That’s not what it’s about at all. My identity doesn’t need affirming and I don’t need to cleanse my emotions. I’m angry that this is even necessary. I’m angry that I have to take on the mantle of being considered courageous for simply asserting who I am. Was it ‘courageous’ when you “came out” as straight? You did come out as straight, right? Yeah, and you do have to decide whether to have ‘The Conversation’ with everyone about it, right? And if you decide (perfectly rationally) that you can’t be fucked with all that, you somehow aren’t courageous or are in self-denial?
No, the reason is simple.
I’m not coming out because I’m courageous. I’m coming out because I’m angry.
I’m angry and I want you to be bloody seething-with-rage angry too.
Every time someone on Xbox Live calls another player a “fag”, I want you to get angry and not just shrug it off as juvenile behaviour.
Next time, if you are a third party to a conversation where someone attempts to correct somebody else’s heteronormative assumptions, back them up.
I’m angry that if I ever take issue with someone’s homophobic language, I’m told to stop being so sensitive and that those queers just say it about themselves anyway, and how dare they not be allowed to use a word they freely use for themselves, and that all them faggots are just pink jackbooted thugs who want to police our language. I’m angry that I have to decide whether or not to tell them how far the words ‘them’ and ‘they’ extends or just quietly slink off.
I’m angry that it has to be my job to explain the whole decency thing to people.
I’m angry that idiots think that I’m angry about me or that I’m feeling sorry for myself. Apparently, they conclude from their self-centeredness that everyone else is as self-centered. No, I’m angry that it isn’t just about me, but that it’s about everybody. Lack of equality is about everybody: how can it not be?
Every time someone like Rick Santorum pipes up and compares gay people to people who want to have sex with animals, I want you to feel righteous fury and anger too. I want you to imagine how it feels to have someone compare the right to marry the person you love with someone who wants to have sex with a dog. Imagine that’s your relationship that Santorum is talking about and you’ll see why people, myself included, are quite angry, quite a lot of the time.
Because I lied at the start of this piece: when people tell me I’m not a human being, it actually does matter to me quite a bit.
I remember my mother once being questioned about why her passport said that she was born in Nottingham by a confused Russian border guard. “Yes, it says I was born in Nottingham because I was born in Nottingham.” sounds like it ought to be a line from a lecture on truth-conditional semantics. ↩
I fucking loathe faux meat. If I wanted to eat meat, I’d eat the real thing, not some pretend meat that tastes like a goddamn breast implant that’s been marinated in recycled diesel fuel and covered in breadcrumbs. ↩
The difference between a toastie and a sunblushed lah-de-dah is about £3.50 and 2.37 units of human dignity. ↩
Actually, marriage wasn’t really allowable for my maternal grandparents either. Because my grandfather had been married and divorced, he wasn’t allowed to marry in the Church of England. They ended up finding a minister of the Church of Scotland (in London) who married them in the crypt. ↩
Yeah, in Scotland it was 2003. ↩