Anti LGBTQIA sentiment has taken a notable uptick in the UK in the last 4 years. As of October 2020, community specific hate crimes had tripled, with a huge survey of people confirming that they had experienced anti LGBTQIA sentiment in public or at work over the course of their recent lives. Some outside- and an unfortunate subset of those within- blame the visibility of the trans rights battle. Others, like I, believe the rise of right wing populism and the unmasking and normalisation of hateful sentiment, is the clear cause. The question is- how far will the UK slide, and what will be the catalyst for action to be taken?
You know when you’re at the beach, and you can see a tiny rock that’s been washed around in the tide and that tiny stone has worn a hole in a bigger rock? That’s how I feel, like that little rock, ebbing and flowing backwards and forwards and trying to wear in some change but also getting thinner and thinner myself- when I talk about certain aspects of being gay, back and forth over the same points, trying to wear in the groove so it’s not necessary to keep repeating. It’s so intrinsic to me that it’s almost tiring to have to explain it. Equally I want anyone who does come across this blog to realise that this is MY experience, not THE experience. I’ve met thousands of LGBTQIA people in my life and we all have different stories, so take what I write here as an op-ed, an opinion piece of being part of the LGBTQIA through the well worn lens of my own experience, and not the defining experience. It’s my explanation of me, how I feel and what I face, along with consensus from others I’ve spoken about.
I’m 33 years old, and I was pretty outspoken about my sexuality- firstly, as I grew, accidentally- now, very much intentionally. I didn’t mean to wear it on my sleeve as a child and it’s the idea that it’s controllable that wears at me so. I was never masculine, even though my dad and my uncles are the epitome of typical masculinity. I remember being 4 and 5 and seeking out girls to be friends with because I felt shy around other boys.
I’m apparently an odd one, because I always knew I was gay. I remember being 5 and telling my friend I would marry him one day, and the disgust on his face made me bury it all. But I couldn’t hide my presentation, my campness if you will. But I always felt I should. Rarely, directly, other kids and adults would tell me they didn’t like how I acted, that it wasn’t “normal” and that sentiment was echoed everywhere, wound tightly around my experience of existence and of my adolescence- and I always wondered where it came from, and why the way I acted was (i assume…) linked to my sexuality- I knew from the knee that There Was Something Different, and other people were all too happy to hammer that into my head.
I don’t think- because of that- that I ever experienced a real, relaxed childhood. Because I spent so much of my youth wondering what was different and why, and if I could change it, take it away, deny it, repress it.
I knew that I had to hide it to survive, and I lied to myself every day that I DID like girls, I DID want to be like the other boys around me, share their interests, their demeanour, their jokes. And I never could. This all sounds very self pitying – it was a miserable existence until decided I didn’t care what the repercussions were and that I was going to live outwardly as I was within, and embrace who I truly am.
As I battled through this, I heard so many hateful recycled tropes, and became aware of this culture of open irony that surrounds us on the daily. So, lets focus on some of these aspects and see if we can’t shed some light on why the world is such an odd place to be…
The Narrative of “choice”
I used to believe that there was no element of choice in being gay. And for me, I still don’t. It’s threaded deeply into every aspect of me- sexuality, in a heteronormative society, affects much more than just who you love. But it’s reductive at best for me to say 100% that nobody chooses to be gay- I’ve literally met gay men who have said they chose it, and who am I to deny their experiences off my own? That said I think that if you are gay you are gay- the choice comes into it when it comes to ACTING on it.
Equally, the narrative of choice is a common talking point with anti gay campaigners, so my simple question is -even if it is a choice: who cares? Why does sexuality being a choice in any way mean it deserves less credence, less respect?
You rarely get an answer that isn’t garbage and gobbledegook when you ask this question. The idea that sexuality is a choice is absolutely laughable to me, as someone who (as a child- not now) would have chosen to flip that switch in an instant so I could enjoy my life as other children around me did. Now- I’ve been gay my entire life, I don’t know who I would be if I hadn’t experienced what I have so I cling to it because I believe I’m a mostly good person, and a lot of my empathy comes from the feelings of dislocation that are enmeshed in my sexuality, which is a part of my identity.
I was in a relationship for 2 years with a man who was so deeply brainwashed by heteronormativity and the message that his father pushed to him that gayness was not an option for him, that he only realised he was gay when he’d had sex with his girlfriend, she had gone to bed, and he had gone to watch gay porn on the internet, suddenly realising he only felt fulfilled when he was looking at men. He felt terrible for his girlfriend but was desperate to leave and be true to himself- I met him on his return to the UK, and we were together for 2 years as he explored who he was. Due to my own experiences I thought this was a rarity – not, apparently, so.
People ask why LGBTQIA issues should be taught in school – probably because many people feel as he did, and end up experimenting in the opposite way that society normally speaks in hushed tones about. I’d imagine younger girls and boys would appreciate not being the experimentation of LGBTQIA youths who don’t know who they are, due to what I can only describe as indoctrination by heteronormative media and the framing of how we raise children in this society.
It’s always entertaining to ask heterosexual people when they chose to be straight and listen to either glib silence, or slack jawed misunderstanding. Though I did see @theconsciouslee who is amazing by the way, have an argument with a homophobe recently who said that heterosexuality is “the default”- which would imply it’s not a choice because you intrinsically are it and then somehow, without choosing, choose to stray from that…
I think some LGBTQIA people would “choose” not to be part of the LGBTQIA if given a choice. Having run a poll on Twitter, my results say:
So though many people would choose their identity if it was a choice, ultimately the fact that people can even answer the question should defeat the narrative of choice, which needs to be extinguished once and for all; and for those who believe they are straight but choose not to engage in homosexual acts, or who think their reluctance to transition due to whatever reasons means others are the same- you’re bi/trans and ignorant of others’ experiences to boot.
I know it has “sex” in it, but sexuality is about more than sex
Another defence homophobes love to use is that they don’t want to “confuse” children when allowing LGBTQIA issues to be spoken about in school. Again, to reiterate, what about those of us in the rainbow who grow up confused- but aside from that- we still grow up as ourselves despite being surrounded by heterosexuality, so the idea that a class could “confuse” someone into being part of the community is ridiculous. And again I repeat- for the vast, huge majority of us there is no element of choice.
Equally it always comes across as the idea that heterosexual fearmongers think that people in the rainbow’s issues only ever revolve around our genitals or sex. It’s rarely spoken about that we have a much higher rate of depression, low self esteem, suicide rate, that we engage in unsafe sex practices because we’re simply not taught to abide by safety and because we feel that sex is our binding commonality and have to use this to bond with and please our fellows. I’m trying to be sensitive when saying that, as it’s certainly not an accusation of a cavalier attitude to safety in the community- it’s an explanation of the reality that some of us seek sexual safety and equate that to emotional closeness- even at 33, I too can sometimes fool myself that someone who wants to have sex with me is the same as someone who cares for me.
Talking about LGBTQIA issues in a setting like school would allow for us to safeguard youths in the rainbow from falling into the same traps many of us have- unsafe meetups, grooming by the more sinister of those in our community (Who should also be dealt with), falling into echo chambers about issues that affect our community. The normalisation of sexuality and gender presentations would allow for a broader dialogue of shared experiences to bolster the youth experience of those who both do, and do not, conform to what is seen as societal norms- and expanding those societal norms to embrace us would give those of us outside the current norms to find a sense of normality – something I’ve had to search for years to find from within. I am normal. We are normal. It’s a society that forces rigid conformance to gender and sexual spectrum norms that is not.
Sexuality is a huge trope in culture, and comes with baggage which can be foisted on us- and to escape that iron blanket and discover our own identities takes work. We have to untangle not only the negative aspersions we face from heteronormative society- we have to unpick the subcultures we sometimes feel obligated to be part of, and feeding into stereotypes or archetypes leads to problems of it’s own.
As efforts are made to shift pride back to the pure protest it originated as, with or without the acceptance of an utterly ambivalent tory government, this should be a claxon call to the community at large. It’s not the time to seek peaceful dialogue with those who would debate our rights to marry, kiss in the street, live with our partner, transition. Our existence is not an inconvenience to people but an incontrovertible, undeniable hard fact. Our existence can, as it has been, suppressed but we can and do continue to exist in strength through that. And now we’ve tasted the freedom acceptance grants, it’s not likely to be something surrendered easily.
Pride once again needs to become an outright slap in the face of those who would deny us our rights, our happiness, our ability to live as we are. We have to fight the foolishness I’ve gone over in this article and work together as a community, or we’ll always be struggling for even the bare minimum of being tolerated.
One of the enduring problems we face is the hedonistic amongst us in the community who care only for their own rights and protections. I see being part of the community as an automatic opting in to defending the rights of my fellows who share the community for whatever reason. To see selfish cis gay men talk about how they don’t care for trans rights, to listen to lesbians casually erase bisexuality etc, is maddening and exhausting. We can’t, we shouldn’t, fight amongst ourselves- that ire should be aimed at those without, not within. The more accepting the community is and the more it grows, the safer we are- and everyone in the community, at its core, suffers oppression- regardless of it’s “cause”, we share that commonality and must fuse together to battle this.
Having tried to baby the anti trans movement with spoonfuls of information to explain away their worries about a people who simply want to live unimpeded by their ignorance, or nicely ask for my least favourite word- tolerance- from bigots, I’m of the mind that time is running short to remind people that the community is more than happy to fight for it’s rights.
As the worrying radicalisation of more and more people continues unabated under a government indifferent to serious warning signs that the LGBTQIA of the UK are under threat, the time has come to utilise pride as the weapon in hiding it’s been during an era of more acceptance. We must be heard, we must be seen, we must be fierce. We, as a united group, will not have our rights supplanted by people who do not understand or care to understand our humanity.
Pride must be mobilised as a march of warning, as the sound of doldrums to make those who would stand to take our rights away- as a threat that coming for our community will not end with peace, but will bring back the radical queer movements of the 70s and 80s- staged die-ins, tv channels being overtaken, protests. We are a people whose oppression is not a “debate” as the more literate amongst the bigots try to say- we are humans, with rights and dignity we will not lose to appease the pathological amongst us.
The reason I chose to write this piece is the sheer amount of anti LGBTQIA hate crimes taking place across the UK at the moment- worldwide, anti LGBTQIA sentiment is as always, a frightening topic. But in the UK, it seemed to have reached a point of normalisation that was refreshing. You weren’t beleaguered by bigotry in the street often, and people didn’t ask the retinue of foolish questions that are invasive and degrading in equal measure.
It seems that in recent months, hate crime has spiked against the community again, and at a time of danger, we should be focusing on coming together to offer support and foster discussion on how to be safe- but instead are mired in efforts to enlighten the more foolish amongst us who subscribe to anti trans sentiment, or feel that it doesn’t affect them because they are “lucky” enough to blend into heteronormative society.
If a concerted effort is not made by the entire community, these issues are never cured, only banished into the dark to fester, and it’s re-emergence is a worrying sign of things to come if we don’t rise up as one to combat the never tiring bigotry that hides in the shadows.
The concerted but quiet efforts of bigoted politicians has been the cornerstone of the issue with a sliding backwards of movements against the community. From the mainstream acceptance of politicians like Priti Patel who was, is and continues to be outspoken in her dislike for progressive rights for gay people, the prime minister himself referring to us tank topped bum boys, foolish errors in judgement like former PM Theresa May and then a compounding of the error, Kier Starmer, visiting an anti LGBTQIA church who foster conversion therapy- the dismantlement of the LGBT advisory board by ostensible equalities minister Liz Truss, the mainstreaming of transphobia in politics by (at best) misguided and at worst radicalised MP’s like Rosie Duffield or Jess Phillips who stupidly tweeted a conspiracy theory about a trans murderer then refused to apologise… And the fact that the anti trans arguments are, naturally, recycled tropes from homophobia.
For fun, lets pick them apart!
*Insert LGBTQIA person here* is a pervert!
From “gays shouldn’t teach because they are paedophiles” to “trans women will wave their genitals around/ look at my genitals”, genuinely WHY – is being part of this community linked to the idea that we are naturally perverted. It seems that any LGBTQIA behaviour is linked intrinsically to the idea of sex, sexual gratification or sexual arousal. Gay men couldn’t just want to be teachers for the same banal reasons as heterosexual people. Trans women couldn’t just want to use a bathroom because they feel comfortable surrounded by people with their own gender presentation. The bathroom fallacy is always my favourite to pull apart, and as I mentioned in another piece, if you’re afraid of the arousal of those around you in a bathroom the next issue will come with lesbian, gay or bi people being forced to use some mythical third bathroom option to prevent what heteronormative folk see as a natural result of shared space.
To not adhere to societal expectations does not automatically match the (frankly overused in this instance) moniker of pervert. Enjoying leatherwear or being a drag queen does not automatically feed into some deep seated lust for unsafe sex acts. This eagerness to tie members of the community to the anchor of perversion is to cast a huge swath of the community overboard to sink in the ridiculous seas of meaningless buzz phrases we’ve been fighting against since sentiment against us was coined. I’ve done drag 6 times. It’s not sexual, it’s fun to do something outside of the gender norms.
People also tend to conflate drag and trans people- I’ve never understood that trope either. To do drag is to adopt a persona other than your own and create an exaggerated look that matches that- usually, but not always, a feminine one. To be trans is to feel that your gender does not match what you feel it is.
At it’s heart, this sort of sentiment is meant to “other” us, to dehumanise us. But every single human is human, no matter how good or bad they are, and to not fit your societal expectations is not automatically set to run parallel to not being deserving of, at very least, respect.
*Insert LGBTQIA person here* is trying to convert our children!
Firstly as I’ve mentioned, I’ve no idea how I’d go about converting someone to gay – either people have those feelings or they don’t. I don’t know the first thing about making someone feel something they don’t feel.
Secondly, even if we could, I wouldn’t.
I’ve slept with questioning men, men who wonder if they might have gay/ bi feelings. It never ends well – usually with being completely disregarded, sometimes with hate crimes… If my sexuality is so repellent to you why precisely would I want to foster that with you? And why, oh why, would I want to raise a child into a sexuality that (despite coming with good things), has been the cause of a significant portion of unhappiness for me in my life- usually at the hands of other people.
*Insert facet of the community here* is innately sexual, and shouldn’t be spoken about!
I am a gay man. Is it sexual when I go and buy stamps? Is it a part of my sexuality when I look at shoes in a shop? Is it a gay perversion when I go to the bathroom, make a cup of tea, answer my work phone, dry my clothes, itch my foot?
So often- too often, we are reduced to pastiches of the worst kind, sex crazed, kinky people who are only about that. We all brush our teeth (I hope), eat food, read, sleep… And I feel it prudent to ask people outside our community to please stop reducing us down to what we do with our genitals, and what we think about. Equally, a message for those in the community as much as outside of it- you don’t have to have engaged in same sex acts, or have transitioned, to be LGBTQIA. A gay or bi man who has never had sex with another man is still gay or bi. A trans man who hasn’t been able to start transition due to the woeful state of trans healthcare in the UK. It’s not about your perception of another person’s acts or presentation, it’s about theirs.
Opening a dialogue about LGBTQIA issues for younger people would not just help LGBTQIA youths but also those suffering their own issues- for example, speaking about the increased isolation and depression rates of LGBTQIA youths would also, naturally, have benefit for those who feel those same feelings but who are NOT part of the community. Speaking about the pressure that comes with sexualisation in a community where sex is (often but not always) the common denominator or reason you gain attention, would also feed back into those who are sexualised against their will in modern society. It can only give benefits to give an honest and open dialogue about difficulties people face, and the normalisation of those individuals.
Let’s stop catering to reactionaries & radicals
If you are genuinely so radicalised as to believe people will go on years long waiting lists for hormones and gender reassignment surgeries, or who will face ostracization from family and friends to live openly as they are, you are frankly more privileged than you could know. I, and I’m sure it’s not just me, am thoroughly exhausted of catering to fools who believe this nonsense. Their views should be scorned, ridiculed, debunked and those who cling to it like driftwood at sea should be shamed. You don’t get to cling to beliefs that are damaging in a very real way to huge groups of people when the evidence you are wrong -and you are- exists in such abundance. You are the anti-vaxxers of sexuality and gender presentation, buying into scurrilous conspiracy theories in place of thinking critically about human nature and the diversity encoded into our ways of reproducing. You shouldn’t be entertained or catered to, because you choose ignorance in a way we cannot choose our sexualities (to my knowledge) or genders.
Religious or “philosophical” entitlement to bigotry
Lets keep this brief for the Maya Forstater supporters in the room. Your choice to believe in all the wizardry of books about magic beings who create afterlives and moral lists of how we can be good people is yours, and you’re free to make it. But why you think for one moment that your beliefs should be able to impact on our right to live, our right to access healthcare, our right to urinate in public in peace, is one of the most confusing and yet enduring arguments in modern society. If you want to believe that all gay men are ravening predators, or that trans folk are somehow suffering from AGP (google it, it’s frankly too ridiculous for me to even explain), that’s not because you have founded proof of it- it’s because you choose to believe in bottom line bigotry, because your desperate need to “understand” something you’re not a part of means you are willing to believe nonsense recycled by others who are not a part of the community- or at best, are outliers of it- instead of putting aside your desperate need to apply prejudice and actually speak to the people you so fear and attempt to understand them. That, I assure you, is a problem, an issue, a shortfall, an imbalance with you- and is not something that should labour the life or happiness of a member of our community. To sum up -get a life, get an education- or get out.
Concluding words- and actions
Pride being a protest is a message that’s been gently moved to the back, in favour of a rebrand of a more peaceful word like, celebration, memorial or similar.
We exist in spite of those who would see us killed, beaten, bruised, arrested, raped, converted- and pride is a stark reminder that we can, that we should, that we must stand in defence of ourselves and each other, shoulder to shoulder in this constant march towards progress.
To know that we exist in a world where we could be murdered based on something so comparatively minor which has been made important by the collective idiocy of the society we’re in is exhausting sometimes- and it’s a sentiment that’s shared with many other members of society. Women face increased risk of violence, both physical and sexual, and yet a significant portion of gender criticality is based around the idea that cis women are somehow at loggerheads with trans rights. To deny the commonality is to deny common sense- and yet anti trans radicals do this often.
Society at large sees heterosexuality as a norm to be applied, chased, obtained, whereas I see all sexualities and gender presentations as the norm- genetic quirks but notable enough to be part of a melting pot of societal norms- there is not, and should not be, a hegemony of any one over another. Coexistence, surely, is the norm in a society who can and should foster acceptance.
And if society can’t foster coexistence, as the saying goes, it can expect resistance.