This Saturday is Pride in London and there are similar events coinciding across the world. What is Pride all about? It started out as Gay Liberation or Gay Freedom and was focussed on the struggle for human rights. Historically it was celebratory AND serious; participants remembered the Stonewall Riots, friends they’d lost to AIDS and the victims of homophobic assaults, all whilst kitted out in the cocktail of colours that have come to symbolise Pride. These marches and the vocal opposition to inequality were a huge catalyst towards legislative change and increased visibility for LGBT people.
To many young people in 2011, it’s an opportunity to be cushioned in a bubble of acceptance for a day, to drink a few too many over-priced lagers and head home with tired feet and a touch of sunburn. For some, it will be the first time they have been in the majority instead of feeling like the odd one out, and especially for visitors from smaller towns, this is a much needed confidence boost. However, some older LGBT people feel that without the protests and campaigning focus, Pride has become a rather empty display of apparent ‘LGBT culture’ – a culture which resonates little with many people’s day-to-day lives. In this country at least, we’re in a somewhat transitional period between having to force legislative and cultural change into a homophobic world, and having 100%, unblinking acceptance in society. Life for LGBT people is so much better, but we’re not there yet. So how do we now make Pride more than just a day of checking each other out from behind our Ray Bans?
The dictionary definition of ‘pride’ is a feeling of satisfaction derived from one’s own or another’s achievements. A young person asked me recently if I was proud of being gay. I said no. I’m not ashamed of it, but I’m not proud if it, any more than I’m proud of having a double-jointed thumb. I’m proud of the way I have dealt with other people’s reactions to my sexuality, or that I have been through some challenging situations with students, colleagues, family and friends who have struggled with it, but I’m not proud of my sexual orientation as a characteristic. It would just seem weird. I didn’t achieve anything just by being gay. However, I am proud that I am trying to make a difference for LGBT young people by founding Diversity Role Models. I’m proud of some of my sporting achievements. I’m proud of the longevity of many of my friendships and unrelated to me, the achievements and wonderful characters of my friends and family.
My mother was my role model. She certainly wasn’t a ‘diversity role model’ but she was an incredible example as a mother. She died when I was still a teenager and I had only just announced my sapphic ways to her. She struggled as any mother would – she had no gay friends, never had any education around different relationships and ultimately wanted the happiest and most successful life possible for her only daughter – a concept incompatible with ‘the gay lifestyle’. In the few months we had between me telling her, and her death, we went through the usual stages of defensiveness and lack of comprehension. Both of us. Me being ‘one of those’ made little sense to me either. However, regardless of how confused my mother felt, as she lay dying, she held my hand, looked into my eyes and told me how proud she was of me for being who I am. Her sense of pride gave me the freedom to imagine that had she lived, we would’ve made our peace, gossiped on the phone about our irritating partners and perhaps she would even have joined me in a DRM t shirt at Pride this weekend.
Being a lesbian is not who I am, but having a sense of dignity about my place in the world, irrespective of my sexual orientation, is a big part of who I am. Making sure that everybody is allowed the same opportunity to feel dignity is also part of who I am. Some people are driven to save the environment, some to be incredible parents, some to express their artistic or sporting talents and some are good souls who make our lives a little lighter simply by smiling at us on the street on a dark winter’s day. It’s impossible to be a role model for everything, for everybody and at all times. And we can’t feel pride in ourselves for every decision we’ve ever made. However, this Saturday, as a sign of respect towards the people that have fought for our civil and human rights, give a thought to what you are doing to make the world a slightly better place. And be proud!
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Last month Nadine Dorries had an abstinence bill passed which asks for all 13 -16 year old girls to be given additional sex education on how to ‘say no’. We’ve all been lying awake at night trying to figure out how we can teach only girls to say no to underage sex, when clearly sex involves girls AND boys. Surely Mrs Dorries isn’t suggesting that boys are just pistol-pocketed demons who seek only to de-flower our innocent, rosy-cheeked maidens – mute maidens, who have little or no ability to articulate the word ‘no’? Can it be possible that in 2011, people are still encouraging the view that sexual desire is owned by men and that poor, sexless women are on a backwards treadmill, trying to avoid their lecherous and uncontrollable advances. That if only teenage girls would say ‘no’ to pressure to put out, learn to dress appropriately and make sure they’re home in their floral nightgowns by 9pm, those nasty boys wouldn’t be able to impregnate them.
Are we not feeding the monster by continuing to tell young women, worse still, telling young men, that this is the case? Shouldn’t we be trying to break these stereotypes down and show a little more respect for teenagers’ sexuality? Boys feel pressure to have sex too. They are continuously fed a media stream (and at times, blokey comments from Dads) which perpetuate the idea that they are the hunters and women are there to be gathered. Teenage boys have admitted that they lie about their conquests to prove their manhood. And under pressure to actually score that notch on their belt, many of them probably do pester girls to have sex before either of them are ready. But failing to address the issues that boys face and leaving the decisions in the girls’ court, simply applies double the pressure to young women and renders young men as nothing more than grunting neanderthals, incapable of responsibility.
Even worse, on Channel 5’s Vanessa show, Nadine Dorries uttered these clangers:
“If a stronger ‘just say no’ message was given to children in school then there might be an impact on sex abuse … if we imbued this message in school we’d probably have less sex abuse.”
This is one of the most dangerous sentiments I have heard espoused by a person with a political platform. The idea that a child should take some responsibility for the sexual invasion of an adult is just plain vulgar. I feel for the victims of abuse out there who may still be battling with their inner child on this issue; people spend many years in therapy trying to come to terms with this fallacy. And what message does it give the abuser who happened to be listening in that day? A total denial of responsibility.
While ‘sexualisation’ and ‘padded bras’ are the words of the week after the Bailey Review was published, we are still not discussing the real issues. While I agree that padded bras (to enhance cleavage) for 11 year olds are an obscenity and I wouldn’t want my child watching inappropriately sexual music videos, simply removing them from the shelves/television does not stop young people from, for example, finding misogynistic pornography on the internet. A group of 13 year old boys told me that while they had received no sex education at school, they knew everything they needed to about sex because they watched porn. This scares me. And to further prove that we need to alter our approach to dealing with young people’s sexuality, a study just published in the States shows that LGBT youth are far more likely to indulge in risky behaviour or consider suicide. No surprises there. By all means, let’s make adult images and products less accessible to children but let’s also do the other half of the job. We need to talk to them; discuss sexuality, respect for one’s self and others, the benefits of delaying sexual relationships, gender stereotypes and the fact that shops sell padded bras for girls, but not padded jocks for boys. Young people have critical, developing minds. Nadine Dorries wants to empower young women by teaching them to say no. Let’s empower our girls and boys with facts, relationship skills and the ability to say no, or yes, when they are ready.
- Not being invited to family events. Or being invited while your ‘friend’, with whom you have a house, a business and six children, is not, due to it being for ‘close family only’ (although your brother turns up with a girl he pulled at the village barn dance the night before).
- Clothing assimilation. Straight couples get away with having shared interests in surfwear, hiking clothes or G Star Raw. Nobody comments on their matching sandals whereas we are made the targets of total mockery if we have clearly visited the Diesel outlet store together. Same colour clothing is to be avoided at all costs and if you are also hair-assimilated, it pays to adopt a 100% yin yang style when going out together.
- Telling people who interact with intimate parts of your body that you are a friend of Dorothy’s i.e. your über-feminine beautician as she tears your bikini line to bits, or for boys, your proctologist as he or she dives in for a prostate check. Any sort of physical flinch, no matter how slight, is not to be encouraged when your vulnerability threshold is being tested to such a degree.
- Body envy. We tend not to be threatened by difference in personal relationships (obviously this only relates to physical form – any distinction of hobbies, income etc are exceptionally threatening and should be avoided at all costs). Heterosexual couples have very different physiques. Gay people have bodily features in common, therefore we have greater opportunity to be jealous of the shape of our partner’s feet, their ability to look good in our aerobics leotard, or the fact that his/her hair always sits perfectly. Even in the cab home after a long night doing the Macarena with old school friends. In fact it looks annoyingly better than when you left the house.
- Holiday limitations. Jamaica, Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Iran. Need I say more. Of course you can go on holiday to Morocco but as women you are likely to need a year off work with post-traumatic stress after fending off the advances of happy-handed locals. And boys expend double calories trying to butch up their gait as they saunter along dusty streets pretending to scout for girls.
- Not being invited to family events. You and your partner are free to spend the day at the Diesel outlet store instead of listening to Great Uncle Ernie’s long-winded tale of a sewage overflow in the kitchen sink due to rats blocking the pipes.
- Having an entire row in a packed cinema to yourselves, simply by sharing a quick peck as people are choosing their seats. The same applies to the backseat of buses, entire rows on long haul flights etc.
- Nobody asks you to babysit. Your family assumes that your ‘lifestyle’ involves levels of irresponsibility incompatible with caring for their precious little bundles of joy. This, of course, backfires when you acquire your own sprogs and your siblings decide to make up for lost time and dump Delilah and Sebastian on your doorstep with annoying frequency.
- You are trusted to go on long weekends of fishing/shopping/insert gender stereotype of choice here, with your best friend’s husband or wife (whichever one you’re not supposed to be attracted to). These weekends live on in friendship group legend; anecdotes are retold at BBQs for years to come while your best friend smiles smugly at other friends who can’t believe such a set up is allowed. (Don’t ever date someone of the opposite sex again though – these weekends will suddenly be analysed with a fine-tooth comb).
- Your wedding day is your day. Your mother is just relieved you managed to find another one ‘like you’ and is content with investing in a new hat for your ‘commitment thingamajingy’ rather than simultaneously performance managing the florist, photographer and guests. And your dad is forced to neglect his life-long collection of sexist wedding jokes in favour of an awkward same-sex dance with an embarrassingly drunk gay friend.