Archive for category Queer Old Life

Where lies your Pride?

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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Survival of the Fittest

Sometimes when we push for equality, we get criticised for drawing attention to ourselves, banging on about the same old thing (aren’t-things-better-for-you-lot-now-anyway), flying flags, being trouble makers or worst of all, pushing the gay agenda.

Recently I was accused by a teacher of having an ‘ulterior motive’ for talking to primary school children about different families. Seeing as I had clearly stated my obvious motive; ensuring that children who had LGBT family members felt safe to talk about them at school, I had to consider what this hidden agenda might be. There is only one answer to this question: I was evidently going to use some secret coded language or subliminal messaging in my choice of clothing to convert wide-eyed six year olds to ‘gayness’. While I was initially offended by this, I realised that such an irrational statement could only be driven by fear and miseducation. What good would it do me to recruit extra children to our (non-existent) club? They aren’t old enough to go ‘gay clubbing’ (clubbing being a noun in that context…), nor do they have enough pocket money to drink soy frappuccinos in Soho Square. Even if it were possible to convert children just by providing education about an aspect of society (I don’t recall a sudden upsurge of religious fervour when I taught Buddhism or Christianity in R.E), what purpose would it serve? Maybe we could take over the world! Convert absolutely everybody until we…well, die out, as the case would inevitably be.

I don’t want more LGBT people, I quite frankly don’t care how many there are. I just want those who are LGBT, to feel as safe as any other adult on the street, regardless of whose hand they’re holding. I want the same rights for black people, disabled people, Muslim people and one-eyed, purple-mohawked people. At some point we’ll reach that utopia where Western society looks back at our homophobic history, shake their heads in shame and wonder what all the fuss was about. At which point DRM will either set up in Uganda or retire to an island. Tough choice.

And as we continue to be a bit more open about sexuality and gender, other slightly disturbing trends emerge. There are muttered questions as to why a lesbian can’t just ‘present herself a little better and at least put on some make up’ and why gay men have to lisp or walk effeminately. Sometimes these questions come from lesbians and gay men who wish to distance themselves from those who might, god forbid, actually LOOK gay or lesbian. Of course these questions occasionally come from well-wishers who are concerned about the health or safety of the people their query is aimed at. Occasionally, as in 1% of the time. There is often a certain amount of fear of being associated with ‘proper lesbians’ or camp gay men, by those who can pass as straight. This is understandable and somewhat natural; one only needs to look at the behaviour of animals to know that the pack will usually leave a weak and injured member behind to die, rather than risk their lives staying to protect. It’s survival of the fittest and for some LGB (the ‘T’ is left out as I suspect they don’t have comfortable perches from which to deride others) people who lived through hellish Section 28 school days in the UK, survival means not only ‘fitting in’, but distancing themselves even further by ridiculing people who express themselves in a different way.

Sometimes on nature shows, we see animals who break the mould, the ones who make our eyes well up with tears as they stand guard over a dying playmate or deliver food to the runt of the litter. We all have it in us to play that role, often dependent on how much love we received in our own upbringing; our job at DRM is to coax that nurturing side of less sympathetic young people to life. The side that will stop them from making cruel comments about gay classmates to hide their own fear of being gay, dissuade them from laughing at disabled people on the streets and most importantly, prevent them from being bystanders to bullying. And all this might help the next generation of LGBT people to be less defensive and more accepting of difference within their own community. Of course, it’s not as simplistic as that, but as one of my teachers once proclaimed ‘you can’t change the world, but you can give it a damn good shot!’.

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The Pros & Cons of Being Gay

Cons:

  • 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.

Pros:

  •  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.
Disclaimer: tongue firmly in cheek whilst writing. We know it’s rarely like this anymore…
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Why don’t you fancy me?

I was 19 when I ‘came out’ to my friends (not that I was in the closet, I just happened to get a girlfriend at that age). My greatest concern was that they would think I’d been secretly desiring them for years, so I was tripping over myself to explain that I was ‘only attracted to this one particular woman’ and that I was ‘probably bisexual’ (important to make them, and me, think that this wasn’t a life long disability, merely a virus that would pass through my system and leave me a ‘normal girl’, or at least still tempted by men). There is some research to suggest that the inner ears of lesbians are different to heterosexual women. I wish those differences were external, like our ears were rotated slightly clockwise or something, so our sexual orientation was obvious and there was NO MORE COMING OUT!

I don’t want to have to explain, every time I start a new job, to my drunk and inquisitive colleagues in the pub that no, I don’t find them attractive. Not even a little bit. Nope, not even with their eyeliner permanently tattooed on. And I don’t want to deal with their hurt questions; ‘well, WHY don’t you find me attractive?’. I stutter ‘It’s not you, I mean, you are attractive, it’s just that I don’t happen to…’ God, give me strength! You can’t win. I have NEVER fancied one of my straight friends – scout’s honour (lesbians are allowed to use that. It’s in our guide book). I’m not saying that people aren’t drawn to those who have a different sexual orientation, I just haven’t been. Not that I’m owning up to in this blog anyway.

A high percentage of kids I talk to say that they would ditch their mate if they came out to them. When asked why, inevitably a boy will exclaim, ‘cos what if he likes me?!’. After pointing out that I haven’t noticed any need to physically restrain any of the straight girls in the room who are unable to contain their desire for him, I espouse the ‘rules of engagement’:

– If someone comes onto you, regardless of sexual orientation or gender, and you don’t like them, say ‘no thanks’.

– If someone continues to come onto you, regardless of sexual orientation or gender, say ‘no thanks’ more firmly and remove yourself from the situation.

– If this goes on, you’re looking at a situation of sexual assault and you need to seek help. Again, regardless of this person’s sexual orientation or gender.

– If someone comes onto you and you do fancy them, proceed with extreme caution.

It would be an unfortunate and cruel genetic mixture if we were not only born into the delightful and wacky LGBT community, but we were bestowed with an uncontrollable attraction to absolutely everybody of the same sex. Not only that, but we had ‘desire tourettes’, which meant that we raced around the streets/playground/office touching everybody with the same body parts as us with carte blanche. Kids, and bizarrely, some adults, seem to think this is the case. You have to slowly and carefully explain to them that we are not only just as restrained as anybody else, but even more so, as we might be cautious of a homophobic response.

I tell young people that if a man comes onto me, I just say thanks, but no thanks. It’s simple. I don’t hit him because he is challenging my lesbianism. I’m not going to find the presence of his heterosexuality so overpowering that I swoon, fall into his arms and become the next Mills & Boon cover. And I’m not going to catch it via other means. Sexuality is nothing to fear. It is something to discuss with humour, honesty, and if with teenagers, an unconquerable ability to keep a straight face.

NB: be aware that young people might find their way to our blog. I’m not a fan of censorship but please take care with your language if you make comment. Thanks!

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We are family

Not so long ago, ‘family friendly’ was a coded allusion to ‘gays not welcome’. Family was what straight people had and LGBT folk were left to the outer circles of these; sometimes invited to family events (sans partner of course), often not, and the isolation and hurt caused by this exclusion commonly created an unrepairable rift within families. Many older LGBT people never managed to heal the damage caused by this, and passed away without the love and support that families should provide, simply because they happened to be gay.

Fortunately, this is changing. Our families tend to be more accepting; after the initial wringing-of-hands-what-will-I-tell-your-grandfather, they work hard on trying to accept that we will not be following exactly in their footsteps (little do they know, we still take on their annoying traits, we just subject our same-sex partner to them instead) and some parents even force extended family to challenge their own prejudice by proudly dragging us and our partners to all family events and loudly announcing our presence whilst looking triumphantly around for praise/negativity/any reaction at all.

However, there is still a lingering, exclusionary ring around this concept of family. Pride events are still hailed in some parts of the western world as being ‘not family-friendly’. The images of scantily-clad people dancing to Kylie Minogue with pink poms-poms are what fill the minds of the decision makers on local councils; in my mind, these images are no more offensive than a typical H & M bikini advertisement on a bus stop. Unless…hang on…perhaps the offence relates to the pink dancers potentially being men and this of course, will throw little Benny’s concept of gender out the window, he will demand nail polish and tiaras and refuse to answer to any name but Delilah-Rose on the car ride home. Seeing people kiss or dance or wear the same amount of clothes they do on the beach, is NOT offensive, nor is it going to change the sexual orientation/gender identity of a child. Overt sexual behaviour isn’t appropriate for children, however any Pride march I’ve been to has been verging on sex-LESS; lesbian Mums, gay Dads, trans people with partners and children, drag queens slinking along the street (much to the delight of the kids), colourful floats, desperate-to-be-seen-but-slightly-uncomfortable politicians and supportive grandmothers complaining about sore feet. In fact, the least family friendly aspect of Pride is the cohort of religious extremists standing behind their police cordon preaching non-acceptance and hate.

LGBT people have children. We are family. We are Mums, Dads, Auntys, Uncles and Grandparents. How we perform these roles is dependent on our morals, our patience, our dedication and our responsibility, NOT on our gender or sexual identity. And to Senor Fernando Gómez (the Tourism alderman of Spanish Democratic Party of Blanes) who says “It is inconsistent to promote gay tourism along with family tourism and sporting events”, I’m sorry sir, but I have a family, I am an athlete and I am a pretty big fan of holidays. Now let’s get together and talk about inconsistency.

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‘Gay’ is not an insult!

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