Posts Tagged bullying

School is a drag

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16 year old Jamie wanted to attend his school prom in a dress. Openly gay and quite flamboyant, not a day had passed that he’d not been called a freak or faced other verbal bullying in his small Northern mining town. The BBC filmed him in the three month lead up to his first public appearance as a drag queen and produced a surprisingly touching documentary in the form of Jamie: Drag Queen at 16. While the title is somewhat reminiscent of an episode of Jeremy Kyle, the actual show presented an interesting response to Jamie’s gender expression from parents, the school and his peers.

Jamie’s mother came across as the epitome of the accepting parent; she exhibits photos of him as a toddler playing in high heels and explains how the penny dropped when she caught him secretly playing with her dresses. Not unusual behaviour for a young boy, but she obviously had a sense that Jamie’s exploration of gender would be ongoing and not ‘just a phase’. Her parenting skills are clearly and somewhat comically displayed as Jamie rather dramatically complains about his inability to apply make-up successfully, to her stoic, silent, and non-judgmental response. She says about one word to his hundred, although each word is worth a thousand to a kid who is ‘different’: ‘he’s always been like this’ and ‘just be yourself pet’. She acknowledges that she is probably the only person who truly knows Jamie and there aren’t likely to be too many mums who feel the same about their teenage sons.

Unfortunately, Jamie’s dad struggles with accepting his son’s choice to wear a dress to the prom; not exactly surprising and although the ending was a little bleak, one would hope that his dad adjusts in the same manner that many of the community do and puts Jamie’s happiness first. That, along with the school’s refusal to admit Jamie-in-a-dress to the prom, are the most disappointing and sadly, realistic aspects of the show. The downsides are far outweighed by the highlights however, as Jamie’s mum and her friend steal the show with their unwavering acceptance and explosive response to one of the few examples of bigotry. Jamie’s male classmates are also a source of delight as they attend his debut drag show, tell him he makes a ‘good looking woman’ as they gather around him for photos, then argue with the school to allow him entry to the prom. My cynical side wonders whether the cheering, welcoming, completely accepting student body have had a change of heart after learning of the film crew, who would be hard to camouflage in a small town for three months. After all, Jamie had commented that part of his motivation for donning a dress at the prom was to ‘not let them win’, so one would assume there were students sauntering around who echoed the sentiments of a parent who spelt out his disgust to the school. Regardless of how or why these young people arrived at Acceptance Alley, they were there fighting for Jamie’s right to express gender in his own way and that is an achievement in itself.

The most interesting part for us, as a charity who tackle homophobic bullying, was the clear lack of equal opportunities policy at Jamie’s school. They bowed to a parent’s complaint of disgust and banned Jamie, then counter-wise, succumbed to students’ demands to allow him entry. Good senior management teams will respond not to the cries of those who yell the loudest, but to their own pre-defined policies which are in place to protect all students. The school’s reaction to Jamie’s desire to wear a dress was a tad bizarre: ‘we want equal attention for all students on prom night’. If I were a head teacher, how much attention each student received on prom night would be pretty low on my list of priorities. Making sure nobody vomits in front of the governors, loses their virginity on school property or spray paints a giant penis on the tennis courts would be of greater concern. Additionally, it would be my job to provide protection for any young people within the year group who might struggle with a very able bodied, very westernised and very heterosexual event, after all, aren’t we supposed to live in a multi-cultural and inclusive country these days? Instead of waiting for the issue to arise, schools need to be pro-active and ensure that difference is welcomed, by providing education for their students.

Find me one school in the country, where every student conforms to stereotypical expressions of male and female – there are many, many shades of grey when it comes to masculinity and femininity; wherever a student fits along the continuum and however they choose to express themselves shouldn’t allow opportunity for bullying, nor inhibit their learning opportunities. This doesn’t mean students can forgo school uniforms or break jewellery/hair/tattoo rules, this guidance should simply be adjusted to allow for greater levels of comfort for students who don’t conform to gender stereotypes. And to those who suggest it’s political correctness gone mad, please take the time to speak to a transgender person who was forced to wear clothing they dreaded with every ounce of their being for days, months, years on end whilst at school. I hated the flowery handmade dresses my mum forced me into when I was 7, however that was simply a matter of good taste (bless her), it never made my skin crawl nor contributed to a swamp of non-acceptance which made me want to sink slowly under and give up on life.

I questioned a primary head teacher as to what he would say to parents who balked at educating their children about LGBT issues: ‘all families are welcome here and all children must be able to learn. We prevent bullying by educating kids about difference. If the parents don’t like it, they can change schools’. Now that’s what I call leadership.

 

See some of the work we did with that primary school:

 

 

 

 

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A Question of Sport

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Prime Minister’s reception for the LGBT sports community at Downing Street. The event was held to promote the Government’s charter against homophobia and transphobia in sport and was attended by ‘famous and gay’ athletes such as Billie Jean King and Gareth Thomas, along with a few ‘famous and gay’ non-athletes such as David Furnish and a sprinkling of Hollyoaks actors. In between the champagne and frantic networking, there was a enough time for a quiet moment of reflection; regardless of one’s personal politics, here was an official event crammed full of athletes, charity representatives, artists and politicians who were taking seriously (or at least pretending to) the Prime Minister’s speech emphasising his belief in eradicating homophobia. Had these words been uttered at Downing St twenty years ago they would’ve been greeted with nothing but sneering disdain. We operate in a different political world in 2011 and as a charity, our focus is not on which party holds the reins but on promoting positive dialogue with any group who will engage with us on eliminating discrimination and bullying.

There have been questions raised regarding the current administrations’s focus on sport. Is homophobia on the playing field really as bad as it’s made out to be? Surely people can just get on and play sport together without the need for gay-only teams or international events such as the Gay Games – doesn’t this labelling simply marginalise the LGBT community further? Certainly if there were NO homophobia, and sexual orientation was considered as relevant as hair colour when welcoming somebody onto a team, I would concur. However, for heterosexual men at least, sport involves more bodily contact and post-match nakedness than any other arena provides. Therefore there is an opportunity to enjoy what is quite natural sporting comradery, but without a good deal of self-awareness many men still dutifully prove their heterosexuality by making homophobic jokes, aka ‘boys banter’. This is hardly an environment in which an openly gay man is going to willingly place himself in his spare time; for some, avoidance of personal discussions at work is difficult enough and ‘hey lads, dont drop the soap!’ wears thin a nano-second after its first utterance.

And there are totally different rules at play for women. While there is still homophobia in women’s sport (I recall a male coach jeering at two young players who greeted each other with a hug: ‘that’s illegal in 48 states’), sexism is a far greater problem. Women don’t have the same recognition as men which means they don’t have access to the same financial support, training opportunities, coaching or facilities. A closeted women’s coach once told me that her battle was simply being a woman in a man’s world, fighting for her players’ recognition and enabling them to play their international matches on a quality pitch. She didn’t feel she could possibly be out as she would instantly lose the respect she’d fought so hard to earn. And I understand that. Women’s sport is perceived to be full of lesbians and for cultural and historical reasons, it is indeed a place that many lesbians are drawn to. But it just doesn’t matter. Having a social game of squash, doing your best to remain at the top of the premier division in your chosen sport or doing a fun run with a group of friends – none of these activities should be even remotely relevant to the sex of a team mate’s partner. And if that boring stigma remains about showering with gay people; firstly, I was always too exhausted and frankly disinterested to study the bruised anatomy of others after a match. Secondly, even if you do find a team mate attractive, you make damned sure your eyes are glued to your feet at shower time to avoid looking like a big gay perv!

Our business at DRM lies with eliminating gender and sexuality based bullying from schools. Having a physical education background leads me to believe that sport is an ideal vehicle to transmit a message of acceptance and to discourage bullying. The ‘kick it out‘ campaign is a perfect example of how sport changes attitudes. Students with the most challenging behaviour and highest incidents of bullying were often the boisterous, energetic boys who loved escaping the classroom and having a football dropped at their feet. The same young men respond to the actions and words of their sporting role models, whether they be a Physical Education teacher or a high profile footballer. All it takes is an influx of PE teachers who have been taught how to challenge homophobia and gender based slurs, along with some high profile straight allies such as Ben Cohen, and the road to acceptance will be far shorter. We welcome the opportunity to deliver our workshops though the medium of Physical Education, although our message would be more impactive if national governing bodies of sport followed the lead of rugby league in terms of diversity awareness. Islington Football Development have recently approached us to conduct training with their young coaches around the new government charter and how to respond to casual homophobia when they work in schools. This is exactly how we can use a multi-agency approach to eliminating homophobia from the playgrounds and sports fields our young people frequent. The reception at Number 10 ended with some inspiring words which were a great endorsement for DRM: ‘Role models in sport are also needed to tackle bullying in schools, young people look to the stars they admire and if we don’t have enough positive role models then behaviour won’t change’.

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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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Sideways Hair and Handbags

After speaking at a staff meeting on the importance of including LGBT topics in primary schools, I was invited to spend a day in one discussing different families. It was a timely reminder, in amongst all the charity red tape & future fundraising, as to how worthwhile all this is.

I visited four classes ranging in age from 6 to 11. The youngest students read ‘Spacegirl Pukes’ and looked at photos of different families, including same sex couples with children – they concluded that your family are ‘the ones that clean up your sick and buy your clothes’. They didn’t think the gender of the parents mattered. With the older classes I talked about being adopted and having two mums and two dads and six siblings; they were fascinated by this and asked both challenging and cute questions (which parents do I like more? Was I ever naughty because they weren’t my real parents?). One class of ten year olds tried to guess whether I was lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or straight. After questioning me about my hobbies and what sports I like, the vote was inconclusive (we used First Past the Post to keep it simple…). I told them I am a lesbian and that it is neither an insult, nor something to feel proud of, no more so than having blue eyes or blonde hair. None of the kids were shocked, they didn’t even giggle when anybody said the words ‘gay, lesbian or transgender’; they just accepted it and wanted to know more about my life.

It’s such an easy way to help children understand that being LGBT is just different and not worth getting worked up about; if primary school kids have honest discussions with real people at that age, our work in secondary schools would be so much easier. Even the tough boys agreed that two men who love each other should be allowed to walk down the street holding hands, just the same as anyone else. Such a heart warming experience and it moved me to tears.

Before I came into class as the ‘adopted lesbian’, the children not only learned what LGB and T stand for and how to pronounce them, but they wrote down and spoke of some of their perceptions of LGBT people. I want to share some of these gems with you:

– “gays put their hair sideways and hold hands”

– “a gay person acts like a lady and their voice changes like, ooooh”

– ‘a trans boy likes to wear girls dresses and have make up’

– ‘bisexual is a woman who likes men and women’

– ‘a gay person dresses like a man and has long hair, short hair or no hair’

– ‘gay men do pole dancing’

– “they look like ordinary people”

– ‘wear skinny jeans and act like girls’

– “lesbians have small hair”

– “if you saw a lesbian couple, one would look more male and one would look more female”

– ‘gay men might wear high hills, scurts and make up (sic)’

– “lesbians have two rings in their nose and pierce their tongues. Gay men just have earrings”

– ‘gay man has a handbag’

– “transgender is a man changing from male to female then being pregnant”

– ‘they would look like you or me. Normal’

And my personal favourite:

– ‘lesbians could have any job they wanted (if they worked hard in school and embraced all possibilities). Maybe a hairdresser’

If you are imagining a middle class, houmous-and-carrots-for-lunch, Montessori school, think again. This is a typical inner city, low socio-economic, multi ethnic school. One 7 year old spoke openly about his uncle beating up a man just for being gay. And a teacher was resistant to my presence as none of her students have LGBT families and she thought we were just ‘encouraging it’. So it’s not all plain sailing. However, with perseverance, we at least present a different point of view and allow children to make an educated decision as to whether to be accepting. My challenge to those moving onto high school was to stand up against homophobic, or in fact any, bullying, when they see it. Being adopted, being LGBT, having a particular talent or a disability are just differences and for that, the world is a richer place.

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Ma Vie en Rose

Late night telly produced a gem recently: the incredible Belgian film, Ma Vie en Rose. It’s the poignant story of a little boy who announces his desire to be a girl and the emotional battles he and his family face as a result. After they are shunned by neighbours and the father loses his job, their initial bemused acceptance turns into anger and despair, much to the pain of 7 year old Ludovic who just wants to marry Jérome (who is, unfortunately, his Dad’s boss’s son – never a good scene). Ludovic tugs at your heart strings; the confusion and mistrust is visible in his eyes as he struggles to understand why his normally loving parents begin to unravel, snarling at him, being violent with each other and worst of all, cutting his long hair as swollen tears roll down his cheeks. He just wants to be a girl. He doesn’t want to be a boy who happens to like other boys, every part of his being wants to be a girl. After triumphantly coming to the conclusion that the additional ‘X’ chromosome accidentally fell to the floor during the Tic Tac Toe game his parents played to create him, he is even more delighted to wake up with a sore tummy, as he knows that sore tummy equals period, which equals being ‘a real lady now’. He is utterly beautiful and as you watch you are willing the parents, who you also feel for, to accept him and be on his side.

It is one of the best films I have seen in terms of transgender issues and would make an ideal film study at secondary school level as it achieves the key aim of the work DRM are doing; it invokes empathy. It doesn’t explain why Ludovic wants to be a girl and nor does the viewer care. We like him and we want him to be ok. If I pitch my workshops with young people accurately, they usually like me and want me to be ok. And when I challenge them even further, perhaps they start to understand that there are others like me, LGB or T, who they don’t understand, but they just might like or at least want to be ok. Children learn empathy at a young age, but if there is none floating around their homes, they harden up; there is no room for understanding or softness when none has been afforded you. However, if teachers and other significant adults can respect, care for and simultaneously push their students’ boundaries, empathy can develop in those who have been labelled ‘no hopers’ or symbolically placed in the ‘too hard basket’. I have seen the most vehemently homophobic student go from shouting abuse to claiming that nobody should have to hide themselves or change and that society needs to be more accepting. All in the space of an hour and all because he had some grease applied to the rusty cogs of empathy which resided within him.

It is too often seen that LGB people disassociate themselves from the transgender element of our community. They come lower in the pecking order, face far worse abuse and the last thing we want to do is have our starting-to-be-socially-accepted ‘gayness’ sullied by their even weirder behaviour. At least, this is what I understand the unspoken thoughts of transphobic homosexuals to be. This is a travesty. We can not expect to take our newly granted rights, our growing social acceptance and freedom to be ourselves, and shut the gate on people whose struggle for acceptance is often greater than ours. We’ve all floundered with identity and fitting in at some point; for transgender people, this is an even greater trial. We need to help and support each other, not turn our backs and scamper off with the emergency food package while others starve behind us.

Dealing with the transgender issue can be a prickly topic in schools. How do teachers talk about this when most of us don’t understand it ourselves? It’s like this: we don’t have to understand, we just have to tolerate each other’s differences. We have to make it clear that difference is fine, in fact it is interesting. We need to encourage students to think critically, to ask why such discrimination exists against people that above all, need understanding and respect. I have taken a transgender F to M rapper into a secondary school in London. A girls faith school in a very low socio-economic area with a wide cultural mix. Although we were more than a little nervous, the outcome could not have been better. He sat on the stage, told the girls his story, answered their questions with dignity and humour, then he rapped. Not my kind of music but the girls couldn’t contain themselves. Literally. After the performance, throngs of them rushed the stage trying to kiss his hands and face – I had to restrain some of them. This was music induced hysteria at its best, but it also provided me with one of the best and most unexpected moments of my career. These girls knew this person used to a be a woman and a lesbian, then became a man and was now heterosexual; a confusing notion for most, but they simply didn’t care. He was hot and he could sing. He was a person before he was a label.

So to those who struggle with the transgender thing; whether you’re straight or LGB, challenge yourselves a little on this topic. Watch Ma Vie en Rose and remember that the person you might disassociate yourself with, or make insensitive comments about to fit in with your mates, that person is just Ludovic, but grown up. Have some empathy.

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No gays in Tennessee. Really?

So Tennessee have just passed their ridiculous and archaic ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill (http://nydn.us/mdYLIC), which bans the mention of anything other than heterosexuality in schools. Teachers are only allowed to talk about ‘natural human reproduction science’. The senate argue that homosexuality should be introduced by parents when they are ready to talk about it. Yeah right. My parents did pretty well to cover the basics of heterosexuality without any of us melting into a puddle of embarrassment on the floor, but homosexuality barely warranted a mention. They didn’t expect to have a gay child. Most parents don’t. And only the most liberal and comfortable will talk about LGBT issues with their children. Even they get a shock if one of their kids actually turns out to be one. I have a suspicion that Tennessee, as a state, hasn’t produced a generation of parents that will introduce the topic in a gentle and accepting manner.

Fifteen years ago, only 25% of Americans supported the right to marry for gays and lesbians. Just this month, latest statistics from CNN show that 53% are now ok with it (although that popular left wing response springs to mind; if you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married). Tennessee, unsurprisingly, are the 6th least supportive state on a score of 31%. Even so, in amongst a backlash against some high profile LGBT youth suicides in the United States, the Tennessee senate still find it more important to preserve the delicate heterosexual sensibilities of their young, than to provide safety and education for those who are most at risk. This makes sense though, as Tennessee are the same state who, after a flurry of school shootings a couple of years ago, relaxed their laws to allow people to take their guns to the pub. You read that correctly, to the pub. Perhaps there is something we have yet to learn about the Tennessee government; maybe back in the day when the politicos were all fooling about at Politician School, doing lines (not written ones…) with George Dubya, the school board conspired to send the bottom 5th percentile to Tennessee. Apologies to any respectable politicians from this state, but I would suggest you get the hell out of there before they tar and feather you for using words like ‘progress’ and ‘social accountability’ in public.

Talking about the presence of LGBT people in society doesn’t stop us from existing. If this were the case, we would have been extinct centuries ago as it was the love that ‘dare not speak its name’. I’m not a big fan of cancer, but I reckon if we ban the word, it’s not going to slink off into the seedy underworld of disease with rejection in its eyes. Gay people have been around through all cultures and in all time; we ain’t goin’ nowhere. All that happens when you legislate against a natural characteristic, is a fallout that costs the state a lot of money; all this self harm,  inability-to-learn-at-school-due-to-bullying, homelessness, mental health issues – they cost money. Taxpayers’ money. So bottom 5th percentile, consider this, if you guide your communities towards being socially intelligent (probably an oxymoron for people who take their .38s down the boozer), empathetic and above all, respectful of human life, you might see a less aggressive society and save a couple of bucks while you’re at it.

And to Senator Stacey Campfield who pushed the bill through with such passion, congratulations Sir, your six year fight has paid off. The flip side, of course, is that pretty much the entire world is now wondering whether there is something slightly ‘latent’ about your passion. Never mind though, you’ve done your job. I’m pretty sure there will be no gays in Tennessee once the House passes it. Maybe we could ban the word ‘tax’ next?

If anyone wants to drop Senator Campfield a line to commend him on his foresight in clearing the state of tiresome gays, here is his email address:

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Let’s talk about sex

Today is International Day Against Homophobia. Perfect opportunity for a Big Question – why do some people hate us gayers? Why does my natural drive to create home and family with somebody of the same sex, rile some folk so much that they deny me the right to formalise my relationship through marriage, openly claim that me teaching their children will be harmful, and suggest there is some secret, perverted agenda behind my desire to live a life without discrimination. At first glance, we’d have to assume it’s to do with the kind of sex we have; this is what sets us aside by title and ‘lifestyle’ from our heterosexual friends. So let’s talk about sex…

What consenting adults of either gender do with their bodies is none of my business, nor anyone else’s. I have no more than a human curiosity about other people’s sex lives, however, some homophobes mention gay sex with such frequency that one has to question their underlying fascination. I’m more interested in how we relate to one another, than what we do to get off. But to stay on sex for a moment (I know it’s tough, hang in there), many LGBT people lead unadventurous, boring or even asexual lives together; many heterosexuals do the opposite. Above and beyond the biological implications of body parts, sexual behaviour is NOT defined by your orientation – most would agree that within a loving, respectful and consenting environment, people are free to explore whatever they like.

Homophobia is hardly about sexual behaviour at all. It’s about gender. Allow me to demonstrate.

What seems to offend homophobes most is that LGBT people are stepping outside of our gender roles; with our sexual activity, but mostly by our social behaviour. And there is directly proportional discrimination in response to the level of gender subversion. In fact, there is an unconscious ranking system at play.  Arguably, a glamorous lesbian couple are far more likely to be accepted (in fact ‘encouraged’ in many male minds…) than a butch lesbian couple. Why? They are both homosexual and should therefore suffer the same castigation. Effeminate men are more likely to be abused in the street, effeminate black men even more so; yes, race plays a part in the gender game, as does class.

I have asked young people to explain to me why I am ok and my gay brothers are not…we are both breaking the rules they impose, why the different punishments? ‘It’s what they do Miss, it’s disgusting’. And we all know what they’re getting at here. We’re talking about defying the natural order in the worst possible way. It is (drum roll please)…man taking the role of woman (feel free to take a break here to flinch and gasp…).

We are only just breaking free of a longstanding patriarchy, ladies and gentlemen, and the shackles, whilst looser and allowing movement, still weigh us down in the form of gender constructs. Historically, men have ruled and women have been submissive. While things are far more equal now (although the gender pay gap and the gender distribution of world leaders is still woeful), you need only to listen to young children playing to know that all things ‘girl’ are less than all things ‘boy’.  Girls hardly ever insult each other with ‘you’re such a boy’, whereas being called a girl is only one step higher than being called gay in the minds of young men. Anything feminine is to be shunned vociferously; ‘boys will be boys’ becomes ‘boys MUST be boys’.

A woman who challenges her gender role by being a lesbian, particularly a butch lesbian, usurps the position of man and might expect some reverberations from those who struggle with this concept (corrective rape in South Africa is an extreme example of these reverberations). And a man who might have feminine traits, hobbies or god forbid, takes the ‘role of a woman’ sexually, is the lowest of the low and provokes such anger in ‘real men’ that he can expect to face violence. This may not resonate with some of you, but ask yourself why we have such different reactions to gay men and lesbians? Isn’t the same norm being offended?

So here are the rules for those who missed the pamphlet in the post:

1.  Lesbians are mostly ok in public (if you look a bit manly though, watch out, you’re running the risk of watering down an insecure male’s masculinity and must be held accountable)
2. Feminine lesbians are ok to hold hands in public
3. Feminine lesbians are more-than-ok sexually

4. Gay men who look like Gareth Thomas (muscular & virile) are ok in public
5. Gay men are not ok to hold hands in public (unless they’re as big as Gareth Thomas or are indulging their perversion in a gay ghetto like Soho)
6. Gay men are never ok sexually (except, boys, secretly in your heads where you are confused, ashamed and angry at your perfectly normal curiosity)

I would wager a month’s salary on the latter confusion being what led to 17 year old Adam Ayres and three of his friends luring a gay man via a chat room to a park where they smashed his skull in with a baseball bat (http://bit.ly/ktW7A9). His lawyer claimed he wasn’t homophobic, he’d just been ‘trying to assert his masculinity’. This would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. I don’t hold people down and paint their nails to assert my femininity. We are letting our young people down in a serious way by not challenging society’s rather sad and unintelligent obsession with gender. Let our boys, girls, men and women be people first. Let them explore their natural talents and creativity without repercussion. And most importantly let them love who, and how, they want.

Quick disclaimer: Most of this is not subject matter for our school visits as role models. This is for you; our ‘mature’ reader.

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