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Unravelling Orlando

  • Posted on July 10, 2016 at 5:36 pm

I got shouted at from a passing car tonight. Just ordinary sexist stuff, like I should be flattered to be noticed. By a man. Or something.

On the LGBTQI spectrum, my partner and I tick several boxes between us, but we are really fortunate to live where we do. A gay colleague was in the town last night where a vigil was held for Orlando. ‘But I didn’t see anyone I knew.’ Brighton is like that. There are thousands of trans people I’ve never met here too. No, the city isn’t overrun by us, it’s just that when a place is accepting, those who need ‘acceptance’ gather more easily. I find it very reassuring and liberating to see non-hetero lovers openly and naturally out together, not least because we are not unusual.

But when we are in a different country or place I sometimes hang on tightly to my partner’s squirming hand rather than just letting it go. I got used to being looked at, at feeling my difference, because I really was noticeable at the start of my transition. I’m not now, but walking around as a lesbian couple has been a new visibility to both of us. And being safe sometimes means watching out for your visibility.

What I mean to point out, is that you sort of adapt to being a potential target. Maybe not violence, but just opinion. Maybe just a little something that tells you that you’re less than, for being not hetero-cis-normative. You can forget a time in life when it wasn’t about this. Maybe you were bullied, had a difficult time for another reason, but you grew up and the childish challenges died away. If you were bullied for your sexuality or identity, that probably did leave you scarred.

So being in a safe place, where you are with and among other people who at least have a chance of understanding, is precious. But it is a reminder that for the vast majority of us, prejudice, suspicion, misunderstanding, aversion – are always as close as the proverbial rat. However normally we live our lives, we know it is there.

The origin of normal

However normal we feel, there are those who seem to believe that we are not. Statistically, with normal being the middle range population, that might be true, but many people use normal to mean acceptable, non-deviant, in the terms of some moral framework. That moral framework isn’t intuitive, it’s taught, and the chances are that religion is involved. This is simply because moral authority has a need to be unassailable, and invoking a god to speak the moral code assures this.

A lot of Western morality is like beef stock: the bones have been taken out but the taste remains. People who have no significant religious belief still speak using its authority. And if that religion has developed past opinions about sex (even for contemporary practical reasons), the flavour remains. Sex is not bad, but open celebration of it as an expression of love is still a bit taboo. Speaking of it as fun, or bonding, or just healthy, is done with great caution, lest you be misunderstood.

Because we don’t talk about it, there is a real curiosity about how LGBTQI people have sex, or play, or love, or whatever. There are no secrets, but it’s not always like you imagine from the outside. We have relationships, we love, we commit, just like anyone else. And yet there is a deep-rooted underlying feeling that it isn’t right, that some god condemns our love, that it is something gone wrong, something abnormal, something to be cured, an illness. Or at the very least, I suspect most view it as somehow less worthy than cis-hetero love.

No. Our love is just like your love.

So when did you last feel a pang of uncertainty or fear, for making physical contact with your lover in a public place? Or a kiss, or an embrace to greet or part? Why should we? And why should we have to accept it, or expect it?

Gender identity and sexuality is something we are born with. It can’t be planted in us, and it can’t be extracted. Forcing any one of us to live as if we were not as we are, or to hide it or deny it, is violence. So yes, I blame any philosophy that attacks or denigrates us, for all our fear, for all our pains, for all our injuries.

Orlando

On June 12, 2016, over 100 people were gunned down, half were killed, and not all were LGBT. They just happened to be happy to dance with their LGBT relatives and friends. The gun issue has to be addressed, but this was not random. The Islamic extremism has to be addressed, but this wasn’t political. The gunman had visited the Pulse club, had a history on a gay app, a father who preached that god sees homosexuality as punishable, and a faith that has local preachers teaching that to kill gay people is a mercy to them. This, in a country that has a Republican party inciting fears about transgender people using toilets, from a fundamentalist Christian philosophy that denies plain observation whilst embodying the worst male traits among its members.

In the aftermath, the reporting made the homophobic nature of the crime blend into ‘an attack on all of us’. But it wasn’t. The parallel is the stand-off between #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter. Yes it was, and yes they do, but recognise that just as black Americans suffer discrimination that began with slavery, so LGBT people suffer discrimination that began with illegality.

The beef-stock morality may have cooled, but between generations its flavour is still taught and passed on, and however human it is to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex … we cannot completely relax and live unguarded as you can. It doesn’t have to be as gross as Orlando, it can be as little as loosening your hands in public.

We still have some way to go.

Who, what, and not just equality

  • Posted on February 10, 2013 at 12:57 pm

At the heart of so much inequality is the insistence that what we are matters more than who we are. A king is a king, no matter what their personality. A soldier, a leader, an engineer, all are wanted for what they are. They fulfil a role. And traditionally a woman has filled a role, a man has filled a role, and anyone feeling they were not what they appeared to be in this respect had no role. A wife had a role, a husband had a role, and similarly were wanted for what they were. You could be my husband because you are a man. You could never be my wife, because I am a woman.

It is much easier when we can know what we are by knowing what we are not. And to my mind, there was a lot of this behind the discussions of equal marriage. Why was it increasingly referred to and discussed as ‘gay marriage’ rather than ‘equal’? I think that many commentators, many politicians and journalists did not want it to be a matter of equality, because they do not regard people for who they are, but for what they are, and because they need reassurance of definitely not being ‘one of those’, themselves.

There is a lot I liked in David Lammy’s speech in the Commons this week. I really would commend its full reading to you, if you didn’t hear it. Even if you don’t particularly like him, because it contains a lot of common sense.

‘Let me speak frankly. “Separate but equal” is a fraud. “Separate but equal” is the language that tried to push Rosa Parks to the back of the bus.’

In other words, you cannot do what I do, because you are not one of us. And if you are allowed to do what we do, you will inevitably change what we are too. We need separation! Never mind about me as a person or you as a person, think about what I am, what I represent, and what you are. ‘What’ matters more than ‘who’. And for the dogmatically ‘biblical’ (who interpret the bible so piecemeal and wrongly):

‘The Bible is complicated. But its enduring message is not that homosexuality is wrong, it is to “love thy neighbour”. It offers no caveats. “Love thy neighbour” whether they are black or white, rich or poor. “Love thy neighbour” whether they are short or tall, gay or straight, man or woman.

‘Love him, even if he used to be a she.

‘So how can we claim to love our neighbour if we do not allow them to love someone else in turn?’

Love has nothing to do with what you are, only to do with who you are. But the trouble is, we so easily define ourselves, find our security, but being something. We separate ourselves from criminals, because we do not wish to be associated with what they do. But that is also why prisons have revolving doors. We separate ourselves from the homeless because we would never take them in, and it is someone else’s job after all. We hope that someone else can see the person and meet their needs, but to us they are something we dare not get too close to. Politicians of a certain colour have been inclined to regard people without sufficient employment income as skivers, shirkers and work-shy, despite the many interviews with struggling individuals who cannot get out of their situation. The politicians never have to deal with the ‘who’ behind the ‘what’.

I am troubled by an NHS that, as far as I can see, treats my son’s condition as a thing, to see once in a while and ponder over, rather than seeing him as a person with something preventing him from finding work, having a meaningful life, and getting started on earning his pension fairly and equally with his peers. He needs care, not his condition.

Maybe you separate yourself from gay and lesbian people, because it reaffirms what you are, and you might be questioned by association. If you are gay or lesbian, you are likely to be defined as something in priority over who you are. And for many people I will not be me primarily, but ‘the woman who used to be a man’, classified by what before who.

And ‘what’ matters so much … I didn’t lose my daughter, wife, home, family, cousin, aunt because of who I am, but because they feel ‘I can’t be properly what I am if you are going to be one of those.’ (i.e. a woman, let alone a transwoman) Yes; in the most important ways, the ways that matter most to me, what I am really does trump who I am.

But then I recall 20 years ago thinking desperately that my sole role in life was in terms of what I could do, rather than being appreciated for myself. I even wrote poetry about it in a splurge of desperate creativity, likening myself to a stone cairn on a mountain track, where what was placed on me defined me and gave people their position, but wishing people would instead take a stone with them and value a part of me.

So what is love? I leave you with this from Iris Murdoch:

‘Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality.’

I just want someone to love me, fully, for who I am, not for my gender to be the first and most important question to be asked in order to give me legitimacy. Am I real? Touch me, I dare you …