Whilst this may seem like a vox clamantis in deserto, I can’t help but quell my outrage (yes, outrage) at the recent comments made by Coleen Nolan on ITV’s Loose Women.
For those of you who haven’t had the misfortune of listening to such BIGOTED comments, Coleen was recently talking about how a bakery in Ireland discriminated against a couple for wanting a wedding cake for a gay marriage. Her view on the matter is as follows:
“What about if somebody walked in and said I want a cake and I want the whole Islamic State on it… Because it’s a business do they have to make it? And if they turn around and say they’re not making it, we’d all applaud it”
Coleen, allow me to explain that there is a fine line between expressing love between two people in the form of flour, eggs and jam and a form of rule that is largely totalitarian and oppressive.
Nothing like spouting homophobia on national television. Well done Coleen, well done. *sigh*
The other week, I was lucky enough to be invited to a friend’s wedding and it was absolutely first class. The wine was flowing, the chat poured forth and the music was decanted effortlessly.
To have a rest from our crazy dancing (we were partying hard), myself and one of the other guests took a seat at the downstairs bar, away from the music upstairs. We ended up chatting to the barman who, on the surface, seemed a very pleasant chap. He was telling us about the local area, the celebrities he had served in the past and humouring our weird sense of humour. (I would like to point out here that I was completely and utterly sober).
We ended up talking about sexuality, as it inevitably comes up in good conversation, and I professed that I was homoromantic – sex doesn’t bother me, but a loving relationship does (and a good snog every now and again never goes amiss).
At this point, said barman says “No dude, that’s not right… I reckon that says something quite dark about your mind.”
The other night I was lucky enough to be invited with a group of friends to see a well-known drag queen at an equally well-known gay club. Having recently got in to RuPaul’s Drag Race (yes, I know I’m a latecomer) I was expecting one heck of a show.
The drag queen came on stage and let out a tumult of jokes that absolutely levelled the floor; everyone was enjoying themselves. After the introductory remarks, the drag queen moved to the main event – a dance off. Calling up members from the audience, each was greeted with their own cutting insult: the “ugly dyke,” the “bottoming faggot” and the “boring, desperate het woman.” Aside from the severe issues that I have with the word ‘faggot’ (no derogatory word for ‘homosexual’ offends me more), the fact it was said by a drag queen seemed to make this moderately acceptable. After all, is it not the purpose of a drag queen to shock and offend?
Well here I think we have found the limit. The next person to be brought up on stage was someone of Asian descent and a whole rafter of jokes spewed forth: were his parents in the beauty industry, how small his cock was etc etc. A lot of the “jokes” uttered were of a deeply racist and stereotypical nature and whilst they were taken in good jest, I still found it difficult to watch. You wouldn’t belittle someone for something they had no choice over now would you? That wouldn’t be funny at all.
As I grew up, and came to know myself, I learnt how I didn’t quite fit into the world. A world built for those not like me – normal people.
In the tangled, layered mess that is our society structured by privilege, I do pretty well. I can’t imagine the experience of those queer folk – queer in the broadest sense of different – whose radical identities are routinely refused; whose heritage is one of the deepest oppression and pain.
Though I can’t speak for everyone outside of the normal, I want to learn – to be ready to listen, to bolster others with the power that society, through privilege, arbitrarily bestowed upon me.
I think that living as queer gives us all a power, however.
One Direction. Five ordinary lads who have achieved international stardom. There’s a part of me which feels sorry for them. I would imagine that Simon Cowell is a cruel and harsh taskmaster who runs the boys through the ringer, extracting every last pound and penny he possibly can. Then there’s another part of me which feels that the boys need a round of applause. Don’t get me wrong, Cowell is doing very well out of them, but then again, they’re doing pretty well for themselves (especially as they have shares in 5SOS – http://www.popjustice.com/briefing/2014-a-z-o-is-for-one-directions-secret-investment/133340/).
They use their talents (vocally and visually) to good effect and have achieved more money than I could ever dream of earning at their age. Then there’s the other part of me which is annoyed by them. They sing mediocre (yet catchy) songs and get shed loads of money for it (and that’s before we take into account all the merchandise and 1D paraphernalia attached – as tempting as that pink tinged box of 1D eau de toilette is, I’ll give it a miss thanks).
Yet there’s something more than just how much is in the old piggy bank here. Now, it should be no secret that there’s a little tinge of “sexual deviancy” amongst the boys. Looking in the darker recesses and abysses of the internet, we may find rumours of Harry Style’s bisexuality (well that’s okay because he still likes girls) or, heaven forbid, homosexuality. The latter conjecture is added to even more when it is rumoured he has had a fling with Radio 1’s morning delight Nick Grimshaw. Hold the press – surely not?!
“Have you got a girlfriend sir?”
Such a question is faced by many male teachers and for the vast majority, it would probably be simple to answer. A quick ‘Yes’ would undoubtedly send a class spiralling into innumerable questions about what the girlfriend was like, when the wedding would be, when the first child would be, how they would fit four children and a dog into a car on a holiday to Scunthorpe etc etc.
Yet, what if the answer was ‘No’. They see a ring on my finger.
“Are you married sir?”
“No,” I reply, as the ring is on my right hand. A young, male teacher who hasn’t got a girlfriend or isn’t married? The pupils now need to tread a little more carefully. They are aware that something is “amiss”.
“Are you a lad then sir?”
“If you mean am I bachelor, then yes I am.”
Oh thank goodness. We can put a label on him. But bachelor… what does that even mean?
Well folks, if you must know I’m gay. I thought I was asexual for a time, but then realised I’m still into men, so I believe that places me as homoromantic. And now let’s get back to Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing.
The word ‘gay’ is one of many semantically age-gradated words in the English language. Different generations will take it to mean different things. Those born pre-World War Two will define the word, in its first sense, as ‘happy’. Those born post-World War Two and up to the nineties will probably take it to mean ‘homosexual’, whereas the last two generations or so would probably define the word ‘gay’ as ‘something bad or loathsome’.
So when faced with what can only be expressed as language expressing homophobic sentiment on the playground, where do I stand? Do I let it pass me by? Do I say “Well done Jimmy for using a more modern sense of a word – atta boy!”? Or do I give a long lecture on the necessity of respecting people and their sexuality? This is also complicated by the fact that I am gay (or rather, homoromantic) myself.*
And, of course, ‘gay’ is not the only word used in the playground. Other words and phrases such as ‘batty boy’ or, sadly, ‘queer’ (usually prefixed with a profanity of the ‘f’ variety) form part of the common parlance for many students. Does this form part of the banter of adolescence or should it be treated as more serious?
Speaking as a teacher, I prize education over a good many things in this world and as so much value is put on it, we have to get it right and whilst this is not always possible, we always try our best. Now, there are a great deal of important subjects out there, but there is always one lesson in the education system which was and is viewed as a ‘doss’ (as I am reliably informed) by many students.
PSHE. Or PSHCE. Or PSHEE. Or whatever you want to call it. Basically, that lesson (or, as I have heard at some schools – that time in form time) where points are discussed that bear some relevance on real life – a novelty in an educational establishment some may argue. Reformed criminals are brought in to tell pupils of their story and how they realised the error of their ways; former drug addicts are brought in to counsel against taking drugs; bank managers are brought in to discuss the finer points of mortgages and fitness coaches are brought in to rhapsodise about leading a healthy lifestyle.
Society’s got a big problem. With bisexuality.
And all things queer, for that matter. Yet bisexuality, with its problematic relationship to binary categories like ‘straight’ and ‘gay’, gets contorted in all sorts of ways by a heteronormative culture.
Let’s start with women, and bisexual erasure.
You’re blatantly gay.
Anyone heard this little gem before? Because I got it a lot growing up.
My uneasy relationship with masculinity was a likely cause. I’ve never ticked off many of the acceptable masc traits: I chose books over sports; I’ve a longstanding penchant for weekends spent baking. I’ve naturally had many meaningful friendships with girls. And my vaguely camp manner’s had me compared to Stephen Fry more than once (‘course, I’ve always taken this comparison for what it is – the ultimate life validation.)
But outward behaviour has little to do with sexuality. I’ve met very few people who’ve authentically satisfied all of the traditional masculine or feminine roles – roles which are themselves intrinsically contradictory. Historically determined and arbitrary. The course of binary genders never did run smooth.