Monday, 17 March 2014
The dirty secret about the gay rights movement in Britain today is that there is no longer any reason for it to exist. All the big battles for equality and recognition have been won, and were won quite a long time ago. The cosmetic row over gay marriage last year didn’t affect the legal rights gay couples were entitled to under civil partnership. And, truth be told, there’s really nothing left to be angry about in this country, unless you count last year’s absurd campaign to ban children from using the word “gay” in playgrounds.
Talk to anyone who works in the gay lobby and they’ll probably agree – but only privately. You won’t hear anything like it, of course, from charities jonesing for taxpayer cash, or from magazines that depend on outrage to shift copies to those unmoved by oiled torsos. There have been widespread changes in staff at gay charities and campaigning groups recently: chief executives are burnt out and, more importantly, they are recognising that there’s little left on the rights checklist to advocate for. Stonewall and the Terrence Higgins Trust are haemorrhaging talent and leadership, and gay conferences and campaigns are descending into trivia and navel-gazing.
It’s exhausting to watch the endless, cyclical hand-holding and whipped-up frenzy that can accompany the most inconsequential of discussions. This is what happens when rights movements run out of steam: panic, bewilderment and an orgy of self-justification, wrapped up in activism at the far fringes of relevance. The gay lobby’s mission du jour is transsexual rights, and the arcane and baffling new linguistic conventions that govern that complex web of transsexual and transgender people.
Today’s debates treat self-indulgent middle-class problems that affect barely a per cent of these organisations’ own members, and a vanishingly small proportion of the population at large, as though they were historic civil rights battles. Every transsexual in public life seems to “identify” their sexual orientation in a subtly different way, which creates problems for organisations like Stonewall, which have been used to representing relatively homogenous groups and who in any case are wondering whether and how their remit ought to be expanded to include transsexual issues.
The incredibly bitter rows over precisely how to refer to men who were born as women but who want to sleep with men, women who were born as men but who want to sleep with men as well, and the smorgasbord of other possible permutations of individual preference, are creating precisely the conditions the gay rights movement was set up to dismantle: they are alienating queer people from straights and creating insuperable, impenetrable barriers between privileged media types, with the luxury to debate trivia, and the rest of the population. It’s a sort of gay Götterdämmerung, consuming the accomplishments of previous, braver and more innocent generations.
I’ll spare you the agony of a full transsexual lexicon, but hop over to Twitter and ask the likes of the achingly right-on blogger Helen Lewis or the admittedly rather brilliant transgender Vice columnist Paris Lees how best to refer to a trans person and you’ll see what I mean. Acceptable alternatives to “he” and “she” include, depending on the preference of the speaker, “ze”, “sie”, “e”, “ou” and “ve”, to name but a few. (While you’re at it, if you’re feeling particularly masochistic, or have a lot of time on your hands, you might ask Ms Lewis to point out a few instances of “everyday sexism” she’s found on the internet today.)
To say that this unintelligible meta-language is confusing and alienating to the ordinary public, to say nothing of normal transgender people without access to the rarefied world of Comment is Free and the hallowed pages of the New Statesman, is putting it mildly. I sometimes wonder whether the LGBT movement is secretly disappointed by how mainstream “the other” is these days. Seduced by the cult of difference, activists seems to be trying to other themselves with immaterial arguments and obscure linguistic flame wars, undoing two generations of work by integrationist campaigners.
Lobbyists who obsess over these irrelevances represent nothing so much as the elitist, marginalising, snobbish, moralising and etiquette-obsessed Middle England they profess to hate so much, not to mention what they consider to be its paper of record, the Daily Mail. They are intimidating where they ought to be accessible; punishing where they should be sympathetic.
And then there’s the vile persecution by gays with public platforms of anyone who doesn’t fit the approved mould. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve appeared on television to discuss gay issues, only to come off set and be assaulted by a wave of emails and tweets from gay activists telling me to “go take a bath with a toaster” and branding me sad and, worse, “self-loathing”. For what? Expressing discomfort with the idea of gay marriage and being honest about how awkward I am about reconciling faith and feeling.
Not that I want you to shed any tears for me: I’m a big lad. But think of how intimidating it must be to a young gay man, wrestling with the conflicting demands of, say, Christianity and his own sexual urges. How awful that a gay Establishment which ought to be supporting his journey of discovery should be abusing him by pouring scorn on his religion, as crucial a part of his identity as his burgeoning sexuality.
And let’s not even get started on politics. You’d think with all the closet queers in the Tory party, the gay lobby would have spotted an opportunity to enlarge their constituency, but no: today, mainstream gay humour consists of donning a bad wig and making a few cheap cracks about Margaret Thatcher. This, from a “community” that produced Tchaikovsky, Turing and Walt Whitman.
The worst of it is what I call “gay-on-gay violence”, an ugly, Stalinist trend in the media best exemplified by activist journalists like Patrick Strudwick, a sort of gay Witchfinder General. Strudwick viciously abused gay Catholic MP Conor Burns over the gay marriage vote, repeatedly demanding that he reveal his voting intentions, calling him names and causing Burns a lot of distress. (I hope Conor won’t mind me saying that it triggered a deeply unpleasant few weeks for him.)
In the event, Burns voted in favour of gay marriage. But was an apology forthcoming from Strudwick? Not on your Nelly. That’s the face of the modern gay mafia: ruthlessly mean to perceived dissenters, oddly silent when shown to have been wrong. When you see selective empathy dished out only to ideological allies, you do start to wonder about the motives of these self-appointed crusaders for justice.
Once again, at the risk of sounding mawkish, it’s the children I feel sorry for. Imagine being a teen in the Home Counties desperately struggling to reconcile a conservative upbringing with the nagging suspicion that she really ought to have been born a boy, and you start to realise how horrid the intolerance of Patrick Strudwick can be.
For all the potential damage they are doing to young gay people, it’s not clear that gay charities, magazines and conferences even represent that many individuals. In October of last year, we learned that the Office for National Statistics had finally garnered a reliable figure for the number of people who self-reported as gay or bisexual: just 1.5 per cent of the population, vastly fewer people than the likes of Stonewall had previously claimed. (It’s in their interests to inflate the number of gay people in the country, not just because it strengthens their arguments for funding but because they can claim to speak for more people when they lobby the Government.)
But the number of gays Stonewall and the others can justifiably claim to represent is even smaller when you consider how narrow-minded their political outlooks are, and how cruelly mainstream gay culture treats anyone with the temerity to express a religious opinion or even – shock, horror – vote Tory. The articles in Pink News, the spokespeople on telly and the celebrities wheeled out for Newsnight have two things consistently in common: brutal intolerance and extreme Left-wing opinions.
It’s often those who preach tolerance who are the most intolerant. For as long as I have been a journalist, I have been blackballed by the gay Establishment – the editors, conference organisers and celebrities who together represent the opinion-forming, media-friendly and publicly acceptable face of homosexuality.
I’m not writing to cry over an empty mantelpiece where engraved award ceremony invitations ought to be, or to whinge about the viciousness of the politically correct gay elites. I’m simply pointing out that my own ostracism is symptomatic of a wider malaise affecting so many gays in public life: fear of new ideas and a tendency toward ridicule and hatred, flung at the very people gay charities, journalists and other professional motor-mouths purport to represent.
If the gay lobby wants to graduate from being characterised by bullying, faux victimhood and pointless internal rows to become a credible, representative, forceful body of opinion, it must learn to embrace every gay person, whatever they look like, whatever their opinions. Compassion is not something we should dial down because we don’t like the look of someone.
And it must learn to abandon meaningless, middle-class distractions to focus on important social problems. Divisive and poisonous hobby horses such as intersectionality and identity politics must be abandoned. Until this happens, the LGBT movement will remain a fringe, and slightly tragicomic, grievance industry. Gay people deserve better than that.
Posted in: Society & Politics | The Gays