Tag Archives: gay rights

Is sexual orientation nature or nurture? Am I wrong not to care?

Nature, nurture, lifestyle choice, whatever. The world seems obsessed with finding out what makes the gays gay.

Every time it crops up, as it has today in the Guardian, I find myself puzzling over the fascination with unravelling this big secret. It’s just something that happens; why can’t we be satisfied with that? But, no, curious minds continue to peer through the dirty net curtains and into gay society for some kind of solution. And when the code is deciphered, then what? When all the research has been done, genes examined and endless, dull, wittering studies analysed and crosschecked, what happens next? Will it lead to society truly understanding and accepting homosexuality and its ‘practitioners’? Or will we be firmly on the path to extinguishing it altogether? Continue reading Is sexual orientation nature or nurture? Am I wrong not to care?

Coming out isn’t a one-off event – you’ll do it day after day for ever

Did you come out on National Coming Out Day? And how was it for you?

What people never seem to tell you about coming out is that it’s not restricted to one day – it’s a never-ending event. See those closet doors? They’re revolving. Day after day, you will find yourself – directly and indirectly – coming out to a host of people, even total strangers. The coming out never stops.

Think you have everybody covered? Relatives, friends, key people at work – check. However, you’re not out of the woods yet. We live in a world where there may be equality in law, but socially, we’ve still a long way to go.

Even a simple trip to the doctor, or a casual chat with a colleague, and having to say that dreariest, laborious word “partner”, like you’re in love with a law firm, is an act of coming out. It still feels strange on the tongue, let alone in the head, having to explain yourself.

You never know whether the news you’re gay will get you a shrug, a hug or a punch in the mouth. You wonder whether sitting next to that straight guy on the bus will make him think you fancy him, because he can tell, right? He knows you’re gay.

Will that drunk woman who caught you steal a glance at her boyfriend laugh it off or get in your face and throw a drink over you, calling you a “poof” and warning you to keep your eyes to yourself.? Welcome to the worst lottery ever.

Perhaps one day it will be no big deal and there’ll be no need for a lurching stomach or a mild stutter as you get the words out, wondering what the reaction will be. Here’s hoping. But despite all that, coming out is worth it. It really is.

I have already documented how I broke the news to my parents 14 years ago, and while I thought my work was done, about a month ago I realised there were two other people who’d remained blissfully ignorant over the years – my siblings.

I have a 17-year-old brother who I don’t see very often. He’s never really asked me about relationships or anything like that – teenagers tend to have their own stuff going on – but it niggled at me that he was in the dark.

I never had to tell my 18-year-old sister, to whom I’m very close. I suggested to Mum I should reveal all, but she said there was no need. Looking back, she was right. While it took her a few years to work it out, the fact she had her very own gay best friend at school helped her realise that I wouldn’t one day be bringing home a blushing bride.

Despite it never being explicitly said, she never questioned it,  instead accepted it without so much as a shrug – how disappointing for my inner dramatist – and my sexuality has become just another drab fact of life.

She may have had her suspicions about where my ‘flatmate’ and I slept in our one-bedroom flat but she never voiced them. We have settled into our relationship as grown-ups brilliantly. In her own words: “I didn’t really notice.” Perfect.

My brother was a different proposition. How do you tell a sporty 17-year-old just discovering girls that his big brother, who for some bizarre reason he looks up to, can never really join in on the whole lady appreciation thing? How do you prepare yourself to be a disappointment?

Well, the way I did it is spend the entire weekend with him and not say anything about it, before going home and telling him in a language he would understand – on Facebook Messenger.

In the middle of a conversation about a gig I was going to – Kylie! Of course – I decided now was the time to drop the bombshell, or gayshell, if you like. I decided not to make it too emotive – the slightest hint of sentiment can send even the most sensitive of teenagers reeling and heading under the nearest Xbox. I kept it matter-of-fact:

“It’s just occurred to me that you may not be aware – my partner is a bloke. I’m gay. Hope you’re cool with that. I should’ve mentioned it before, I guess. It’s a difficult one to drop into conversation. If you need a bit of time to think that one over, I understand. I should’ve said at the weekend really. Anyway, now you know.”

So now he knew. I awaited his reply with the kind of feeling you get when you know your electricity bill is due – crippled by inevitability. I was also kind of excited. Something was about to change. Finally, some drama.

Hours dragged. Then: a tick appeared by his message. He’d seen it. I closed Facebook and went into another room and pretended to tidy up. Any distraction welcome. Finally, I scraped myself off the ceiling and opened Facebook again. And like a beam of light, his reply shone:

“I can imagine you would’ve found it very hard to put that into conversation!
But yeah.
As long as you’re happy bro I’m really happy for you!
I have the utmost respect for you, it must be really difficult sometimes.”

Whether it’s a blatant acceptance like my brother’s, or a  marvellously unspoken one like my sister’s, never underestimate its power. And even though I have come out a thousand times to a million faces, the feeling of being accepted, that good reaction, never, ever gets old.

If you have come out to friends or family this weekend, I hope they reacted as brilliantly as my most excellent siblings.

Is David Davies right? Would parents really prefer not to have a gay child?

The gay marriage debate rumbles on. And it really is rumbling, like a tummy which refuses to be sated no mater how much junk you feed it. It’s becoming tiresome to watch, whichever side you’re on. Everyone seems to be making the same points over and over again, like a long line of toy monkeys banging their miniature crash cymbals while an air raid siren whirrs its death rattle in the background. The ‘church’ thinks Thing A, pro-gay marriage campaigners think Thing Z, and there’s a whole load of other soapboxes to stand upon in the letters in between. The stupid thing is that it is all drearily inevitable that the legislation will go through, and still be argued about once it has. A fox hunting de nos jours, but with wedding cake, and an actual advantage for humans.

Occasionally, however, someone says something that rises above the constant din of discontent — a sharper, shriller tone cuts through the migraine-inducing murmur and demands attention. Sometimes it’s a bishop banging on about the sanctity of the union between a man and a woman and sometimes it’s a spoiled Hollywood actor offering half-baked opinions on gay parenting. But this week it’s an MP who’s tapping his virtual microphone and squeaking “Is this thing on?” Step forward David Davies, Tory MP for Monmouth.

David ‘Double Dave’ Davies has a lot of strong opinions and he’s not afraid to share them — one of his lifelong ambitions seems to have been to make sure his face ended up wrapped around a battered haddock and chips — and in between his ranting-by-numbers about gay marriage and sex education in schools and all that other stuff we’ve read time and time again, comes a statement which is actually worthy of attention. Take it away, Big D, talking to the BBC: “I think most people are very tolerant and have no problem at all if people are gay but, and I hate to say this in a way because I expect it’s going to cause controversy, but I think most parents would prefer their children not to be gay, knowing most parents want grandchildren if nothing else.”

Ignoring for the moment David’s protestations that he would really rather not cause any controversy thank you very much and how naughty of us it is to pick up on that wholly innocent thing he just said, let’s take a closer look at what he’s actually saying. David thinks that most parents would prefer not to have a gay child. And you know what? I think he’s right. But not for the boring reason he trundles out — the mythical lure of having loads of toddlers who are vaguely connected to you coming over and wrecking your house every Saturday afternoon.

While there have been protests that Davies’s comments are completely without foundation, isn’t it entirely possible that there are many parents out there who are completely unprejudiced, but would rather not have a gay child because, let’s face it, growing up gay is still a nightmare for most.

When you have a child, I’m told that you love it unconditionally, and all you want for it is the best life free from fear or worry or pain. Understandable, then, not to wish your child the hell of being spat at on the school bus every day, or mocked in the classroom, with teachers either oblivious or sympathetic but ultimately powerless to stop it. Stories of homophobia-motivated physical attacks are still in the news; gay hate crimes are a fact of life even in the most liberated of countries. What kind of parent would want that hanging over a child’s head? Add to that the perception that gay relationships aren’t the same as heterosexual ones, that they aren’t as serious or committed and thus don’t deserve the same status as straight couples. No parent would want their child to be a second-class citizen, right?

For straight people who don’t know or understand gay people, it can be perplexing and frightening. AIDS and HIV, despite a decent PR job over the last decade or two to change perceptions, are still seen as a gay problem. As valiant an effort as the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign has made, gay teenagers still kill themselves because of bullying. The uncomfortable obsession gay society has with stereotypes and being misrepresented means that it’s harder than ever to ‘fit in’ without being put down for not conforming to the increasingly strict, puzzling and ever-changing, invisible ‘rules’ about how not to be gay. Sensationalist stories and the people who love them helpfully blur the lines between homosexuality and paedophilia as yet another once-loved TV star is posthumously thrown to the wolves. And two girls kissing on a soap opera is just as titillating now as it was the first time Anna Friel applied her Lipsyl in anticipation.

In short, being gay in 2012 can be just as confusing, upsetting and horrifying as it was in the 1950s. It’s entirely understandable that no parent would wish such a life on their offspring.

It’s imperative, then, that we look at how we can change perceptions of gay people and reduce this innate fear of the homosexual ‘way of life’. How do we show parents that it’s OK, that their children have every opportunity available to them whether they’re gay or not?

How about we start with not letting politicians, religious figures and social commentators badmouth gay people and, now stay with me here, maybe we should get that gay marriage thing over with and introduce it as soon as possible? Then every parent will get what they really, really want — the opportunity to cry at, not to mention grumble about the cost of, their child’s wedding.

We’ve talked enough, David. Onward.

“Gaybrows”, girl talk and the Sunday Times’ brand of smart-casual homophobia

Being gay is very political these days. What with the world and his wife sticking their noses in about whether we should be getting married and Twitter confusing homosexuality with paedophilia in the wake of the BBC sex scandals from the 1970s. Like the unavoidable pink square in a slice of Battenberg or the writing running through a stick of rock, there’s always a constant air of homophobia which lingers around the reporting of such stories, but it’s not just the heavyweight news events we have to watch out for, oh no. Now, casual homophobia has climbed down from the lofty mezzanine of broadsheet opinion columns, put on a pretty dress and has sashayed down onto the pages of a women’s fashion magazine, spiking its stiletto into the very ‘fags’ it used to ‘hag’ for.

Every week, the Sunday Times publishes a supplement named Style, ostensibly a guide to the essential threads no lady should be without. Helpfully picking out key pieces and pretty crockery for its keen readership, the magazine also slings out a weekly barometer, a journalistic tool so lazy it may as well come with a duvet and an animal-print onesie. What’s hot and what’s not, is deliberated over for what must be whole milliseconds by perhaps the office intern or the bored receptionist – different clothes, trends, hairdos, people and ‘things’ are offered up, accompanied by what passes for a witty remark, and divided into those all-important categories. These busy girls-on-the-go aren’t much use at thinking in any way other than the most binary possible, so we must make do with two camps of popularity only: ‘Going Up’ for what we should love, and ‘Going Down’ (there’s a real science to this, isn’t there?) for everything less favoured.

It’s all as lightweight as you can imagine. Last week, Anna Wintour, the Prada-adorned, skeletal editrix of American Vogue, was lauded, and thus ranked top of the shop, for insisting hyper-famous photographer Mario Testino take her passport photograph. In this edition, readers are encouraged to start using Kate Moss’s surname as a verb for getting wasted, presumably on ‘bubbles’ at a product launch of some description. It’s all a bit of harmless fun, of course. Scan the ‘Going Down’ list, however, and we encounter a small problem. At the very end, once Peter Andre, birthday parties for dogs and under-ripe avocados are dispatched to the social guillotine, we come to a trend or phenomenon described as ‘gaybrows’. “What’s a gaybrow?” you may ask. I know I did. Allow me to shine 100 watts on that for you.

A gaybrow, according to Style, is the following: “Overwaxed eyebrows for him, favoured by the Geordie Shore boys.” Geordie Shore, of course, is a reality TV show on MTV (the ‘M’ long having since switched out its original meaning of ‘music’ for ‘mediocre’) and its subjects are the overstyled, permatanned type of fame-hungry charmers you can see on any high street should you look hard enough. The brows, themselves, are quite common too. Shaped, plucked and pointed to within an inch of their lives, the wearers of these unfortunate hairy slivers usually end up looking like a shop mannequin, an alien or – sorry girls – a woman.

Like many grooming trends currently favoured by preening heterosexual men, it is likely to have some foundation among their gay brothers, but didn’t girls start having brows like this first, centuries ago? Why aren’t they ‘ladybrows’? Or ‘nastybrows’ – as they are truly, utterly horrible and make men who sport them look like they’ve had ten facelifts or are midway through turning into a cat. Well, there’s a really good reason: a shortcut for making something seem immediately undesirable to straight men and the women who get boned by them is to label it ‘gay’. Easy when you know how, and, boy, does the world know how.

David Beckham has been shaping his brows for at least a decade, but it wouldn’t do to call them ‘Becksbrows’ – it’s okay to look like Beckham and he’s the sexual ideal for many of Style’s female readers. No, they must make it clear that these brows are horrible, and thus must be associated with something repugnant, and what better way to hammer home to the ladies and their boyfriends that these brows are unattractive? Why, simply fling the word ‘gay’ in front of them! Instant cringe! It’s so sickeningly transparent and automatic that it’s entirely possible they didn’t realise they were doing it. Oh, hang ON, what is this at the end of the description? There’s more!

The brows are, Style says, “about as hetero as Elton”. Assuming they don’t mean bushy-browed comedian Ben Elton or the flighty vicar from Jane Austen’s Emma, we’re talking about Elton John here. That is how gay these things are. Elton John, with his long-term male lover and civil partnership, is ‘openly gay’, as newspapers are so fond of saying, so the intent is clear here. The brows are awful, not just because they look dreadful, but because they’re not “hetero”. ‘Hetero’ is the ideal, remember; you don’t want men to ‘look gay’ because, well, that would mean what, exactly? Might gay men be interested in them and steal them away? Unlikely if they have a girlfriend; this isn’t TV.

No, the real message here is that the eyebrows make your man look gay, and looking gay is a negative thing, because people will think he is gay, and people thinking your man is gay is massively bad. Why? A variety of reasons – perhaps mainly that you won’t make other women jealous of you if you’re not lugging round a big hunk of male, masculine, cave-dwelling meat for them to salivate after. Is that what all this is about? Another stake in the heart for ‘the sisterhood’?

So with its throwaway comment about something looking gay, which they no doubt think is harmlessly entertaining, the Style editorial team has inadvertently revealed the monstrous, ugly homophobic heart at its core, which no amount of high heels, ‘lovely things’, perfume and designer wardrobe can fully mask. Good call, ladies; now we know what we’re up against. And we thought girls were supposed to be a gay’s best friend. At least that’s one fewer stereotype for us to agonise over.