Drag Queen Story Time

My thoughts on the tremendous benefits of Drag Queen Story Time.

I’ve always been an advocate of teaching children to love reading. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to become not only a teacher but an author too. When it comes to encouraging children to love reading, the key element you simply must incorporate is that of performance. That, first and foremost, is why I support Drag Queen Story Time.

There are many different things competing for children’s attention. Television, computer games, books, sports, etc. This is not to say that any of these should be barred from children’s lives. Balance, as in all things, is important. However, it cannot be denied that children who grow up with an appreciation for reading reap a great many benefits later in life. They are more able to engage with the world, they appreciate knowledge and they are able to empathise better with others. This is why it is important to show children, from a young age, how much fun reading can be. When reading to very young children, you do this by reading directly to them, on a daily basis, and you put your heart and soul into it. You don’t just read the book, you perform it.

I shall not name names, but I’ve heard a fair few people read books to groups of children in such a way that made me wince. Monotone, no character voices, no gestures, no facial expression, no nothing. Now I know not everyone is a performer at heart, but as I said, there are a lot of things vying for children’s attention. The TV offers bright, moving colours and lots of sound. If children are to learn from a young age that books can be fun, you’ve got to bring that same level of energy and engagement when reading to them.

Drag artists are performers. They operate on a level of theatricality some of us can only dream of. They bring that energy and theatricality to Story Time and, judging by the levels of attendance, it’s fairly clear that it works. The feedback I see from parents and children also goes a long way to confirming how much children are enjoying these sessions. They respond to the colourful costumes and, most importantly, the energy and dynamism of the Drag Queen’s reading. They link how much they are enjoying the performance with the book, and are therefore encouraged to explore books themselves. Long before children learn to read, they can learn to love books.

I greatly admire everyone involved in bringing these fun and engaging story sessions to libraries across the country, and it has saddened me to no end to see the vitriol that is aimed at them. Footage of protestors harassing the Drag Queens, and even shouting vile abuse in front of children, leaves me sickened. The accusations lobbied by some of these individuals don’t bear repeating, but suffice to say, they’re nothing that members of the LGBTQ community haven’t heard before. In a nutshell, the underlying theme of it all is that somehow we are inherently unsafe to be around children. This is, of course, bigoted nonsense. Everybody who works with children goes through the same vetting process.

That being said, it isn’t just that the protestors think we’re unfit to be around children. They also think that we’re there to somehow ‘indoctrinate’ children. The very notion that watching a Drag Queen ready a story is going to somehow ‘turn’ a child gay or trans is beyond laughable. These people are protesting Story Time because they equate being LGBTQ with some level of harm, of trauma. That we were somehow ‘made’ to be the way we are. They cannot possibly allow us the dignity of knowing ourselves, they have to attach some level of blame to something or someone. As the song goes, we’re born this way, and a cis, straight child is going to grow up to be just that, cis and straight. Our sexuality and our gender aren’t just something we decide upon when we turn 18. That’s true of everyone. Ask a straight person when they chose to be straight, and they’ll usually give you a look that suggests just how ridiculous the question is. Rightly so.

Many Drag Queens are reading stories that have LGBTQ themes. All age appropriate and in keeping with educational guidelines. These books aren’t new, and I’m always heartened when I see them in schools. They’re there to speak to the LGBTQ youths of today, wondering if they are alone in how they feel about themselves. They might not speak to cis and straight youths in the same way, but they help them to realise that some of the people in their lives are different to them, and that that’s okay. Reading is meant to open young people’s minds, and LGBTQ inclusive resources do just that. It is not indoctrination to teach children that LGBTQ people exist. Indoctrination is teaching children to hate others for being ‘different’.

You know what? Drag Queens also read books that don’t mention LGBTQ issues. They read all sorts of children’s books, and they do it in a fun and engaging way, using their skills as performers. So, to all those who say that drag is not appropriate for children, I’ll say this. Do you honestly think that a Drag Queen is performing exactly the same material they’d normally do at a Drag Show? Of course not. They’re performers. They adapt their material and their performance to suit their audience. That’s what performers do. The vast majority of us grew up with pantomimes and seeing drag artists on the television. Surprisingly enough, plenty of children who saw Lily Savage back in the day grew up straight and cis. Drag is nothing new, and it is not inherently inappropriate. There are a fair few straight, cis children’s entertainers who have done other things in their careers, including performing adult material. Yet, for some reason, they never get the same level of bile aimed at them as a Drag Queen.

Another element of Drag Queen Story Time that so many people seem to forget is that it’s voluntary. Nobody is forcing you to go. You do not have to take your children. You could not be forced to go. If you’d rather stick your children in front of a screen for ten hours a day, then do so. I guarantee you, the children singing and laughing along at Drag Queen Story Time will be having a much better time, and are making memories that will last. They are learning that books are gateways that open up a world of imagination and fun. They are enjoying themselves, watching and listening to someone in a costume that has most certainly held their attention throughout. The parents of those children have chosen to take their children to the library. They are supervised at all times and they are learning while having fun. That is not something to protest against.

As I write this, we’re currently facing perhaps the biggest cost of living crisis in decades. If you honestly think the biggest problem currently facing the youth of today is Drag Queens reading stories to them, then I can’t help but feel sorry for you. Such ignorance is an indulgence that does no one any good.

It’s someone reading to children in a bright costume and make up. A theatrical tradition that goes back centuries. Frankly, it isn’t something to be concerned about.

Facts Matter, But So Do Feelings

How feelings matter just as much as facts.

It usually bemuses me when people volunteer the words or phrases that irritate them. Common sayings, conversational habits or filler words that annoy us. It bemuses me because, in my experience, the one way to guarantee that people will use those phrases more often is to let everyone know they irritate you. Maybe it’s the company I keep. Now of course, I’m not talking about vulgar, rude or offensive phrases, just everyday phrases such as “I was about to say” or “Going forward”. Maybe one or two of such phrases might rankle me a bit, but I don’t usually volunteer this information. There is, however, one phrase that’s been doing the rounds lately that I find to be something beyond just irritating.

“Facts don’t care about your feelings.”

It’s being thrown about quite a lot lately, usually by anonymous trolls online or certain individuals engaging in what they believe is just a debate, when really their intentions are motivated by bigotry and hatred.

It comes in a few variations, such as “facts over feelings”, or “facts > feelings”, but it is always uttered with an undercurrent of contempt for the people it is directed at. It is meant to belittle and, ultimately, to dehumanise. To put a group of people firmly in their place and dismiss their concerns as irrelevant. It is a phrase I abhor.

Let us imagine (grim though it may be) taking this phrase as a universal truth. Facts over feelings. From a writer’s perspective, taking this approach is going to make for some pretty boring novels. Do we imagine, for one moment, that the greatest writers of history were so dismissive of the importance of feeling? Poets, novelists and playwrights have plunged into the very depths of their emotions for centuries to produce works that reflect what it means to be human. More often than not, those who champion the phrase “facts don’t care about your feelings” are also proponents of “bottling it up” and “not talking about it”. A distinctly unhealthy approach to life, quite frankly, and it doesn’t exactly help produce anything beyond a rather strained bowel movement.

Our emotions, our feelings, are what make us human. They’re what make life worth living. Look an animal in the eyes and you’ll see just how it’s feeling. Yet, the proponents of this nasty little catchphrase consider themselves so above such things that they would dismiss the emotions of those they dislike so vehemently, robbing themselves and others of the essence of humanity. When they say “Facts don’t care about your feelings”, what they are really saying is “I don’t care about your feelings.” I cannot fathom living with such a lack of empathy, such callous disinterest in the lives of others.

It particularly saddens me when I see this phrase aimed at members of the LGBTQ community, particularly when it comes from cis gay men and lesbians, aimed at transgender people. The dismissal of gender because it’s “just a feeling”, whereas sexual attraction can apparently be considered a fact. Well, it wasn’t that long ago that we were being told that our attraction to those of the same sex was “just a feeling” and that “it would pass”. We were being told by a great many people in positions of power that how we felt didn’t matter, because the fact that men and women come together to produce children was considered important enough to override how we felt. A fact that mattered more than our feelings.

The dismissal of gender as just a feeling makes no sense to me. What is attraction, if not a feeling? How do we know if we’re attracted to someone? We feel it. How do I know I am a man? How do I know I am cis? I was born male, and I have never felt that I might not be. I have always felt attracted to other men. Therefore, through my instincts (another word for feelings), I know that I am a gay, cis man. I didn’t come with a manual when I was born. I had to discern who and what I am based on how I felt, and how I continue to feel. This, again, is the very essence of being alive. To dismiss transgender people and belittle their “feelings” is a repulsive thing to do. Their feelings exist, just as everyone else’s do, and that is a fact.

There will always be those who say “But I’m just stating facts!” as though the things they’re saying are just a casual contribution to an academic debate. Whatever the sphere of discussion, they’ll say “I don’t have a problem with (blank), but this is a fact”. Yes, I know sex is real. So is gender. It’s as real as sexual attraction, which is what unites the LGBTQ community. Whether cis and gay or transgender, both groups have at some time or another been told that facts override how they feel about themselves. We were told we had to conform because it was a ‘fact’ that everyone was meant to be a certain way. That was the thinking behind Section 28, and it was flawed thinking at best. Those who pipe up with certain facts as though they’re making a profound point that nobody’s ever considered before are usually just revealing their intense discomfort and sometimes outright hatred of a group that is ‘different’ to them.

As I said, sex is real. I know that. I don’t feel the need to go pointing it out to everyone because, frankly, to do so is unnecessary. Sex is real. Gender is real. Both heterosexuality and homosexuality are real, as are bisexuality, asexuality, pansexuality. Being transgender is real. Being gender fluid or non binary is real. All these things, and so many more, are real. They are facts. Those who employ my most hated of phrases wish to ignore the complexity of life and hammer through their own narrow view of what is real and valid. Those who use that phrase are almost never just looking to engage in debate. They’re looking to invalidate entire groups of people based on nothing but their own prejudice.

I can accept a great many facts and acknowledge the feelings of others, because those feelings exist. They are a fact. The dismissal of people’s feelings as invalid is not a path any of us wish to go down. Once you can invalidate one group, you can justify acts of unspeakable cruelty towards them, and they never stop at just one group.

Facts matter, but so do feelings.

The Couple In Ipswich

The identity of one person does not erase another.

There’s a couple who live in Ipswich. One is a cis man, the other is a trans man. They’ve been together for five years. They particularly enjoy going to concerts and will happily spend an evening together watching a history documentary. If anyone should ask them, they will say they are a gay couple.

Now, if this angers you, let me start by saying the problem is entirely of your own making, not theirs. They’re living their life, harming no one, while you are twisting yours into knots.

I am unlikely to ever meet the couple from Ipswich. Firstly, it’s a fair old trek from Bristol to Ipswich, but even so it’s just plain unlikely that this couple and I will ever cross paths. My boyfriend and I occasionally double date with some friends of ours, another gay couple. They live their lives, we live ours, and the couple all the way in Ipswich continue to live theirs. Yet, there are some who believe that the couple from Ipswich effectively erase me and my boyfriend, and presumably the couple we double date with. Strange how they can do that from so far away.

The truth is, that the existence of the couple from Ipswich does not affect me or any other couple one iota. Their being together, and their being precisely who they are does not impact me or anyone else, and frankly I’m more than a little tired of being told that they are somehow a threat. Last time I checked, I have not been erased. The existence of one person cannot erase another.

I am a gay man. I am cis. I am in a relationship with another cis gay man. That is me, and that is us. We are, as Stonewall says, free to be. Those are powerful words that must and do apply to everyone. So long as an individual is harming no one, they must be free to be themselves regardless of what others think.

“But they have no right to say they’re a gay couple! One of them is female!”

Words carry a great deal of power, especially the ones we employ when talking about ourselves. If we are all free to be, then we must be free to describe ourselves in the manner that befits us most. Let’s take a little look at why this belief that a trans person cannot refer to themselves as gay is not only ludicrous, but futile.

Let us say that I did actually meet the couple from Ipswich, and they mention the fact that they’re a gay couple upon our meeting. If I were inclined to take exception to this, what options are available to me? I can insist that they are nothing of the kind, and openly state that because one of them was born female, they must be a straight couple. Alternatively, I could continue chatting with them and manage to avoid stamping my own view of the world on a couple I’ve only just met. As I say, this is if I were inclined to take exception to how they describe their relationship. I am not. Who they are, together or individually, does not change one thing about who I am. It is none of my concern.

Apply to this a wider setting. Imagine the effort it would take to ensure that all such couples do not refer to themselves as a gay couple, or indeed that transgender individuals only use certain words when talking about themselves. It would be exhausting and costly, not to mention a complete waste of time. If a trans man says he is a gay man, he is a gay man. This does not make me any less a gay man too. Frankly, I don’t have the time or energy for such gatekeeping. If he says he is bisexual, then he is bisexual. If he says he is straight, he is straight.

There is a marvellously rich array of words we in the modern era can use to describe ourselves. As I say, I am a gay man in a relationship with another gay man. I know people who are bisexual, and you certainly won’t see me trying to suggest that they are ‘confused’ or should ‘pick a side’. If someone tells me they are bisexual, they are bisexual. I respect self determination, and trust me it isn’t all that hard to do so,

“Ah, but if the man is in a relationship with a trans man, he must be bisexual!”

Not necessarily. Again, I go by what people tell me about themselves. To some people, being gay means being attracted to someone on the basis of sex. To some people, it means being attracted to someone on the basis of gender. Both of these are valid and neither cancels out the other. If we truly live and let live, then there is truly enough room for everyone to get along.

Of course, the term ‘pansexual’ exists, which is being attracted to someone regardless of sex, gender or gender identity. Am I therefore going to go up to the couple from Ipswich and insist that they tell me they’re a pansexual couple? No. I still don’t have the time for that level of gatekeeping. If any couple or individual tells me they’re pansexual, they are pansexual. I can accept that with greater ease than once again trying to stamp another word more to my liking on them. I am still not inclined to do that anyway. People are what they say they are.

“But you can’t even say you’re same sex attracted anymore! You’ll be called a bigot!”

Here’s the thing though, a relationship takes at least two to tango. If you do not wish to date someone because they’re transgender, nobody can force you to. Consent is very much a thing, and the efforts by some to paint transgender people as roving predators who will insist on you dating them is reprehensible. The gross generalisations being thrown about are sickening. The subjects of attraction and relationships are immensely complex, and the vast majority of people, regardless of sexuality or gender identity, value the importance of consent. I have found trans men of my acquaintance attractive. Does this make me any less a gay man? No. I know who and what I am.

We do not do ourselves any favours by engaging in petty squabbling. There are those who would genuinely like to see LGBT people across the world crushed underfoot, and they figure the best way to do it is to get us fighting amongst ourselves. Divide and conquer. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are united because we have all, at one time or another, faced those who dub us ‘abnormal’. We are not abnormal, and we never have been. If we continue to argue over what people get to call themselves, we open the door to some powerful groups who would like to dictate what we all call ourselves, and for the most part they’d like us to identify as ‘dead’.

You have the right to be attracted to someone on the basis of sex. You have the right to be attracted to someone on the basis of gender. You have the right to be attracted to someone regardless of sex or gender, and you have the right to self determination, to stand up and say who you are in your own words. Nobody can dictate who you are attracted to, no more than we should be dictating how people identify. We are free to be. All of us.

Oh, and in case you hadn’t clocked it already, the couple from Ipswich are hypothetical, yet they represent a great many real couples. Real people. Some are far too inclined to lose sight of the fact that when we discuss LGBT issues, we are talking about people. Not ‘ideologies’, but people, and their lived experiences. We could all do with a reminder of that from time to time.

2020

A little blog reflecting on what has been a most unusual year for us all.

Well, it’s that time of year again, namely when it’s nearly over. I think it would be the understatement of the century to say that this past year hasn’t gone as planned. Many lives have changed and a great many of us have lost family, friends and loved ones. As much as we might like to put this year behind us and forget about it, I believe we owe it to ourselves and to those we’ve lost to still take a moment this New Year to reflect.

Ultimately, I look upon the New Year with a sense of hope. Nothing is going to happen overnight, but a gradual return to normalcy is on the horizon. Will things be entirely the same? Perhaps not. Some industries may find they benefit from having more people work from home more regularly. I won’t pretend to be an expert on the possible outcomes of this pandemic. Being able to get together with others, when we desire to, is something that will not change. I’ve greatly missed being able to rehearse a play with friends, or the chance to get on a set and see which of my new friends I might run into. Whereas some individuals (usually with a greater amount of influence than I) have been demanding that we simply ‘get back to normal’ straight away and pretend nothing is happening, I see it as our duty to stay away until such time as it is safe for us all to be together again. Do I lament the lost opportunities of this past year? Sometimes, yes, but pretending we aren’t in the grip of a pandemic helps no one. I want to be able to meet up with friends, but not if it means putting them and their loved ones at risk of catching this terrible virus.

Heading into the New Year, I believe we do need to look for the positives, the ones we’ve had and the ones to come. What I take away from the fact that we have had to stay away from others is that when we can get together safely, it will be all the sweeter because of this time away. I intend to hug others more, to let them know how much I appreciate them. Days out and trips away will be planned, more than I might have otherwise, simply because we can. There is too much I was taking for granted before all this. Never again. We can come out of this stronger than before. I don’t buy into the conspiracy theories and the ill-informed scaremongering of certain individuals. I trust the experts and the spirit of those determined to get through this without trying to make things worse in the process. We can do this.

Furlough gave me the chance to edit the third book in the Figment Wars series, which is now set to become a trilogy. Yes, this next book will be the last of the Figment Wars. It has long been envisioned as such, but with the announcement of its publication set for 2021, it is now official. Working on it has been wild, to say the least. This was the first literary venture that I felt I could really throw some weight behind, and I’ve learned a great deal in the process, though of course there is still so much to learn. The trilogy will still get plenty of attention from me marketing wise, and I’m very much looking forward to my first signing session, wherever and whenever that may be. In the months to come I shall steadily be releasing details about the newest book, including the title, front cover, and eventually the release date.

I’ve also begun a whole new writing project these past few months, which has occupied a great deal of my time and energy (both of which are well spent). Even while the Figment Wars was being unleashed, I’ve had a few ideas for further books but few really came to anything. This one, however, has already proved to be much bigger in scale than Figment Wars. It’s another fantasy, but very different in style to my previous work and touches upon some LGBT themes, which are very close to my heart. What will happen with this latest project, I cannot say. It will be some time before it is even remotely ready to see the light of day, and of course I shall make every effort to get it published. One thing I feel I’ve definitely had affirmed this past year is my belief that I do not write with the sole intention of getting published. I write because I want to, and because I enjoy it.

The next few months are going to be tough. There’s no denying that. I remain firm in my belief, however, that we can get through this by working together. I offer all my readers my very best wishes for the New Year. Stay safe, keep reading and writing, and we shall meet again soon.

A Little Less Speculation …

Thoughts on how the supposed right to speculate on the sexuality of others links to the dangerous practice of conversion therapy.

Stop the presses. A recent study by a team at Northwestern University in Evanston has made a ground-breaking discovery; male bisexuality exists. My takeaway from this? There’s a team with a little too much time on their hands.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the study of human sexuality, but the headline that goes with this announcement does come across as more than just a little condescending. There are a great many bisexual men who could have told this team in five seconds what they’ve apparently concluded after several years, namely that they’re bisexual.

 

In truth it’s not entirely the fault of the study itself. Much of the coverage of the study as well as media rhetoric regarding bisexuality over the years has to take a good portion of the blame. Ill-informed comments from pundits and celebrities claiming that bisexuals are “greedy”, “confused” or just plain “lying” have not helped. I identify as entirely gay, but I will never understand the tendency of some people to dismiss bisexuality. There’s a ‘B’ in LGBTQ for a reason. They stand with us, and they deserve to be treated with respect.

 

The central problem, as far as I can see, is this incessant need in some people to speculate over the sexuality of others. Again, I’m not talking about genuine academic studies, I’m talking about the gross assumptions and generalisations made by some people on a day to day basis. When someone tells you that they’re bisexual, one of the absolute worst responses is “Are you sure?”, followed by “Well, you might just be gay but haven’t come out yet.” It’s in a very similar vein to when someone comes out as transgender, only to be told that they might be “confused” or have they tried “just being gay?”

 

As I said, I’m gay. Gay and cis. That is me. This does not, however, give me the right to speculate on anyone else’s sexuality or gender based solely on my own experiences. I’ve never known what it is like to feel that I was born in the wrong body, nor have I ever felt attracted to girls. I tried to make it appear that I did due to pressure coming from all around me, but that’s a subject for another blog. The point is, my experiences are mine but that does not give me the right to assume that they’ve been shared by everyone else. The second someone says to me “I’m bisexual”, I accept it instantly, without question. Put even simpler, when someone tells me how they identify, I believe them.

 

It is quite sad that some see it as acceptable to make assumptions about and speculate over the sexuality of others. First and foremost, it’s distressing for the person who’s having this fundamental aspect of their identity taken apart so casually (or sometimes maliciously). Chances are that person has spent much time and energy working up the courage to divulge their sexuality to someone, only to be dismissed as a confused liar that doesn’t know themselves. Such speculation has consequences, and it isn’t the person doing the speculating who’ll have to deal with those consequences. I’d very much like to see a society where those who engage in such idle speculation over other people’s sexuality are, indeed, held to account. It should be seen as ridiculous, to dismiss or judge somebody’s sexuality. We don’t do it for any other aspect of our identity.

“Hello, I’m British.”

Oh, I don’t think so. You might just be a confused Frenchman.”

 

You might ask, why the big fuss? Isn’t it just people talking about matters of identity and sexuality? Are you censoring people? No. General discussion of matters regarding sexuality and gender identity must always be free to be discussed. This is not the same as dismissing someone’s identity in order to project something else upon them. On an individual basis, a person’s sexuality or gender identity cannot be allowed to be squashed in the name of academic discussion. Once someone asserts their identity, that is not up for debate. Share your own experiences and thoughts, by all means. The world is better when we talk to each other. However, don’t seek to use those experiences to override those of someone else, to stamp your own sense of self onto them. As I’ve said, having your identity debated and dismissed is never going to make someone feel better about themselves. Don’t make them run that gauntlet. Accept who they are.

 

There’s a tweet currently doing the rounds which has, rightly, raised some eyebrows;

Screenshot Redacted

I offer this as a prime example of someone engaging in gross assumptions on a rather massive scale. A man, rather embarrassingly declaring how little he knows of women’s sexuality and engaging in some wild speculation, presumably without actually asking a woman. This is the lower end of the scale when it comes to ill-informed speculation over the sexuality of others. Risible and easily dealt with. However, there are those who engage in speculation over the sexuality and gender identity of others with far more sinister intent. I’m speaking, of course, about conversion therapy.

 

The UK government has pledged to make the abhorrent practice of conversion or “reparative” therapy illegal, although at the time of writing this, not only has there been a great deal of delay already, but it now seems that even more time is being called for in order to carry out further research. There are those, currently in the UK, who offer conversion therapy but insist that’s not what they’re doing. They claim they’re engaging in discussion about gender and sexuality issues and offering counselling to those with “unwanted same sex attractions”. A turd by any other name would smell as foul. This is precisely what I described earlier, speculation and demolition of an individual’s identity, hidden under the cloak of “academic discussion”.

 

These organisations insist they’re offering impartial counselling for those experiencing “unwanted same sex attraction”. It can hardly be considered impartial when the rhetoric these organisations engage in is so vehemently homophobic. The leader of one of the more prevalent organisations has called homosexuality “a danger to all humankind”. The website of this particular organisation states that they do not offer LGBT affirmative therapy. This boils down to one thing: once they’ve got you, they will do all they can to make you straight, no matter the cost to you.

 

They’re engaging in the most extreme form of speculation in that not only have they decided what your sexuality should be, they’re going to tear you down completely in order to “fix” you. Once you’re in with them, they’ll do all they can to win your trust, get you to talk about a past event that you found traumatic. They’ll then perform all kinds of linguistic acrobatics to convince you that this event is linked to your sexuality. Should you express doubts, or appear to be heading in a direction they don’t approve of, they tell you how disappointed they are. They shame you. They’re gambling with the well being and lives of other with no risk to them. Hopefully, the law will soon be changing to make their practice illegal, and for the first time they will have to actually deal with the consequences of their actions.

 

Anybody struggling with an aspect of their identity should seek out someone to talk to, a professional if need be. A truly impartial professional will believe someone when they say they’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or non-binary. Any decent therapist knows how to genuinely help someone work out who they are. It’s the ones currently kicking up a big stink over the proposed change in the law that know they’ve got something to fear. Conversion therapists aren’t interested in helping anyone. They are simply indulging in their own, rather base instinct that tells them they have a right to speculate over and judge other people’s identity. They then take that instinct and act on it, patting themselves on the back when they’ve torn you down and rapidly distancing themselves from you when you come forward and speak about how they made you feel. They deal in sham and shame. Some people do change the way they identify over time, but this needs to come about organically, through impartial discussion and a journey of self discovery, not at the insistence of fanatics.

 

So, in summation, just remember that when someone tells you they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, pansexual or asexual, there are only two acceptable responses;

A) Thank you for feeling that you could tell me.

B) Thank you for feeling that you could tell me, now let’s go get some cake.

 

Don’t speculate. Celebrate!

Identity

A blog on the concept of ‘Identity’.

It’s an odd thing, identity. You can have legal documents that prove it. It can, unfortunately, be stolen. One thing I firmly believe, however, is that it cannot be touched. Not in the truest, most pure form of the concept. Your identity is your own, and nobody can knock it.

 

Imagine, for a moment, a world of automatons. Everyone looking, sounding and acting the same. Hideously dull, isn’t it? This is why, when some balk at the term “diversity”, I feel a great swell of pity for them. To exist entirely in an echo chamber and a mirror simultaneously would be immensely boring. The world doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t work that way. If it did, evolution would grind to a halt. Life relies on diversity in order to evolve and progress. To me, the greatest source of diversity among humans is found in the core of every person. Their identity. Every person is truly unique and it all comes down to their identity.

 

So, what makes up your identity? Let’s begin with the most obvious. A name. They’re important, after all. You come to know someone’s name and they know you’re talking to them when you address them. Seems simple enough, yet we can share names. I know plenty of ‘Davids’ my own age, yet have only come across a handful of them in my own teaching career. Names come and go in popularity, just as they can come and go by choice.

 

We’re given a name at birth, but some choose to change their name legally later in life. This can be for a number of reasons, all of which are relevant only to the person making the decision. Being happy with how you are addressed is important to our sense of identity. Introducing ourselves by name is our first point of contact with another human being. You never start a conversation with “Hello, I’m an engineer, my name is Ryan!” We want people to know our names, to know how to address us. Nicknames are, of course, an extension of this. Names that we’re happy to be called by certain friends. It’s also why name-calling can actually be more hurtful than we sometimes let on. It’s a name we’re not happy to be called and it feels like a dismissal of this first point of human contact. While this might seem like I’m making a point that contradicts my assertion that your identity cannot be touched, it is my firm belief that it is how we deal with others that determines the strength of our identity. You and you alone get to decide on your name. If someone calls you something other than your name, ignore them. They may think they’re talking to you, but you know they are not.

 

‘Dead-naming’ is when someone addresses a transgender person by their former name. It is a particular source of strife for the transgender community, especially when done deliberately and maliciously. The excuse sometimes thrown about is “You’ll always be (blank) to me.” Well, here’s the thing; you don’t get to dictate other people’s identity based on your perceptions. That person’s identity is theirs to determine and theirs alone, just as yours is for you to determine. Addressing someone correctly is a basic act of respect and it isn’t difficult. Remembering their pronouns isn’t actually all that hard either, but in the case of a genuine mistake, the important thing is to correct yourself as swiftly as possible. If your friend comes out to you as transgender or non-binary, show them you respect them.

 

My gender matches my sex. That’s my identity. There are some who feel that how other people identify with regards to gender and sex somehow impacts them in turn. The fundamental truth is, it doesn’t. When someone identifies as a gender that differs from their sex, it does not effect the identity of anyone else. My gender matches my sex and I am attracted to other people of the same sex. I identify as homosexual. If a transgender person identifies as homosexual too, this does not take away or lessen my ability to identify as homosexual. Facets of identity are not some finite resource that cannot be shared. There’s plenty to go around, and someone sharing a trait with you does not diminish you in any way.

 

We’re fortunate to live in a time when our understanding of human sexuality and gender is expanding (though sadly some seek to drag our understanding backwards). We’re giving voice to aspects of both sexuality and gender that previously went unheard. Just as a few examples, we’re affirming the concept of asexuality, where before we might have ignored it. We’re making the distinction between pansexuality and bisexuality. We’re beginning to recognise the spectrum of gender and accepting that some people are non-binary. I think this is a rather exciting time to be alive, and I only have pity for those who can’t see it. The concepts of sexuality and gender are as complex as life itself, and we’re only beginning the exploration.

 

Anyone who knows me will know how much I value empathy. As I said, my gender and my sex are the same and I am attracted to other men. That’s a big part of my identity. I can, however, more than accept that this is not how everyone identifies. As we’ve established, the very idea that everyone should identify the same as everyone else is not only absurd but downright dull.

 

Empathy, the ability to put yourself in the place of another and begin to understand how they feel, is vital when it comes to respecting the identity of someone else. I am not transgender, but I know plenty of people who are. I have not gone through what they have, but I can make an effort to understand. I don’t see any point in trying to distance myself from someone just because they identify differently to me in regards to gender. To attack someone over it just seems ludicrous and spiteful. That’s why, whenever possible, I make the effort to stand up for my transgender friends the same way I would for my other friends in the LGBTQ community when they are attacked. I stand against anyone who would attack others for simply identfying differently.

 

Why do some people attack others for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer? Why is it some people see someone who differs from them and think them a threat, even when they aren’t? The answer is simple. Fear. Our ancestors learned that some things that are different might try to hurt you, and sadly, some people today still hold to this instinct even when it isn’t necessary. They are afraid that the existence of one identity will somehow eclipse or erase their own. If you hold fast to your identity, it cannot be touched by anyone. If you seek to dictate to others how they should identify, well, you can expect them to hold fast to their identity too. There’s an old phrase that really needs to come back. It’s ‘live and let live’. Imagine a world where, upon meeting someone who identifies differently to you, instead of putting up our defences or trying to change them, we said “That’s fascinating. Please, tell me more.”

 

Naturally there are other aspects to identity and the truth is, everyone has their priorities when it comes to this. Some people hold the country of their birth as being the core of their identity, whereas to some it’s simply a geographical happenstance. To many, the colour of their skin is very much linked to their sense of identity, whereas many hold their religious beliefs to be paramount when it comes to defining who they are.  Most people are proud of being something, and this is usually the fundamental source of conflict between us as a species. This raises one final question; is it okay to be proud of your identity?

 

Answering such a question could merit an entire blog, but if you’ve made it this far into this particular blog then I’ll be mercifully brief. Ultimately, yes, I believe it is okay to be proud of your identity. I am proud to be gay.

 

However, being proud of any aspect of your identity does not mean having to attack others for a part of their identity. All too often, the ones who cry “Am I not allowed to be proud of who I am?” are the ones simultaneously attacking others for being themselves. Too often, the right to be proud of yourself is used as an excuse for attacking others. Well, it doesn’t wash with me. If the strength of your identity rests solely on attacking others, that isn’t pride. It’s paranoia. Someone moving into your area who is different to you does not constitute an automatic threat.

 

I’ll leave you with that phrase that really does need to be used more.

 

“Live and let live.”

 

 

 

 

 

Love Matters

A brief blog on why homophobia is always so much worse than it appears.

It’s a terribly bad habit, falling into conversation online with homophobes. Over the last few months I’ve found myself embroiled with a few particularly unpleasant examples. While I maintain that is important to stand up to such people, both online and in real life, it can become tiresome. However, someone said something that really brought home the underlying mantra of homophobia.

 

In a thread all about same sex couples raising children, one particular Twitter user was asserting that same sex couples cannot be considered the parents of a child because they’re not biologically related. When I pointed out that many children are raised by parents not biologically related to them, and that these children love their parents, I was countered with;

“Love isn’t all that matters.”

That, perhaps more than anything else, was the most revealing comment. It’s the one thing that those who oppose the very existence of the LGBTQ community won’t admit to. They don’t think us capable of love, or rather, they want to portray us as being incapable of love. It’s the sinister undertone to practically everything they throw at us.

 

Love is an essential part of being human. We need it as we develop all the way through our lives. It can be romantic or platonic. We all need it, we want to find it and we are driven to feel it. Why then, do some people want to paint the LGBTQ community as being incapable of feeling love?

 

It’s quite simple. What cannot feel love is easy to demonise. Apply that to a person, or an entire group, and you can swiftly dehumanise them in the eyes of others. They become somthing ‘other’, ‘lesser’. Not only do they want others to see us this way, they have to see us this way themselves. It is the entire basis, the only justification they can muster for their fear of us. If we cannot feel love, they must be right to oppose us. They don’t want to think of us as human beings.

 

Their main way of going about this is to attribute only one thing to our existence; the act of sex. When they see two people of the same sex living together, that is all they see, two people who are having sex. Obviously they don’t approve of that, so they justify their discomfort by attempting to strip us of anything that might make us like a heterosexual couple.

 

They don’t want to think of us doing the dishes or laundry. They will not hear of us discussing our day at work. They don’t want to know about the arguments or the disagreements that all couples have. They can’t imagine us doing something nice for a partner who’s been going through a rough time. No. All they see is two women or two men that are having sex. You won’t see them thinking the same of a heterosexual couple, oh no. They’re obsessed with our sex lives and seem to think it’s all we live to do.

 

Naturally they don’t think we’re constantly going at it. Nobody has the stamina. The point is that they seek to define us purely by who we have sex with and disregard every other aspect of our lives that make us just like everyone else. The biggest of these being love. If all we live to do is have sex, in their eyes we are incapable of love. That makes us so much easier to hate.

 

Now, when you try and point this out, many will try to flip it right back. “You all define yourselves by who you have sex with, why else would you have Pride events? You want to be different but be treated equally when you’re not!”

 

Here’s the thing. We define ourselves as LGBTQ because we have been made to. Pride is necessary because we had to fight for the right to exist as we are. Pride is about love, and how we are just as capable of loving each other as everyone else. It is my sincerest hope that one day no one will bat an eyelid at seeing two people of the same sex living together. I wish we didn’t have to stand up for ourselves in order to prevent being discounted altogether, but we do.

 

This is the underlying tactic of those who wish to push the LGBTQ community back into the closet. They paint us as loveless and sex crazed. They apply it to every situation. They accuse us of being paedophiles when a LGBTQ person wants to work with children because they define us solely on the act of sex. They think it is our only motive for doing anything. They cannot, and will not, consider the possibility that we can feel anything but lust. Not sorrow, not compassion, not empathy, and most notably, not love.

 

Love matters, and there are those who are striving to convince others that we cannot feel it, simply because we are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. In other words, ‘different’.

 

Don’t let them do it. Show them that love matters. Cherish it. Love yourself and love others.

 

 

 

No Return to Section 28

A defence of the ‘No Outsiders’ project at Parkfield School, from someone who lived through the ignorance of Section 28.

The purpose of school is to prepare young people for the outside world. Now, perhaps that’s a radical or unrealistic idea. I certainly know plenty of teachers who would say that such a goal is noble, but that sadly the real purpose of school is get exam results. However, for the moment, let us go on the assumption that school is meant to teach children about the world at large.

 

The world is a large and diverse place. This is far from being a recent development. The world has always been complex and anyone who pines for the ‘simpler times’ of yesteryear is deluding themselves. Put away the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, for they lie to you.

 

The point I’m rambling towards, if you’ll indulge me for just a little longer, is that there are those who are currently actively campaigning to turn the clock back on the education system and on LGBT rights, all under the guise of religious freedom. I refer of course to the recent protests at Parkfield School in Birmingham, which resulted in the school’s No Outsiders project being suspended.

 

This saddens me more than I can say. I grew up during the Section 28 era. The gagging order that prevented teachers from ‘promoting the homosexual lifestyle’. During my entire schooling, only one teacher ever even mentioned the fact that homosexuality existed. This was a passing reference to a playwright we were discussing. All lessons relating to relationships and sex were geared towards the idea that boys go with girls. One might even call it  ‘aggressive indoctrination’. Years of messages, all designed to guide me towards a happy, healthy, heteronormative lifestyle. Did it work?

 

Did it bollocks.

 

It took me until the age of 18 to come to terms with the fact that I was gay and to realise that there was nothing wrong with being gay. I was fortunate to have the support of family and friends, but the education system let me and many others down. A few mentions of the fact that other sexualities exist and I might have had an easier time of it. The truth is I was one of the lucky ones. When the word “gay” gets thrown around the playground as an insult and all around you are expecting you to be a certain way, the conflict inside a young person can be staggering. The harsh reality is young people have taken their lives because they have been unable to reconcile who they are with what society at large wants them to be. One person killing themselves rather than live with the supposed shame of being gay is one too many.

 

Section 28 has been defeated, but there is still a long way to go and this is no time to start walking backwards. There are those within the Parkfield Parents’ Community Group who have claimed that the No Outsiders project is ‘indoctrination’. Here’s a simple fact; you cannot persuade someone to become gay. You are either inclined or you are not. The true fear of many groups is not that schools will somehow turn their kids gay, but rather that they will teach them to tolerate homosexuality. The ultimate catastrophe for many of these groups is that these kids start asking questions. Who knows where it might end? They may even start thinking for themselves.

 

Again, it’s a radical notion, but this is meant to be the purpose of education on any given topic. The classroom is supposed to be a place of debate and discussion, where children learn to exercise their minds and form their own opinions. These parents, however, would seemingly prefer their children not to know of the existence of the LGBT community. Without debate and discussion, only ignorance thrives.

 

It is extremely unfortunate to see this setback at Parkfield, but I have to believe it is only a temporary one. If certain groups were to get their way and block LGBT inclusive education across the country, it will only lead to more young people taking their own lives. That’s the harsh reality that is mostly getting overlooked at the moment, simply because it’s something we don’t want to think about.

 

We cannot put our heads back in the sand.

“You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy …?”

The case against censoring ‘Fairytale of New York’.

In case anybody needs reminding, it’s Christmas time. The songs all over the radio and in the shops make it abundantly clear. The one everyone’s avoiding is, of course, Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’ (I’m still in, as of typing this!) The one everyone seems to be talking about this year, however, is ‘Fairytale of New York’ by the Pogues and Kirsty McColl.

 

It seems as though, this year more than any other, the debate is raging over this song. One particular lyric is the cause of all the hubbub.

“You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot!”

Some appear to be divided over whether the word “faggot” should be censored. Shane MacGowen himself has now come forward and said he ultimately doesn’t mind if the word is bleeped out, even though there was never any offence intended by the use of the word.

 

That is why I’m stepping up to say that it absolutely should not be censored. By and large I have never fundamentally agreed with the principle of censorship when it comes to difficult issues. “Least said, soonest mended”, the age old proverb for pushing problems away in the hope they won’t bother us much longer. You don’t deal with the problem of genuine homophobia by censoring it, you tackle it head on and show it up for what it is.

 

That being said, anyone who believes that ‘Fairytale of New York’ is designed to encourage homophobia needs to take a good hard look at their priorities. There is no denying that ‘faggot’ is a term used for a homosexual man when offence is intended. However, the word itself was not coined for this purpose. It was never created to inflict offense, rather it was hijacked.

 

The word was originally used as unit for a bundle of sticks as early as the 1400s. Women who went about gathering firewood eventually became known as ‘faggot-gatherers’, leading eventually to ‘faggot’ being used as a derogatory term for old women. The perceived femininity of gay men is most likely how the term came to be the slur we immediately think of today. It also happens to be the name of a kind of meatball I’m rather fond of. My point is, language is a tricky thing and the moment you start censoring words you don’t like, you’re in dangerous territory.

 

I am not for one moment disparaging the feelings of those who feel strongly offended, even targeted when ‘faggot’ or ‘fag’ is hollered in their faces. I understand the hurt and the fear that causes. It is, however, because of that fear that we must not try to censor the word but rather rise up and truly take ownership of it.

 

The simple fact is, there are people out there who would very much like to harm those of us in the LGBT community. Physically, emotionally or politically, they’re determined to get us. The moment you try to tell society that they can’t sing along to a song because a word causes you offence, they’ve got you. You’ve just handed them a weapon. They know that word can hurt you. Don’t give them the satisfaction.

 

Words have power, but that power shifts. To some, words like ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity’ are codes to live by, while to some they are dangerous buzzwords of no true value. ‘Pride’ means a lot of things to a lot of people. Some words have power because we allow them to. It is taken for granted that the word ‘hello’ is a greeting. If we were suddenly encouraged to take offence at the use of this word, we’d laugh. Why can’t we apply the same to ‘faggot’?

 

When someone does use ‘faggot’ offensively, their intent is pretty clear. Censorship does not tackle that intent. Education and a willingness to breach divisions can certainly help, though the sad truth is some people are just too mired in their prejudices to ever really change. A close friend might  hypothetically call me a ‘fag’ during a rare hypothetical argument and then feel terrible about it later, but believe me I wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

 

I am not offended by words. Actions offend me. I am offended when a governing body seeks to strip an entire group of people of their rights based purely on their orientation. I am offended when people are attacked and killed. Those are the real issues that need tackling, not whether someone uses a word we might not like.

 

So in conclusion, the next time you hear ‘Fairytale of New York’, sing out “cheap lousy faggot”, loud and proud, along with the rest of the song. Straight, gay, bisexual, it does not matter. Words don’t belong to anyone in particular. Words are their own entity, yet ultimately have no choice over the meanings we assign them.