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.