I was musing recently to a friend of mine, who happened to have attended my south coast comprehensive - albeit twenty years before me - that I didn’t know any openly homosexual people during my schooldays. He looked at me in horror.
“Good Lord, no. Are you surprised? There are easier ways to commit suicide.”
Happily, things have changed for the better, by and large, in the intervening period. In 1998, the House of Lords threw out an amendment to the Crime and Disorder Bill that would have equalised the age of consent at 16. Their Lordships weren’t homophobic, you understand. They were just concerned for the message such an action would send to the kiddiwinks, as if adolescents of any sexual persuasion are going to say: “Hang on, get your clothes on and hold the hormones, we need to check the Statutory Instrument section of Hansard to see whether they managed to update the primary legislation put forward in 1998!”
These days, it’s hard to comprehend that these matters were ever the subject of serious, contentious debate. Most of us pootle along, unbothered by whether our friends have boyfriends or girlfriends, and the general consensus when somebody comes out is: “Meh. Live and let live.” I don’t want to glibly suggest that homophobia no longer exists, of course it does. But homophobia – unlike fifteen years ago – is now a minority sport rather than a state sponsored one. Most people just get on with it, and the odd blast of less-than-charitable coverage of our gay brethren is regarded as an anachronistic curiosity rather than a fact of life.
All this is a preamble to roaring, “Politicians! Activists! What in the actual chuff have you been up to these past couple of weeks?”
First of all, there’s the Tories getting their Parliamentary undergarments in a wangle over gay marriage. This, obviously, is not really about gay marriage. This is about up to half of the Conservative Party set to defy Cameron in one of his frequent and frequently doomed attempts to make the Tories resemble a party that at least looks as if it knows we’re now residing in the 21st century. As it goes, I’m more enthusiastic about this than I was about him hugging huskies or whatever he was up to when he began the detoxification process, but it’s not me he has to persuade. He has to persuade his MPs, who aren’t exactly feeling the love for the Prime Minister right now for a variety of reasons, and for whom gay marriage isn’t exactly at the top of their list of priorities anyway.
Still, I’m looking forward to the debates. Usually you have to wait for the Lords to consider matters pertaining to homosexuality to get the full sweaty-palmed insanity, including references to “throbbing members”, “sodomy” and the proceedings concluding with matron having to administer a damp cloth to the temples, but I’ve high hopes that some of our Tory friends might oblige in this respect over the coming months.
Meanwhile, in a different but no less bonkers side of the political spectrum, we have the left tearing itself apart over gender issues. This has been gone over a million times, so just a brief recap: the Guardian’s Suzanne Moore writes an article containing the phrase “a Brazilian transsexual”. The Left Wing Wimmin Mob duly descended, full of self-righteous anger, abuse, demands for her to apologise, and the implication that she alone is responsible for all transphobic hate crimes ever. This has dragged on for well over a week now, and there’s nothing that she seems to be able to say that isn’t misinterpreted by the self-appointed guardians of feminism, gender, and sexuality on twitter as another gross personal insult to those for whom it is a professional requirement to take umbrage all the time. Things got properly bizarre when someone thought, “I know, I’ll get Julie Burchill to write a piece on this. That ought to calm things down!” which was, predictably, like yelling, “Anyone for some Bratwurst?” at the UKIP annual conference.
Of course, most of the twitter mob who are trying to nobble Suzanne Moore aren’t actually offended transsexuals, they’re just the usual suspects “concerned” for those that are. And, of course, if they get to take on an established journalist, hit the headlines themselves a bit, get more followers and maybe a column commissioned, well it’s all good for the cause isn’t it?
Both of these attitudes – the cynical opposition of some Tories to gay marriage and the mostly synthetic outrage against Moore – are, in my opinion, not about their subjects but about the ambitions of those who express such sentiments. Many of the Conservatives aren’t that fussed about gay marriage. Most of the Moore’s detractors don’t spend their evenings scouring the internet for real instances of transphobia. In both cases, minorities are providing a useful vehicle for the disaffected.
Truly noble, chaps.
Meanwhile, most of us in the real world are just getting on with it, minus pitchforks, sanctimony, lectures about “cisgendered supremacism” or references to “buggery”. See you down here sometime.