Sunday, 23 February 2014

Queer As Folk - 15 Years On (The "Oh God, I'm Old" Edition)

I suspect I read about the upcoming first episode of Queer as Folk in the Guardian's "Guide" supplement. At 15 I took its recommendations deeply seriously. So that was how I found myself that evening 15 years ago today watching Channel 4 with the sound turned right down and one eye on the door.

Queer as Folk was just as spectacularly naughty as I'd hoped. 15 year old Nathan Maloney was living my dream, being an arrogant, insufferable idiot (not that I thought of him that way back then). Though Queer as Folk was an over the top gay soap opera, it was still grounded enough to make 15 year old me feel that being gay wasn't as abnormal as I feared. Turned out LGBT people were just like everyone else (well like everyone else in a soap opera...).

I couldn't wait for the second episode, which started with one of my most favourite scenes of all time, and lapped up the rest of the series. Sure the acting was often over the top but it was so fantastically entertaining that you could overlook its flaws.

Today I decided to pretend I'm not moving in just one month and have packing to do and rewatched series one. Despite the 15 years between me and that rather over-excitable 15 year old boy, it is still excellent stuff. Eminently quotable and now tinged with a little bit of nostalgia for my youth.

And along comes a little political point-scoring to make it all the more delicious. Earlier today I joked that Stonewall would oppose Queer as Folk. Well that just goes to show how naive I am and how willing to give them credit for past actions I remain, even now. Because in 1999 Stonewall DID oppose Queer as Folk. Absolutely beyond parody. But it did make watching the last few episodes that little bit sweeter.

It all seems a little surreal now looking back on it, not knowing then it'd spawn an even better American remake AND that its creator, Russell T Davies, would go on to resurrect my beloved Doctor Who. 'Nowt as queer as folk!

Something Happened On The Way To The Bathhouse: The Rise Of LGBT Sex-Shaming

Something has gone very wrong on the road to LGBT freedom. This month is not only LGBT History Month but it is also marks my 16th "gayaversary" since I embraced my sexuality, which probably means it is as good a point as any to look back on my personal views on where LGBT rights are going.

When I came out to myself (10.25am, 26th February 1998 outside room 12 at the Harvey Grammar School, I've always been a stickler for being precise about such things...) LGBT rights were in a bit of a funny place.

On the one hand the fights over Section 28 and an equal age of consent were still raging. Fighting over adoption and civil partnerships had barely even begun and the idea of same-sex marriage would have been ludicrous to all but the most optimistic. Even a couple of years later the atmosphere was tense enough for my then boyfriend and I to have stones thrown at us in the streets of Folkestone for daring to hold hands.

And then on the other hand there was a thriving scene. The gay bars and clubs were always heaving in Canterbury and Pink Cadillacs, hidden away in the countryside outside Ashford, was bustling. Cruising was still very much a thing. 10 years ago you could still pull off into a lay-by near Detling at any time of the day and be assured of seeing some rather naughty things in seconds. Right there by a busy road. In the day time. In 1999 there would be some serious controversy over a TV series named Queer as Folk but it was allowed to show some pretty exciting gay sex scenes regardless.

Could you imagine men cavorting on the side of the road as openly as they did in Detling now? Sure cruising still happens, and in lay-bys, but the sort of daytime unashamed cruising seen in the late 1990s/early 2000s is a thing of the past. The controversy in 1999 over Queer as Folk was just that it showed gay sex. Nowadays the Guardian's Comment is Free would be filled with articles complaining about its depiction of an adult male and underage boy having sex. I'd expect the Stonewall Chief Executive of the day would be calling for a follow up episode where the adult male is arrested and jailed lest such a depiction may corrupt our youth (or in Stonewall parlance they are "overly sexualised").

Now we have won many victories both legally and culturally. Coming out, as an adult at least, is a lot easier (if not always easy). We have won legal victory after legal victory. Our opponents, such as the recently formed and increasingly powerless Coalition for Marriage, have changed from being the "voice of the majority" (as they once claimed) to being defenders of an under attack Christian minority (with just enough truth to be more believable than their previous claims). But as things have become ever more easy, and as we approach attacking important issues like bullying, the opposition to LGBT liberty has come more from our own "LGBT rights organisations" than from anyone else. This is not without historical precedent, of course.

The Mattachine Society spun out of the far-left in the United States in the early 1950s. It sought to "Educate homosexuals and heterosexuals toward an ethical homosexual culture paralleling the cultures of the Negro, Mexican and Jewish peoples". It was opposed to "subversive elements" and attempted to portray homosexuality as ordinary, non-offensive and American. Though it did help lay the groundwork for what was to come, its slow, prudish pace and its alienation of those who didn't fit its apple pie image lead to it being swept away following the Stonewall riots by a more inclusive radical LGBT movement who made huge strides towards freedom in the pre-AIDS era and ultimately leading in those last few, in hindsight, blissful years before the epidemic to the elevation of people like Harvey Milk.

In the early years of the "gay cancer" "scare" a new conservative brand of homosexual rose as the free sex culture was ravaged by the illness. They called for less sex not from prudery but out of a sense of survival. Ultimately they failed to "rescue" many from the evil that had set itself among the LGBT population because they ignored human nature, focussed too much on closing bathhouses rather than safe sex and thus never won the hearts and minds of gay men.

By the time safer sex education began to make itself more assertive and brought AIDS to the level it is now at, LGBT rights groups were back on the track of fighting for more conservative aims such as, ultimately, marriage equality. Post-civil partnerships here in the UK, Stonewall adopted the same tactics as the Mattachine Society of presenting gay people (ignoring bisexuals and trying to pretend transgender folk don't exist) as thoroughly respectable members of society. Through education, and through their growing corporate links with Government bodies and the police, they have begun to work on neutering the sexuality of LGBT people.

You may think that last sentence is the stuff of conspiracy nuttery. You may think I've finally jumped off the deep end. But one read of Stonewall's latest efforts (supported by, of all folks, O2 and happily shared on Twitter by several police forces) to "protect" LGBT young people online reveals their disdain for any sexuality that doesn't involve some sort of long-term relationship and "love". Ruth Hunt's opening words reveal much about their attitude:

Unfortunately, as we’re increasingly aware, the internet has a darker side. Young people are encouraged to develop an overly sexualised view of relationships as a result of the widespread prevalence of pornography and many young people are creating sexual images of themselves.
I'm not sure how much LGBT history Ruth Hunt has read but "overly sexualised" is one way to describe most out, and quite a few closeted, young and old gay men pre-AIDS. Harvey Milk wasn't some angelic being who lived with one man all his life. He cruised from an early age and even in those final years as a San Francisco supervisor he still played the field. And she relies on some dubious logic widely subscribed to by conservatives and feminists that 1) pornography is demonstrably bad (some studies suggest it may even have positive effects and help reduce violent crime) and 2) that young people are needing special protection from the evils of sex (another issue very much disputed).

As you can imagine, if their document starts off from this premise things can only get worse. I'll let you read the whole thing yourselves but here are two particularly telling parts which I find indicate a disturbing dislike of teenagers exploring their sexuality.
"There is a 14 year old lad who has managed to download Grindr (a ‘social media’ app – let’s be more honest – it’s an app for men who have sex with men to meet and hook up for sex). Well this 14 year old has been nipping out of his bedroom window, sideling over to the local park at midnight and made himself available to all and sundry after agreeing to meet them on Grindr. Clearly he has put himself at a huge risk of HIV and all the other STIs and of course statutory rape." MSM (Men who have sex with men) Communities worker (South East)
Sharing this piece of sex-shaming really gets to the heart of Stonewall's fundamental beliefs. Grindr is a source of great evil, and 14 year olds shouldn't be enjoying sex. There are risks to sex, absolutely, and kids should be made aware of them so they can make their own choices about their life and have the means to protect themselves. BUT the language used here to illustrate Stonewall's dislike of "inappropriate" unsafe sex is deeply concerning and would, I'd imagine, frighten any exploited teen away from seeking help if their sexuality is going to be discussed in such a matter. It should be a moment of great shame for Stonewall to endorse such horrific views.

Worse though was this one paragraph which, when thought through, opens up a world of terror for young gay people.

Report sexting and online abuse to the police or CEOP. If your child has come across illegal content, report this to the Internet Watch Foundation. You can help your child feel as safe and supported as possible by asking if they need extra support to deal with what has happened. They may want to talk things through with a gay support group or confidential counselling service like ChildLine.
Report sexting to the police is a piece of advice suggested a couple of times in the document, I've taken here the least concerning use of it. Imagine the scenario. You are a 15 year old closeted gay teen. You have been sharing pictures of yourself with your current boyfriend (who is also 15) for a few weeks. One of your parents finds pictures of you and him on your phone. Following Stonewall's advice they contact the police. Your first experience of discussing your sexuality with your parents comes with a police escort. The teenager would certainly need support and the assistance of ChildLine after that particularly scarring experience, of that I have no doubt. His boyfriend will need that support too! The problem for Stonewall is that their links with the Government and police are now so strong that they are unable to offer even a minimum of common sense advice to parents such as "discuss this with your teen and discover whether this is exploitative or damaging". They can't do this because that is not the legal advice they have received. Instead they side with criminalising our youth, risking them getting prosecuted in some cases, over supporting LGBT youth and their families with really useful advice on staying safe whilst maintaining a healthy sexuality.

The slow creep of a leftie conservatism into the LGBT movement has left us at the stage where Pink News expresses surprise that lots of gay men prefer sex without a condom. Well of course they do! That doesn't mean they are then going to be unsafe, if they are told the possible consequences and given the means to take personal responsibility for their bodies. It is just an expression of fact, not some salacious, indecent belief.

The strength of Grindr, taking over where Gaydar left off, and other sex apps underlines that the LGBT rights leadership in the western world is out of step with the real lives of many gay men and women. We have still not gotten to the stage where we accept LGBT people all have different moralities and lifestyles, and our "leaders" still try to force a conformity on us that does not fit.

I take great pride, and a deep personal satisfaction, in my 10 year monogamous relationship with the man I have been blessed to spend the last decade with. But I take no less pride, nor less personal satisfaction, in my early years as a 14 - 21 year old screwing around, cruising, dating and having fun. Some people are monogamous, some people are not. Get over it. And start supporting them with whatever choice they make!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Stonewall Shames, And Seeks To Help Criminalise, Young Gay People

I've no doubt you've got used to my overly dramatic style of headlines on certain articles. But in this case I really don't think I'm going over the top.

In a joint initiative with O2, Stonewall has decided to seek to shame, berate and, I kid you not, criminalise the sexuality of young gay people (I say gay rather than LGBT because we are talking about S'onewall here). 

They've released a document entitled "Staying Safe Online" which is really a deeply conservative and sex negative piece of corporate "advice" to parents and teachers on how to control teenager's sexuality. 

Ruth Hunt's opening words seek to blame pornography for over-sexualising young gay people (when young gay people have had no problem in being over-sexualised since the year dot). Full disclosure: I lost my virginity at 14 to a boy my age and never, ever looked back. Whilst most of my teenage life was shit, I can safely say that sexually it was a fantastic time. The idea that sexualisation is a bad thing in itself (rather than discussing specific problems such as STDs, consent etc.) is a piece of conservative feminist propaganda put out to shame everyone into following a strictly defined sexuality as laid down by others rather than exploring and defining their own sexual needs, wants and preferences. 

It goes on to equate pornography to a host of real problems:

"Sadly, going online can also expose young people to risks, from the increasing prevalence of online pornography to cyberbullying, grooming and exploitation"

Let me make this clear: shaming someone over their use of pornography is the sort of tactic one finds in the Latter-day Saints or in the Jehovah's Witnesses. It is not healthy. There you are as young gay person wondering how it all works and getting bugger all of use at school (because school is about safe sex and relationships and not about what turns you on, for good reason too) and you are now unable to even view porn because of internet filters (supported by Stonewall except for their website, strangely) and because you're told it is something truly awful that might be equivalent to sexual grooming!

When I was a teenager I thought "bumming" involved two men rubbing their bums together, and didn't really find that at all appealing. Turns out porn was pretty good at showing what it really was. Thanks porn. I'm pretty sure porn has served to be quite useful in giving some basic examples of what sex between men (and perhaps even between women though I'm sure those representations are a little less educational given their context) is like.

And in supporting filters that block relatively safe (as compared to the cruising and cottaging there was in "my day", I'm getting old) ways to meet other gay folk for chats and perhaps more Stonewall is almost forcing kids to go out, just as I did (though I had nothing untoward occur to me that I hadn't explicitly decided I wanted), to bars, clubs and cruising areas to meet others. The idea gay kids are going to be lucky enough to just wander into another gay kid and hit it off and explore their sexuality in some sort of sanitised "safe" environment is just not one that is going to get off the ground in most cases. Do Stonewall have some Americanised image of gay kids meeting at school, holding hands on dates and waiting until they get married to have sex? Probably not given their reluctance to support marriage but I think the rest probably does hold true.

And what about this for basically shaming gay kids and implying their are sluts?

Grindr is a gay dating app for over 18s and matches users up by location. Although designed for dating, the app also attracts gay men looking to meet other people for casual sex. Many underage gay young people sign up with fake details, sometimes leading to inappropriate conversations, unsafe sex and exploitative relationships. 

"There is a 14 year old lad who has managed to download Grindr (a ‘social media’ app – let’s be more honest – it’s an app for men who have sex with men to meet and hook up for sex). Well this 14 year old has been nipping out of his bedroom window, sideling over to the local park at midnight and made himself available to all and sundry after agreeing to meet them on Grindr. Clearly he has put himself at a huge risk of HIV and all the other STIs and of course statutory rape. MSM (Men who have sex with men) Communities worker (South East)"

Inappropriate conversations? Oh HEAVENS! Making himself available to all and sundry? THE SHAME! When I was 14 I was putting personal ads up on gay sex newsgroups (I told you I'm old) and having an awesomely fun time. But obviously I was a victim of the evil internet and must feel deeply shamed about how risky I was being. 

What is this? The 1950s? Was he "clearly" putting himself at risk of STIs or was he being safe? Did he need more safe sex education or are we now operating an abstinence only policy for gay kids? And "statutory rape" was not a risk, it was something that was happening. Because that is how the law works. 

And then it goes into discussing the evils of sexting and how any cases an adult finds of a young gay person sending a picture of themselves to someone else (regardless of whether it was, for example, their long term boyfriend) should be reported to the police! Because criminalising young people for expressing themselves sexually is certainly the appropriate response in all instances. 

So what do we learn from Stonewall? Naked pictures are evil. The internet is bad unless you are on the Stonewall website. And sex is something only for grown-ups and kids should bloody stop having fun and get back to being abused in the playground where it is far safer. 

Ok. There is some over the top rhetoric here. But read the report yourself and try not to come away with the feeling that Stonewall is writing moralising nonsense about the evils of sex. If you manage it, well done!

Monday, 10 February 2014

The One Where I Don't Find Brendan O'Neill Completely Repellent

Something just doesn't sit right with me about all the talk over the Sochi Olympics. There's many issues surrounding it (the clearances, the corruption, the treatment of workers) and the debate that followed Russia's legislating to ban "LGBT propaganda" is one of those important issues. The treatment of LGBT people in Russia is a concern, as it is in many countries around the world, and taking action to investigate such abuses makes absolute sense.

However what doesn't sit right with me is the ridiculousness of the Western response. And hidden within Brendan O'Neill's latest clickbait article are some real truths about how feeble and stupid some of the reaction has been.

This Will and Gracing of the modern political sphere can be seen in the Guardian’s and New Statesman’s gay-themed refashioning of their mastheads for Sochi, in the furious spread around the internet of a meme showing Putin wearing lipstick (like a gay person!), in a hipster British brewer’s release of a ‘queer beer’ called ‘Hello, my name is Vladimir’, in Toronto City Hall’s raising of the gay flag for the duration of Sochi, in the United Nations’ decree that everyone in the West should ‘raise their voices’ for the gay community, and – get this – in Jon Snow’s decision to wear a gay flag-coloured tie on Channel 4 News during Sochi. If that doesn’t topple Putin, I don’t know what will.
And, because I've not been paying much attention to such silly gestures (and I'm instead wondering what can actually be done to help LGBT Russians, which is probably something well above my pay grade) I missed some of the insidiously homophobic comments that have been being made by the ever homophobic liberal sorts (who, it should be remembered, often tend to accuse homophobes of being gay) such as:

The Queer Eye vibe of the Sochi protests can be seen in the now incredibly popular pastime of Western journalists complaining about their hotels in Sochi, which has given rise to the exact same joke on every Twitterfeed in Christendom: ‘If you scare off gays, interior design goes to hell.’ Geddit?! Because gays are really good at interior design and Putin has gotten rid of all gays! This sort of shallow global posturing doesn’t only vastly exaggerate what Putin has done to Russia’s homosexuals – no, Stephen Fry, they do not face Nazi-style extermination – but it is also incredibly patronising to homosexuals. They wear lipstick, they dance about in hotpants, they are brilliant at decorating living rooms, and Russia will be really, really drab until it embraces them – that is the message of much of the gay-friendly uprising of Westerners against Putin.
Where I differ with Brendan O'Neill is the idea that criticising violence and hatred is somehow "imperialistic". And I think something, again above my pay grade, really does need to be done to help secure individual freedom worldwide.

But for once, he wasn't completely wrong. This is unlikely to happen again.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Coming Out As An Ally For Men's Rights Activists

Last year, when I wrote the "Why I Am Not A Feminist" post, I was planning to write a "Why I Am Also Not An MRA". I've often found BTL comments on MRA posts pretty depressing and filled with a similar amount of bitterness, creepiness and opposite gender hating to most BTL comments on feminist sites (except perhaps for, which is unfortunately a real website). Though I've followed a few MRA blogs for a while, and worshipped at the fountain of Youtube awesomeness that is girlwriteswhat, I have kept my distance from them for fear of being tainted by association. 

But really I need to be honest and stop sitting on the fence... it is time I stated openly that (with several serious provisos) I broadly support the aims of most MRAs. When you get rubbish like this published by a serious news magazine, one does have to wonder what is going on. When did a male asylum seeker (who, by the very nature of seeking asylum, are likely to have been on the receiving end of one form of nastiness or another) become worth less than a female asylum seeker (who, quite obviously, have also had their unfair share of knocks on the way to our shores)? Several of the replies on that piece to "What about the menz?" comments were basically saying "Well you're free to support male asylum seekers too..." I've decided to follow that advice on a way bigger personal scale. 

There is one nearly insurmountable issue with defending men's rights. Men love women. They'll tend to be quite happy to sacrifice their own needs and rights (women and children first!) for women. The "White Knight" syndrome is endemic. Well I love men. I think that they are generally fantastic. And I hate seeing them screwed over, time and again. So if most of them don't give a tosh about the way they get treated and forgotten, about the fact they live shorter lives and face a higher risk of suicide and that young boys and men have to fear violence whenever they walk out the door well I do. 

I want a world where men and women are treated equally. Where individuals are free to do as they please as long as it doesn't harm others. A world where violence is unnecessary and is not tolerated. These things won't come by focusing on one gender's rights at the expense of another. So I'm not an MRA as such. I'm still the same individualist I ever was. But I share MRAs critiques of feminism and I share their desire to improve the lives and well-being of men. I've set up some regular donations to a few MRA blogs I enjoy and find interesting and I'll be a bit less concerned about whether other people think that's an awful thing to admit in decent society than I used to be.