Sunday, 23 February 2014

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!

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