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!


Paul Brownsey said...

It's a troubling thing about the 'internet safety' campaign--and I'm not talking only of Stonewall's booklet--that it lumps together (1) looking at pornography with (2) bullying and exploitation.

It is being suggested that somehow (1) and (2) necessarily go together, and that the undoubted harm that arises via (2) is also somehow bound up with (1). It is being suggested that the undoubted horrors of internet bullying and so forth are somehow all of a piece with the so-called harm that is allegedly done you by looking at "inappropriate" (ah, that all-purpose word of disapproval, often deployed without the slightest attempt to say what's inappropriate about the thing in question, as though a sort of lurid flickering Inappropriateness just glowed of the thing in question!) pictures and films.

Lumping the two together is likely to be counter-productive, too, since teenagers who experience online bullying, exploitation, etc, may well have looked at pornography, too, and the air of blanket condemnation may lead to their keeping silent about the bullying because they fear the consequences for themselves of its being revealed that they've looked at pornography.

Jae Kay said...

Totally agree Paul.