Gay Politics

A lovely article on Gaydar…

There is a quite charming article on the Independent’s site today – Confessions of a Gaydar junkie – which is about one of the world’s most successful (and mostly unsung) pieces of social software: Gaydar. Like most truly dedicated social software enthusiasts, I have – of course – forced myself to investigate the service, although with a certain amount of disappointment and embarrassment I feel compelled to confess that I’ve never actually met anyone off it. I suppose that means that my dedication to the cause of computer-mediated social interaction has some limits. Either that or I’m too embarrassed.

Anyway, the article is particularly good value, which I suppose you might expect since Mark Simpson wrote it. Mark – you will recall – wrote the rather irritating/insightful book Anti-Gay. He writes of his experiences:

“Moralists who protest at gay e-promiscuity should be encouraging the Government to provide gays with grants for permanent broadband connections, since the internet not only keeps them off the streets and out of the parks, it turns all that messy sexual energy and appetite into … typing. Gays have become the unpaid secretaries of desire, filing and cataloguing human weakness. Promiscuity is now a form of bureaucracy. Tedious, eye-straining, number-crunching slave work. Don’t bother feeling jealous, all you sexually frustrated, non-online non-gays: internet cruising is its own form of punishment.”

Well obviously, I’m not really into a position to comment on all that stuff, being at least as inadequate at pulling on a site dedicated to the process as I appear to be in real-life (is it the beard, do you think?). But there are some other aspects to the piece which I think are interesting in terms of the relationship between the internet as a place for social interaction and as a means unto itself. I’ll give you an example to end with – which although perhaps presented in rather absolutist terms is certainly entertaining enough to be worth reporting as fact:

“You see, the real efficiency of online dating, just as with internet anything, is not the way it delivers you lots of pointless sex without leaving the house, but the way that it ensures that you will be spending more time on the internet.”

Gay Politics Politics Television

On pets…

So Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was apparently – woo – a tremendous success in the States and everyone was so happy about it and stuff because – ha ha – funny gay men patronising the dumbass straight men – how funny is that!? But now – if the reports are to be believed – then there’s going to be a “Straight Eye for the Queer Guy” show coming out, designed to turn the tables back again with – ha ha – hilarious consequences. But some of my gay colleagues are protesting that turning the tables back again isn’t really acceptable behaviour… Their argument is that gay people already know enough about straight life – given that they’ve had to spend many years trying to fit into straight culture (while being taught that their lives will be immoral, diseased and short-lived) before erupting free from this stigma in a blaze of brightly-coloured taffeta and nicely-tapered trouser-bottoms. Their point is – I suppose – that one’s a tasteless misrepresentation, and the other isn’t.

I’m just having trouble figuring out which is which! Because as far as I can see, both of them share one thing in common – a flagrant and blatantly patronising image of gay people as cheery little inoffensive sexless chappies. Well bollocks to that. Bollocks to happy gay people on TV, bollocks to the straight audiences, bollocks to the producers, bollocks to the bloody cameramen, bollocks to any passing trannies. Bollocks, if you will, to absolutely bloody everyone. I’m going to say this once and once only – and I hope it doesn’t come as too much of a shock to anyone: It’s not just Straight Eye for the Queer guy that will be patronising shit that sells an image of gayness that is damaging and frustratingly bland. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was patronising shit as well.

I can’t really believe that was a shock to anyone, but just in case – I’m sorry for those of you who fell over and hit your head…

I suppose back in the late eighties, when the prevailing mood was that gay people were diseased perverts that would lead short, shameful and disgusting lives, the idea that we might get portrayed as happy little child-puppets might have been quite appealing. But that time has passed and I think we’ve all had enough now of that newest of grotesque gay stereotypes archetypes – that of the girl’s-best-friend, sexless, happy, home-keeping, stylish queer. I might actually bloody vomit if I see it one more time on television and if I get my greasy hands on Kevin Kline let me reassure you that I’ll be giving him a piece of my oh-so-wise, well-tailored and witty gay mind.

It’s not because it’s an unpleasant image of homosexual individuals, and it’s not because there aren’t any gay men that are all smiley and pastel in the world (because there are, and they’re lovely). It’s just because I’m sick to death with being “understood” by people I meet as being a “good-natured, slightly-dim, fashion-obssessed hysterical best-friend-in-times-of-need” kind of guy on the basis of the representation of ‘my kind’ in a few shit films and TV shows. There are differences between gay people and straight people – don’t get me wrong. But there aren’t any scientists world-wide who truly understand what the hell they are, and this leads me to suspect that maybe it would be foolish to think that a twenty minute comedy show would have a better idea.

Now I’ve read my Foucault like the best of them, and I believe him to be right when he says that categorising something is a way of asserting power over it. Hence the creation (and medicalisation) of homosexuality a little over a hundred years ago. And I’m with him on the next step too – that the creation of the category also creates an identity around which the group can rebel, to try and recast itself. But it works the other way around too. We started off as godless, sex-obsessed, dirty monsters and we fought and we’ve rebelled. And now instead we’re god-loving, relationship-focused, kitchen-cleaning princes among men who like little dogs, Versace and television where ‘we’ get to patronise people. Our ‘positive’ image has already been reincorporated and recontextualised and reconsidered and represented. The tremendous variety of gay male experience – from the most delicate to the most brutal, from the most elegant to the most fierce, from the most diplomatic to the most battle-ready, even from the most tacky to the most trivially crass – all of it is reduced down to the image of gay men as fussy little children – who play at ‘houses’, play at ‘cooking’, play at ‘being men’, play at life.

Well I want out. And this is where I turn around to face my comrades who loved “Queer Eye” but are cross about its sequel. I say to you that it’s not enough that a programme on television should just be ostensibly ‘nice’ about gay people. It’s shouldn’t float our boats that some show finds it entertaining to see the happy poofs take the piss out of groups that used to kick our heads in either. If you want some honour in your programming, demand that it shows you a larger variety of truths. Most particularly, demand that it shows you the truth of identity as something negotiated, fought for, forged, lost and potentially rebuilt. Don’t let them tell you it’s something that you’re born with, something inevitable that you’ll grow into whatever aspirations you might have. Because identity is a negotiation between the world around you and what nature gave you, mediated by your mind, morals, attitudes and beliefs. It can’t be given to you like you’d give a pet a name…

Gay Politics

On the distribution of gay teenagers…

Yesterday (via new-favourite-weblog Let Me Get This Straight), I stumbled upon an article about a Bronx senator and a conservative legal group in Florida who are suing the Harvey Milk school in New York with discrimination. The Harvey Milk school is the target of this attack because it is ‘the gay school” – it’s being accused of discrimination because (apparently) it discriminates against straight students (Lawsuit challenges gay high school). Now the school is unlikely to have too much trouble with this threat because it’s actually open to students of any sexuality. It’s perhaps not too much of a shock, however, that only gay students really want to enter into a programme that’s marked as being particularly capable of meeting their needs of people who are experiencing problems at their schools on the basis of their sexuality. I’d love to see the barely-hidden smile when they say, “We’re open to anyone who’s having trouble at their schools because of their sexuality – so find me a straight kid who’s being beaten up and harrassed by an overwhelming force of gay students and is being failed institutionally by an entirely gay staff and they’re in…” In fact in many ways this whole enterprise is a really bad idea for the anti-gay people – they’re just providing a platform for gay activists to detail all the ways in which our education systems fail gay teenagers [cf. On Homophobic Bullying in Schools].

Now I’ve had a couple of conversations with friends about the Harvey Milk school and they’ve been quite surprised by my feelings towards it. They assume it’s a kind of ghettoisation and that we should instead be fighting to make all schools gay-friendly. Certainly, this isn’t an uncommon feeling among gay people – the respondents to the Let me Get This Straight post aren’t uncritical. But I’m not critical at all – in fact quite the opposite. First and foremost I’m supportive because the specifics of the functioning of the school aren’t really encapsulated in the phrase ‘gay school’ very well – I think there’s generally a misunderstanding about what the school is there to achieve and when you explain its function to people, they pretty much get it immediately. It’s not there because gay children are a problem, and it’s not there to try and detach them from straight people or ‘normal’ life in any way – it’s there because the kids are getting regular, daily harrassment in their current school – harrassment that is almost impossible to control, permeates everywhere and can be extremely dangerous. Of course these things should be fixed at the source – school shouldn’t be a homophobic environment – but while they are, in extreme cases, you can understand the reasoning…

The other aspect of this is more complicated and I think it’s got something to do with the geographic distribution of gay children. Now the most obvious grounds for discrimination are probably things like religion, race, background or gender. For every single one of those things, while there are some schools in which one religion, race, background or gender might be in a significant minority, there are other schools in which the same ‘type of person’ will be in the majority. In religion, race and background these things are likely to be geographically determined – what’s a minority in one place will be a majority elsewhere. And (all things being equal, as in fact they never are) that means that there’s always the possibility of moving to a place where your child will not be judged on the basis of that one signifier.

Gender is different of course – there isn’t (for example) a massive geographical clumping of women around Nottingham. But still – there’s a roughly 50/50 split in boys and girls in pretty much every reasonably sized area in the world, so any places where there are lots of boys will mean a different place with lots of girls nearby. And of course – in terms of gender and schools – there are more often than not only really three stable states – girls only, boys only or roughly 50/50 (with exceptions of course for schools that place different emphases on subjects that attract one gender more than the other but are open to both – not uncommon, but also normally evened out by the presence locally of schools that complement them).

Now gay kids are in a different situation. Firstly, they’re not in any way geographically clumped. If living in a specific area would normally mean that the people you go to school with would be on average more similar to you on all the axes of religion, background, income and race (language even), it bears no relationship to whether or not they’re going to be gay or not. This makes it quite distinct from the geographical spread of gay adults, who tend towards cities where there’s more opportunity to clump into interest communities and lifestyle communities. But gay parents don’t necessarily have gay children, if they have children at all – so even in the most gay areas on the planet, there are still going to be no more gay kids than the 0.5% – 10% seem worldwide.

So they’re not geographically clumped, but nor are they evenly balanced like the genders. Gay kids represent a disreet chunk of the school-attending population – but not a particularly large chunk. The figures for the incidence of homosexuality among adults vary dramatically depending on which study you believe, but the consensus is that it’s probably somewhere between 0.5% and 10%. At school, the figure of kids who are out to their friends and families (let alone to the world at large) will be considerably smaller than this figure.

So what does this mean? It means, fundamentally, that gay kids will pretty much always be in the minority at their schools. They’ll pretty much always be considered the freaks and they’ll pretty much always have to see themselves as strange, different or abnormal. In this they probably have much more in common with groups with unusual inherited mental or physical attributes that have the potential to ostracise – and that’s everything from severe physical handicaps all the way to the unusually bright. Some of these groups we don’t have second thoughts about schooling differently – autistic children or the insanely clever for example. Others (those with physical problems for example) we try to integrate into local schools – because we believe that whenever possible a physical problem shouldn’t be a reason to stop an individual having the same options and opportunities as anyone else.

So that brings us to gay teenagers – what group are they in? Do they deserve access to the same options and opportunities as everyone else – clearly yes. But do they also have needs that aren’t likely to be met in a school in which they’ll always be in a radical minority. I’d say yes to that too. A gay teenager should have the opportunity while at school to realise that there are loads of other people like themselves, to forget – for a while at least – that they are not like everyone else. They should also have the opportunity to meet and date and flirt with other teenagers without wondering if they’re going to get beaten up. They should have the ability to have crushes on people without it being statistically inevitable that they’d have them on straight people. They should have the opportunity to do all that learning about relationships and going steady that are open in principle to straight people in general (even if many straight kids don’t feel able to take advantage of them).

So where does that leave us? Clearly the Harvey Milk model isn’t right for every gay kid or – indeed – even every big city. Nonetheless something needs to be done. There has to be some way for all gay teenagers to have someone to advise them without worrying that their secret will get back to their families before they’re ready to tell them themselves. And there has to be a way for gay kids to have those Dawson’s Creek moments that their straight friends wander through without realising how lucky they are. Maybe better guidance counsellors and gay summer-camps are the answer – who knows… But let’s not close our minds to the option of schools that advertise themselves as gay-friendly just yet, eh? The situation’s too grim at the moment to shut any options completely off…

Gay Politics Religion

On the existence of God…

I’m an atheist. I have been for nearly twenty years, and before that I wasn’t really anything – I didn’t really have a position on God vs. No God. I suppose I just hadn’t thought about it properly. I can’t really understand how anyone can be anything other than an atheist, but – despite my incredulity – people do still seem to conjure for themselves other non-atheistic options from the spiritual ether.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t understand how people can even vaguely justify theism (or even agnosticism) that I find myself continually in debates about the issue. I find myself explaining my stance on religion at least once a month. At one stage – while I was at University – I went through a bit of a phase of reading other people’s books on why they didn’t believe in ‘god’ either. These books were routinely extremely boring, because fundamentally the intellectual labour involved in making a highly convincing ‘anti-god’ case is so trivial that it feels out of place in the mouths or books of scholars. Bertrand Russell’s Why I am not a Christian was one of those books. I read it to see if I could find a new way to translate the obviousness of atheism to the people I routinely found myself in argument with. But fundamentally, it was the same as every other book of its kind. Obvious. Self-explanatory. Tedious. Repetitive. And yet – despite the banality of the arguments, religious people just don’t seem to get it.

I’m gradually coming to the conclusion that the experience feels real to them and that they derive value from it, and I have to confess that as long as religious reasoning is kept completely separate from policy decisions, logic and the like (ie. as long as people’s personal beliefs have absolutely no impact whatsoever on the rest of the world), then I have no problem with it. But unfortunately that’s very seldom the case. Every so often something frustrating happens to remind you exactly how unresponsive religion is to societal development and our increasing understanding of the world around us. Case in point? There is now around a hundred years of evidence that people who are gay are not gay by choice, and that their sexuality is not infectious in any way (and hence not – in any way – a risk to ‘moral fibre’). A hundred years of evidence accumulated – leading to the conclusion (reached by sets of researchers across the world, health organisations, psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, geneticists and ethologists) that someone being gay causes no one any harm. And what do you have on the other side? A couple of lines in a book written in the middle east several thousand years ago (filtered through a wide variety of cultural contexts which managed to cheerfully mutate meanings in all kinds of intriguing and implausible ways). And it’s this dubious translation of a few words of a several thousand year old work of historical fiction that prompts the Vatican to declare their profound dismay at the possibility that gay couples might come to enjoy the same legal rights as heterosexual ones – rights that fundamentally come down to being the default person that inherits when the other dies, or the right to have some kind of say in the health care of your loved-one if they happen to fall dangerously ill.

According to that document from the Vatican, I’m suffering from a ‘depravity’, I undertake ‘grave sins’, I’m ‘intrinsically disordered’. And that’s within the first screenful. Not only that, “all persons committed to promoting and defending the common good of society” should be working to stop me have sexual consenting relationships with other people. Because – of course, how foolish of me – I can obviously have no interest in the common good of society. The document talks about the need to “safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon” as if heterosexuality were such a trivial and slight state-of-being that even the merest whiff of same-sex action could tantalise even the most apparently straight white-bread down-home farm-boy or girl. Moreover, the document states that, “Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.” Tolerating our evil is one thing, apparently. Approving of it is something else entirely.

Frankly, it is the evil in the Vatican’s document – the fact that it will have a massively negative effect in some people’s lives and no positive effect on anyone else’s – that I don’t approve of. And increasingly I find myself no longer interested in tolerating it either. Still more even than that – I feel increasingly close to losing any tolerance of religious dispositions per se. Because while I’d like to say that it’s just Catholicism that’s seriously pissing me off, it’s not really Catholicism at all – it’s any approach to anything that would put more credence in statements (not even arguments) written thousands of years ago than in the accreted wisdom of hundreds of years that’s at our disposal now.

A few weeks ago I collided with a group of Christians proselytising their religion through song in Leicester Square. I was with Cal and Katy at the time. We’d just been to see a film. In the middle of the street, with no apparent prompting, a smart mobbish group of people started praising their Lord. I ended up explaining to one of them that Christian philosophy had sizable origins in Neo-Platonist collisions with the Semitic tradition, and that it had incredible analogues with some aspects of Dionysian Mystery cults. I pointed out that it was created in a moment of history and that its interpretation had changed dramatically over the years. I pointed out that it might very well not have existed in any plausible form any more if it hadn’t been for the Emperor Constantine using it as a binding agent for a failing Roman Empire – and that the same emperor hadn’t found their Christianity enough of a barrier to stop them murdering their own wife and son. I explained that while Christianity seemed transhistorical and transcendent – that originally it was just one of many different cult practices that exploded in a region at a certain time in history. And that none of these things made it untrue as such – but that they certainly challenged the monolithic image of Christianity as a pure beam of message from God – and that anyone who was going to seriously consider dedicating their life to a religious practice should probably do some bloody research beforehand…

But when we get right down to it, that kind of argument doesn’t really seem to help anyone any more than the debate I’ve been engaged in on Barbelith for the last couple of weeks (On Religion) or, indeed, the extremely entertaining 300 proofs for the existence of God which are derived (often) from actual philosophical positions over the centuries, and which I’ll append to the bottom of this post, because they’re so good. In fact I don’t know of anything that’s going to do any good in this situation, except a faith – not in divinity – but in humanity’s capability to tell its arse from its elbow. Unfortunately, this too is a faith I lost a number of years ago…

From 300 proofs for the existence of God:

(1) If I say something must have a cause, it has a cause.
(2) I say the universe must have a cause.
(3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

(1) I define God to be X.
(2) Since I can conceive of X, X must exist.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) I can conceive of a perfect God.
(2) One of the qualities of perfection is existence.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) If evolution is false, then creationism is true, and therefore God exists.
(2) Evolution can’t be true, since I lack the mental capacity to understand it; moreover, to accept its truth would cause me to be uncomfortable
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) If there is no God then we’re all going to die.
(2) Therefore, God exists.

(1) [arbitrary passage from OT]
(2) [arbitrary passage from NT]
(3) Therefore, God exists

Other stuff I’ve written about religion: On American Science and Fundamentalist Christianity, God as plot device.

Gay Politics

On a lack of fearlessness in man to man contact…

So through the magic of a constantly updating Google News RSS stream to NetNewsWire1, today I stumbled upon a piece in the Orange County Register called Manly Images. It’s an article about how John Ibsen – a researcher into early photography and masculinity – has discovered that men before the 1930s were much more intimate with one another:

“From the dawn of photography before the Civil War through the 1920s … it was customary for two or more American men to visit a photographer’s studio to have their portrait taken together,” he writes. “Posing for the photographer, the men would often drape their arms nonchalantly around each other and would sometimes hold hands.” These days, he notes, a more common way for adolescent men to spend time together is to go to the movies on a Saturday afternoon – and even then, they are likely to sit with an empty seat between them.

Immediately I was reminded of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s concept of the relationship between homosocial relationships and homosexual relationships. She argued that man-on-man friendships have been structured around the continual disavowal of any gay component – that the neurotic denial of any sexual component either was recently or has always been one of the most significant structuring principles of society’s conception of how men can relate to one another. And indeed, if you read the article further, this is one of the assertions of the article itself.

This new reticence, he noted, coincided with the introduction of a new way of thinking about sex. “The notion of people having a specific sexual identity is a modern notion. People weren’t nearly so much inclined to think of sexual identity before the late 19th century,” he says, noting that the word “homosexual” comes from a German word that was coined only in 1869. But in short order, homosexuality and homophobia came to be intertwined with the concept of masculinity and what it means to be male.

But if men used to be more comfortable with one another’s bodies and the physical expression of affection, could they be so again? It’s quite possible that this comfort was directly connected to the invisibility and complete suppression of concepts of homosexual relations. Or it could be that there simply wasn’t as much anxiety associated to such relations. But I’m afraid I think that it’s more likely that having a free and non-disenfranchised gay community probably means (at least in the short-term) a greater degree of anxiety for straight men. Until – that is – we move even further from the stereotypes and the repression and find a place where people no longer feel ashamed even to be suspected of being gay…

Note 1: Courtesy of voidstar you can get a bespoke Google News RSS-feed via this incredibly simple basic format: – where in this case ‘gay’ is the word I want regularly updated news about…

Gay Politics

A few thoughts on Jason Kottke's post on HIV…

I suppose this is an example where a politically neutral examination the transmission of a viral entity through a network suddenly takes on a huge weight of real-world issues and commentary and ends up looking totally different. Jason Kottke has written an intelligent post about the spread of HIV through the gay community outlining some of the areas that one would have to examine more fully before it would be possible to make a statement like: “Although he was considered part of a high-risk group, HIV is host agnostic. With just a slight twist of events, the virus could have first found its way into the straight communities of North America.”

All well and good, except that analysing anything to do with as emotive and politically volatile as HIV or ‘gay culture’ – however indirectly – may end up accidentally buying into some of the language and unspoken ideologies that have been weighed against same-sex relationships. I’m just going to highlight a few of the unspoken assumptions and issues that I see emerging from Jason’s post – while appreciating as I do so that it clearly wasn’t his intention to say anything politically dodgy.

Jason asserts of Gaetan Dugas, alleged Patient Zero within American soil: “since Dugas was a homosexual, he probably got it from another homosexual who got it from another homosexual, etc. By the time it got to Dugas, AIDS was probably already established in the gay community; he just accelerated its progress.” Clearly being in a high-risk group (gay men having unprotected anal sex with a variety of partners) it is likely that he would have contracted the disease through his relationships. But the assertion that since he was gay he caught it from other gay people doesn’t follow and gets dangerously close to supporting the ‘gay plague’ position that was prevelant when I was a frightened teenager growing up in rural Norfolk. In fact he or one of his partners may very well have contracted it from another person or species of animal of sexuality unknown. More importantly large numbers of people contracted the disease through infected blood transfusions or by blood contact via injury.

And if he did contract it from another gay person that doesn’t mean it was established in the gay community. If it was a disease that jumped species, then it’s just as plausible that he contracted the disease from a gay member of the ‘farming’ community. All these community structures have frayed edges and bleed into one another.

Which brings me to another point of argument, the stereotype of a community of ‘promiscuous homosexuals’ as if this group existed world-wide as a uniform monoculture. Actually instead this community was to a large extent culturally isolated among a particular metropolitan liberal west coast culture of gay men – and even then probably amounted to just the most visible and socially active component of the gay people in that area.

This gets even more complicated when you bring time into the equation as well – because it’s not promiscuous homosexuals that spread diseases – it’s nothing but particular exchanges of bodily fluids – and in the age of the readily-available condom, that translates to the statement that it’s ignorance and lack of information that spread diseases (not the gender or sexuality of the people concerned at all). I know for certain that there’s a generation of gay people today who have loads of sex with a large variety of people but manage to do so while being very much less likely to contract or spread STDs simply because they are more careful.

Which brings us right down to the crux of the matter – when Jason asks whether the partners of straight people are “more or less likely to spread the disease through their own promiscuity than the partners of promiscuous homosexuals” he makes at least one implicit accidental move that throws his whole post into question. Because if we are isolating homosexuality as a risk-factor in the spread of veneral disease then we also have to consider that gay women are far far less likely to contract or spread HIV than almost anyone else. Because the issue here is not that promiscuous homosexuals spread disease, it’s that people who have had unprotected anal sex are more able to transmit HIV than other people – whether they be straight, gay, men, women or anywhere in between…

Gay Politics

Three Stories of The Invisible Poof…

So the story goes like this… A friend of mine who used to work at The Express is talking with some friends in the office. She happens to mention me in conversation. A passing acquaintance of hers stops with a start… “Tom Coates?” she asks… “You know Tom Coates from Time Out?” My friend nods… The acquaintance gives a disapproving look… “I’ve heard things about him,” she says. “He’s supposed to be incredibly homophobic…”

You have to laugh. But then you also have to stop for a moment and look around nervously. How did I get here? My tendency to jokingly call other people poofs has got me into considerable trouble in the past, although my habit of referring to myself a great big poof has got me out of just as many… I always assume that the joke is understood – that people get that because I have strange trouser-feelings towards other men, I can say the word ‘poof’ when other people can’t… As a result it feels strangely liberating, and weirdly a bit like it’s challenging some entrenched conceptual positions somewhere down the line… So in one way, I suppose, it’s a statement of personal resolve with a little bit of overt confrontationalism thrown in for good measure.

More interestingly, perhaps is the way this kind of behaviour acts as a weird kind of bonding agent between traditional advantaged (straight) and disadvantaged (gay). I don’t know if it’s a collusive, mutually-useful, atmosphere-reducing strategy though or whether it’s all that and also a weird kind of selling-out. Does it buy into or even support our culture’s nervousness about the potentially sexualised aspect of man-to-man friendships? [check out Eve Kosofsky-Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet if you’re interested in this stuff]

Here’s another example for you… An old (straight) friend once looked mischievously towards me just as I beat him in an argument and said – in the most school-boy style that he could manage – “Yeah, well maybe, but you’re … a big homo!” After I’d spat my drink out of my nose, and howled in delighted outraged glee, I did the only thing I could do in the spirit of the occasion – I said, “Am not! Take it back! Take it back! You’re a big gay homosexual…” As I look back at this I can see more clearly than ever that this episode was basically a disavowal of any sexual component that might exist in our relationship. The fact that each of us felt capable to declare in turn, and comfortably, that we weren’t big homos – even when we both knew quite clearly that one of us was and was pretty comfortable with it – was evidence that our relationship had become easy, comfortable and free. But at the same time, in retrospect you wonder if this is an appropriate way to structure your sexual identity.

When I look at my relationships with gay men, they’re strained at best. I have a few very close gay friends in London – many less than I had in Bristol. Some are close as family to me, some of these ponced off to New Zealand and deserted me and I don’t see why I should forgive them. But while I’ve always found overly heterosexual posturing tedious, after a flirtation with gay identities, I’ve also come to find the trivial assembly of scene-based identities in London deeply irritating – even repulsive. There’s more honesty in the basic down-and-dirty sex that happens continually around London than there is the posing and posturing of the gay scene. Or at least so it seems to me at the moment.

I suppose, at thirty, I’m finding myself at a weird crossroads. Am I a self-hating gay man who finds himself unable to feel anything but repulsed by the community of my fellow poofs? I don’t think so.. But there’s something wrong, somewhere… Else why would I feel so invisible? Why would my sexuality have deteriorated so fundamentally in importance to me. Most people I meet don’t know I’m gay. Many people who read this site don’t know I’m gay. Despite being best poof in the world once, significant gay sites have just not even noticed my man-friendly tendencies… But this is wrong! They should know. It’s important to me. Maybe the answer comes from another story… I’m walking down a street with a straight friend of mine, and we’re watching the hot boys walk by, and I’m lamenting my lack of relationship (for the thousandth time) and asking if they thought I was just criminally fucked-in-the-head and they reply… “Tom, I don’t know how to say this, but I hope you’ll take it as a compliment… I don’t think you’re in the slightest bit fucked up about being gay, I think you’re fucked up about everything else…”

Academia Gay Politics History Politics

A piece of writing from a book about Baudrillard pertaining specifically to Nietszche and history…

I’ve been re-reading a little book on Baudrillard because it’s the only thing that fits in the pocket of my brand new coat (excessive money spent – we’ll say no more about this). In it I’ve stumbled upon a section about Baudrillard’s relationship to history and his debt to Nietszche that really appeals to me. It goes like this:

Friedrich Nietzsche, in his Unfashionable Observations of 1874, criticised historical inquiry in his time for making the present look just like another episode, and the creative acts of individuals humble by comparison. It burdened individuals with more knowledge than they could absorb; it encouraged a resigned relativism because change implied that the present was unimportant; and it generated irony and cynicism because it engendered a sense of late arrival…”

When I was doing my doctorate I got really excited by a passage in Forster’s Maurice – it’s a fairly iconic passage used in a lot of scholarship in a fairly throwaway fashion. In it, the character of Dr Cornwallis, teaching young undergraduate men (including our hero) says of a piece of translation that they are about to undertake, “Omit: a reference to the unspeakable vice of the Greeks”. I remember thinking this was extraordinarily radical considering how we now approach history. Current academic practice is one of dislocation – people in the past were nothing like us. They are incomprehensible to us by the standards that we generally operate by, and we have to hygenically and distantly analyse their behaviour with none of the emotional outbursts and resonances that we might use to examine contemporary matters.

This is considered true in basic historicist approaches, but even more true in historicist approaches to literature, where the assumption seems to be that one of the implicit acts of criticism is some kind of model-making of the minds of the audience (or author) of a work. Only by understanding the people do you understand the work. Personally I always thought this was a highly dubious intellectual move – particularly when undertaken in an absolutist fashion. Too many questions emerge from this kind of behaviour: Whose is the mind? Who does it represent? What about divergent readings from the period? Does it idealise a particular kind of reading or intepretation? Is the mind that we use to understand the text simply itself generated by us from the text itself?

Similarly there are problems with a complete lack of historicism, of course. It would be delightful to think that one could try and force a modern mind through a text without any historical information whatsoever, in such a way that they were encouraged to think about the text purely in terms of contemporary society – but it’s simply not possible. The mind constructs a fictional world as it reads – it contextualises, it tries to fit disparate and apparently nonsensical elements together. The practice of reading a work removed from historical context is simply an exercise in the conceptual reconstruction of that period. And this is never more true when you’re thinking about texts in other languages, where even basic comprehension the text requires a reconstructive leap.

So why is the statement in Maurice so challenging? Because it amounts to a statement that texts from outwith your cultural frame of reference aren’t just there to be examined analytically and distantly, nor even merely to undermine your assumptions of ‘normality’ and push you towards total moral relativity. Instead they can have very real and potent social and political effects. They are inevitably political, weapons / devices with no function other than to stimulate, entertain and use in argument and discussion to forward a case, a goal, a political end…

Gay Politics Net Culture

On B3ta, homophobia and teen suicide

The post below may be edited through the day. I have written it in a blaze of fury and irritation, and the language, grammar and spelling has suffered as a consequence.

What the fuck is going on with B3ta? Each and every week there’s the same range of crap jokes – the crap jokes that we’ve come to love – but increasingly one of those jokes each week seems to be about stupid funny gay people and how freakish, stereotypical and generally funny they are. I’m not going to deny that sometimes their jokes are really funny, and I wouldn’t comment in the slightest if it was a relatively rare occurrence – no one wants to live in a world where people can’t make any kind of tasteless jokes at all – but this really seems to be becoming some kind of obsession. And the excuse that I’ve heard is that it’s just ‘schoolyard japery’ – stuff that doesn’t really mean gay at all – like the idiots who wander around the place saying, “Marriage is so gay” – is just bullshit. At a certain point you have to look at the kids who grow up in these schoolyards – gay kids – who are surrounded by anti-gay sentiment each and every day. As a child, you don’t even have to know what being gay means to know fairly early on that it’s not something you’re supposed to be – that it’s bad and wrong and shameful. And b3ta is not only sanctioning this culture in schools, it’s fucking promoting it and extending it to adults!

Let’s start with a bit of a survey of the first few ‘gay offerings’ by B3ta I could find. If you know any others, let me know.

And by way of juxtaposition, a couple of years back I wrote an article On Homophobic Bullying in Schools. Let’s just see what kind of effect ‘gay’ jokes can have on kids…

In November, an inquest heard that a 15-year-old choirboy had been found hanged in his bedroom. Darren Steele had been left at home watching Neighbours by his mother when she went out for the evening. When she returned she found him dead. A note by his body explained that he had killed himself because of the bullying that he was suffering at school.

Darren had been bullied because other students thought he was gay. At the inquest, his friends explained that he had been regularly taunted as a ‘gay boy’ and a ‘poof’ because of his interests in drama and cookery. Over the previous five years he had been systematically punched, verbally abused and even burned with cigarettes by other students. He never told a teacher.

His mother’s statement reads: “I saw Darren kneeling on the far side of the bed. His face was blue. I went downstairs screaming ‘my son is dead’.”

There’s more if you can stomach it.

Gay Politics

My first public and scary experience of homophobia…

I had a really nice evening last night. Really cool. But I don’t want to talk about that. What I want to say is that wandering through Soho last night I experienced my first public piece of badgering because of being gay. First ever. I don’t mean by this that I’ve never had people wander past a bar I’ve been at and shout stuff in – because I have. And I don’t mean by this that I’ve never met people who don’t think that being gay is evil or stupid or disgusting, because I have.

But this was the very first time ever that I’ve actually experienced a group of people outside name-calling and being physically intimidating and aggressive. Except they weren’t really that intimidating at all. The whole event was startlingly stereotypical – but also very brief, and – I think – easy to rise above. You can almost understand it – insecure teenagers trying to assert their heterosexuality to their friends, trying to look hard. It’s a bit sad, but not particularly worrying.