I wrote this two years ago, on the third anniversary of my Nan’s death. I want to share it with you all, because much as I would like to say I feel healed, I can’t. It’s been five years. I don’t think I can ever forgive that church for forcing so many things to be unsaid.
You see, when I think of my gran, I imagine sharing all the things I do with her and I know how proud she would be. I can imagine exactly how everyone in her town would know hopelessly-exaggerated versions of every achievement I’d made, and I can feel that secretly-delighted mortification of hearing them back after a few rounds through the grapevine. I know that she’d have been up at the Galas talking David Norris’s ears off whether he liked it or not, and that every newspaper article about derby or demonstrations where you could kind-of see the side of my face would be saved and shared with half the town. I know that, and despite the everpresent ache of missing, that knowledge buoys me up and leaves me feeling so loved. Even though she’s gone for so many years.
I think about my nan, though? I miss her so much. I think about how much I love her. How close I always felt to her. How I idolised her when I was a kid, and how I grew up and.. well, that never really changed. I never thought of her with anything other than love. But right in the middle of that love? Is the knowledge that even if she was still alive, I’d have to keep so much from her. I can’t imagine how she’d feel about the things that I do. I’d still keep so many of them from her.
Because I was afraid. I was afraid that words would leave my mouth meaning “here is how my heart is wired and where I find joy” and reach her ears as “I am broken and my heart is bent towards evil”.
Except he wasn’t just a man, was he? And it wasn’t just a bar. Muslim, gay, American: a Muslim man walks into a gay bar in America, and everyone knows how it ended. The Orlando Shooting, we call it, before the sun has risen.
Grief means so many things when it’s public. It’s never simple.
There’s the first response, almost a routine: oh no, not again. There’s always the panicked worry- nobody I know, is it? And then details filter through, little grains of information that lodge inside us, growing larger and larger, getting covered with all the layers of our own assumptions and preconceptions until I’m not sure we could see those tiny truths if we tried.
And some of us want to say- no- what about the thousands of other Muslim men in gay bars in America that night? And some of us want to say that we knew it would happen, that it was only a matter of time before some fundie with a gun took a break from abortion clinics and shot up the queers. Some of us want to shout that yes, homophobia is everywhere in their Muslim communities. More of us want to shout that no, you will not use homophobia to excuse your hatred of Muslims. Others will talk about how exclusion itself is to blame, turning one isolated kid against another, shutting us off from one another from the beginning. Still others went hoarse years ago, exhausted from saying over and over and over and over again that it’s guns, it’s always guns. More wonder how many people have drowned in the sea this week alone, and then we hate ourselves because we only wonder about people drowning in the sea when other people in the West are killed by someone whose name sounds a lot like theirs did.
Germaine Greer likes to think of herself as a feminist. There was a time when she might have been right. While I’ve never been able to stomach reading her work, I’ve heard many feminists speak highly of The Female Eunuch.
There are parts of Greer’s feminism that I even agree with. She’s talked about liberation and creating a feminism that isn’t about aping men or aspiring to be like them. Yes. A feminism that puts down women, femininity and traditionally female tasks is nothing more than patriarchy with breasts.
It’s easy to simply say that Greer is a TERF- a trans exclusionary radical feminist. After all, most of her recent controversial statements have centred around her transmisogyny. When I’ve previously criticised her, this is what I’ve focused on. However, having read more of her comments, it’s becoming clear that it’s not as simple as that. I think that Greer’s transphobia masks something else: a deep-seated homophobia and misogyny, directed almost as much at cis women as our trans sisters.
CN: homophobia, physical violence and threats of violence.
Do you know what does my head in?
This idea of homophobia: it’s something special. In this view- which I’m going to call Capital H, for reasons which will make perfect sense in a moment- people who do homophobic things are called homophobes, and they are the worst.
Think of a homophobe, and what do you see in your mind’s eye? Something like this, maybe:
That guy: the worst.
What else might you picture? Maybe parents who kick their queer kids out of home, say. People who shout homophobic things at people who look gay on the street. Bakers who refuse to make cakes for same-sex weddings. Perhaps.
Let’s be clear: those people are grade-A, Capital-H Homophobes. But what about the rest of us? I’ll bet you don’t hate LGBTQIA people. You probably have queer friends or love Orange Is The New Black. If you got the chance, I’ll bet you even voted for marriage equality in your state or your country. You might even have been to a few Pride marches. You’re not A Homophobe. That’s the issue with the Capital-H idea of homophobia. It makes homophobia a terrible thing that only Homophobes do. Homophobes are monsters. You’re not a monster, are you? Continue reading “Homophobia: letting go of the Capital H.”→
If you can vote in this referendum, and you don’t? If something came up and you were just too busy and you didn’t get around to it? You are not my friend. We are not friends. You don’t have any LGBTQ friends. Because our lives, our future, our rights weren’t worth a half hour of your time.
I’d rather an honest homophobe over someone who pretends to care but can’t be bothered, any day.
I’m also very aware that this is the kind of talk that the No side will dismiss as bullying tactics. See, the thing that they like to pretend is that this is a simple matter of disagreement. That we should all be friends and polite and respect differences, and that if we don’t we’re intolerant. But there is no requirement for anyone to be tolerant of discrimination. Of institutional, legally-mandated bullying.
They would like to have us all believe that all opinions are equal, and that respecting someone’s right to have an opinion is the same as respecting that opinion.
All opinions are not equal.
If all opinions were equal, or if holding an opinion was neutral and harmless, there would be no point in having them. Freedom of speech would be meaningless. It wouldn’t matter if you could hold an opinion or not, or if you could express it or not. They would have no effect on the world.
So, a Catholic bishop said something completely wrong about marriage and queer people. I know. What else is new? Really, the newsworthy thing here is that I’m actually bothering to respond to it. But y’know something? Sometimes people who you expect to say terrible things do exactly that, and do it in a way that gets under your skin. Like this guy.
Of course, when an article has a title like “‘No obstacle’ to gays marrying, just not each other, says bishop“, you know that your blood pressure’s in for a bit of a boost. You also know it’s going to involve that delightful combination of someone talking about something they have zero experience of, and the particularly sanctimonious smugness that the Catholic Church has such a way with. Around this part of the world, at least.
Also, before we go on can we take a moment to note the sheer audacity of this kind of moralising coming from a representative of an organisation well-known for depths of abusiveness towards children that I sincerely hope are absent from even your worst nightmares? Yep, let’s think about that one for a moment, because the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland have zero moral high ground to stand on. And yet there they are, standing on their Emperor’s New High Ground, acting like their right to tell people how to live their lives has any basis in reality.
With all that in mind (are you feeling angry yet? I sure am), let’s take a look at what this guy- one Kevin Doran- had to say last Sunday. In public. To a congregation of people. Many of whom, of course, must be either LGBTQ themselves or have loved ones who are. And many of whom will, bizarrely enough, probably be back next Sunday.
Doran starts with this:
“You don’t have to be a Christian to recognise the truth about human sexuality; the joy of it and the heartbreak of it.
The three questions appeared in a Religious Studies worksheet.
The school said they have an ethos of inclusivity and the worksheet was part of a wider discussion on sexuality on both sides of the debate including extreme opinions.
The questions were in relation to 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 and were set by teaching staff.
What do these verses tell us about homosexuals?
Who else is included with homosexuals?
What hope is there for all these people?
What. Hope. Is. There. For. All. These. People. Like the hopeless depravity here is who we are and who we love, and not the inhumanity of telling some of our most vulnerable children that they are intrinsically wrong.
Fortunately, a parent complained and the worksheet has been withdrawn- too late, of course, since it’s already been given to the kids. But here’s what the Evangelical Alliance’s Peter Lynas had to say:
I would say that I’m not normally one for open letters, but this is the second in as many months. Congratulations- you’re turning a first into a trend.
I’m afraid, though, that that’s all I can congratulate you on tonight. You see, I’m writing this to express, well, my utter outrage and disgust at the extremely irresponsible and damaging actions of your spokespeople tonight. Specifically? On The God Slot’s Twitter account.
The God Slot- that’s, as you know, a programme on your very own RTE Radio 1- published this tweet regarding their programme for Friday 17th January:
When challenged on this, this was one of their responses:
You deleted the posts several hours after they were made- a bad mistake, by the way, in a social media landscape where accountability is expected and screenshots are barely a click away.
There are several points I need to make on this. If I were you, I’d make sure I was sitting comfortably.
Curing “The Gays”
Let’s start with the idea of a ‘cure’, shall we? Let’s take a moment to ask a question- what is it that needs to be cured? That’s not a trick question, by the way- there’s an obvious answer. We cure illnesses and disorders. Sometimes those are things which we catch from others. Sometimes they are genetic, innate syndromes, inheritable conditions that require treatment. Sometimes they’re mutations in our cells gone wild. However we came about them, we cure- or attempt to cure- the things that are wrong with us.
Being LGBTQ- really, describing our entire community as ‘gay’ is so twenty years ago- is not something that is wrong with us. I don’t say that because many LGBTQ people feel that we were born with our orientations, or because our identities are as consistent throughout our lives as those of straight people. I say that because, unlike the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia that we live with, our sexual and romantic orientations are a source of profound joy, connection, intimacy, family and community.
When you ask if gays can be “cured” of our gayness, you don’t just ask if a particular characteristic can be changed- you assert that it is something disordered. And somehow, somehow you manage to do that in utter ignorance that the thing you are describing as disordered is one of the most transcendent experiences we humans have. You are saying that our falling in love- from the moment we meet someone who catches our eye, to the sparkling bliss of a new relationship, to building homes, supporting each other through our lives, all the way to holding each other safe and caring for each other through our final days- that this is a sickness.
Love is not a neutral trait. It is not something we can idly talk about ‘curing’. To ask whether we can be cured of our gayness- or, as you didn’t mention, of our bi-ness and our queerness- is to ask whether we can be cured of profound love, cured of some of our closest and most valued relationships.
A Question of Pointlessness
Let’s leave that for the moment, though, shall we? Let’s pretend for a second that you are not asking about a cure which would destroy families and tear loving relationships and marriages apart. Let’s leave the word ‘cure’ behind and simply ask, in more neutral and less homophobic terms: does therapy to alter a person’s sexual orientation work? Is this something that is still open to questioning?
If you ask the World Health Organisation or the American Psychiatric Association, the verdict is a firm ‘no’- conversion therapy does not work, homo and bisexuality are not disorders, and it is, in fact, unethical to attempt it. You’d get a similar answer from the American Counseling Association, the Pan American Health Organization, the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists- any legitimate, reputable organisation you can find. ‘Therapies’ with the aim of changing people’s sexual orientation are both entirely ineffective and profoundly damaging.
There is no question to be asked on this worth spending an hour on. To do so does nothing but foster the illusion that there is a debate to be had on this subject. The debate is over. It has been over for years.
And remember: this is not simply a clever topic to play with. This debate is about our families, our relationships, our ability to love. Is about ‘curing’ us of our partners, our husbands, our wives. It is about curing children of their mothers or of their fathers.
Let’s move on.
Fascists, Queers, and Remarkable Ignorance
I would have hoped that your staff, being professionals working in a field made up entirely of communication and sharing of perspectives, would be able to respond with dignity and respect to feedback. I would have hoped that they wouldn’t accuse LGBT people responding to them of “fascism masquerading as liberalism”.
I would have expected, RTE, that you would have some people employed to research the topics you’re covering* and the people being covered by them. I would also have expected them to show some competence. I would have expected them to have a basic knowledge of history, for example, and to know that describing LGBT people defending our right to not be ‘cured’ of our orientation as fascists is not only inaccurate, but deeply ignorant of the profound homophobia of fascism, both in its historical and current forms. Fascists kill queers. They kill- and if you go back a few decades, killed in huge numbers- people like me. How dare you use the label owned by people who have murdered countless queer people to describe a queer person defending their right to exist? How dare you?
And at the end of all of this, here is the apology we recieve:
You apologise if we are offended. You do not apologise for your words. You do not apologise for the damage they cause. You apologise for our feelings, not for your actions. And- to add insult to injury- you entirely ignore what you said after your initial tweet.
This is not good enough, RTE.
Edited to add: If you feel like RTE should be held accountable for their actions, you can send them a complaint here: [email protected]
*On the off chance you’re looking for a researcher, by the way, I do have a couple of social science degrees and a bunch of postgrad research experience under my belt. Y’know where to find me.
Have you seen the latest hoax this week? Several articles- all copying and pasting the same thing, of course- claiming that Robert Mugabe‘s son has come out as gay. In case you’ve been under a rock for the last few decades, Mugabe has been either Prime Minister or President of Zimbabwe for longer than I’ve been alive. And I’ve got more than five or six grey hairs. As with most people who’ve been executive heads of states for thirty-odd years, his career hasn’t exactly been a wonderful golden age of prosperity and safeguarding of human rights. I’m no expert in Zimbabwean politics, though, so let’s just stick with one point: Mugabe is a virulent homophobe whose government has brought in laws making it illegal for two people of the same sex to as much as hold hands, and who has described LGBT people as “worse than dogs and pigs”.
He’s probably not volunteering to set up a local chapter of PFLAG, y’know?
Of course, the story isn’t real- Robert Mugabe doesn’t have a son called Chipape, never mind a gay one. But it did spread quickly before (and, it seems, even after) the inevitable 5-minute debunking. That’s not a surprise- it’s exactly the kind of story that people like to hear. Because LGBT people show up in all kinds of families, it’s never too much to hope that well-known homophobes will have to face up to people they love dearly coming out. And we all know that nothing crumbles homophobia to dust quite like knowing, loving and understanding someone who’s queer. Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone like Mugabe was forced to come to terms with having a queer son or daughter? Couldn’t it change everything? Wouldn’t it be the perfect combination of redemption narrative and schadenfreude?
Not really. No.
Where is your empathy?
Seriously. If that narrative sounded glorious to you, where is your empathy? I ask this in a very literal sense. Who have you empathy with?
It seems to me like the people being noticed here are you and the homophobic parent. The homophobic parent gets their comeuppance. With any luck, they learn a valuable lesson about acceptance and (eventually) come to love and accept their gay son or daughter, after getting the shock of their lives. You get to sit back and enjoy watching your enemy squirm, before putting on your most benevolent smile and welcoming them over to our side. Everyone has a great time.
Except for the kid.
You see, in this story you forget about that kid. The one who had to grow up knowing that their parents- the people who are supposed to love you most unconditionally- despise a basic part of who they are.
In the best-case scenario, it turns out okay in the end. Before that, though? The best case scenario involves that child growing up learning that anything other than cisgender heterosexuality is an abomination. It involves the dawning realisation on the part of that kid that they are the abomination everyone hates so much. Years of trying desperately to change themselves. Years of trying to hide. Years of fear of losing everyone that they love. Of knowing deep down, every single moment, that they have to pretend to be someone they’re not.
In the best-case scenario, this child- who has been unknowingly brutalised their entire life- finds support and love somewhere. They find a place to stay and a community to accept them when their family rejects them. Over months or years, their family comes around and, eventually, things are okay. Mostly.
Okay, except for the pain inflicted on that innocent kid in ways that never truly goes away.
That’s the best-case scenario. I don’t think I can stomach the worst.
We are not your punchline. We are not your punishment.
I’m going to say that again. Queer people? We do not exist to provide punchlines in straight people’s stories. We do not exist to punish straight people for the error of their ways. Life is not a fairy tale, and we are not supporting characters in someone else’s morality play.
I don’t hope that Mugabe has a queer kid. I don’t hope that the WBCers do- although it’s highly unlikely that all of their kids will grow up cis and het. For their sakes, I hope that they do.
I don’t want queer kids to be born into families that hate them, so that they can do the work of converting their families to our cause. I want queer kids to be born and raised by families who love and cherish them for exactly who they are. I want the to grow up knowing that whatever the rest of the world will throw at them for being queer- and it will- they always have somewhere safe to come home to.
And if you don’t agree? Put yourself in that kid’s shoes. Then get back to me.
Homophobia is often a symptom of latent homosexuality. Homophobes need to be encouraged to accept their orientation.
I quote it because it’s so common. We hear this all the time. Someone expresses wildly homophobic views, and the response is that they must be closeted themselves. They’ve got some issues to deal with, amirite? Some personal stuff they need to work out. Wink. Nudge. Know what I mean?
Yeah. I know what you mean.
Sometimes you’re right. Lots of people do respond to internal conflicts by acting out. Loads of vehemently homophobic people are closeted. But I’ve got a few issues with ‘homophobes are all queers’ being our go-to explanation.
You’re a straight ally or a happy out queer. You don’t go around using homophobic slurs- except maybe with your BFFs in private, because that’s different. Until, that is, someone starts loudly proclaiming that queers are evil sodomites who’re bound to hell and should be kept far, far away from children. Against them, all bets are off, and you just know that the best way to get under their skin is to call them the thing that they hate the most. And y’know what? I’ll bet you also do it because it’s fun. We don’t get many chances to make gleeful insinuations about someone’s orientation. That’s normally considered impolite, isn’t it? But when it comes to loud homophobes, we can gleefully let out our gossipy sides and speculate to our heart’s content.
It’s a pity that by doing that, we’re throwing queers under the bus. We’re perpetuating the idea that there’s something salacious about queerness. That it’s okay- even in very particular circumstances- to mock someone’s internal struggles with a homophobic society.
Closet cases’ orientations shouldn’t matter. You advocate homophobia? I’ll come down like a ton of bricks on your views. What goes on inside your head is irrelevant to me, in all but one instance.
You see, to be honest, homophobic closet cases are one of the few kinds of homophobes I’d have genuine sympathy for. I get that coming out is terrifying. I get that internalised homophobia can mess you up. Those things damage us all, and closeted homophobes have been damaged even more than most of them. I oppose their views utterly- and at the same time I wish them the best and hope that they’ll learn to accept and love who they are. But I know that’s one hell of a tough road.
Which brings me to straight people.
Straight people are off the hook.
A hell of a lot of the speculation about loud homophobes’ orientations seems to come, not from queers, but from straight people. The straight people who we know and love, who call themselves allies and love us right back. Lots of the time, it comes from straight folks who walk the ally walk as well as talking the talk- the people who march beside us, defend us even when we’re not around, listen when we tell t hem how it is, support us. I love you guys to pieces, by the way!
But when you say that the loudest homophobes are closeted LGBT folks, you erase the fact that the vast, vast majority of homophobia doesn’t come from closeted people. It comes from straight people. Casual, everyday homophobia overwhelmingly comes from straight people (and yes, by the way, I know that all of you aren’t like that). The vast majority of people who vote against marriage equality are straight. The vast majority of the people who draft gender recognition legislation that enshrines gatekeeping, divorce, diagnoses and compulsory surgery are cis. The people who think that knowing we even exist should be kept from kids, because we’re too ‘confusing’? Mostly straight and cis. The people who treat us ever-so-slightly differently, who tokenise us, who judge us by how closely we conform to stereotypes? Mostly straight and cis. And, yeah, most of the people who brainwash, reject and demonise us are straight and cis too.
But if we joke that homophobes are all homos, we let straight people rest easy. Homophobia becomes something that isn’t just targeted at LGBTQ people. It’s something perpetuated by us too. Homophobia stops being straight people’s problem.
It erases the structures that make closet cases into homophobes.
Do homophobic closeted queers exist? Hell yeah! Is it a disproportionate thing? I think it is! Do closeted homophobes come from nowhere? No.
Every closeted homophobe is themself a victim of decades of oppression. They’re not demons. They’re seriously, horribly damaged people who have been twisted into caricatures of the antithesis of what they should be. They’ve been so profoundly distorted by the communities they grew up and live in that It’s gotta be horrible, and they didn’t start it. Our society is riddled with homophobic structures both overt and subtle. Homophobic queers are the crowning glory of a society that tells us that who we are is shameful and disgusting. If we want to fix that? We have to look a little deeper. We have to quit looking at the weeds and dig out the roots.
Isn’t that just letting closeted homophobes off the hook?
I hope not!
There’s a huge difference between the responses that we have to homophobes who’ve been outed, and the idea that every single homophobe gets tarred the the queer label. If we know that a particular person is a hypocritical, lying piece of shit who’s, say, using their massive public influence to turn people against LGBT folks while secretly messing around with people of a distinctly similar gender to their own? They’re fair game. Homophobes in general, though? Let’s remember that they’re far more likely to just be garden variety hetero bigots.