Monday, 15 June 2015

Never Say Never

"It's much easier being gay these days," she asserted, "kids in schools are far more accepting."  This statement, made to me some months ago was one of those chance contributions to a discussion that left me thinking and the comment embedded itself like a morgul-blade.   If it went in deeply enough would I come to accept it?  I return to that statement often and chew on it.  I can't help myself.  Is she right?  Would she still feel the same if she walked a mile, or some days just a hundred yards, in my shoes?  

I've never dressed up for Pride before.  Norwich was P's first time, so
he decided we needed to make an effort.  He spent a couple of days
sewing ribbons and some of Esme's Buttons on things.

I move mostly in circles of the artistically inclined who have, traditionally, been more accepting of minorities.  I also spend time in schools where I still hear the word "gay" used pejoratively.  I heard it used by an angry five year-old last week.  He was being disciplined by a male teaching assistant (T.A.) who told him, "we don't used that word", which pleased me, but I am almost certain the T.A. is one of us and has a personal interest.  I am not convinced that all other adults in schools are as aware of the hurt and the damage that seemingly simple words can cause.

In childhood I was often called a "sissy".  I'll never know for sure whether I displayed overt behaviour that prompted this or whether it was nothing more than the catch-all insult amongst my generation.  Trying to think what prompted such abuse I know I felt things deeply, I cried easily, I didn't relate well to gangs of boys or, sadly, to my male cousins who engaged in far more boisterous activities. I didn't like being wet, cold or dirty.  I guess they probably didn't like it either, but they seemed not to notice it as much as I did.  I liked to dress in bright colours, while they didn't.  I loved music and dancing, which left them confused.  On the other hand organised sports and games left me cold and the joy of kicking a ball around was a complete mystery, much to my father's disappointment.  Apparently he tried often to engage his dear firstborn's interest until he was forced to accept the futility of the exercise and returned to making sure he was able to work long and hard at providing for the family's needs - earning sufficient through being employed in his three jobs.  I didn't really see much of him for some years until my brothers came on to the scene and found they had more compatible interests.  To my father's credit, he recognised my love of dancing (he was actually a keen ballroom dancer too) and enrolled me in tap dancing classes when I was three.   One of his jobs was as a tailor's cutter and he made me a pair of trousers and a bow tie for my first show from bright scarlet satin.  I was not stereotypically uncoordinated and I could throw a ball, admittedly not as well as some.  I did not have many friends who were girls and, after primary school, that was not my world at all, having only brothers in the family and almost exclusively male cousins (the female producing family members had mostly emigrated to the colonies).  I despised some of these aspects of my character and found others inconvenient, but I don't know if these are the parts of a child that were killed off in order to create a man eligible for society's approval.  Like most boys I made friends more readily with other boys.  I usually had one special friend and I do remember very powerful feelings of emotional attachment.   I became aware of something else I couldn't fathom.  These attachments often left me feeling sad that I felt a balance of commitment to the friendship was uneven.  Was this a manifestation of every child's insecurities in a deeply puzzling world or was it something else?  I also have vague memories of having more interest in the male form than in the female.

As I moved through secondary school, an all boys institution, one did not relish being called a "mo".  Why did the insult take root?  Is it because every time it was used against me I recognised at some level there was something in it?  That something was clearly not operating consciously because all I "knew" about homosexuals was that they were men, they were not nice, were not suitable company, had an insatiable craving for something unspecified and unspeakable, not to be trusted ... the list of negatives went on.  Some boys said that the popular camp comedians of the time were "mos".  I can't think of one of those old men that I thought was funny.  I certainly felt nothing in common with any of them.  At church I heard frequent diatribes from both the pulpit and in our peer group classes against the "sin" of homosexuality.  "There is no such thing as a homosexual, only the abomination of same-sex behaviour, an abhorrence in the sight of the Lord" ... "parents, if you discover that your son is caught up in same-sex sin it would be better for his eternal salvation that he have a millstone tied round his neck and he be thrown into the Great Salt Lake" ... "for any man finding himself physically attracted to another of his own sex it would be better for him that he had never been born ..."  and so on.  Years after I completed years in counselling and years after I last set foot in a Mormon chapel I can still hear those statements, even in paraphrase.   One of the last of these sorts of statements I heard delivered in church came as I approached the dawning of self-realisation and my own coming out in my late thirties.  One of my "friends" announced to the congregation in the course of a talk about something quite unrelated "... for I abhor homosexuality ...".  It seemed rather a pointless thing to share although my awareness of the concept of homophobia was still undeveloped.  Fifteen years after I had come to the conclusion that I did not share the aspirations and beliefs expected of every good Mormon I was still attending some church services.  I cannot remember a single positive image of homosexuality.  Certainly I never knowingly met another gay man at church (although I came to realise later that I had known some equally closeted Mormons) and I had no one to whom I could relate these aspects of myself.  I knew I was different, and I knew something wasn't right, but I had no clue as to what the problem was.  I put it down to the fact that I liked music that would never make it to the officially approved list of so-called "church standard" listening!  I was never going to be able to like the music of The Osmonds.  Of course, now outside the cult I can see more easily some of the preposterous lengths to which human beings can go to remain in comfortable denial.  Every time I was attacked directly through being called names, or by being beaten up (which, thankfully, did not happen often), or through implication by hearing bad comments based on insubstantial negative stereotypes I think a little of some part of me withered.  I think some of those parts died.

In many senses my female friend is right.  There are many ways in which being gay is "easier".  For a start we are tolerated in law.  I am no longer likely to be set up for entrapment by the police and less likely to be open to blackmail now that I am "out" and have no one from whom I need to hide.  If I choose I can marry the man I love.  Most of my large circle of friends and acquaintances accept that my feelings of attraction, devotion and commitment to my chosen partner are every bit as valid as theirs are in their own relationships and that, as in their relationships, these may be validated and cemented through sexual intimacy.

However, what I don't hear in relation to straight relationships is a constant hum of  background noise (which sometimes comes very much to the foreground) of people who feel that straight, i.e. heterosexual, relationships are by definition an aberration.  Same sex relationships may form a minority of the total number of partnerships, but that does not amount to an aberration.  It is surely more of an aspect across a range of very normal human sexual behaviours.  Same sex activity has been observed throughout the animal kingdom.  It takes a special kind of ignorance to define homosexuality is "unnatural".

Recent changes in legislation relating to equality law and the status of same-sex partnerships have increased this noise.  I think that in the context of the relative numbers of straight and minority sexual orientations in the population we hear far more homophobic dissent than we do homosexual affirmation.  This is the noise with which we grow up and which we continue to experience throughout our lives.  As we grow up we are pounded by heteronormative values, imagery and concepts.  Is it any wonder that most of us, even in these so-called enlightened times, can only come to an acceptance of our own lgbt status through having first to work through something that "isn't right" or doesn't make sense?  

So, if it is "much easier to be gay these days" it still seems to be a challenge.  The majority of the Conservative Party's MPs voted against passing the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 in opposition to the strong lead taken for equality by party leader and Prime Minister, David Cameron.  187 Tory MPs either voted against, formally abstained or simply did not bother voting as opposed to 118 that supported marriage equality.  The entire Democratic Unionist block of 8 MPs from Northern Ireland voted against marriage equality.  More surprisingly 60 Labour MPs and 13 Liberal Democrats failed to support the Act.  Even with a large enough majority to pass the Act for Royal Assent that is a significant number of influential voices who think that same sex relationships are inferior.  Add to that the continued ravings of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox hierarchies, the more conservative voices within the leadership of the so-called Anglican "Communion" the vocal orthodox, fundamentalist and conservative leaders and members of pretty much every other religion - Islam, Judaism, Hinduism - or sect, or cult including, for example, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostalists, assorted evangelicals, Scientologists as well as loud voices speaking outrageously from some minority political parties (UKIP, BNP), reactionary newspaper columnists, egoistic "self-appointed voices of the people" radio commentators and anyone who has ever been pissed on by these ideologies and that is a lot of noise and a lot of influence.  Those are just the ones in this country.  The vast majority of member countries of the Commonwealth and most of the countries of the Middle East, along with Africa and Asia have laws in place making life for glbtiqq people somewhere between unfair and fatal, while countries from the former Soviet Bloc have made life more difficult for LGBT people through changes in legislation.  Within the EU and its closest neighbours there are many voices that would like to see a change away from these more enlightened times encouraged by EU law.  America continues to export its ideologies around the world and money changes hands to further "the work" of vicious ministries of the likes of any number of American spokespeople for God (why an omnipotent being needs so many people to speak for Him has to be one of the great mysteries) including Scott Lively who is at last apparently to face trial for crimes against humanity.  The death of any person, whether committed by the mob or by the state, who has a suspected or genuine relationship with a person of their own sex in any country in the world is a voice against the freedom in the UK of gay men, lesbians and probably bisexual and transgender people to form loving liaisons that do no harm to anyone outside of their relationship.  Until the prejudice that feeds this homophobia disappears forever, life will continue to be riskier for sexual minorities everywhere.  "Easier" or "better" is simply not good enough and that is why I raise my voice in dissent.  My relationship with my lover, whom I hope will one day be my husband, harms no one.  It enriches the two of us and brings hope and pleasure to our families and friends.  The people who matter don't mind.  It makes no sense that those who have never met us feel they have a say in who we are.  I'd like to complete the neat aphorism by saying that people who mind don't matter.  Unfortunately that is not completely true when the bile such people spout has an effect far beyond the sound of their voices.

It was in response to my dear friend's well-meaning, but ultimately not fully-formed notion that it is easier to be gay these days that I composed the song "Never Say Never".  The examples to which I refer in the song are from my own personal experiences mostly occurring during the past decade.  My feeling is that if these events have taken place so recently it may be true that some things are better, but it will take a lot longer for me to feel without qualification that my relationship is just as valid and is valued the same as anyone else's.

Me .................. P
The references to being told that it was not appropriate for me to dance with P are real.  One night we attended a 19th century-style costumed ball in a hotel in the Swiss mountains. As the small chamber orchestra played for the ball in the larger of two adjoining ballrooms and we slipped into the smaller room that wasn't being used that night.  Feeling self-conscious and only guessing at the sort of response we might provoke if we danced in the public room (no straight couple would even have to give such an idea a thought!) we waltzed to the still audible strains of Strauss and Offenbach in the smaller ballroom.  A woman passed through and told us how unseemly it was for men to dance together.  I hope she does not experience apoplexy next time she unexpectedly encounters morris or tango.

In the mountains above the small town where P lives there was, for many years a lovely festival of Alpine arts, particularly featuring music and dance.  Each year we would dance almost non-stop for the best part of the weekend.  In spite of our most concerted efforts we never managed to dance together.  If we came into the set or formation as partners, two women would always come and "rescue" us from having to dance with each other.  We learned to laugh about it, but the laughter hid resentment, anger, frustration and some jealousy that everyone else was free to choose his or her partner.

During the debates and campaigns for first, civil partnerships and then marriage, I met and had lengthy discussions with anti-equal-marriage lobbyists outside the House of Lords and in Trafalgar Square on several occasions.  I even braved a trip to a nearby pub with two catholic fundies to continue the discussion after their demo organised by La Manif Pour Tous and our counter demo in Trafalgar Square one rainy afternoon.  Ironically, they took me to The Coal Hole and the humour of it was not lost on them.  It was difficult to find much common ground with the young, self-loathing, gay man that one of them turned out to be.  He claimed to be gay, but I'd worked too hard and lost too much getting my head to where it had to be in order to feel healed and whole and I could do little more than listen to him and lightly suggest there might be a healthier path for him.   However, it was the fundamentistas of various traditions that were the craziest and most obnoxious.  With no evidence, but absolute assurance from God, they weren't even slightly embarrassed to tell me that they knew that I was out to convert and recruit children to the "homosexual lifestyle" (whatever that might be!) and that, for my sodomy, I would burn in hell.  I bid the believers in the god of love and the followers of the religion of peace a welcome to the twenty-first century.

We met someone P hadn't seen since a long time before I arrived on the scene.  He introduced me as his "ami".  It just slipped out, but it shows how deep goes the conditioning.  The funeral was his mother's.  I sing about her death in my song, "In Your Place".  He, his brothers and their wives were called out before the mourners during the funeral service.  I ached to hold his hand and be there with him as he stood alone and then followed the coffin out of the church while his brothers had the support of their partners .  It was a sad occasion following a sudden and unexpected death.

Everywhere we go we see straight couples holding hands and occasionally bestowing little kisses of greeting, affection and affirmation.  Any similar gesture on our part is always marred by the thought of who might be watching and what might they think, what they might do - is it safe to act like a normal couple?  Of course, those problems are mostly in our heads, but again straight couples from our same cultural backgrounds do not have to give such things even a passing thought.  It is sobering that the haters bring their homophobia to us when they bomb, knife and kick people to death in Soho ... Trafalgar Square ... Liverpool ...

Of course, things will get better still.  I have to believe that.  Never say, "Never".

I sit here and ponder.  I watch and I wait.
I know I’m in love and see you are in hate 
But the waiting seems pointless
And so I must take to the ramparts.
Throughout most of Europe and Easts near and far
And south through the deserts, do you still see the star
That brought hope to the helpless and light to the darkest of hearts.

After enduring for centuries it seems 
There’s a glimmer of hope in some realised dreams
And some people in faraway places appear to be free 
But I’ll not hold my breath again while the news plays
Another report of a death.  It seems these days
That freedom remains an illusion and will be forever.
But never say never.

I love that I love and I love to be loved
I love that you’re loved and that you are in love
But how come it seems that only you dare to declare it?
I envy to see you walk out hand-in-hand
While no one takes notice, no implied demands 
That you hide your affection behind closed doors 
Never to share it.

Have you ever been told it’s unseemly to dance 
With the love of your life as I have been in France and in Switzerland?
While here in England they’ve said to my face
That I’ll burn in hell, that I’m sick, that I’m cursed
That children aren’t safe, that I groom them and worse
Despite their delusions declaim I’m unworthy of grace.

How would you feel if, when out on the street, 
By sheer happenstance an acquaintance he meets
That, somehow, your status is changed and you’re now his “friend”.
Or, when at a funeral, the wives of his brothers
Head up the procession, you’re left with the others?
It hurts that he looks so alone as you tag on the end.

Still in present-day England convention will chafe.
I look over my shoulder to see if it’s safe
Before I reach out to take the hand of my lover.
As for a kiss of affection or greeting,
Or just affirmation, it has to be fleeting
To let him know it’s still him I want.  No other.

After enduring for centuries it seems 
There’s a glimmer of hope in some realised dreams
Some say the battle is over now we can wed. 
And yet my breath's baited and yet the news plays
Another report of a death.  It seems these days
That freedom remains an illusion and will be forever.  
But never say never.

Never Say Never ©Marshlander - 25th March 2014


  1. Last night I had an e-mail from someone who read this post and it seemed appropriate to address the points that were raised here.

    J wrote:

    "I was so interested in what you said of your childhood. But do you think those things are what define you sexually or is it just conditioning for little boys to make them different from little girls when actually we would all like colour and music and dance in our lives and we are denied them as they want us to go and work in a factory or an office or a bank and become a machine?"

    1. No, I don't think the interests I listed define me sexually. Some are stereotypes and some are not. I would like to think there is also more openness among parents these days in allowing their children to develop along a path that seems natural for them, but I have no evidence to present for or against that notion. I am, of course, writing this at several decades remove and I cannot be certain how the intervening decades may have coloured these memories. I remember once offering a seat to a lady on a bus and as she sat down she said, "Thank you. What a polite little girl!" I remember being greatly affronted that she'd got me wrong. Although I have never wanted to be anything other than a male, I wasn't a specially rough and tumble type of child and I think she was taking her cue from the bright red anorak with white scrolling trim that I was wearing. To the best of my memory, not many little boys wore red in the early sixties.

      Of course these days too society has changed and I don't think anyone looks forward to a life of employment in a single industry any more. Does having to take more responsibility for the decisions made affecting our working lives whilst being at the whim of bosses who whittle away at the security of contracts undermine the feeling of being part of the machine, whilst reinforcing the notion that "they" do not want us to be aware of our own power? One of favourite protest songs from the sixties used to be Donovan's "Goldwatch Blues". I can't imagine anyone recognising the employment scenario in the song now.