Posts Tagged ‘ lgbt ’

The Russia problem

What kind of backward-ass place would have laws prohibiting the “promotion of homosexuality”? What kind of bigoted society would allow that? (Aside from Britain ten years ago, I mean)

Well, America.

Ok, not ALL of America. Just Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah (yup, all of those states have “no promo homo” laws that are functionally identical to Russia’s). Section 28 in the UK was before my time, but still far too recent for us to be climbing onto our little high-horses. Especially when less than three weeks ago a political figure in the UK made headlines for claiming that God was flooding the UK because of David Cameron’s (comparatively) tolerant attitude towards homosexuality.

The Winter Olympics is finally upon us, and the world’s gaze is fixed on Sochi, Russia. Things in Russia appear to have gone down the tubes pretty quickly over the past couple of years, for LGBT people in particular. Political campaigns like All Out have done an excellent job of raising awareness, and recently the Channel 4 documentary Hunted has received a huge amount of attention for its terrifying depiction of life for LGBT Russians. Local organisations like Bristol Pride and international businesses like Google have added their voices to an increasingly strong chorus, and I personally am thankful for every one. It says beautiful things about our society that people care this deeply about LGBT rights (or, at the very least, it shows that we’re making progress).

I don’t want to discourage anyone from condemning Putin’s homophobia and anti-gay attitudes in Russia. I hope we can add a little nuance to the debate without doing so.

There is some important context that has been left largely unaddressed – America really wants to discredit Russia. You may have seen comments underneath articles about Russia claiming that it is “US propaganda”, which is problematic because it implies that the accusations of Russian homophobia are either inaccurate (which they’re not) or unimportant. I don’t have the best understanding the situation, so the following is based on a bit of research I did specifically for this blog post (DO YOU FEEL SPECIAL).

Apparently it’s complicated. Like, way more complicated than I can properly explain. But (and I’m aware that I’m completely butchering this explanation – politics/history buffs may wish to look away now) the claim is that Russia has links with countries like Syria, Iran, and China that complicate America’s plans for world domination or whatever. I don’t fucking know. And don’t ask me how anti-Russian propaganda will help America, because it’s always seemed to me that governments pretty much do whatever they want regardless of the popular opinion of their citizens. But I digress. My point is that there are other factors. Feel free to clarify them for me in the comments.

There’s also the substantial issue of homophobia everywhere else in the fucking world. I’m not saying that people in bigoted houses shouldn’t be accusing others of homophobia, because that’s not true. Bigotry can and should be challenged by anybody. I would just like it if we could use this movement that’s arisen in response to the situation in Russia to make things better everywhere.

Generally, I’ve been very impressed by the world’s response. Channel 4 produced this amazing advert, which I think is pretty perfect, and the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion produced another, which would be funnier it wasn’t using gay sex as a punchline, but hey-ho.

OMG HAHA PUTIN IS GAY AND WEARING MAKEUP WHAT AN INSULT HOW EMBARRASSING FOR HIM BEING GAY IS A BAD THING HAHAHA PUTIN IS GAY

OMG HAHA PUTIN IS GAY AND WEARING MAKEUP WHAT AN INSULT HOW EMBARRASSING FOR HIM BEING GAY IS A BAD THING HAHAHA PUTIN IS GAY

It makes sense, in a way, that people would want to mock Russia and Putin. Stephen Colbert, who I’m assured is a very funny man, seems to find the situation hilarious. Journalists in Sochi have been using the hashtag #SochiProblems to draw attention to the various shortcomings in their accommodations. But as amusing as missing doorknobs and too-many-lightbulbs are, hardly a mention has been made of the living conditions of the actual residents of the city itself. And after the Olympic spotlight has been turned off, it’s likely that things are going to get worse for the residents of Sochi – the gay and straight alike. This is a problem because shitty times beget shitty attitudes – history has shown us that when times get harder, bigotry flourishes. Not so funny now, huh?

So laugh if you want. Cry if you need to. Boycott and campaign and I’ll be standing right beside you. But don’t be deluded into believing that an anti-Russian attitude absolves you of the need to challenge homophobia at home.

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Why being “sexuality blind” does not make you an ally

*** Just to be clear – I’m not bashing anyone. This is just an explanation of my feels ***

Hooray! Tom Daley is one of us!

One of who?

Well, one of the gays, right?

Nope, he was pretty clear that he likes girls.

Bisexual, then?

Let’s just leave that for him to decide, mmkay? All he’s done is tell us he’s going out with another guy. There’s already been plenty written about the media’s unnecessary and incorrect mislabelling, all of it far more sensible and coherent than I could have managed. Go check it out.

I’m here for another reason.

Let me just start by saying that I’m so happy for Tom, and that I’m really grateful to him for having the courage to share that part of himself with us. For those of you who haven’t experienced it personally – telling the world you like guys is pretty fucking hard, and for someone with a profile as high as Tom’s he is literally telling the world. Fair play.

Now, onto the meat of the subject. Over the past few hours I’ve seen a great deal of “who cares? It’s his business/sexuality shouldn’t be a big deal”, which is perfect in theory but falls spectacularly short in practice. It’s a problem because “why is this news?” is only a half-step away from “the media are shoving homosexuality down our throats”.

I agree with you 100%, sexuality SHOULDN’T be important; but the undeniable fact of the matter is that it IS. You might think you’re being enlightened by looking over your glasses at people excited by the news and telling them that it doesn’t matter to you, but you’re actually being kind of a jerk. Here’s why:

Sexuality matters. Yeah, it shouldn’t – you’re preaching to the fucking choir. Telling gays that sexuality isn’t important is like telling starving kids that you don’t want to hear about it because everyone should have enough to eat. It’s kind of insulting. See here for a better explanation.

Us gays, we need this. 99% of school children have heard the word “gay” used as an insult. Statistics vary, but young gay people are between three and ten times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. The world still hates us, and it still fucks us up.

Having idols like Tom helps. I can’t even begin to put into words how glad I am that teenagers will have in him a role model who is successful, athletic, and loved. It makes a difference, even if just to let you know that you’re not alone. On this, I’m speaking from experience.

So all you open-minded hetero types, thank you for not judging people by their orientation. Thank you, really, and I wish everyone was like you. For future reference, though, when someone does something as brave as come out (on YouTube, no less) the correct response isn’t “who cares?”, it’s “good for you”.

Good for you, Tom.

My coming out story

*Disclaimer* – As I wrote this, I realised how many amazing people have played important parts in my life. I don’t mention everyone, but I hope you know how much you mean to me. I’ve also glossed over a few details out of respect. ***

 

It’s kind of a long story.

Let’s start from the beginning.

I was a fairly normal child (I think) – possibly a little more sensitive and little less into sports than other boys my age, but I’d bet that a lot of people feel that way when they’re young. I had a girlfriend or two when I was in primary school, in the way that kids do – again, not an uncommon experience.

I have a really strange memory of the 1997 election. I remember seeing John Major on television and wanting him to win because I thought he was more attractive than Tony Blair – obviously that’s an imperfect description of how I, a seven year old, felt; but that was kind of the gist.

The first person I came out to was my mum (gayyy, right?), when I was about fourteen. Whenever my mum had something important or awkward to discuss with me or my sister she’d wait until we were in the car together, usually on the motorway, so there could be NO ESCAPE. This one time, she just asked me straight out if I was gay, and I said yes, and she said that was fine, and that was that.

School was never really a problem for me. My secondary school was a boys’ grammar, so I was probably fairly sheltered. Shortly after I came out to my mum, I came out to a few close friends of mine. They were all girls, obviously. One of them had been a friend since primary school, and had moved to another country. One of them was a friend at the girls’ school down the road – I lost contact with her years ago, but at the time I think I had a bit of a girl crush on her.

The last was an amazing person who I’m proud to call one of my best friends. The boys’ and girls’ schools used to have joint discos for the year sevens, eights, and nines. They were hilarious – literally all the boys on one side of the hall and all the girls on the other, except for the cool kids (like me, obvs) who hung around outside and had friends at the other school. Around this time, my bestie told  me that one of her friends wanted to ask me out (in a schoolchildy way) and I had to ask her to tell her friend not to, and she asked me why, and I was all like “because I’ll have to say no… because I like guys”, and that was that.

I think it was about a year afterwards that I came out to my sister. My mum and dad are divorced and live separately, and I remember wanting to come out to my sister so that when we were at my mum’s house then everyone in the house would know – that I wouldn’t have to hide anything. Eventually it just felt like it was time. One evening I asked her if I could have a word with her. We went and sat outside on the patio, in the dark. I told her that I had something really important to tell her, but that it was really difficult for me to say, and that if she knew (which I was pretty sure that she did) and she could just tell me that she knew, it would really help me out. She was like “is it that you’re gay?” and I was like “yes” and we hugged and it was awesome.

A year or so later I started sixth form. My school was a boys’ school up until sixth form, when it was mixed. I got to hang around with girls, which was awesome. The friendship groups all shifted around, and I ended up mostly hanging out with this one other guy and three awesome girls who’d come over from other schools. In an amazing coincidence the other guy and one of the other girls also turned out to be gay, and we all kind of came out together. I have this really vivid memory of hanging out in the Westgate Gardens doing that stupid teenage thing where you’re like “would you rather Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Aniston” or whatever, and me and the other guy would keep trying to steer it over to talking about men and the girl keep trying to talk about women. It all happened pretty quickly, really. I forget who came out first, but it wasn’t me. One of the others started, and then the other, and then I was just like “me tooooooo!” but that all worked out really well and the two straight girls were (and are) amazing.

School was generally pretty decent from that point onwards. There were still some jerks – there probably always are – but as we got older they all started minding their own business, which was nice.

After school, I took a gap year. I made some awesome new friends and went gay clubbing for the first time. I guess from that point onwards I was pretty much “out”. When I started university the following year, I started with a fresh slate. By then I’d changed my Facebook “About” section to clarify that I was “Interested in: Men”, so whenever I met a new person I just added them on Facebook and let them figure it out for themselves. It really saved me quite a lot of effort – thanks Facebook! I joined my university’s LGBT society and a local gay choir, and met some MORE amazing people (there are apparently a lot of them).

The last person I had to come out to was my dad.

In my final year of university a situation came up that really made me realise some things. It was time to let my dad know who I was. I didn’t feel right anymore with him not knowing, and so I made the phone call. I think I said something like “I’m not seeing anyone at the moment, but if I was it would probably be a guy”, and he said something like “that’s ok, I love you, but keep an open mind just it case”, so it could have been a lot worse. And that was that, I guess.

If my story says anything it’s that coming out is not a simple process. I started my journey out of the closet almost ten years ago. I only told my dad last year, and I don’t know if he’s told my step-family or any of my extended family on his side.

I’d like to finish with a quick message to anyone out there who might be struggling with coming out:

I know it’s difficult, and I know you might be scared. It’s ok. You are strong enough to do it, and whatever happens when you do, you will not be alone. Whatever you’re going through at the moment, it really does get better.

I made a video about this. It’s somewhere on YouTube. Here. Thanks for reading, and have a great day. x