Tuesday, 22 April 2014

In Temperament and History, We Are A Christian Nation. Cameron's Still Annoying Though.

We are a Christian nation. Many years before Scotland or England existed (and thus many more years before the United Kingdom as is appeared), Christian Kings ruled on these isles. And even before them we were briefly under the influence of the Roman empire, whose Christian beliefs were late to appear but quickly spread. Visited by soon-to-be saints, and an important part of Christian medieval Europe (and Christian medieval empires), we really can't pretend our little islands aren't steeped in Christianity.

Our villages and towns are adorned with elaborate churches, crucifix gravestones and pubs named after saints, Bishops and monks. Important local and national history is often set against important moments involving religion: Thomas à Becket, the Reformation, the Armada, the Glorious Revolution, the Jacobites and even Catholic emancipation come together to form the tapestry of our national narrative.

When one visits a new town or city as a tourist you will almost always find yourself in the ruins of a monastery, in a cathedral or being regalled by tales of some saint or pilgrimage that visited the spot you are standing on.

Just as Buddhism and Spiritism are intrinsic to Thailand's way of life, and Hinduism influences so much in India, our very cultural outlook and morality is based on Christianity (though we rarely even aspire to live up to things I see as great virtures, such as turning the other cheek). And, above all else, our head of state is also head of an established Christian church which, unlike any country other than Iran, has seats in our legislature put aside for its clergy.

So when David Cameron barks on about us being a Christian nation he isn't completely wrong. To pretend otherwise is delusional.

But let us not pretend that this is the only narrative. We have, for many years, had a proud history of non-conformism within the Christian faith which has lead to an openness towards other faiths and non-belief that marks us out as one of the most tolerant countries on Earth. Our people are diverse and faith is a complicated, and currently waning, theme in modern Britain. To describe ourselves as a Christian nation without a whole list of caveats is to greatly misrepresent our country and insult a large number of citizens.

And that is where David Cameron just goes too far. He doesn't just want us to acknowledge the fact that yes Christianity has been a foundation on which this United Kingdom has been built, he also insists we ponder the benefits to us it has brought. And Christianity has brought us benefits (I'd much rather live here, in a western nation, than pretty much any other I could name). But to ponder its benefits without considering its problems is a fundamentally flawed and misty-eyed approach.

Christianity brought us divisive tribal politics (and wars) whose affects we still feel to this day (especially in places like Northern Ireland and Glasgow). It brought us morality laws that greatly reduced individual liberty and free thought. It allowed, and allows, unelected agents of a minority religious organisation to influence our laws. It has caused deaths through war, murder and execution in such numbers that every citizen of this nation should be ashamed.

So yes we are a Christian nation. This gives us a fascinating history, some pretty buildings, a few decent cultural traits but also a whole heap of trouble that probably outweighs the benefits. So let's try and move forward and do things better so that we live in a country with greater religious freedom, less murder and happier people.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

It Is Time To Move To Somewhere Isolated (I Vote Yukon)

I'm a non-violent person. I abhor violence in all its forms. I think guns are scary (and I grew up around them so I'm not just some liberal sort with no real-life experience). But I've started to sympathise with the sort of loony survivalist that frequent the mountains of Idaho with a stockpile of arms and a deep suspicion of anyone telling them how to live their lives.

I'm worried, literally worried, that people, who are supposed to be vastly more intelligent than I am, think there's a connection between Zac Efron going shirtless at the MTV awards and Cyril Smith's supposed (I'm being careful here as I'm not really paying attention to the never ending abusegate stuff) rape of children.

Further to this, in a similarly slap-dash, throw any sense to the wind manner,  Queerty yesterday had an article stating that because Bryan Singer and other prominent gay men held drug-fuelled parties with men naked in the pool he must be guilty of rape. Oh and he's a paedophile because it was a 17 year old too (not sure they get the concept of paedophilia). The easy damning of someone because they like sex parties and that any age difference in a sexual partnership is just WRONG is the sort of thing I'm getting used to from the LGBT media. 

There is repugnant inability to hold two thoughts in one's head at the same time. Let me show you how it is done:

"Sex is fun. Rape is wrong." 

"Shirtless men are hot. Rapists are evil." 

"All things have consequences. Finding someone attractive does not always lead to rape." 

Look at that. The world's a complicated place and nothing exists in a vacuum. But breezily dismissing sexual expression, human attraction and freedom as "inane" and then linking these things to some of the most heinous crimes imaginable is just too stupid for words. 

And then we have the dark possibility that the "let's out-do the Tory party for puritanism and sexual prudery" party will form the next Government. Bring me a gun, a log cabin and acres of forest between my sexuality and these "liberal" intellectual busy-bodies.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Mea Culpa: I Was Wrong On #EqualMarriage

I'm not a "radical queer". Oh I had pretensions in my youth but, ultimately, I'm too lazy to be a radical queer. And, let's face it, I've been in a monogamous relationship with the man I love for 10 years, living in domestic bliss with a dog, a bearded dragon and plans for a wedding. I'm about as radical as the man who chooses to repaint his house in a slightly different colour of beige.

I didn't choose to make marriage equality "my thing". I didn't go looking for an issue to get a bee in my bonnet over. Marriage equality sort of just fell into my lap. Unwanted but insistent. There I was, a happy 21 year old working weekdays and trolling down Old Compton Street on the weekends, and suddenly people started getting all excited about civil partnerships. I couldn't understand it. That's not equality you dimwits, my less than tactful inner monologue said, that's just crumbs to keep you quiet. I couldn't comprehend the fact no one else, other than folks like Peter Tatchell, could see what was happening. All my gay mates were beside themselves with glee and the media was lapping it all up, and I was sitting grumpily in a corner wondering if everyone had lost their mind. I was naive.

I was naive to one think that LGBT politicians would stand up for what was right rather than do deals behind the scenes. I was also naive to believe that most LGBT people had the ability to see things more clearly than most other people. I stupidly had this odd notion LGBT had more common sense than Joe Public. Which probably in itself proves we don't.

At the same time I fell deeply in love. My connections with the gay scene dwindled as my other half and I disappeared into our own little romance. Safely out of touch with the general lack of excitement of LGBT people for it, I started to argue for marriage equality.

There was a genuine injustice to be corrected. Civil partnerships were not equality, though they served a purpose, and I was not going to just allow that to be forgotten. I came up against a brick wall when it came to LGBT politicians and organisations who seemed to think I was completely mad. Marriage? Why ever would we need that? Labour, in particular, seemed unable to grasp the concept that their beloved civil partnerships may not have been perfect. And that just spurred me on. I'd always, in my younger days, been open to radical queer theory, but when I encountered arguments from that perspective against marriage equality (that it would serve to neuter our sexual expression, for conformity on to us etc.) I dismissed them as just more lefty incomprehension of the injustice I saw.

I admit I never really wanted marriage equality. I had bigger dreams. But the rejection I got from all I brought up the subject with (a lot of people!) turned my belief in equal marriage from a principle into an obsession. And soon I found others who actually did share my views and eventually they reached the right people and here we are 9 years later with same-sex marriage.

And now the chance to rest and see if what we have created is good. And I do not think it is. Partly that is because it isn't equal marriage. Same-sex marriage is yet another messy compromise and, in the same way as happened with civil partnerships, most people refuse to acknowledge that fact. We failed here in England and Wales to get marriage equality.

Mostly though, now I feel the fight has reached a stalemate (I doubt the changes we need to fix same-sex marriage will come about any time soon), I look upon what has been created and shake my head with shame.

This was meant to be a liberation. Same-sex couples could marry and enjoy the same benefits as opposite-sex ones. We could choose our futures and live our lives as we wished, whether that was through a marriage or by fucking our brains out with a different guy every night. Suddenly we'd have the right not to have to conform to any one culture. Conservative gays and radical gays and all those in between finally had the right to be themselves. How stupid was I hey?

Instead a new conformity seems to be forming around a conservative homosexuality (trans folks need not apply), I realise this was happening before 2014 but I was too single-mindedly obsessing over equal marriage to notice. Through chats with others about my opposition to many of Stonewall's latest prudish initiatives and my issues with how gay couples have gone from pariahs to Disney-fied paragons of virtue on TV I realise same-sex marriage has helped shore up the more conservative outlook of some LGBT people. It plays into the hands of those who wish to demean sexually active teenagers, who wish to prudishly oppose even partial nudity and who wish to close bathhouses and "clean up" the gay scene. Now I know those people weren't in this fight from the beginning. I know many of these folks didn't even think about marriage equality until the bandwagon was practically over the finish line. They were the very people, in some cases literally, who dismissed my questions and arguments about marriage equality pre-2010.  But... now I've supported giving them a weapon with which to craft a new narrative of clean-cut, prudish homosexuality. I've supported giving them a new rod with which they can beat those who don't conform. I should have seen what they'd do with even this slight amount of freedom. And I didn't.

And I was wrong not to see this. Foolish. Naive. I'm angry now to know that, in years to come, pain will be caused to those who don't conform because of something I supported. Angry that now emboldened elements will up their fight to desexualise, normalise and "sanitise" others.

This isn't what I hoped for. This isn't the freedom I signed up to. And I just don't know how it can be made right.

I still think fighting for equal marriage was right in principle. But the consequences... I should've seen them coming.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Not To Rain On Anyone's Same-Sex Marriage Parade But...

Way back in 2009 and 2010 when I was discussing marriage equality with some left-wingers (such as members of LGBT Labour), their reluctance to listen to any mention of marriage stemmed quite strongly from their belief that I was "undermining" civil partnerships. My attempts to point out civil partnerships were not perfect and did not grant legal equality (on issues I laid out here) were seen as an attack on their current, or future, relationship.

They'd taken civil partnerships to their heart and any criticism of the legal issues was seen as a criticism of their own personal choices. So, as I am about to embark on yet another adventure in being the only miserable one at the gay pride party, I want to make it clear from the start here: I do not begrudge anyone who is going to enter into a marriage under the newly introduced law. I plan to take advantage of the opportunity, partner willing of course, to enter a blessed state of matrimony (blessed by the arms of Thor in case you were wondering ;) ). I wish those getting married every happiness and success. Enjoy yourselves!

However... same-sex marriage is not what I was arguing for back in 2009. As I said here, what we are getting solves only a small percentage of the issues that created the need for something better than civil partnerships in the first place.

Our Government has done marriage equality on the cheap. Stonewall, after they got over the opposition of 10% of their members drowning out the other 90%, have been next to useless in doing anything useful other than cheering from the sidelines. I don't think even today they've realised how rubbish the legislation really is, and it'll probably be another 10 years before they even get around to declaring their opposition to any correction of the failings.

We must continue to fight for a correction to the errors made over the last couple of years and make the same-sex marriage act into something even better. I'm not sure I have the heart for that fight. But I'm principled enough to point out that we are not yet there...

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Feminist Theory Continues To Undermine LGBT Rights

“Those are people, quite often for example lesbians, who feel very strongly that marriage is a 2,000-year-old vehicle for the subjugation of women, and they don’t like it at all. And I think what we have succeeded in doing, certainly with Stonewall stakeholders and our support has continued to rise throughout that period, is to persuade them that even if they don’t want to get married, other people should be able to.”
So said Ben Summerskill, former head of the charity Stonewall, in the recent radio retrospective of LGB rights in the UK "Gay Rights: Tying The Knot?". He was defending that organisations "caution" over same-sex marriage (for which note: not only were the words he used in 2010 less cautious and more "oppositional" but even their behind-the-scenes attempts to convince the Government same-sex marriage wasn't needed to fix issues affecting trans folk were anything but "cautious"). What his statements seem to imply is that in 2010 the freedoms of LGBT people were dependent upon what feminist theory says about the institution of marriage. Yes, Stonewall really did take seriously the idea that a marriage between two women might cause them to subjugate each other and let us not even get started on the evil subjugation of women that might result from two men marrying each other. Thank you Stonewall for persuading feminists to agree to my right to marry, getting their stamp of approval for the Government treating us as citizens worthy of similar rights and protections to other citizens was important to many of us.

I'm very concerned that feminist theory (rather than a genuine concern for the liberty of men, women and intersex people) continues, even 40 years after the first criticisms of its negative influence on LGBT liberty, to subjugate LGBT people's rights to the agenda of a minority of radical feminists.

Further examples of feminist influence on Stonewall, and the way they deal with LGBT rights in the light of this influence, can be found in the post-Summerskill document "Staying Safe Online". Ruth Hunt, the current acting head of Stonewall, starts the document off with this:

Unfortunately, as we’re increasingly aware, the internet has a darker side. Young people are encouraged to develop an overly sexualised view of relationships as a result of the widespread prevalence of pornography and many young people are creating sexual images of themselves.
The document attacks pornography further with the usual attempt to conflate porn with images of child abuse.
Pornography exposes young people to unhealthy, sexualised portrayals of relationships and often portrays unsafe or underage sex 
Attacks on pornography and a sex negative polemics are signs of either fundamentalist religion or feminism. Stonewall has either found God or remains dangerously mislead by an agenda that is opposed to LGBT liberty.

 The debates over the effects of pornography on those who view it and on the possibility of over "sexualisation" of children are not over. Evidence points in both directions and there is a genuine concern that in our attempts to "protect" children we are in danger of undermining their freedom and the freedom of adults to engage in harmless activities (see here)

The rights of women to liberty do not conflict with LGBT rights. Women's liberation is something we should all be fighting for (along with liberation for everyone else too!). But feminism, with its worryingly puritanical and militant outlook on the world, DOES conflict with LGBT people's ability to live the life they want to live. We must oppose sex-negativism and authoritarianism within the LGBT movement before our real opponents get wise and join forces with folks like Stonewall to interfere with our freedom.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Phags For Phelps

Many moons ago I listened to a rather interesting Feast of Fun podcast (haven't listened to them in a long time, I really should give them another go) which featured a discussion between Shirley Phelps-Roper and an OUT magazine journalist who argued she, her family and the Westboro Baptist Church were one of the greatest things to happen to LGBT rights in the USA. Ever.

The argument has become a fairly common one, but no less compelling for that. Fred Phelps' church had become such an extreme caricature of religious hate and had pissed off a wide enough demographic that they'd managed to actually force people to confront their own beliefs and, in some cases, change. 

Just watch one of the two Louis Theroux "documentaries" on the WBC and you'll see their protests receive real anger from passers-by, even those who say things like "I don't agree with the lifestyle either BUT..." 

So with the news of Fred Phelps passing, and further recent news that Shirley Phelps-Roper has been deposed as chief spokesperson, I feel I should pay tribute to the work the Westboro Baptist Church has done in moving hatred of homosexuals away from the "acceptable behaviour" region and to the "batshit crazy" arena.

Thank you Fred, I know that you will never know how much you've helped. But thank you all the same. 

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Queer As Folk - 15 Years On (The "Oh God, I'm Old" Edition)

I suspect I read about the upcoming first episode of Queer as Folk in the Guardian's "Guide" supplement. At 15 I took its recommendations deeply seriously. So that was how I found myself that evening 15 years ago today watching Channel 4 with the sound turned right down and one eye on the door.

Queer as Folk was just as spectacularly naughty as I'd hoped. 15 year old Nathan Maloney was living my dream, being an arrogant, insufferable idiot (not that I thought of him that way back then). Though Queer as Folk was an over the top gay soap opera, it was still grounded enough to make 15 year old me feel that being gay wasn't as abnormal as I feared. Turned out LGBT people were just like everyone else (well like everyone else in a soap opera...).

I couldn't wait for the second episode, which started with one of my most favourite scenes of all time, and lapped up the rest of the series. Sure the acting was often over the top but it was so fantastically entertaining that you could overlook its flaws.

Today I decided to pretend I'm not moving in just one month and have packing to do and rewatched series one. Despite the 15 years between me and that rather over-excitable 15 year old boy, it is still excellent stuff. Eminently quotable and now tinged with a little bit of nostalgia for my youth.

And along comes a little political point-scoring to make it all the more delicious. Earlier today I joked that Stonewall would oppose Queer as Folk. Well that just goes to show how naive I am and how willing to give them credit for past actions I remain, even now. Because in 1999 Stonewall DID oppose Queer as Folk. Absolutely beyond parody. But it did make watching the last few episodes that little bit sweeter.

It all seems a little surreal now looking back on it, not knowing then it'd spawn an even better American remake AND that its creator, Russell T Davies, would go on to resurrect my beloved Doctor Who. 'Nowt as queer as folk!