Wednesday, August 8, 2007

We Gays Haven’t Won the Battle Yet

The era of the ‘post-homosexualist’ isn’t upon us
Will Young - Times Online
Article available here

Last week I found myself in a London taxi heading home after a night out. The cabbie seemed rather perturbed and amused at the same time. “It’s funny, Will,” he said. “I wasn’t gonna pick you up ‘cos I was having a fag break, but I didn’t want to say this to you if you know what I mean?”

I was musing on this line when he then asked me where I was going. “Queenstown Road, please”. He let out a loud squawk of amusement “No . . . you’re having a laugh. You mean QUEENStown road; who else lives there? Elton John?”

I remembered this little incident after reading Matthew Parris’s article in The Times on Thursday. He used his column to out himself out as “posthomosexualist” and chronicled his boredom with any talk about gay rights – all the battles have been won, he wrote, what’s left to say? We’ve got the political changes we’ve wanted, so we gays should stop banging on about being gay.

I’m not so confident that we can afford to be so complacent. I’m not so sure that someone being gay is not an issue for other people; old fears still lurk. Were the taxi driver’s remarks, for example, a) a veiled bigoted response from someone reacting unfavourably to my sexuality? Or b) a good-hearted attempt at dealing with his own discomfort and awkwardness. Ever the optimist, I choose the latter.

And there is a lot to be optimistic about. Much of what Parris wrote I agree with. In the 40 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the passing of gay rights on to the statute book has been a triumph. Gay couples have more security and equality thanks to civil partnerships, and gays are now treated with fairness before the eyes of the law. So as a gay man, I celebrate this and feel lucky to be alive in Britain in 2007.

But it is important to draw a distinction between legal change and the shift in attitudes. It is quicker to pass a law than achieve the necessary movement of public opinion – and attitudes still lag behind the law. So we can’t yet give ourselves a proverbial pat on the back.

The next stage is trickier. It’s how to make people understand that gays are utterly normal; it’s how to change outlooks so that it never crosses people’s minds that to be gay is to be so different or alien; or to stare if two men hold hands, or to do a double take if a man says “meet my husband”; it’s how to be able to be honest about yourself without people accusing you of “ramming your homosexuality down my throat”. Hop over to the Netherlands and sexuality is not such an issue; but here in Britain things are different. I am still often referred to as the “gay pop idol – Will Young” (very much in that order of importance); yet in other countries the gay word doesn’t come into it – someone’s sexuality is regarded rightly as a being an irrelevance or unnoteworthy.

When I made my decision to be open about my sexuality, the overwhelmingly positive response astounded me. But sadly you still read headlines in papers that say so and so “Admits to being gay” or “Confesses to being homosexual”, as if saying you prefer to sleep with men is an admission of some guilty, sordid shame. Coming out should just be a statement of fact – I have red hair, I drink tea, I sleep with the same sex.

So the next battle needs to be fought not in Parliament but in the arena of everyday life. For instance, where are the gay actors who get the leading roles in Hollywood blockbusters? Why are the studios so nervous about casting gay men in the big roles, or let them loose on playing straight characters? And, why do so many gay actors still feel a need to be discreet about their sexuality? It’s as if the curse of Rock Hudson still hangs heavily over the hills of Hollywood.

And where are the gay sportsmen, athletes and footballers – they must exist, surely you don’t believe that gay men can’t throw balls or have an innate fear of getting muddy? Or is the culture of locker room “backs-to-the-wall” homophobia still so rampant that gay men are frightened to make a stand?

The importance of seeing men who happen to be gay on your local cinema screen, or being able to cheer on a sportsman who happens to sleep with men isn’t trivial. It all helps to normalise the issue of homosexuality, to help to kill off the last remnants of homophobia.

Yes, Matthew Parris is right that homosexuality as an issue pales beside war, pestilence and famine. But still one musn’t underestimate the example that Britain can set to countries that are farther down the ladder of gay freedom, or not even on the first rung. By continuing to push the boundaries of social acceptance here in Britain, we help those who are fighting genuine oppression, intolerance and raw prejudice in countries from the Arab world to Zimbabwe.

But, alas, gay rights has fallen off the agenda, supplanted by such titanic issues as the need to curb public smoking. Perhaps I should have replied to my learned cabbie by saying “fag’s aren’t allowed anywhere these days!’.

See also:
Finally, I’ve decided to take the plunge. I’m coming out . . ., Matthew Parris, The Time, July 26, 2007

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