The Way We Are Now: Gay and Lesbian Lives in the 21st Century – ed. Ben Summerskill

TWWANHow has the world changed for LGs in a generation? A selection of essays surveys this.

Ben Summerskill suggests that America is going backwards compared with UK yet despite changes there is still school bullying to be tackled. Just as racist graffiti is not always removed nor is anti-gay graffiti: In a secondary school in the West Country last year, a group of final year students finally tired of racist graffiti which had adorned a school corridor for months. One morning, they brought brushes and paint to school – and painted over the graffiti with the words ‘Glad to be gay’. The head teacher had the corridor redecorated within 24 hours.

Brokeback Mountain was the first time many straights encountered gay sex. “Heterosexuals who struggle with understanding how gay people feel about their invisibility in the media might reflect upon how they would themselves feel if they had spent a lifetime of school and univer­sity education never once reading a set text which featured a heterosexual character.”

A Muslim GP refused treatment to a gay man. Gays have been almost invisible on TV and the film if Captain Corelli’s Mandolin excised the homosexuality. There are serious concerns in Zimbabwe (A nation’s treatment of its gay citizens can be a touchstone of democracy. In 1995, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe denounced homosexuals in inflammatory language. They were lower than pigs and dogs and deserved to be attacked in the streets. The international near-silence, except from some diligent gay campaigners, was arresting. Newspapers, trades unionists and progressive politicians worldwide might have taken the opportunity to condemn an exercise in blatant hatemongering. Just over a decade later, Mugabe had come for the newspapers and for the trades unionists and for the opposition politicians too – just as the Nazis did for the compliant Pastor Niemoller 65 years earlier. And now there is no one left to speak up for them.), Iran, Dubai, Turkey and the threatened Anglican schism: The Church of England struggles similarly with the gay issue, happy to offer kind homilies, but failing to offer leadership. The Archbishop of Canterbury shared the view privately with a friend in 2005 that he sleeps soundly at night while his communion risks being rent asunder over homosexuality because ‘someone bigger than all of us’ is ultimately in charge. It’s a pity that ‘someone bigger than all of us’ isn’t himself in a position to point out that Peter Akinola the Archbishop of Nigeria currently promoting schism within the Anglican Church, seems to have all too little to say about polygamy and female genital mutilation in his own country while cheerily condemning as ‘satanic’ the decision of his co-religionists to elect the gay Gene Robinson a Bishop in New Hampshire.

Stella Duffy: Where are the lesbian pop stars and movie stars and soap stars, the lesbian business leaders, the lesbian entrepreneurs, the lesbian religious leaders? They’re not out. They’re letting the rest id us make the world safer and easier and better for them, while they lie. And I’m tired of it….. the Bronte sisters had to sell their work under men’s names.

 Jane Czyzselska suggests that lesbian separatists are not very sexy: Back then, the lesbian community was gripped by two major “debates about how we should lead our sex lives: should we sleep with women for political rather than sexual preference because men — monsters all, natch — were the enemies of radical lesbian feminism? And while we did our best not to objectify our lovers, what was the politically correct way to conduct ourselves between the sheets? Dildos were a no-no among the vanilla

Pollyanna-ish lesbians — the wearing of a phallus was considered an inappropriate mirroring of heterosexual sex, and S&M was frankly perverted; its ritualized powerplay apparently too close to the patriarchal gender war.

In Leeds, the New Penny and The Bridge drag acts get booed. Lesbians still feel the need to take a gay male friend to work dos: I wasn’t out at work yet and made use of a gay male friend with a BMW who passed as my boyfriend at the annual Christmas ‘do’ held at a mock-Tudor pub in neighbouring Batley. I made the bold move to out myself shortly after the receptionist expressed her disappointment at the arrest of serial killer (of gay men) Colin Ireland. ‘That’s a shame,’ she complained, as she read the cover story of her red-top daily. ‘Ee were doing a right good job of getting rid of them queers.’

 She became editor of All Points North. Gay jobs are poorly paid and there are few lesbian magazines and a straight newspaper editor asked why the treatment of Iranian lesbians should be included: In 2000 when I tried pitching a story about an Iranian lesbian fleeing the brutal Sharia Law where homosexuality is forbidden, the newsdesk of the liberal broadsheet I contacted was at pains to understand why it merited column inches. The young woman who had been refused asylum in the UK by then Home Secretary Jack Straw was facing almost certain death if she was returned to her home country. After I asked the straight male reporter to imagine living in a land where heterosexuality was punishable by death, he duly ran the story.

There is, however, a change in Interflora’s attitude to love messages: last night, I had a wonderful exchange when I sent flowers to a lover via Interflora. The first time I used Interflora to order a bouquet of flowers for a girlfriend in 1990, the telephone operator was audibly disgusted by the romantic words I asked to be written in the card Fifteen years down the track, a similar call prompted the employee to respond with a honeyed sigh: ‘Aw that’s lovely. It’s so nice to hear when two people are in love.’

Antony Sher speaks of growing up in South Africa and his unease of identity. In London, being Jewish provides another closet. He has cornered the market in minority groups. Acting and spying encourage deception and coming out is important because every single one matters. ‘The theme of the outsider is in everything I do.’

Tony Peake speaks of when his wife found porn stash and this brought them together because they could discuss their tastes in men.

Craig Jones says that secrecy goes against grain of close relationships in the forces. The new policy towards gays was not supported by the superiors at first.

Irshad Manji says that nothing God has made is in vain.

Matthew Parris wanted to join the Diplomatic corps so he tried to remain celibate. It was as if the Dark Ages was only yesterday. (Indeed, I too, knew someone at uni who. Like Paris, thought he was being watched by agents of the diplomatic service.) Women’s promotion has helped in the work place and now it is the homophobes whose careers are at risk. Predatory and promiscuous behaviour gets some praise in gossip. From a comparative position of privilege, Paris seems unaware of homophobic bullying in school. ‘Self-pity is the final closet and others’ sympathies are our final chains.’

 Sara Weir says you have to be secretive in the City but it’s OK in the art world.

David Starkey’s is, by far, the best essay. He was an only child, with a demanding mother and a quiet father stereotype. His Roman historical interest started because of the naked men. The first mention of homosexuality was a gay scandal in a local town. Straight boys took part in sexual horseplay at school. He shares his disgust at the sweet wine offered by one who wanted to seduce him and found a bar in London where you could have sex. His parents reasoned that there was no reason for any guilt based on divinely handed down date. His coming out was self-indulgent. His mother thought she had produced a child who was a moral as well as physical cripple and she got lots of books about gays. When his father was in his 80s accepted his partner. Gay Lib rejected camp stereotypes like Frankie Howerd and wanted to start afresh – you have to invent yourself. London is more fun than Cambridge. Marginal groups are creative groups. He is not natural a Tory because he is libertarian. On Question Time with Jeffrey Archer he said that ‘The reason Englishmen enjoy sitting on the fence is that they enjoy the sensation so much.’ He couldn’t vote Tory when Ann Widdicombe was a minister though Labour is a natural managerial party. The domineering women who run Tory party adore young gay men. Gay History Month is dubious – using history for current issues. The favourite position in the royal bedchamber is with flashlight and pair of binoculars. ‘Being gay is central to my identity but it does not subsume me.’

Brian Paddick says that it is too easy for the successful to think we are fully liberated. His was the most tolerant of police forces in the most cosmopolitan city. There are more charges of homophobia and more are confident to report it. However, there is no ‘lesbian’ in the Gay Police Association, which shows how macho the culture is. That the police are Crown servants not employees affects employment law.

Stewart Brown  The Fire service for white heterosexual males comes from it sharing similar mores to the Royal Navy. A colleague caught him in a cruising area where the only other reason for being there was as a football fan. His union was slow to act as it was scared to put it to the vote for it to be rejected – most use unions solely as an insurance policy.

Maggi Hambling said that it was a monk who helped her mother accept her. She feels that she is creative as a manic depressive – it need three months of toil for one spark of creativity on canvas.

Alan Holinghurst’s fantasy life is in old school houses and he has done an M Lit on closeted gay writers.

 Rashida X says that Muslims ‘seek knowledge even if it takes you to China’. There is bigotry arising in Islam and Islamophobia in gay community.

Damon Galgut speaks for many of us of his horror of weddings and feeling an outsider, though people cling to outsider status as a source of power. Women and blacks are ‘meant’ to be excluded whereas gays feel impostors. Self-assured men think that they are right about everything whereas he likes being in position to question and feel uncertain. To be powerless felt like a kind of power.

Robert Taylor says that the law may be moving forward but there is still playground bullying, and the family.

V. G. Lee talks of an affair where the other is glamorous lesbian and she is the unfaithful wife. Married women are only using you.

 Daniel Harbour says that ‘family values’ is a weapon of bigots whereas gays belong to and are often accepted by families.

Helen Monro – Don’t have to be heroes but should take small steps.

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