A commentary and resource on Law and Sexuality by Professor Chris Ashford and guests
I’ve been bit hopeless at blogging as of late. In a bid to get back on track I had a look in my drafts only to see a half-written post on some reflections on attending Pride earlier in the Summer. Anyway, I’ve tweaked it, finished it and posted it. Must try harder to keep posting!
The was written in the midst of pride season, which inevitably means a series of blogs/comment pieces on the meaning of pride, etc (I’m so unoriginal). I went along to Northern Pride in July, which is Newcastle’s long weekend set in a field with the usual music, staging, stalls, local officials, aspiring musicians desperately carving out experience and fans, and older musicians now desperately carving out mortgage payments. It was rather brilliant (if a tad wet at times).
In the evening, things carried on in Newcastle’s Pink Triangle and another stage area where the rather wonderful Angie Brown made an appearance. Nothing quite says Pride like 90s dance music. Anyway, in a slightly ironic twist to a Pride, I ended up being dragged to a venue called Gotham. Very straight, and that’s what really caught me. I don’t think I’ve been anywhere like it since I was in my late teens/early twenties. It had sticky carpets! The initial horror of music lifted as they alternated between 90s dance and 90s indie – all resonating with teen Chris. It was strange. I tend to hang out in mixed middle class venues, and typically restaurants rather than pubs. When I do go out to bars late at night, it’s typically to a gay venue. I’d forgotten how different these venues of my youth were – and are. The way straight guys interact, the guys who so visibly remained virgins and didn’t care, the slightly awkward guy who was clearly gay but not out yet but aware the straight rituals seemed to jar, the sheer performance of it all. It summoned up a memory of that scene in the British Queer as Folk when Vince finds himself on a date with a female co-worker (Vince is gay but not out at work), and visits a straight pub. He’s on the phone to Stuart as he enters:
‘It’s all true. Everything we’ve ever been told. Oh my God, flock wallpaper. Ohh, and the people! There are people talking in sentences that have no punchline and they don’t even care. Can you believe it, they’ve got toilets in which no one’s ever had sex.’
It was only being immersed in the ‘normal’ venue of this straight bar that I was forced to confront my own difference. A difference that through economic and cultural power, I’m less conscious of these days due to the venues I visit, and when I visit them. You can negotiate your way out of hyper-straightdom, but you have less cultural mobility when younger. I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten how it felt, how it seemed to be looking in on cultural rituals and thinking ‘eh?’.
Tom Daley – the twinky diver who is (I think) now ‘gay‘ (after some initial label fuzziness) – won sexiest man in the world in the Attitude readers poll the other month. He went on to suggest that his sexuality shouldn’t matter, which media and social media buzz seemed to translate as coming out etc was also unnecessary.
The idea, apparently expressed by Daley is one I used to say myself, and which I still so many guys say: I’m not just about my sexuality. Yet, as I think back to those sticky carpets, and guys dancing away having given up on a shag that night (something you seldom see in a gay venue – the men seem to remain determined until the end, we are going to fuck tonight damn it), the difference does matter. What the hell does it mean when we are ‘not defined by our sexuality’? Of course we are.
If we choose not to be defined as ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ or ‘bi’ (although i think bi often short-circuits people), we don’t choose nothing, we choose ‘default’, and default in our society means straight. This is why the idea of ‘not coming out’ as a triumph (so often trotted out by rights activists) is a nonsense. Victory is when everyone has to come out.
Think about it. Coming out is a declaration of deviance. I nearby declare I am not ‘normal’. To use another Queer as Folk quote (and why not?): ‘Because I’m queer. I’m gay. I’m homosexual. I’m a poof, I’m a poofter, I’m a ponce. I’m a bumboy, baddieboy, backside artist, bugger. I’m bent. I am that arsebandit. I lift those shirts. I’m a faggot-ass, fudge-packing, shit-stabbing uphill gardener. I dine at the downstairs restaurant, I dance at the other end of the ballroom. I’m Moses and the parting of the red cheeks. I fuck and I am fucked. I suck and I am sucked. I rim them and wank them, and every single man’s had the fucking time of his life.’
Russell T Davies (through the character of Stuart) did really capture it with that wonderful dialogue. If we do not ‘out’ ourselves, we make an assumption. The assumption is heterosexuality and heteronormativity. In all coming out, we de-privilage heterosexuality and invite a debate about what it is we’re coming out as. Why just the narrow labels of gay, straight or bi? That’s when things start to get seriously interesting, but that’s for another post.
These labels do matter, not just for how we construct our bar and club experience as teens, but how we construct our identity throughout our lives. With the domestic agenda of the homonormative and the new assumptions of monogamy, domestic consumption, same-sex marriages, designer babies and all the rest. Daley – who does apparently subscribe to the homonormative (see his more recent double date campaign) – actually said something different from the social media buzz, he said ‘I think we live in a society that is far more accepting than it was five or ten years ago, but we’ve still got a way to go before people no longer assume you’re in a heterosexual relationship’. He’s right. He’s also right that someone’s sexuality shouldn’t be news in the long run. However, that shouldn’t be confused with a world in which nobody comes out. We need everyone to come out. Only then will be have a radical shift in our understanding of what sexuality means.