Category Archives: LGBT

Some thoughts on the banishing of Jews at Chicago’s LGBT Pride march

A few days ago at this blog, in a post (which can be read in full here) that outlined my opposition to LGBT Pride culture from an LGBT perspective, I explicitly warned:

“Pride, like all social justice movements, has a goal: to overcome prejudices. But, in taking part, many of its members subscribe to the very narratives and stereotypical behaviours that become magnets for bullying and misunderstanding.

The problem with social justice movements is that invariably they fight what they perceive to be oppression by adopting methods which are counter-productive to their cause.

Racism and sexism are tackled by university students with counter racism and counter sexism. Just as any lasting homophobia is addressed through means which serve only to give life to bigotry.”

So it wasn’t surprising to me to read the following about an LGBT march in Chicago in a Windy City Times report only this morning:

Asked to leave by Collective members of the Dyke march were three people carrying Jewish Pride flags (a rainbow flag with a Star of David in the center).

According to one of those individuals—A Wider Bridge Midwest Manager Laurel Grauer—she and her friends were approached a number of times in the park because they were holding the flag.

“It was a flag from my congregation which celebrates my queer, Jewish identity which I have done for over a decade marching in the Dyke March with the same flag,” she told Windy City Times. She added that she lost count of the number of people who harassed her.

One Dyke March collective member asked by Windy City Times for a response, said the women were told to leave because the flags “made people feel unsafe,” that the march was “anti-Zionist” and “pro-Palestinian.”

“They were telling me to leave because my flag was a trigger to people that they found offensive,” Grauer said.”

Firstly, I refer to LGBT activities of this kind as a social justice movement due mainly to the fact that organisers and activists repeatedly assert that they belong to an oppressed class, and that they need these celebrations to display defiance and overcome the homophobia they often claim to be systemic or rampant.

But, as we see once again, the tactics deployed in bringing about these aims, even if by a small sect of the community, highlight the concerns I shared on June 21st. The new culture we have fostered, in which certain, usually minority groups challenge perceived oppression, is being conducted with the harnessing of self-aggrandising and counter-intuitive techniques.

We all know what is at play here. Many of those at Chicago’s march will have been activists or semi-political Left-wingers, no doubt vehemently opposed to Israeli policies against the Palestinians. The trouble is that LGBT marches ought to be apolitical in the sense that they are designed to unite goers in defiance, companionship and joy.

I am not going to comment on the merits of Israeli policy towards Palestine, purely out of a lack of knowledge, but it must be stated that by latching on to separate, wholly irrelevant political conquests, the LGBT movement splits, weakens and invites fresh hostility unto itself.

A potential consequence of anti-Jewish sentiment of this kind is that it may provoke a counter-response from Orthodox Jews in the United States, especially those who are easily offended or (in some cases) antagonistic or violent, who of course view minority sexual behaviour as sinful and in violation of the word of God.

It is not inconceivable that, by taking partisan stances on fringe issues, much like the National Union of Students has in Britain, the LGBT Pride movement will find itself alienating people that would otherwise be allied or apathetic. American Jews will not appreciate internal subjugation at marches which are designed in such a way as to display harmony and solidarity.

Much like the Right has developed a worrying problem with Islamophobia (not to be confused with sensible critiques of Islam and its role in the spread of Islamism), the Left has for many years had a lingering problem with anti-Semitism. It is largely rooted in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which the Left often uses to advance its favoured power narrative, viewing truth and justice purely in terms of who is stronger and who is weaker.

Not all LGBT representatives or marchers are Left-wing, of course, but the vast majority are. And those responsible for banishing Ms Grauer from her participation in Chicago will have been too.

For years it was religious policy and thought that most hindered the expression of the LGBT community. Let us not, then, in more equal and freer times reject those outstretched arms from religious communities. We ought to be treating others in ways we implored to be treated in decades gone by.

 

 

 


Why I don’t take part in LGBT Pride

As has been my policy since coming out four years ago, I have sought against attending any of this year’s Pride marches or associated events. This, I do, as a bisexual man and as a person who believes that grandstanding of this kind is not good for those who identify as sexual minorities.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not say this out of personal umbrage to those who take part in such events. I understand exactly why Pride retains massive support. I am very happy, too, that my LGBT brothers and sisters can find ways to enjoy themselves and their exuberances each year.

Many of them will be relieved to take a trip to London, Brighton or other metropolitan cities, coming from regimented, old-fashioned homes that do not espouse healthy attitudes towards those of the rainbow persuasion.

And nor is it because I am reluctant to ‘express myself’ or feel in any way embarrassed to take part (though I do have a dislike for crowded places, especially in blazing heat). I am content with who I am as a person, my surroundings and what I want and need from my life. The problem lies not with me, but with the messages sent out by Pride events.

The first issue is, of course the name itself. ‘Pride’ is a rather peculiar way of denoting the way individuals feel about a part of themselves that they have no direct control over.

Should those of us who are LGBT be proud of who we are? Yes and no. I take pride in accomplishments, not in things which are out of my control. I think others should do the same.

There is nothing heroic about belonging to a sexual minority. Much debate rages about the influence of nature and nurture, and whether or not we can help who we are, but that is not an argument that I particularly want to get into.

This is not, of course, to say that I believe sexual minorities should hide who they are or feel ashamed of it. For me, coming out at 17, despite not being homosexual, was both challenging and rewarding. We come out and are honest about who we are not because we need attention or to fight against non-existent subjugation; rather we do it because we want those around us to know who we truly are.

I believe that this is a very important principle. Those who ask why there is no ‘Straight Pride’ are very ignorant to the internal pressures that sexual minorities face. Notice that I describe these pressures as internal, which I believe they predominantly are. Homophobia undoubtedly lingers at an individual level, but that does not constitute external oppression.

If we must discuss the oppressing forces that are restricting Britain’s sexual minorities, we need examples. We need to be able to identify institutional biases, their causes and policies to overcome them. If we cannot do that, which I believe we can’t, then I do not think the LGBT community can designate itself as an oppressed class. Rather, they are merely a selection of people coming to terms (often in understandably difficult circumstances) with who they are.

Then there is the second issue. ‘Pride’ implies a counter-force; something from which anti-LGBT prejudices grew. That force was stigma, which derived from popular misunderstanding and more prevalent religious belief. Back in the 1960s, for instance, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness in large parts of the west. Then in the 1980s, an AIDS epidemic contributed to social stigmatisation and forged misleading stereotypes about gay people.

Thirty to forty years ago, it would seem, a force like Pride was ideal for combating these problems. LGBT folk needed a place to say: ‘this is who we are and we are proud of it’. It was a useful barrier against shame.

But, as religion has crumbled, legislation changed and biological understanding strengthened, the need for grandstanding movements has withered and these events have instead been exploited by corporations, who use the Pride movement to market their goods and boost public relations.

I use the word ‘grandstanding’, by the way, because I believe there can be made an important point about the way in which we treat those who do come out. And indeed about ensuing celebration. One of the problems with Pride is that it overhypes and glorifies the significance of coming out. It creates solitude for LGBTQ people that may not necessarily be conducive to acceptance or assimilation.

The extravagance of Pride, unmistaken throughout the world, gives the impression that those who take part belong to a different strand of society. In other words, notable differences are laid bare. It reinforces the idea that those who are LGBT  must behave this way, dress this way or look this way. It suggests that they must demarcate themselves as being separate and ‘odd-looking’, when in reality, LGBT people look, behave and dress just as heterosexuals do.

Pride culture has attached to the LGBT community, whether they adhere to it or not, a certain strata of expectations and traits. They must wear outrageous clothing, talk a certain way and exercise different, perhaps more feminine, mannerisms and gesticulations.

It is my belief that, instead of this approach, the more casually we treat coming out, the more effectively we will be able to normalise the process for sexual minorities.

Pride, like with all social justice movements, has a goal: to overcome prejudices. But, in taking part, many of its members subscribe to the very narratives and stereotypical behaviours that become magnets for bullying and misunderstanding.

The problem with social justice movements is that invariably they fight what they perceive to be oppression by adopting methods which are counter-productive to their cause. Racism and sexism are tackled by university students with counter racism and counter sexism. Just as any lasting homophobia is addressed through means which serve only to give life to bigotry.

I think, instead, we should find more appropriate ways of reintegrating the LGBT community into society. We should scale back the attention, the outlandishness and the self-aggrandising policies and go back to basics.

Like the self-fulfilling prophecy, if we want something to be normal we ought to treat it as such. If we don’t, then there is something slightly selfish and sinister about what we’re actually trying to achieve.

 

 


The consequences of the Grenfell Tower tragedy could be profound

I have a strong feeling that the atrocity at Grenfell Tower this week (and my sympathies are with those affected) will prove to be both another nail in the neoliberal coffin and the beginning of a sweeping Labour revival.

This I have thought not for a very long time, but the longer I ponder the prospect, the more convinced I am that it is correct. At least, this is what the signs point us to.

There is something going on in Britain. Sections of the population are mobilising in profound ways, workers are demanding action where their voices were once muffled.

Who knows where this renewed energy will lead? I hope not towards the violence we saw at Kensington Town Hall. The poor know better and can get their messages across in more constructive ways.

Corporate failure to provide suitable, non-flammable cladding has sparked intense anger. But the emotion provoked is about more than just that. It is being more widely aimed at four decades of neoliberalism.

Public mistrust of the private sector was certainly aroused in 2008 after the financial meltdown. There came a turning point for the west, which I believe has swayed slightly to a more Left-wing, interventionist economic consensus.

The neoliberal agenda is treated by the working classes with understandable disdain. It promotes individualism over the maintenance of a social conscience and has represented a sustained attack on democracy.

There is also an interesting parallel at play here. When Margaret Thatcher was in power and she introduced ‘right to buy’ (a form of housing privatisation), homelessness right across rural England soared.

This has been recorded quite brilliantly by my friend Anthony Clavane in his new book A Yorkshire Tragedy. Though Grenfell Tower is a wholly separate problem, it does reflect a certain disregard for the housing needs of the country’s poorest.

I noted yesterday, also, the scurried way in which Mrs May climbed into her convoy 4×4, choosing, perhaps understandably, to avoid the baying crowds demanding both answers and leadership.

I can of course imagine that such a situation would be nerve-wrackingly intimidating. Local residents, bereaved families and angry demonstrators do not make for the ideal public meeting after such a painful week.

There was, though, something slightly symbolic about the Prime Minister’s forced departure from Kensington yesterday. Mrs May appears weak and biding her time, and this crisis could be the beginning of her end.

That is not to say that Grenfell Tower’s blaze was her fault. I think there have been very cynical attempts by hard leftists to associate her with the deaths of, at the time of writing, an estimated 58 people.

The idea that Mrs May ought to be blamed for the fire is fanciful and unhelpful nonsense. Leftists who have genuine (and I think reasonable) grievances with corporate ineptitude will undermine their cause by engaging in this useless finger-wagging.

I have defended the importance of protest at this blog as an important avenue of expression in any democracy. But there can be no excuse for ensuing demonstrations to erupt into savage carnivals of violence.

I also believe that the Labour Party will win the next General Election, whenever it is called. If contemporary British politics tells us anything, it could be as soon as this autumn. There are a few reasons why I think this.

The first is that the myth and fakery of Tory strength and stability has been left helplessly exposed, both by the party’s incompetent leader and their throwing away of 21-point polling leads in one of the worst political campaigns in modern history.

The second is its potentially disastrous dealings with the Democratic Unionist Party, which could completely hollow out Tory support in more urbanised, metropolitan areas of the country.

Social and moral conservatism, but for occasional stirrings, has been more or less wiped out in Britain. The Conservatives have instead presented a more liberal agenda for many years.

This has been because they have no alternative. The Tories are electable if they mouth conservative sentiments but advocate liberalising policy. They are able to tap in to a wide range of the electorate this way.

Of course, there are setbacks. The popularity of UKIP over the last three years (though now decaying again) was a result of Conservative Party failure to address problems caused by mass immigration and Brussels-imposed attacks on our sovereignty.

Theresa May tried to pose as the rescuer of the party; the woman to restore the winning ways of the 1980s, but her personality-centric campaign only managed to reveal her fatal weaknesses.

The mess she now finds herself in, combined with negotiations with the DUP, who don’t subscribe to the Tories’ more liberal agenda, will cost her party dearly at the next election.

More progressive Tory members, voters and activists have already begun questioning their support for the party. LGBT Tories, many of whom I know, will be particularly uneasy with this unfortunate (and thoroughly unnecessary) alliance.

There is also the question of Jeremy Corbyn, whose stock has changed significantly since last Thursday. He now looks the part, talks the part and oozes refreshing confidence.

Something resembling stability has returned to Labour over the last week. I am also convinced that Mr Corbyn’s party would have garnered many more votes from the electorate on June 8th had people genuinely thought he was within a chance of winning.

He should, though, refrain from overtly politicising tragedies of the kind we have seen this week. I don’t think he should, for instance, spend two minutes on Sky News berating cuts to local authority budgets and fire services without the causes of the fire being properly established.

If the election were held tomorrow, Labour would undoubtedly outperform themselves. Nobody believes that the Tories are adequately prepared for governing.

And nor are they in a strong enough position to negotiate our withdrawal from the European Union effectively. No wonder there is such anger.

 


Why we should abandon the concept of virginity

First, a warning. This essay is about as progressive as I get. I am no liberal, and nor can I be described with any uncertainty as a feminist. But on the issue of virginity, I share some surprising common ground with those I would usually describe as opponents.

Most people who bother with the concept or losing of one’s virginity do so without fully understanding the extent of its incompatibility with contemporary society. The state of being a ‘virgin’ is one of the more frequently misunderstood labels that our culture demands we place on others; a shocking fact given the nature of its origins. I’d like to argue not only that our attitude towards virginity is largely ignorant, but that our usage of the term actively sours sexual discourse, shaming both sexes and discrediting sexual minorities.

Conceptually, ‘virginity’ is anchored in sexism, emerging from the days of female commodification. Centuries ago, patriarchal capitalism allowed for men to treat women as goods, to be sold or passed on from one owner to the next. Women were classified according to their ‘purity’, effectively transforming their bodies into reliquaries of male desire. Without modern medical practices, men had to be sure that any offspring they fathered belonged definitively to them. “Sexuality was also, of course, regulated by religion, which made sex shameful and taboo outside of marriage. And for the most part, contraception was unattainable, so it was important for women to remain virgins for their husbands to ensure the purity of his bloodline. Basically, virginity served as the medieval form of a paternity test”, writes Erin McKelle.[1]

But the idea of virginity in establishing status goes far beyond this. Nowadays, it is used primarily as a vehicle to shame both sexes, and – quite interestingly – for opposite reasons. Men, expected to have had as much sex as possible even at relatively young ages, are made to feel compelled to have sex, whereas women who do lose their ‘virginity’ can be demonised either for losing it too young, or for having sex far too often. Angella D’Avignon noted in a recent article that “while having sex for the first time is a universal experience, the conditions that define virginity are socially constructed and have been used to control and exploit women.”[2]

It is particularly astonishing that men, too, fall victim to this kind of labelling, given that virginity has no anatomical or historical importance to them at all. There are no physical indicators on the male body that confirm an alleged loss of virginity. Memory, being intangible and impossible to observe, does not count. Since men do not have a hymen, the ring of tissue surrounding the vagina which, when stretched, becomes the barometer for the loss of virginity, it is very difficult to assess how being a virgin actually relates to males.

Furthermore, there are a string of technical problems caused by the very definition of virginity. “The state of never having had sexual intercourse”, provided by one dictionary[3] doesn’t seem to take effectively into account that there are different types of sexual intercourse. “Someone who has never had sex” also echoes this issue. [4] Not only is sex defined (and vastly different) specifically by and for those involved in the act, it is also hard to establish objectively what we mean by sex.

In 2002, 164 heterosexual Canadian students were asked by researchers about what acts counted as ‘sex’. Results showed that “the vast majority of participants (about 97%) consider penile-vaginal intercourse to be sex. Slightly less (about 83%) consider anal sex to be sex. Less than 25% consider oral sex to be sex, and 15% or lower think genital touching is sex”.[5] Four years later, Trotter & Alderson concluded that “In some respects, the definition of sex is broader for same-sex couples (such as a higher percentage endorsing oral sex as sex for two female partners than they do for a female with a male partner). Definitions of sex also broaden in more established relationships; people include more behaviours as sex with a partner they have been dating for three months vs. a one-night stand. This means that the emotional connection with a partner also plays into definitions of sex.”[6]

Individuals, especially those who classify as sexual minorities (like myself), have the right to decide for themselves what sex is to them. Penis-vaginal sex holds special status in a context pertaining to procreation, but not in terms of the legitimacy of a sexual act. Homosexuals, for instance, will enjoy perfectly healthy sexual relationships and desires without venturing into a vagina or, in the case of lesbians, without hosting a penis. Virginity, being a fundamentally heteronormative construct, tends to delegitimise the sexual behaviour of sexual minorities.

It also ignores the concerns of many women, and in some cases men, who are assaulted or abused during their first sexual experience and who may want to redefine their loss of virginity. The social parameters we place around virginity and the ensuing labels make this process much harder. Free from the idea of losing virginity, or indeed of being a virgin in the first place, individuals can tailor their sexual career to their own emotional or physical needs, and can more easily ignore the ideals of wider society. They will more easily be able to view an initial painful or abusive experience as just an obstacle in the way of something greater, rather than something that person will never be able to get back.

Modern teaching would do well to phase out the importance placed upon virginity. It is a social construct that, when used as a weapon, can have devastating emotional consequences for both men and women. But most significantly, virginity reinforces our peculiar obsession with status, hoovering attention away from action or common good and attaching it to superficiality.

Notes

[1] ‘5 Reasons Why We Need to Ditch The Concept of Virginity For Good’, Everyday Feminism, [http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/08/losing-virginity-for-good/], August 2013, last accessed 18th November 2016
[2] ‘A Quick and Dirty History of Virginity’, The Establishment, [http://www.theestablishment.co/2016/05/11/a-quick-and-dirty-history-of-virginity/], May 2016, last accessed November 19th 2016
[3] Oxford Dictionary, [https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/virginity], last accessed November 19th 2016
[4] Cambridge Dictionary, [http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/virgin], last accessed November 19th 2016
[5] Randall, H. E., & Byers, S. E. (2003). What is sex? Students’ definitions of having sex, sexual partner, and unfaithful sexual behaviour. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 12, 87-96.
[6] Trotter, E. C., & Alderson, K. G. (2007). University students’ definitions of having sex, sexual partner, and virginity loss: The influence of participant gender, sexual experience, and contextual factors. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 16, 11-29.