“The past is a foreign country,” goes the saying, “they do things differently there.” It’s certainly easy to mock – the haircuts, the clothes, the ideas. Take the 1980s, for example; we look back in mock- Tudor horror at A Flock of Seagulls, Alexis Carrington, football violence and disgraced TV presenters. We can also, from our 21st Century towers, snort derisively at the attitudes to gay people that held sway back then. They were considered, at best, loony-lefties only found in ‘that London’ or, at worst, dangerous, disease-spreading perverts. It was acceptable for mainstream comedians to make jokes about ‘poofs’ and even our biggest popstars had to mask their sexualities by frolicking in the snow with Pepsi and Shirley. It is a relief, then, that we live in more enlightened times.
Is that true, though? It is certainly no shock that some of our most beloved TV personalities are homosexual, that coming out is generally easier, sports stars are talking about their same-sex wedding plans, lots of people refer to their ‘gay best friend’ and even far-right organisations feel comfortable using gay rights to mask their Islamophobia. Being gay these days is safer, more acceptable…. in fact, hardly worth mentioning.
So where did all that hatred and ignorance go? When did the language of homophobia disappear? Was there a meeting I missed?
Well, to answer that question, we don’t have to look far. We only have to cast an eye to the last letter of the LGBT spectrum. There has been an increase, over the past few years, in anti-trans sentiment from the media and politicians and, interestingly, the language used is almost a direct facsimile of the gay-bashing polemic from the days of Clause 28 and ‘Perverts Support The Pits’. It’s almost as if there was all this bile and revulsion lying around, not being used and certain sections of the press and the political spectrum took up the challenge.
In 1986, The S*n found out that a teachers’ resource library, in Islington, had a book called ‘Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin’. This was a book about a little girl who lived with her gay dads and was a resource for teachers who might have had to deal with a child in such a situation, not a book to be handed out to every passing five-year-old. This didn’t stop the press going batshit mental and branding the book ‘vile’, ‘perverted’ and a threat to our children.
Fast-forward to present times and our national papers are now running headlines such as ‘Children sacrificed to appease trans lobby’ (The Times) and ‘Church: Let little boys wear tiaras’ (The Daily Mail). The Mail story was a hyped-up article about Church of England’s advice, to teachers in CoE schools, not to discourage children from playing dress up in any damned thing they choose. The Times piece was a bizarre rant, seemingly stemming from Topshop allowing a performance artist into their changing rooms – but let’s not let a sense of reality get in the way of a good discriminatory tirade, eh? Won’t somebody please think of the children?
It’s not just children that are being looked after by our elders and betters, they’re protecting the women-folk too. In the US, several states have introduced ‘bathroom bills’, preventing trans people from using the public loo of the gender they identify as. This is, ostensibly, to stop men falsely declaring themselves as women to invade women’s spaces to harass them, or worse. However, in countries, such as Argentina, where there is a process of self-identification, the harassment simply has not happened. Once again, this harks back to the bigotry of previous times, where ‘real’ men were ‘worried’ that a gay man might look at his little willy in a public toilet or a sports changing-room.
The point of this – and of LGBT History Month – is that, although things get better in some ways (and rightly so), we must never rest on our laurels. There is always a fight to be fought. It doesn’t always take a march or a protest, it doesn’t always need a famous figurehead or a rallying cry. Sometimes we just need to listen to our own language and remember what came before.