I published this article, written by my daughter, some months ago. At the time I commented that, although it saddened me that she was unable to truly support me, I was very proud of what she had written. However, in the light of recent events, I have been wondering how to respond to her, showing her all the thought and consideration that she has given to me. And I have decided to critique what she has written, hopefully paragraph by paragraph. I intend all my additions to be in this colour. This is the first part of my response.
It’s the 21st century. Every day we are making bigger leaps into inclusivity, the acceptance that all people are different and that those differences are what makes us human. We are finally beginning to learn that we are far better off embracing those differences than we are trying to deny them. We are also learning that perhaps these differences are not as rare as we once thought.
This liberation of all LGBTQI+ people really started 51 years ago in the Stonewall riots, which were mostly about the rights of Transgender people to wear what they wished and assume whichever gender identity they wished. In a strange way, the campaign against Clause 28 (which became section 28) banning all UK teachers from even mentioning homosexuality, brought everything much more out into the open. We had brave actors, musicians and journalists as well as many others coming out to the world at the front of marches. And then the internet happened. And finally, people stopped feeling alone. They found that there were others , the same as them, often as good as living next door. The excitement at finding there are others who dare to feel like you, some of whom announce it to the world, is impossible to describe. As those who are different have learned to embrace their own difference, the world has become a richer place, though this is often not recognised by those around us. Indeed some people find it challenging that others are embracing that difference in themselves.
It seems that now we are constantly able to celebrate the bravery of someone else, who we either know personally, or who we know via the media, or through friends, who has decided to come out and state to the whole world who they are. I can only imagine the fear which must accompany that decision and just the idea of ever having to come out in the part of the world I live in terrifies me. As a straight person I will never have to fully experience that feeling, nor will I have to make the decision about whether or not I tell people, and if I do tell people, who I tell and when. But there are people all over the world who struggle for years and years with their gender identity or sexual orientation without being able to fully admit who they are for fear of being on the wrong side of the law, or that their families will not accept them. By living in the UK I live in perhaps one of the most LGBTQ+ inclusive countries in the world, or so it seems from my straight point of view, and yet the idea of coming out for many is still a horrifying concept and too many people never manage to declare openly who they are.
Coming out was, is, the hardest thing I have ever done. I say is, because it is constant. I am naturally shy, possibly because I have never spoken as Me. I have found it easier to allow my style (or lack of it) to speak for me. I am flamboyant in what I wear, because this then allows other people to strike up conversation with me, something which I can never do. But this does create anxiety because I must be constantly ready to field a question or a comment.
“Why are you wearing nail varnish?”
“Why not wear nail varnish?”
“Do you always wear pink?”
“Why do you have 2 earrings?”
“Because when I was 20, if you were male and wore one on the left in some areas you were gay. If you were male and wore one on the right in other areas you were gay. I was not a gay man so I wore one in each!”
“Why do you wear hoops?”
“Because I like the feel of them.”
“What’s with the clogs?”
“I like them!”
“Are you a poofter?”
“Do you want a snog?”
“Do you want a smack in the mouth?”
“Go on, give us a kiss!!!” (I only had to take a kiss once!)
I was terrified before I told my wife. I was right to be terrified too. I had put very little thought into what it would mean to her, because I still loved her. More on that later. I was terrified when I came out to you and your brother. Now I find out that I jumped the gun on that too, I shouldn’t have told you when I did. But I am glad I did. When I came out to my non-binary friend, he could not match my narrative with what he knew about me from living with me for years. How I wish we had talked during those times! When I told my friend I was scared that this would be the last time she would be my friend. I am terrified that my charlotte twitter will be linked to my other accounts. Literally only a handful of people know and I have built myself up for weeks or months before telling each one and each time it is terrifying because each person was important to me and there was a danger of losing them. You are correct when you say that we live an a much safer society than others do but …..
The suicide rate for young people in the LGBTQ+ community is sadly still on the rise, with 42% of people in a national survey of young people in the UK saying that they had sought help for anxiety and/or depression and 56% reporting they had self-harmed either recently or in the past. Perhaps worst of all, 44% of those who were part of that community said they had considered attempting suicide at some point. The idea that someone would ever feel suicidal in any situation upsets me more than it would be possible to say, but the thought that people may be considering it over whether they are part of the LGBTQ+ community I find unfathomable because I cannot understand how now, in 2019, it is possible that we could still be living in a world where people care so much about other people’s sexuality that they would be able to drive someone to end their life.
But it is very easy for me to understand. We live in a society with hidden, but actually quite strict social norms. Even in school it is important to “fit in” otherwise it can become, or at the very least feel, like a dangerous and lonely place. To an outsider, the rules for “fitting in” are unfathomable and, by and large, are gender based; there are exceptions to this, goths and emos being 2 examples, though obviously I am so far above the age range that what am I to know? All of this training, these “rights of passage,” allow us to move through into adulthood, give us signposts of what to expect when we meet somebody for the first time. It also means that if somebody moves away from those norms society feels threatened. They may not know why they feel threatened, they may not even know that they feel threatened, because the threat induces anger, or fear which in turn induces anger. It’s like if somebody stands to close when speaking to you or stares into your eyes all the time. It feels off, we feel annoyance at that person, but we don’t know why. It happened in the past. Witches were often just different or, in many cases, were intelligent women, which threatened the men who lorded over them; I suspect that sometimes they were women who lived with women (easier to call them witches than have to admit that they could live without men!). People who love other people of their own sex have, in the past, been pilloried, exiled, imprisoned, executed, indeed in about 20 countries in the world, execution is still the punishment for Gay Sex.
There are rare moments in history when this has not always been the case; ancient Greeks allowed pederasty (men having sex with boys) though under strict rules, after they were married and only for a year or two, to train the young “citizen” so that he in turn would have a marriage of convenience and train up his own young boy, men were still not allowed to love men (in fact, men often had so little to do with their wives at this time, that women invented the dildo, made of strips of leather stuffed with wool); the Roman Empire was started by the Etruscans and each Spring they celebrated the God Bacchus with a week long orgy which almost certainly include having sex with people of the same sex, though this threatened to get out of hand and when the Romans took over, they banned the celebrations for a hundred years and imprisoned or executed followers of Bacchus; eunuchs (men who have had their genitalia removed) were essentially treated as women and allowed to look after and serve Harems, where no men were allowed; there is a history of gender neutrality or transgender people in several areas of the middle east, in particular, the Indian Subcontinent.
But these times aside, reactions to behaviour perceived to be outside the norm are those of fear, anger and exclusion. If your view of yourself evinces fear of the reaction then there seems to be no point in continuing in this life of falsehood and pretense. Sometimes it can feel comforting that you control enough of your life that you can think about ending it.
But that is what anti depressants are for.