Monday, 30 July 2007

It hit the spot and he let himself be drawn in

Matthew Parris is a former Conservative MP in the UK who now writes frequent columns for the London Times. And he's gay.

He usually writes on UK politics, and I drink his every word. I'm a sucker for Westminster: it has all the characters, the drama and above all the wit that our staid line-up of party hacks mumbling from notes seems to lack. So I'm a regular reader. But sometimes Mathew Parris touches on gay issues and then I'm even more interested. He must have so much to tell, being a gay MP in the Conservative Party during the Thatcher years.

Today's column - or part of a diary really - hit the spot though. This is not a nostalgic talking, but a man firmly rooted in the present and truly believing in a better future.

Finally, I’ve decided to take the plunge. I’m coming out . . .
Matthew Parris: My Week

Today, a big decision on my sexuality. And in this column the announcement. Something I’ve been wrestling with for months but can see at last that I’m just going to have to come to terms with. So take a deep breath . . . and here goes.

I’m coming out as a post-homosexualist. Forty years (tomorrow) after the 1967 law ending the absolute prohibition of homosexuality, 13 years after the reduction of the age of consent from 21 to 18, six years after the further reduction from 18 to 16, and two years after the arrival of civil partnerships, I have finally become bored with the whole damn thing. Bored, not with being gay, but with talking about it. I blame Tony Blair.

Do cats witter endlessly on about being cats? Do redheads drive us to distraction with their thoughts on being ginger? How many serious comment columns in the editorial pages of newspapers are devoted to the musings of straight men on what it is to be a heterosexual? No, they just get on with it – with being cats, redheads or straights. Such things are for the lifestyle sections of weekend magazines, not rubbing shoulders with the debate on global warming, housing or the terrorist threat.

Fellow-queers: stop moaning. How interesting is any of this to the rest of the world any more? Other groups out there have it worse than we do in Britain. We’ve got the political changes we asked for. Social change will take longer but it’s happening, steadily. Kidding ourselves that we inhabit some sort of a gulag is making it harder, not easier, for the next generation to relax about their sexuality. Let’s remind them that in the whole history of mankind there has been no better, luckier, time or place to be gay than Britain in 2007.

Our main persecutors now are religions – the “faith community”: Islam, Catholicism, Anglicanism, evangelicals, Judaism, Hinduism – but most of our fellow Britons don’t seriously subscribe to any of these superstitions, so why take it out on them? The brave thing now is to take the battle into the cathedrals, temples, synagogues and Rastafarian dives, not the opinion pages of The Guardian.

To the mosques, homosexualists! Post-homosexualists – to the opera!

Full text here

I agree with most of this. I'm sure there are still parts of Britain where it's not good to be gay in 2007 - and I'm not thinking of rural Kent or something. I'm thinking of London's and Leeds's worst suburbs - poor, largely consisting of migrants and - I suspect - infested with intolerance and ancient forms of social control. I myself live in such a suburb, and would definitely not behave conspicuously in my own street. My heart goes out to all those who have such a background to deal with, the muslim gays in particular.

But the main point is correct: social change is progressing steadily, also in the States, as The Economist's Lexington column pointed out a few weeks ago. In my own country, apart from shoddy neighbourhoods I'm more concerned with stereotyping than repression. Religions, in combination with fear of the unknown, are the last great bastions of this. The unknown can be combated. Religion is a much, much tougher nut to crack. But catholicism shows people are willing to ignore priests when they are talking bollocks.

I would like to add one more observation: this coming out business. Is this some new kind of post-modern convention? Do people do it in order to satisfy others and gain peace of mind and security in return? Is it what you're supposed to do as a queer person in the West? Why should you? The straight don't have to explain their heterosexuality. Why should we?

I think it's because as individuals we're too scared to go for the genuinely emancipated way: "mom, dad, meet my boyfriend X". We don't want to offend, to shock, we want to appease, really. Break the news gently to make acceptance easier. It means we still have a long way to go. I'm interested in this topic, so I hope to expand on this later on.

Above all, I need to find my own method, one that suits me. Emancipated, without melodrama. But nor do I want to offend. Except one or two people maybe.

I have dreams of showing up on their doorstep with the most effeminate twink I can find. In my dreams, I like to be provocative.

Canal Pride is coming up and I think I will have to talk about last year's fracas, centered around one brave boy and a wimp of a mayor.


TheDreamer said...

Matthew is a bit of hero. I had a massive crush on him when I was about 12. I also like his comments on being post-homosexual, though I don't necessarily agree that all our battles are won. I still wouldn't come out at school and not all employers are diversity-friendly, though it will come with a generational shift. The sad irony is that most of the positive changes he mentioned occured under Labour Party leadership. Whilst today's young Tories are full of gays (in fact, it's harder to find straight ones), the old guard are still in the Best Not Mention It category...

Pete said...

True, but then again we could mention public schools and Michael Portillo's experiences. ;)

Remember he doesn't say all the battles are won: he says there are mostly more important battles to fight. And if you compare some big issues today to "civil unions vs gay marriage", he's right.

Your statement about young Tories reminds me of the nominally right-wing Liberal Party over here. They pretty much have the gay vote sewn up. And it makes sense, because they're socially libertarian and tough on aggression against gays. Right-wing populist Pim Fortuyn also won the gay vote, but he was gay himself.

Coming out at work, you are right, is not an option for me. I would loose standing. It's weak, but true.