Stonewall is 25 this year.
Happy birthday Stonewall!
I’m 25 too although not for much longer. I’ll be celebrating my birthday tomorrow by heading down to a local protest against victim blaming rape and sexual assault survivors.
Stonewall is also celebrating,
“25 years of campaigning so that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are free to love and be loved”,
with a ‘first SNOG’ campaign. Now in theory I can get on board with the campaign: supporting change so that anyone can kiss their partner(s) wherever they like sounds great to me!
I live in a country where I can kiss my partner without fear of criminal charges or state persecution. In practice this isn’t so simple. In reality we can’t have our first, second or 3456th snog out in the street. We don’t often hold hands and rarely kiss in public unless we’re in an area we’ve experienced little or no abuse in. My partner isn’t out about her sexuality to the customers in her place of work because many of them are homophobic so if I walk her there we’ll hug goodbye.
This isn’t uncommon for many queer couples.
When we kiss in the street we out ourselves and we make ourselves a target. Of course I would love to be shouting from the rooftops that I love my girlfriend and I’m out to many people but as a matter of self-preservation I just don’t want the abuse that comes from kissing in the street. I don’t want the fear of violence that comes from loving who I love.
Stonewall has joined with SNOG, a frozen yoghurt company I’d previously never heard of probably because they only have shops in London and some Waitrose sell their goods (according to their website my closest SNOG is 120 miles away). Anyway they have launched rainbow coloured froyo (that’s what the kids call it yeah?) to raise money and ‘awareness’ (I have issues with awareness raising campaigns, ask me about it sometime). You can take a selfie in their app which is downloadable and um get involved in um changing the world. How again? Oh raising money (by texting SNOG to 70300 which gives Stonewall £3) that was it. I knew there was a link to activism somewhere…
Stonewall is trying here but it just doesn’t reflect reality for many of us. Our snogs are hidden, behind closed doors, sneaking in and sneaking out, in darkness and in fear. I’m sure all these predominantly heterosexual cisgender celebrities taking SNOG selfies feel like they’re making a difference here but you aren’t making people kissing their partners any easier. You aren’t changing the world and I’m not sure if this campaign is even trying to. Even the word snog has all these connotations of teenage fumbling and for me all my teenage fumbling was conducted in a mess of confusion about my gender and my sexuality that I tried really hard to keep a secret in a very small town. I’d maybe like this campaign more if it was aimed at all those teenagers currently negotiating their first snogs but it appears to be aimed at adults looking back and I just don’t understand why.
Maybe on my 26th birthday I’ll hold my girlfriend’s hand on this protest. It’s late at night. It’ll be dark. Maybe next year Stonewall will have a birthday I’ll feel I can be part of. Maybe I’ll be less cynical and eat frozen yoghurt.”
One of the things some people in the closet may not realise is that once you’re out, you have to keep coming out. All. The. Time.
Really, this is true of any sexual identity, even the 100% straight and the flamboyantly gay stereotype. And really, in the long term, it’s a good thing if everyone has to do it. It shows that we’re moving past our assumptions, like we are by asking people what pronoun they would like to be referred to by, or whether or not they like chocolate cake (you’d be surprised how often that’s an assumption).
And you know, heteronormativity isn’t just an inconvenience. It hurts. It hurts because the erasure of parts of your sexual identity shows on your friends’ faces; that they don’t recognise parts of you, like that part belongs to an imposter, or worse, a poser. I imagine this experience is not unique to me, and not unique to identifying as bisexual, but I’m just going to speak for the experience I’ve had.
Heteronormativity hurts all the more for the femme, bi woman. Or just that bi person who doesn’t dress towards the gay stereotype for their gender. Why? Because the ability to participate in society, in your family life, in your social life, as a person attracted to the traditionally opposed gender makes you (the real you) feel all the more invisible to those you love, all the more guilt ridden, all the more fake, all the more closeted, all the more sidelined in the event you make yourself explicit.
One of the symptoms of this, which many bi women I know suffer from, is Man-Guilt: the guilt you feel from seeing, dating or sleeping with someone who identifies as a man, because of the conviction of self-imposed erasure you place upon yourself. You feel like you are betraying all the effort you’ve put into coming out. Personally, I don’t suffer heavily from Man-Guilt thanks to the loving long-term relationship I’ve been blessed with, and all the support and security that has come with it. However, this is not a mild symptom; I have comforted some friends through seriously depressing periods of this guilt, which, coupled with the insecurity of externally imposed erasure, can come out pretty debilitating.
Having part of your identity placed as subordinate to it’s other half, in my opinion, is worse than having that whole aspect ignored completely. I would rather be viewed as a puritanical victorian prude woman (read: does not have a sexuality) than as simply straight with that extra bit that we don’t talk about (ssssssh).
So when you’re next faced with a heteronormative challenge, whether it’s coming out to whom feels like the millionth person, again, or having your family ask you when you’re going to bring a nice <insert traditionally opposed gender here> home, spare a thought for those who might have less certainty, less security than you in that same circumstance; I know I’m sparing a thought for you.
There is very little love lost between the LGBT community and the Christian Church. For every vitriolic, fire-and-brimstone preacher, there is someone like George Takei poking fun and holes in every biblical argument. It doesn’t help the Church’s cause when celibate priests have wandering hands and their gay-cure advocates clearly didn’t finish the whole course.
I grew up in a conservative Christian household – my mother still thinks Britney Spears is devil music – and homosexuality was never conversation fodder. Even in church, the minister rarely broached contentious topics. Then, one week, the vicar stood up to speak, and he opened with 1 Corinthians. The passage was essentially a list of sins that the apostle Paul deemed would inhibit entry into heaven. When he got to ‘sexually immoral’, the minister elaborated to include pornography. I was moments away from cheekily elbowing my suddenly quiet dad when I heard homosexuality being added. The elbow never happened.
For a whole week, my dad’s browser history was squeaky clean. The next Monday, a whole slew of interesting URLs cropped up. He’s human, but he made an effort, and I have no problem with that. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been exposed to some form of porn, willingly or in a Brazzers pop-up.
That still left me with the same problem. I couldn’t just make an effort and be straight for a week. When this sermon happened, I was 15 and had only recently accepted my gayness – as I was simply not nun-material, I desperately wanted someone, something to tell me I could be in a relationship and keep my faith without being a complete hypocrite.
My parents left me confident that if I ever came out, they’d pack my bags for me. Subsequent sermons by other church ministers were of the vitriolic variety, and most religious friends were edgy. The relevant bible passages were damning at best, and you need to think very late rally if you were to read anything condoning homosexuality in them.
Months went by, and life soldiered on while I struggled with my faith. One of my best friends, one of the strongest Christians I knew, told me she was bisexual and then promptly told me she didn’t believe in God anymore. I fell in love and into a relationship with my first and only girlfriend – ironically, a wonderful straight girl from a Catholic school. My religious conflict took the backseat for a while, but I never stopped praying.
It was summertime when the same vicar stood up again and delivered a sermon completely unrelated to homosexuality. While I’ve long forgotten what the sermon was actually about, one sound bite still resonates with me: the church isn’t full of hypocrites, because there’s always room for one more. No matter how much we preach, we all sin – as a result, we don’t have the right to judge. I am not proud to be gay, but neither am I ashamed. It’s a part of me that I cannot change and, while God can do things that we can only dream of, such a core part of us can only really be suppressed. My mother is lactose-intolerant; she is neither proud nor ashamed, and no amount of prayer is going to make her able to drink a pint of milk. But the best we can do is not to give up on our faith, simply because one aspect of ourselves isn’t up to scratch. Not being perfect is no excuse to dismiss Christianity as homophobic mumbo-jumbo.