This is something I wrote for the Greater Manchester LGBT Cultural Arts Network Conference this week. Hope it provokes some useful thinking.
In this provocation to you all this morning I’ll be sharing some stories of the grumsome, the difficult and the nasty. It might be uncomfortable, it might be difficult to listen to, but I’m not doing this to hurt you but to provoke us.
This morning I’ll be referring to the ‘us’ and ‘our’ - with this I am speaking to my community, those of us here who identify as LGBTQIA+ and the brilliant intersectional identities I’m yet to learn about.
I might refer to the ‘you’ or ‘them’ with this I am speaking to those of you who are outside the community but who sit alongside us. I won’t be referring to you as allies. We don’t don’t need to give you a title to be a decent person, do we?
Drag Race is often held up as a marker of where were at a community, how tolerant or accepting mainstream society is of us - “we’re on the telly now!”
I don’t buy it, I’m afraid.
Like civil partnership, I think of the importance we give Drag Race like a halfway house. A product that represents political laziness and minimal visibility for only a small part of our gang. For the record, I do think it’s really brilliant that Ru is finally getting the credit she deserves… just a shame the product being sold is gender exclusionary, that she has had some exceptionally shitty views on trans* folk and the amount of black face, misogyny and utter bullshit that has come out of the winners of that show (on and off air) is astounding ...but it's not surprising is it?!
I see Drag Race being a bit like gay capatalism with lashes on. It's a camper version of the Barclays advert showing gays with good teeth getting a mortgage.
I think its there largely for the coin and last weekend's DragCon is, I think evident of that. Take the money, sell over and above capacity, capitalise on queerness. It's not there to do the work, the broader community building, the mending, to be partisan, radical, wholeheartedly engaged - and maybe that shouldn’t be an expectation of it - but with such a platform, such cultural dominance is it too much to ask for it to be inclusive?
When I push the good, gorge folk who engage with it, endorse it, some who profiteer from it, who have been on it or those who encourage it with flippant memes on their socials about the use of misogynistic language, gender exclusionary rules, the “trans debate”, Ru’s views (past and present) on trans women, black face, the clumsy use of Margret Thatcher as a cultural icon performed by a former supporter of Theresa May I’m met with “yeahhhhh, I know, but…”
Drag Race is exclusionary isn't it? - yeah I know, but…
That bear bar doesn’t let femmes or women in - yeah, I know but…
That writer is a TERF - yeah, I know but…
Pride is sponsored by an arms dealer - yeah, I know but…
This “yeah, I know but...” is the nub of my argument today. I’m not here to spill the tea on Drag Race. Actually what I’m interested in is its popularity - even when we all know how problematic, divisive and exclusionary it is.
Since Stonewall (the charity, not the riot), let's be really clear on the distinction. One is an activism that came from the desperation and bravery of our black and brown trans* and femme siblings. The other is a charity that for a long time ignored our trans and NB siblings - the irony will never be lost on me.
Since Stonewalls well meaning inception we’ve seen a depoliticising of the community, “we’re just like you”
The community has embraced a softening of who we are and how we do it (or for some of us - how we don’t do it) and an assimilation politic has been adopted. In the 90s that saw our cultural figures become completely desexualised so as not to ofend and in more recent times a move towards centring the straggot - I’m a fag but I’m still a bloke. We’ve willingly moved towards heteronormativity whilst creating a homogenised homonormativity. This mode has been adopted as default. We can now be very easily deduced to a slogan T-shirt that reads “some people are gay, get over it” or a placard that reads “Love is Love” which is about as useful as Live, Laugh, Love.
This dulling down, this willful ignorance has meant our histories are being forgotten. We’ve forgotten or perhaps more worrying too easily forgiven those who in my life time did everything possible to limit and silence us. We’re now putting an X next to the name in the ballot box to those whose track record violently shuns us ...the justification? “yeah, I know but...”
To many of you I will seem old. I’m 34. I’ve spent most of my life growing up under a Tory government. The party who put legisltion in place to prevent any teacher, youth worker or social worker I came into contact with in jepody of loosing their job should they even ask me if I was gay and needed support - it was called Section 28 and was only repealed in 2003.
I was given the full right not to be unfairly sacked from my job, treated unfairly by a business or discriminated against by a public service provider because of my queer idenity (2010), I was given the right to a civil partnership (2005) and then actually equal marraige to legally marry my partner (2014), I was given the right to an equal age of consent (2001), I was given the right to adopt a child with my partner (2002) - all this happened within the 34 years of my life, initiated by Labour governments. In this moment, let's not forget our cousins in Northern Ireland who will only this year, 2020, be able to legally marry their partners.
There are now huge swaths of our community who vote for the very political party that tried so hard to silence us. LGBT Tories are no longer the reserve of posh white gay men who favor capital over community butthe appeal of many of our siblings.
Yeah, I know, but… Is it really all political, Scottee?
Yeah, I know but… what is left to fight for?
Yeah, I know but… it’s fine to be gay now...
I don’t want to be ‘fine,' I don’t want to be ‘tolerated’ - that is again, yet another halfway house but for the sake of argument let us entertain the idea that Britain is tolerant, lets address what Laurence Fox calls “a nice, tolerant country”
2019 saw hundreds of people in England protesting outside a school to prevent children learning about LGBTQ+ relationships, a protest supported by elected members from across the House of Parliament.
In the same year a queer elder was been viciously attacked on a cruising ground in London, a few days previous a 36 year old person was strangled until unconscious in the same spot.
An elected MEP thinks science may be able to cure our community. We saw candidates of the last election bidding to become the next Prime Minister who were discussing the, I quote “threat” the LGBTQ+ community pose to “women and children” and the eventual winner of that race thinks of us “bum-boys in tank tops” whose right to marry our partner/s is comparable to someone marrying their dog.
Two teenagers have been found guilty for violently attacking a queer person with a knife so bad his internal organs pertruded his body. That same summer two women on a bus in London were very publicly, violently attacked by a group of teenagers and their bloody pictures are etched on many of our minds. As I write this, police in Sunderland are looking for anyone with any information on the attack of a young lesbian who was left covered in their own blood. These are the attacks we know about.
We live within a culture where 1 in 4 trans young people have attempted to end their lives, almost half of trans folk have tried to end their life at least once. Over 40% of our trans and nonbinary siblings have been phyiscally attacked with reported hate crimes up by over 80%. Tolerant?!
Last years Home Office figures show hate crimes have doubled since 2014. 1 in 6 of us in this room who visit a pub, bar, hotel or restaurant will be physically or verbally assaulted, One in four Black, Asian and minority ethnic “LGBT+” people accessing social services in the last year have been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.
This isn’t the half of it. It’s an abridged version. A palatable one. The reported one. The one data processed and spat out as we were spat on.
This doesn't include the bullshit we put up with every day, nor it is able to quantify the softening of our identities, measure the invisibleness we impose that means we can pass, or try to pass in an attempt to feel safer - although if these accounts tell us anything - it doesn't make us safer, does it?
I think, no, actually I feel the community is really fractured, disparate.
Our community is doing very little communally and so we’ve each taken solace in small, self made, micro communities that serve brilliant, radical purposes but as an acronymed community, a collection of identities who should understand and empathise with each other we don’t. We are now merely a bundle of letters that increasingly feels shoved together to help the aim of those who throw the next burger, can, bottle.
If we are to weather the approaching storm, the further rise of the right that is happening in and outside of our community then we must stand closer, side by side. We must listen to each other and be stronger in our politics and ethics - there isn’t space for ‘yeah I know but…’
We must stop being so grateful for the scraps we’re thrown and demand proper, absolute inclusion, integration and an acknowledgement and respect of our differences.
See I’m not here to tell you what to fight for. I’m here to remind you to fight and continue to push forward and not just “yeah, I know but…”
Because that ‘yeah, I know but…’ is you admitting the problem but because it doesn’t directly affect you glazing over - either because it fun, easier or the trouble is not at your door.
I’m sure today, a day full of provocation, generosity and sharing we come to learn and listen but I imagine we also come with lots of trepidation. Many of us are knackered, close to burn out with the affects all this stuff, the election, Brexit, the national so-called debate on racism playing out on social media, the continued onslaught of trans and NB folk in the media, the vilification of disabled folk by our government and the effect all this is having on our brains whilst all trying to survive, live, thrive is taking its tole - and that isn’t to be ignored but again that is surely testament to why this flight cannot be fought alone.
As a community we've got house work to do, but as friends of the community, as decent people, those who sit alongside our community what is your role to play in this? How will you step forward? How will you support us? Our well being? Are you here for the parade? Or are you here for the protest?
My parting questions to you, to myself, those within, those alongside and to the panel are…
Are you listening? Are you helping? Are we working together?
What can you do? What can we do? What is your role? What can we do together?
And finally, what is left to fight for?