This week in Homophobia

by robertmcnicol

Hi both. Of course, the big gay story this week is the Church of England’s dire warnings of impending de-facto disestablishment in their response to the government’s same-sex marriage consultation. It’s very tempting to dismiss this carefully worded response as bigoted bollocks. This is basically what Giles Fraser has very eloquently done, rightly identifying the pretense in the C of E’s document that the bishops supported civil partnership legislation (I seem to recall that they tried to amend it to extend to siblings who were co-habiting. Which of course was unworkable, undemocratic, a complete misunderstanding of human sexuality and deeply, deeply offensive). Fraser’s other complaint is the one-sidedness of the statement, allowing no voice of dissent, no family of interpretations, no uncertainty of theological understanding, no variety of tradition. Those in the church who disagree with the official response must feel – at least – disappointed, if not betrayed.

It’s the hypocrisy that’s so galling. The elder statesmen (and they are always men) wheeled out to defend the church’s stance are so sympathetic to the poor homosexuals and their problems, insistent on recognising the need for the gays and their friendships to have protection in the eyes of the law, and how Civil Partnerships do this just fine, thank you, and that the church isn’t homophobic really. Yet whilst hugging their homos close, they insist on an argument of complementarity; that men and women basically go together better. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty much a clear-cut case of homophobia. For all the touchy-feely language, the bishops are deluding themselves if they think that they’re speaking with love. They’re not. These men are cowardly hypocrites who would rather bless a road gritter than a same-sex ceremony.

Moving swiftly on to the rarefied world of cricket, which an American wit has hilariously described as being a thoroughly gay sport, lambasting its genteel image (they break for tea! How queer!) and funny pitch (by which he means bowling, and of which he does a wonderfully mincing impression at 5mins 50secs into this here clip.) The attack is – as usual for the use of “gay” as derogatory – dual pronged: there’s the derision of a thing as unmanly and weak as well as the more subtle accusation of that thing being wierd, incomprehensible, odd, off, something of which it is perfectly understandable to have an aversion toward. Or, as the kids used to say, queer.

Jason Alexander, the comic in question, quickly and deftly released an apology, for which he has been roundly praised. His apology reads as sincere, and as describing a believable narrative explaining how the skit came about. And I appreciate it for that; when we apologise we should do so not with a perfect answer but with an honest one. However, I would question the broad welcome this apology has received. Toward the end of the statement, Alexander takes us to a future world; not one where comedians manage not to crudely associate a sexuality with a worrisome lack of masculinity and a notion of oddness, but one where they can get away with these jokes without people getting offended. If only everyone else would stop being homophobic, then nothing would stand in the way of a good homo-baiting gag! He giveth, and he taketh away.

To musicals. An innocent and light article, in which a couple of the actors of the West Side Story film describe how they made it, is inoffensive enough. Yet the comments below the line are revealing in the repeated insistence that, yes – it’s OK to like West Side Story and not be a homosexual. Or, as one wag puts it:

is it ‘the’ musical for the non-gay?

Getting upset about internet commentators is usually an utter waste of time. But here there’s something to learn: in the repeated insistence of this middle class brand of the “no homo” meme, we again encounter the galling lack of imagination that categorises entire swathes of human expression as other, icky, questionable, weak, frivolous, superficial. These comments are from people of apparently otherwise sound mind, who seem to be in a genuine proto-conversation about whether it’s possible for someone who isn’t a gay man to enjoy musicals other than West Side Story. Whilst not discussing any musicals other than West Side Story. Because they haven’t seen any. Because all they’ve seen is West Side Story. Because it’s the best known of all the musicals. And so again we see homosexuality equated with strangeness and the unknown.

What could we do about this? Well, let’s start with giving same-sex couples the right to get married. Then in eight years’ time, the bishops can claim they supported it all along. And maybe we’ll have taken a step toward more people understanding that human sexuality is a complex thing, a thing that cannot be constrained with fearful notions of otherness and oddness, a thing to be celebrated rather than controlled.