Never one to waste a good writing opportunity…a friend asked yesterday about what was most objectionable about the media portrayal of LGBT minorities and…I promised to go away and think. To try and be insightful as opposed to kneejerk. The result, I hope, delivers, at least in part.
Before going any further though, one caveat. I protest – loudly – when I see something going on that pisses me off. I hate discrimination: detest bigotry. When it comes to fighting the good fight, I’ll be as radical, disruptive and noisy as the best of the impossibilists out there.
But… when push comes to shove, I’m a pragmatist. I would love to live in a world in which all was sweetness and light, hatred was abolished, and everyone could wake to a fluffy kitten on their pillow. It won’t happen: not in my lifetime. So in between, I am about making changes: pushing the envelope; and, most importantly, bringing the majority along as we go.
Because if we don’t, I believe, you end up getting backlashes. People alienated because they feel their principles have been outraged. So, when it comes to change, slow and steady. Above all, don’t go all out to crush your enemy: because if you do that, leaving them no face-saving get-out, you simply drive hostility underground, where it can fester and erupt again, later, in new and often nastier forms.
Mind your language (a little)
That’s one of the main reasons why I don’t like niggling away on the language front. I don’t doubt that language can, in small ways, assist the bigot. But to be honest, it feels like a pointless debate. If someone wishes to insult someone for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans, they’ll find a way to do so – and if the penalty for using “bad words” is set high enough, they’ll just find ever cleverer ways of using polite language to have a go.
It also, I think, contributes to alienation. General proposition: “it is OK to beat someone up for being gay”. Nope. I’d guess that 99.9% of the population would not go along with that – at least not overtly. How about: “it is OK for someone to be arrested for using the word ‘fag’”. Hmmm.
Which side do we think the majority of the population would come down on? And how on earth do we think it makes people feel when they discover a Christian hotel owner may be prosecuted for such a usage whilst a gay activist may use the word freely with friends. “Tranny”, too. In polite company I am a “bolshie tranny”: I notice a few other activists go for similar usage.
One trans activist recently was loudly arguing her right to claim that word. It makes protestation around its popular usage just that bit more precarious and, worse, it contributes to what I think are the two real issues in the media. I am happy to find that on this issue at least, my views and those of the saintly Tatchell are not too far apart!
Because whilst I sigh at the disrespect that some newspapers bring to reporting LGBT matters – mis-gendering, for starters, or using not-so-polite euphemisms to have a dig at someone’s orientation – I can’t get as worked up over that as over pieces that do one of two things. For the media DO make life harder for us – and I think they do it not through the language, but by perpetuating two myths, two cultural memes that can be seen repeated over and over.
The myth of LGBT privilege
The first is that of privilege. Us minorities have it easy (it’s a bit like the “all prisoners are living in luxury in four-star jails” meme). We have it easy because we get loads of money spent on us, special grants and special privileges.
Thus, recent news articles about trans “rights”: how trans women will be allowed to wear what they like in prisons (er, no: those who have begun transitioning will be treated as women and get the same privileges as women). Or trans hair removal on the NHS (an obsession of the Express and Mail last year: the NHS worked out that it would be cheaper to employ an in-house hair specialist to deal with the medical hair removal needs of trans women (essential pre-operatively) and worked out it was more effective to employ someone than shell out the up to £300 per hour commercial rate going.
Or another one, from the Scottish Express, predicated on the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Apparently, in Scotland, a couple of police forces sent officers along to use these events as springboard for imparting some safety tips.
How appalling. The Express did a quick FOI and found no identified LGBT murders in the area in the preceding couple of years, so this was “a waste of money”. Shame they don’t appear to have found space to report findings this year that violence against the LGBT community in Scotland is far greater than against the straight community.
Yep. These are identikit pieces. Find something spent on us privileged few. Don’t bother examining why the spend is there. Decry it as “waste” and “political correctness gone mad”. Get a few rentaquote loudmouths to opine on the subject (cue Campaign against political correctness and Tory MP Philip Davies!). Add an anodyne quote from some faceless bureaucrat ostensibly to give balance but actually to show up how spineless officialdom is – and Bob’s your uncle!
And let no-one deny that such pieces are dangerous. Epilation pre-transition is a medical necessity. Skewed, ill-informed articles by the Express, the Star and Richard Littlejohn spread the idea that it is just for cosmetic purposes – and therefore we are privileged to get it. The real impact of such articles (insiders in the NHS have informed me) is that following pieces like this, they get letters demanding to know why “trannies” get special treatment. It leads to lobbying which can sometimes have effect.
The LGBT monster
The second meme – less evident, but still there, in subtle form – is how beneath the nice exterior, we are all quite dangerous. Why? Well, it is not on to have a go directly at someone for being lesbian, gay or trans – but if there is an angle that suggests we might be dangerous…well, we’re fair game. Here, and in one other respect, I think that we have moved forward as far as the Gay community is concerned (but happy to take counter-evidence proving me wrong).
I grew up in a world where gay rights were just being won. Against those advocating such rights, many went for the jugular: would your child be “safe” being taught by a homosexual. Er, yes: at least, as safe as being taught by a straight teacher. (Which is not to say that honest debate on the subject should not be allowed: I was dismayed, a year or so back, when hate legislation was used to attempt to quash a serious debate on whether particular groups were more or less likely to be dangerous because – see above – the ability to stop debates can look suspiciously like privilege, and in its turn, feed the bigotry we are against).
I digress. I think we are mostly past that for media coverage of gay individuals. (Though I suspect we still read of “gay killers”, when no paper would dream of writing about “straight killers”).
We are mid-stream when it comes to anti-trans stuff. How else to explain the prurient and frankly inappropriate stuff recently about a trans woman being transferred to a female prison, despite the fact that “she still has a willy”.
Omigod! So much power to this miniature appendage! The code, I think, is interesting. What writers of this sort of piece are doing, none too subtly, is to imbue the penis with some innate independent power of action which, left to its own devices, will wreak havoc on poor unsuspecting women (and children).
No awareness of how, once someone is into transition, a hormone regime will most likely rob the male member of most of its “power” anyway. Still, I do think the sub-text here is one of threat. (Certainly, the question of whether one is pre-op or not seems to fascinate many men not out of simple biological curiosity, but to establish the presence of the penis).
The real issues
So there you have it. What I fear the press do mostly – and mostly do well when they do it – is imply that LGBT minorities are privileged. In a strange way, our taking up the cudgels against insensitive language can often add to that perception – so is a campaign we should opt for cautiously. Where they can, the press that dislike us will also hype the dangers to polite society from “sexual deviants”, either introducing our orientation or identity into stories where it is irrelevant – or simply implying a threat by virtue of who we are.
Those are the real probs: those the things we need to be on the watch for.