Friday, 28 June 2013

Do Something Amazing – Give Blood?

It must give a person a truly remarkable feeling when they are able to give blood and potentially save another person’s life. I imagine that, despite feeling a bit dizzy and nauseous, there is a sense of pride that they could really be giving something back to the community. Of course, I wouldn’t know anything about it because, unfortunately, I am unable to give blood. Not because I have some rare genetic defect, or even because I have had a cold. I am not able to give blood simply because I am gay, or as the Give Blood website so eloquently states it; “men who have had sex with men”.

Obviously, I knew all this as old news, but beyond the HIV and AIDS issue, I have never totally understood their justification for it. With that in mind, I did a bit of reading on their website to try and understand the full scope of their reasoning. After all, they have a whole page set up to answer my queries. A statement which was issued in November 2011…

Deferral of Men who have Sex with Men from Blood Donation
The permanent exclusion of men who have had sex with men (MSM) from donating blood has changed to a 12 month fixed period deferral from the latest relevant sexual contact following an evidence based review by the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs (SaBTO).

Yup. I knew about that bit.

SaBTO is responsible for regularly reviewing the major criteria for accepting blood donors and for recommendations to the four UK Health Ministers on blood donation policy.

Well that is good. Regular review is very good. Although I do have to wonder how regular this ‘review’ is, considering the last statement was issued in November 2011.

SaBTO completed a review of blood donor selection criteria related to sexual behaviour in May 2011. Following this review, and based on recommendations from SaBTO, Health Ministers in England, Scotland and Wales announced in September 2011 that the blood donor selection criterion for men who have sex with men in those countries would change.

Previously, men who had ever had oral or anal sex with another man, even if a condom was used, were permanently excluded from blood donation in the UK. The change means that only men who have had anal or oral sex with another man in the past 12 months, with or without a condom, are asked not to donate blood. Men whose last sexual contact with another man was more than 12 months ago are eligible to donate, subject to meeting the other donor selection criteria.

Again, I knew all this already. What I really want to know is WHY?

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) implemented the change at blood donation sessions across England and North Wales on 7 November 2011. The Scottish and Welsh Blood Services also implemented the change on this date.

At blood donation sessions, all donors are asked to complete a questionnaire called the donor health check, to assess whether they meet the donor selection criteria. This is to ensure that the supply of blood to hospitals is as safe as possible.

Of course, safety is paramount and so it should be but this still doesn’t tell me how or why my blood is less ‘safe’ than anyone elses?

NHSBT welcomes the review and the resulting change as it is supported by the most up to date scientific evidence. SaBTO's review concluded that the safety of the blood supply would not be affected by the change and we would like to reassure patients receiving transfusions that the blood supply is as safe as it reasonably can be and amongst the safest in the world.

Well isn’t that kind. They are reassuring the patients that are, strangely looking at a page which is supposed to explain why I am exempt, in complete panic that they might get ‘gay-blood’!

Clearly any transmission would be one too many and the purpose of blood donor selection criteria, alongside other safety measures, is to minimise any potential harm to recipients of blood donations. All groups that are excluded or deferred from blood donation have been assessed as being at a statistically increased risk of carrying blood-borne viruses.

Finally we get to the nitty-gritty. I have been assessed, without even knowing it, and I am a statistically a higher risk. Oh I do love a statistic but how exactly? I have been in a committed relationship for just shy of 8 years and married for just under a year. I know people who have been in far shorter committed heterosexual relationships who are still allowed to give blood. Surely anybody that is single carries a higher likelihood of having sex with any number of people?  Since I have been in committed relationship I am statistically far more likely to be ‘safe’ am I not? So then, are they implying that, since I am a gay man, I am more likely to cheat or that my husband is more likely to cheat on me?

The change brings the criterion for men who have had sex with men in line with those for the majority of other groups that are deferred from blood donation for 12 months due to the risks of infection associated with sexual behaviours. We appreciate that it can be disappointing for anyone who wishes to donate blood but is not able to meet the donor selection criteria. The criteria are based on complex assessments of risk and must by their nature be based on evidence and statistics that are recorded at a population level. Such an approach results in assessments of certain groups as being at a higher risk than others of carrying blood-borne infections, and can make individuals that are deferred from donation feel they are being placed into a "category" even if they believe their own sexual behaviour and risk-taking would not be a risk to the blood supply.

So essentially, what they are implying here is that gay men are, en masse, a bunch of whores that are far more likely to sleep around unprotected, more so than heterosexual men for instance. Nice! Of course, I do know a few gay guys who do get their fair share of action but in all honesty, no more so than some of my straight friends, both male and female. In fact, I would say it is pretty well balanced on both sides when it comes to the number of people I know who are sexually active. Is there a rule that prevents a straight man who has had unprotected, or even protected, sex with a woman within the last 12 months from giving blood? Nope. Funny that. The last time I checked, blood viruses are pretty indiscriminate and will take host in both male and female bodies. The chances are just as likely that they could pick something up from a woman as they could another man surely?

Or, are they actually implying something far deeper here? Perhaps the organisation feels that a straight man that is sleeping around unprotected is far more unlikely to even want to give blood in the first place? Perhaps it is some kind of a backhanded compliment that the organisation feels gay men are more community minded and more likely to put themselves out to help someone else and therefore more protections are needed? Ok, so I am probably getting way ahead of myself but you have to admit, the implications of what they are stating are very interesting.

Although some would prefer a system that assesses every individual's behaviour and level of risk rather than applying deferrals to groups, SaBTO's review concluded that there is insufficient evidence available to be able to determine the impact on blood safety of such a system. It is also not certain that all people could objectively assess their own level of risk. Based on published data, the review also concluded that the introduction of extensive donor questions regarding sexual behaviour could lead to a loss of existing donors who may find the process intrusive. The Blood Services are therefore required to follow deferral rules that estimate the statistical risk of certain groups based on behaviour. We are sorry for any inadvertent offence this may cause.

So essentially they have made a broad sweeping (and quite frankly bullshit) generalisation. They have made this generalisation which is certainly offensive - I don’t appreciate being made to feel like some kind of slag – rather than ask someone a few more sensitive questions. They are concerned about losing donors because they may find the process more intrusive? What, more intrusive than having a needle stuck in your arm and blood extracted from your body? Surely, the sort of person that is giving blood is doing so because they want to help and certainly wouldn’t want to put anyone at risk and therefore would be more than prepared to be completely open and honest.
Quite frankly, if it is, “…not certain that all people could objectively assess their own level of risk” why is it better to trust their honesty and their personal recollections and judgement on their sex life in the previous year. For that matter, why a year? Does HIV and Hepatitis disappear in a year? It certainly doesn't. This is the why they screen all of the blood given anyway and if they are screening all of the blood as a matter of course, what difference does it make if a gay man donates. THEY ARE GOING TO CHECK THE BLOOD ANYWAY!

Furthermore, the analysis of the published data has led to an estimate of statistical risk of certain groups based on behaviour. An ESTIMATE! So essentially, an educated guess then? Does that not then imply that actually, all of the rules about who can give blood are based upon an estimate of statistical risk? It is hardly fool proof is it? This tells me that they are admitting that there is no sure-fire way of knowing and that they are quite happy to take certain risks over others. This is people’s lives we are talking about here! If somebody needs a blood transfusion I’d say it is pretty likely that whatever has happened is damn serious, potentially life threatening stuff and they are happy to supply blood that has been taken because an educated guess says it is safe to do so! Wow, don’t I feel safe in the hands of the NHS now.  I don’t know about causing an inadvertent offense, I am bloody terrified!

Blood donation works on the principles of kindness and mutual trust and we ask all potential and existing donors to adhere to the blood donor selection criteria by providing completely honest answers to all the questions asked, both for the protection of their own health and that of others. Donor selection criteria that are proportionate and based purely on evidence are necessary to help ensure that donors comply with the health check process. Compliance with all donor selection criteria is crucial in order to ensure the continued safety of the blood supply. Anyone may require a blood transfusion in the future and it is in the best interests of us all to ensure that we strive to maintain blood safety.

It certainly does work on kindness and mutual trust. Anyone who is prepared to be drained of a pint of blood obviously isn’t thinking solely of themselves! Clearly, these are values that, as a gay man, I do not posses and I must be pretty damn selfish. They ask for completely honest answers to all the questions asked and so by default, because I am a gay man I am potentially a liar too. So far they have done very little to answer my questions and a lot to really offend me!

Why can I not go and see my doctor who can regularly test me to determine whether my blood is safe? If they are prepared to take blood from a ‘man who has not had sex with a man’ within the last 12 months, why are they not prepared to take blood from a man who has been tested and cleared within the last 12 months? I am guessing that in some cases it can take months for particular viruses to show up in a blood test and this is what guides the 12 month stipulation.  Is it not the case that the estimated risk is greatly reduced for a person who has been ‘tested’? It is obviously not sufficient enough a reduction then.

For a page that is there to answer my questions it really hasn’t helped and it certainly has not supplied me with any concrete justification for the rules. In fact, the far from concrete stability of these rules highlights just how potentially dangerous the whole system is, irrespective of sexuality.

I think I will just keep my glittery, slightly pinker shade of red blood to myself then!

Have you ever given blood? Have you ever recieved a transfusion? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below...

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

T-Mobile - Life's For Sharing... Or Not!

In a world of smart phones, tablets and untold other ways of accessing information on the go freely and easily, you would imagine that I could find out about London Pride 2013 really simply or check the latest LGBT news whenever I would like. You would be wrong. I recently tried to access the official London Pride website the other using my iPad and was confronted with something that, although partially pink, certainly was not London Pride. Instead I was redirected to a ‘Content Lock Page’.

The screen I was presented with when trying to access the London Pride website.

I could not access the page because it apparently contains content that is unsuitable for Under 18s. In order to view the website, I would then have to provide credit card details to prove my age. I am a little confused as to what content that a huge community event website could possibly have that is deemed unsuitable. It is a community event which is open wide to everyone so if anything, the website has been specifically designed to be absolutely inclusive of all.

I did a little more looking around and found other websites blocked too… Gay Star News being one of them. This is a news bulletin website, publishing articles regarding real life events relating to the LGBT community. Again, I have no idea why a website that is essentially providing a very similar service to every other news website but with a specific attention to our community is being blocked and deemed unsuitable.

In all honesty, I actually find it very disrespectful and actually downright irresponsible. Now the usual way in which these content locks work is that certain keywords are flagged as potential problems. Just like parental controls or content filters, words like porn, sex and possibly even drugs could trigger a safety mechanism that would redirect a child to a type of holding page, telling them that they must be 18 (and prove it) to continue and so on. The system is designed to filter out any of the websites that contain those words and therefore the inappropriate content. I actually applaud the systems because in the world we live, there are certain protections needed for children who are first exploring the web.

Now, I am not entirely sure which words and the like that T-Mobile has used as part of their keywords or even if they employ this exact type of system, but it is clear that a number of LGBT websites have been blocked. In fact, after some research and digging around, I found that this was actually reported by a number of LGBT News sources way back in Sept 2010! Ironically, one of the websites that was actually affected reported the story. Take the jump HERE to read the article (if you are allowed of course). Many other sites from gay travel to gay culture were blocked and therefore deemed inappropriate.

Like I say, I actually find this disrespectful that somehow, LGBT websites have been pushed under a broad umbrella with porn et al. One could be forgiven for thinking that the implication here is that T-Mobile feels being Gay or even trying to access information about the LGBT community is inappropriate. I am, of course, not saying that T-Mobile as a company are in anyway homophobic, but I am pointing out just what their ‘content block’ suggests.

Furthermore, it is simply irresponsible. How many youngsters out there who are just hitting that age where they have questions, concerns and curiosities about their sexuality? How many of those teens feel they have no one to talk to and so, at least in the very initial stages, will look to the internet in secret to take their first steps in understanding their sexuality? With so many of these youngsters owning smart phones and tablets it is highly likely that they will be confronted with a content lock and the subsequent impression that what they are doing is somehow wrong. If they are under 18 they certainly are not going to have a credit card to prove their age but quite frankly, they shouldn’t have to! What if they aren’t even the bill payer and actually it is their parent that has been kind enough to get them a contract? In that case they would need to go to their parent in order to get the relevant access. Bear in mind I am talking about those people who are still in the very fragile and nerve-wracking position at the initial stages of coming out. The chances are that they are going to be far from comfortable with their parents knowing just yet. Instead, they are made to feel like they are doing something wrong.

Thinking back on it, I remember when I was first dealing with my own ‘coming out’ and I was using the internet to find out more about what I was feeling. I also remember being absolutely terrified that my parents would find out I was looking at LGBT related websites and chat rooms. I had a fear that it would show up like an itemised phone bill or that they might look at the internet history. At the time I wasn’t ready for them to know because I wasn’t entirely comfortable myself. I certainly was not in a state of mind where I could then ask my parents to grant me access to look at certain websites - that were neither offensive nor inappropriate, I hasten to add. Thankfully, I was reassured by a third party that things like ‘which chat room I used’ would not show up on the bills and so on.

What is even more alarming is that the controls for heterosexual pornography are far weaker! Need I say more about the implications this presents.

Again, I am in no way questioning the need for content locks, particularly when it comes to children and the internet. However, should LGBT websites be deemed as inappropriate? Of course they shouldn’t. It is offensive that it has been considered so. Considering that it was actually reported by the press almost two years ago, why has nothing been done about it? As far as I am concerned, mobile phone companies and internet service providers have a social responsibility to not only protect children from inappropriate material but to also ensure that there is a freedom to access material that can, at some times, prove to be a vital lifeline. I have got to wonder, could this very blog be blocked?

Quite simply… get it sorted T-Mobile!

UPDATE- At the time of publication, the content lock on the London Pride website, has been mysteriously lifted. I wonder if that had anything to do with the tweet I made as soon as I came across the content block. The block on Gay Star News still exists.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Camp? Me Dear? No Dear!

One of the strongest images of gay men in popular culture is that of a rather effeminate, limp wristed and simply put, ‘camp’ man. The media certainly harnesses it and perpetuates that stereotype on a frequent basis to the point where many gay men get intensely angry about it. In the past I have been disheartened and angered by yet another gay storyline in a TV show that fuels that stereotype. I've argued that it isn't truly representative of the diversity that exists and that it certainly doesn't help show the rest of the world a wide snapshot of the community. However, it does still raise some interesting thoughts.

I wouldn't call myself particularly camp. I have my moments I guess and they can very much depend on my mood or level of alcohol consumption. In particular situations I become very camp and others less so. The thing is, it is never something I would say I am consciously doing. I am not intentionally behaving in a camp way, it just, well, happens.

I have been asked in the past, by straight friends, why gay men feel the need to start acting camp when they come out and to be honest, I can't really answer it. I am no psychoanalyst but I do have some thoughts on the matter. You have to remember that for many gay guys out there, they have spent many years trying to act 'straight' because of the social situation around them, especially if they are having a hard time with it all. They have been surrounded by homophobia or simply by the all pervading heterosexual environment throughout their lives. For many people, conforming to whatever society tells them is a big thing. They are actually keeping part of themselves a secret for all that time but when that secret is over, bam, the queen is out so to speak. Over the years they may have behaved 'straight' to try and cover the deep routed feelings that they don't want anyone to find out. Eventually they come to terms with it in themselves. When that happens, their personality can also change, after all, they are no longer spending so much energy on a facade that suppresses who they truly are.

Still, being my own devil's advocate and considering other thoughts, being camp is not necessarily a personality that is being suppressed and then released upon coming out. It may very well be that we adopt the ‘norms’ of a culture or a subculture as an expression of belonging to that group. For example, some guys might not be camp on a day to day basis but they may 'act' it in a given environment as a demonstration, consciously or otherwise, that they are part of that group. I’ve seen other cultural groups adopt a street patois with their friends and community which they wouldn’t use with their old school friends or other non-group friends. In other words, could ‘camping it up’ be just as unreal as ‘acting straight’? Then you can really throw a spanner in the works and consider the fact that some straight guys out there are also quite camp...

That isn't to say that all gay men have this kind of experience. Having met, dated (and now married to) a few guys (only married to one I hasten to add) I have found a very broad spectrum. I know guys who look very much the image of what society deems to be a straight guy when they are openly gay. My husband is a prime example. No one ever guesses that he is gay and when introducing him to new people I am quite used to hearing, "… well, I would never have known he was gay!" (the fact that I introduce him as my husband might have been the penny-drop moment?) It is quite often one of the first things people say the moment he is out of earshot.

Still, even if a guy does come out and almost instantly seems to be camper, whether it be a conscious choice, an act or the release of a suppressed personality; does it actually matter? I have heard people make comments like 'why have they gone all camp, it's totally fake' and 'there is no need to be like that' but I would argue that since we don't know what has led to them becoming camper, nor do we do know the ins and outs of their psychological profile, perhaps they are happier that way? It certainly isn't hurting anyone and ultimately, it is their own personal expression.

Returning to an earlier point, I appreciate that people take umbridge that the representation of a gay man nearly always tends to be that of a camp guy. It is after all, a stereotype. But that stereotype has to come from somewhere. Stereotypes do no not just appear because someone felt like inventing them. They happen because they exist, or they are amplified interpretations of a visible proportion of particular people. Think of all the other stereotypes you are aware of. They all come from somewhere. That's not to say everyone from that background fulfills the stereotype, but they have come about because many people do seem to fulfill that stereotype.

It seems to me that we are getting to a point, where even in the gay community, camp is becoming a no-no and it is becoming a minority in itself. You can see examples of it in gay chat rooms for instance. People actually request things like ‘…no effems!’. Of course, that all comes down to personal preference and the freedom of choice but to me it is the oddest notion. To have gay people, chastising others for being too gay. It seems a rather sweeping generalisation to say, "ooh, I could never date one of those really camp guys". Really? That makes it sound like the camp aspect of their personality is the ONLY aspect. Come on guys! For a bunch of people who have been ostracised so much over the years we need to remain open-minded.

So what is the harm in embracing camp? We need to be really careful that we don't start our own segregation because we are averse to camp people. This would be particularly ironic considering how many straight people have behaved towards gay people over the years. Camp people do exist and that is them, their personality and their life. They shouldn't be made to feel bad because of it.

If we are a rainbow, shouldn’t we embrace all the colours of the spectrum?

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Proud Of Pride?... Revisited

You may remember my blog a couple of years ago discussing the debate on 'pride' events. If you haven't read it, make the jump and go HERE now.

My feelings on the matter are clear, there is definitely a need for Pride events given that there are still roads to travel in the goal desire for equality. That word comes up a lot nowadays, 'equality', and I agree that an event that appears to give us a voice to scream "I am different" isn't exactly the best statement in advocating equality. Especially when it is only the most 'sensationalist' of us that is portrayed in the media - just to be clear, I don't think that these people are behaving in a sensationalist way but it is the media portraying us that way.

I also return to my feelings that actually, pride events are an opportunity to respectfully celebrate those who have spent their life in a war in order to give us the freedom to declare our sexuality without fear of recriminations. In essence, that is what a pride event has become but now we need to take it to the next level.

At this point we need to do more to be inclusive of those who have supported us over the years, regardless of their sexuality. I think the efforts of those organising these events may need to focus on changing the image that Pride events are exclusive to the LGBT community. A message that I am sure many of us agree with! By claiming an exclusivity we do ourselves no favours and so why not change the overall image of a pride event to declare, regardless of sexuality, that everyone can be proud of who they are. Is it simply a matter of fact that pride events are now out of date and out of touch? One suggestion could possibly be that these sort of events are brought to an end and some kind of new entity is created. I actually enjoy the freedoms that the events allow, especially that I can walk hand in hand with my husband without fear of coming face to face with the blunt force of somebody else's fist for instance.

I have heterosexual friends who have often toiled with the idea of coming along but chose not to in case they don't feel welcome. Whether that feeling is more their hang up or not, we can help to redress the balance in the way in which we portray the events. Call it PR if you will, but more could be done to tell the rest of the world that these events are inclusive and while they are a celebration of the LGBT community, they ARE for everyone. I know I would be happy to see my heterosexual friends come and join the celebrations and support that battle for equality. I am friends with a couple who take their children to parts of the pride events because they support the notion that we, as a community, can all live together happily. A nice cotton wool candy ideal perhaps, nevertheless it is something we all want to see. They support the fight for equality and more importantly, they are proud of their sexuality and they are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of us who also have pride in whatever we are. Who are we to stand in their way?

I personally think an even more publicly inclusive approach is the way forward but I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Monday, 25 February 2013

What Did You Just Call Me?

My first thoughts for this blog come from a comment in a previous blog, ‘Will You MARRY Me?’ and the use of the term ‘gay-marriage’. The words we use to describe ourselves and those around us. I begin with a quote from the well-known TV show ‘Queer As folk’;

‘Queers. Because I'm queer. I'm gay. I'm homosexual. I'm a poof, I'm a poofter, I'm a ponce. I'm a bumboy, batty-boy, backside artist, bugger. I'm bent. I am that arsebandit. I lift those shirts. I'm a faggot-ass, fudge-packing, shit-stabbing uphill gardener. I dine at the downstairs restaurant. I dance at the other end of the ballroom. I'm Moses and the parting of the red cheeks.’

We have all heard the various terminologies used by others as derogatory insults. Most of us will remember the first time that someone called us one of the above. I personally remember how much it upset me in my teens to have these words hurled across the playground at me. For me it hurt even more because I didn’t think I was. I wasn’t even aware of my own sexuality at the time. Back then I genuinely had no real thoughts or feelings of bias towards any sex to be honest. How could others be calling me these things when I didn’t even know myself? It caused untold amounts of anguish, confusion and pain for me.

Fast forward through the years and I have grown from those experiences. They have given me a very thick skin and the ability to shrug them off. But I shouldn’t really have to shrug them off because, quite frankly, that kind of language shouldn’t be heard in society and should be frowned upon as severely as racism now is. Yet, every so often I still hear it and, like I say, for the most part I shrug them off, but occasionally, if it catches me off guard, it hurts as much as it did back in my teens.

Therefore you can imagine my shock when I hear those terms bandied around by other gay people! Firstly I can’t believe what I have just heard and I have to double-take and secondly I am taken to that place in my teens. It then makes me incredibly angry. Some of us spend so much time and energy fighting against the use of this kind of language. When did it become acceptable to use it within the community? Or is that it? Are people who are LGBT allowed to refer to one another like this yet if anyone else says it, we get offended? I’d say that smacks of double standards wouldn’t you? It is almost as though we are claiming exclusive use of those words, which in turn, separates us from everyone else.

It is a bit like the rather controversial N word often used as a derogatory term for Black people that is also used as a colloquial term in some black cultures where it is considered acceptable. In one instance it is the nastiest and vilest insult you can call someone and in another it is perfectly acceptable. Here, a community uses the language that was once used against them. Doesn’t that take the power out of it? The black community often refers to themselves and one another using that N word. Within that community it has become desensitised slang. And likewise, how many times have we referred to one another as a poof? Within the community, have these terms become warm and can they be used affectionately even? I can see that in some kind of way it disarms the language.

You see, for me, it is the acceptance of the use of these terms within a community that makes the waters really muddy. Here we are, fighting to be accepted, to be equal and to be treated like everyone else. Some of us are active in trying to make sure that children (or anyone else for that matter) do not grow up thinking it is ok to use these words. We try to help people understand just how much it can hurt and why language like this has no place in society and then we use those words ourselves.

I remember an old saying that it was always best to take the mickey out of yourself before someone else does, so I can understand why someone may opt to use those words before anyone else does. Perhaps, in some skewed kind of way, it is a form of taking ownership of the word and almost changing its definition. After all, the word gay itself didn’t actually mean a male who is homosexual. It simply meant happy. People then started to use the word in other ways, for a reason I am still researching (probably a blog entry in the future) and then the next thing you know, it had become a nasty word to use against people. But now we use it quite happily (how ironic) to describe ourselves. Alternatively, people currently use the word gay to indicate that something is not very good… ironically, it inspired the title of my blog. I wanted to take that negative indication that many people currently use and turn it around, reclaim ownership as it were.

But does attempting to reclaim ownership of the words make the use of them ok?

Personally, I don’t think we should. I would feel like a hypocrite calling one of my gay friends a poof. Oh yeah, because they are my friend it is perfectly acceptable!? After the years of hurt that very same word caused me I simply couldn’t do it and I would not accept anyone else, gay or not, calling me by that word.

There is also the legal standpoint. You can be brought to book for using what is considered to be offensive language even if the person offended is not the recipient. If I called a close friend a queer and some outsider heard this, they could have me prosecuted. I can definitely see why this is the case. If I overheard a group of white guys talking about the black community and using the N word and generally being racist, I could remonstrate with them and have the law on my side but it gets complicated if it was a group of black guys saying it.  The context surely, is the intent to offend. Who draws that line and decides whether there was intent to offend? It would be very difficult to police surely?

In this instance I am very conflicted. On the one hand I can appreciate the need to take ownership over what is an insult to thereby desensitise it and destroy its effect as an insult. On the other, I can honestly say it would make me feel uncomfortable using such language as some kind of bizarre term of endearment. Given that I am so conflicted about this, I can’t really come to any conclusion about what is right and what is best. Right now, I feel it is really important that we don’t encourage the use of such derogatory language by making it seem acceptable within the LGBT community. I feel it could damage the on-going fight for equality and only serve to drive a wedge between the way we behave and the way we expect everyone else to. However, I admit I could be wrong and possibly over sensitive about the language in the first place, given my past experiences.

So, given my own indecision, what do you think? I would be interested to hear your thoughts...

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now...

…As the ‘great’ Starship once told us at least. (And if you don’t know the artist and film the song was from, you really need to go do your homework :-P)

With the battle for marriage equality still raging on, I got to thinking about whether there will ever be a time when there is total acceptance. Will there ever be a day when we see an end to homophobia, racism, sexism and all the other isms?

I’ll be honest, I am not convinced there will be. Perhaps it is a sad and harsh reality of the human condition that there is always going to be someone out there that doesn’t just dislike what others do or what others are, but hates it so much that they will go to the nastiest lengths to stop it. Looking back over the history of the LGBT community, we have weathered many a storm. Whether it be the fact that being homosexual was illegal, or the homophobic bullying as a child, the ‘gay-bashing’, the introduction of anti-LGBT legislation or even as part of the holocaust. Despite all of that hatred and violence over the years, there are still out and proud people nearly everywhere. Unfortunately some countries are a little slow on the uptake. Considering that level of hatred and violence, LGBT people in the UK have continued fighting against persecution when they could have just as easily slipped back into the closet, conformed to what society expected and lived a very unhappy life. But they didn’t. Many others around the world simply can't. 

What I am trying to say is that, despite all the anti-gay behaviour, gay people still exist. Well of course they do I hear you say. They are a part of the world. The haters can call us names, beat us, prevent us from being equal and heck even try to exterminate us but would it make a difference. Would it actually stop gay people from existing? The suggestion is completely ridiculous because it simply wouldn’t. There is always going to be that, ‘someday somewhere’ (yep, another cheeky – and rather camp - song reference there) where someone prefers the love, companionship and sexual pleasure from someone of the same sex. It is simply the way of the world. We don’t understand how or why, but that is the way it is. Just the same as the sun in the sky, homosexuals WILL exist. Granted, given enough power, opponents could force us into hiding through fear, but would that stop homosexuality from existing? Nope. So why the opponents still fight so hard is totally beyond me. To me, they are fighting a totally lost cause for that reason. Deny us as many rights as you like or introduce new laws to give us less legal rights, we aren’t going anywhere.

Although, in the same breath, we as homosexuals have got to do our fair share of accepting here too! We are never going to remove all hatred towards us. We are never going to stop the fact that some people don’t understand homosexuality. Some people are nauseated by the thought of two men sleeping together, or being in love with one another and do you know what; I am cool with that. I can get over it. I daresay some will find that a little shocking considering the fact I am someone who is reasonably active in speaking up for equality and LGBT rights. But my thinking is that I don’t really care what people think about me providing it is just that. As long as they are not trying to hurt me or diminish my rights or those of my community, nor trying to rally others to agree with their hate, then their hate doesn’t actually affect me does it? So I am happy to let them continue living their hate filled lives. Heck, I hate peas so does that mean that I have to rally everyone to also hate them and segregate any person who does like them? Again, the notion is just simply ridiculous. No matter how hard I try, there is no way I can eradicate another person’s taste for peas. Sure I could make it really uncomfortable for those people if I were given enough power, but no matter how much power I might have, I cannot totally remove that part of the human condition that means they like peas with their pie; especially mushy ones because they are just vile! I just simply choose not to have them on my dinner plate. 

And therein lays my point. We have to learn and accept that we cannot and will not be able to entirely eradicate at least some small portion of dislike. All we can do is ask that their dislike doesn’t affect our lives. Just because they don’t like the idea of homosexuality and they refuse to accept it, it by no means, gives them any right to try and change it. I have a sneaking suspicion that if we all managed to accept that fact of life we would all probably get along just that little bit better.

Anyways, I am going to sign off now as I have a pie in the oven. Yup, I am having pie for dinner, sans the peas…

I never could trust anyone who liked peas…

(PS. That last line is in jest… not the part about having pie… the other bit)

Monday, 18 February 2013

Will You MARRY Me?

Well, well, well. Isn’t the debate over Equal Marriage really heating up lately? The government have passed the bill through to the third stage and momentum is growing. Still, there is a long way to go…

After watching the parliament channel for a massive chunk of the broadcast during the second ‘reading’ it is clear that one the biggest opponents in this latest political hotbed are the church, or at least a large part of it. I will be quite frank and say I am totally at a loss as to why there is such an issue here. Sure, I have heard lots of their reasons for why the LGBT should not be given equal marriage rights but they are so ridiculously flawed. We have all seen the viral memes and Facebook images enough to educate us, even if we don’t truly understand religion. Of course, religion by its very nature can be read and skewed depending on what you want to believe so I recommend that people exercise caution when looking at the ‘facts’. The most common argument is the age old “Its Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, i.e. marriage is between one man and one woman. I should note, it was hilarious that the MP David Simpson managed to quote it incorrectly and said “in the garden of Eden it was Adam and Steve not Adam and Eve. Except that the bible also clearly shows many other examples of people not sticking to that ONE man and ONE woman rule and it being accepted. Jacob had two, Esau had three, Gideon had many and King Solomon had seven… HUNDRED!

There are countless examples out there and so I am massively confused as to why religious people insist on using the same flawed arguments against equal marriage. Granted, we are all entitled to an opinion but if you are having a debate with someone and your defences are flawed because they highlight a massive chunk of hypocrisy you would normally accept gracious defeat and perhaps go away and rethink your opinion. At least that is the way I have always done it. That is the whole point of debate. Sometimes you are right and sometimes you are wrong. The skill in debate is to know when you should accept that you are wrong and take a step back before you continue to make yourself look like a single minded fool.
As it stands, I don’t think that religion en masse is ready or even able to take that step yet which in itself screams of the double standard that religion hides behind. Religion frequently tells us to love one another, to be accepting and that ultimately, God forgives all. Yet they are, with vitriol so nasty it is the complete opposite of everything they teach… hate. They pretend that they are accepting and it’s just the marriage issue, but let’s face it, by declining equal marriage they are making the statement that we are different from them and that we are lesser human beings.  That is how I perceive it.

I make no secret of the fact I don’t particularly like religion. Mainly because of its blatant hypocrisy, however, I would like to make it clear that I do not begrudge any person their faith. In some respects I actually admire their devotion and their ability to believe in something without complete solid proof. Of course, they will argue that the proof is the world around us and the book that tells us all about it, but for me, that really isn’t enough. I have far too many questions that have been brushed off in the past. I once questioned something I didn’t understand about the bible and I was told, quite simply, that I shouldn’t question what the bible says! Really? Sorry, I am not wired that way. I need to be able to understand it; ever since I was a child I have questioned things. I don’t do blind faith, in fact, it is not that I don’t, it is that I can’t! My parents have said in the past that I was a nightmare because I always wanted to understand everything and everything had to have a reason. Yep, I was that precocious little kid who asked ‘why’ a lot.

Some would argue that clearly I just haven’t found the ‘right’ answers to understand religion and I agree.  That is exactly why I am writing this blog. If I could at the very least understand the religious position on equal marriage perhaps I could respect it. Unfortunately though, every argument that their leaders make against equal marriage is very easily and quickly refuted and their hypocrisy is highlighted.  What really grates my cheese here is that they never make any attempt to explain or justify that hypocrisy, and in fact they continue to use the same arguments. What makes it even more hilarious is  how adamant they seem to cling to the notion that the bible forbids the act of gay marriage when they don’t follow the other rules in the bible. For instance, in the New Testament book of Mark, Jesus says, “Therefore what god has joined together, let no one separate.” Would you care to explain divorce then? - At the least the Catholics have managed to stick to that rule and still don’t accept divorce. Of course, for many years, divorce wasn’t allowed but eventually the laws were changed (thanks to Henry VIII) and in our modern world, certainly in the UK, divorce is accepted. The bible also states that ‘Anyone who divorces and marries another commits adultery’. Again, this is a frequent occurrence in the modern world and one that is, for the vast majority accepted. Even royalty were allowed to do it! So we aren’t allowed to marry because apparently the bible says so but they can divorce even though the bible says not to. I could probably go on dissecting hundreds of similar examples of religious rules. The rules that are still in the bible yet are no longer adhered to, but that would take up far too many blogs (and hours of my day too).

The point here, is that religion, over the years has adapted, it has evolved, and it has changed from what it was when that all precious book was written. All manner of life issues, not just marriage, flout what the bible actually says and do so amongst religious groups too! So why are they so determined to continue standing against equal marriage?

Many of the politicians that stood and spoke at the debate on 5th February 2013 spoke about how marriage is a religious institution that the government has no business getting involved in. I actually agree, the government has no right getting involved in the institute of religious marriage. They have quite clearly laid out that no religious faith will be forced to perform a same-sex marriage and many of the religions that do wish to, will be given the opportunity to opt-in as it were. So it is very clear, the government is not looking at a change in religious marriage whatsoever. What they are looking at, is the other type of marriage which is called a ‘Civil Ceremony’ (or Civil Marriage as it is often referred) and I can guarantee that you know someone who has married in this way. In fact, I would wager that you know more people that have got married like this than those who got married in a church? By definition a civil ceremony is a non-religious legal marriage ceremony performed by a government official or functionary. In the UK, this person is normally called a registrar. In the UK, a civil registrar ceremony cannot include hymns, religious readings or prayers, and the marriage must take place at a registered or licensed venue to be legally valid. The fact that all religious references are excluded from this type of ceremony shows that a religious wedding and a civil ceremony (or civil marriage) are two very different things.

This then begs the question. Why is religion even being brought into the discussion when civil ceremonies are by definition state ceremonies? why can’t the politicians alter the laws that govern that particular type of marriage? Religion actually has no place whatsoever in the discussion of whether to allow homosexual couples to marry, until the day that it involves the church also doing so. Since the current law actually excludes Christianity (and all other faiths for that matter) there is no justifiable reason for using it as an argument against the equal marriage bill.

Even still, I fail to see how a homosexual couple getting married actually changes anything or how it affects anyone else’s life? What, does a religious person die every time a gay couple marries and only the sound of a child clapping or laughter will bring them back? Oh no wait, that is fairies (yes I am being ironic). To quote a meme I saw the other day, “Claiming someone else’s marriage is against your religion is like being angry at someone for eating a doughnut when you are on a diet!”

As a final thought, did you notice the constant use of the term ‘Equal Marriage’? You really should. Of course, I am guilty of calling it ‘Gay Marriage’ in the past too, but it is a habit we really need to get out of. It isn’t ‘GAY’ marriage at all and actually it should just be Marriage. By calling it gay marriage we are just allowing ourselves to be, once again, separated from society. In the fight to get there we need to be clear about what it is we want and that isn’t just gay marriage; it is equal marriage for all!

After all, to quote the American comedian and actress Liz Feldman;

“It’s very dear to me, the issue of gay marriage. Or, as I like to call it, ‘Marriage.’ You know, because I had lunch this afternoon, not gay lunch. I parked my car; I didn’t gay park it.”