GULGBTQ+ Society’s “be yourself” dogma at risk
One drizzly November afternoon, I found myself on the steps of the GUU, about to join the GULGBTQ+ society for the first time.
The scenery was gloomy: a few plastic chairs and a flickering panel light – not exactly what I’d had in mind for my first “gay” act. I might not have been shouting my sexuality from the rooftops, but attending an LGBTQ+ pub quiz was an act of personal revolution nonetheless.
I hail from rural Scotland; hardly Victorian in terms of attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community, but backwards enough to have made the possibility of being openly gay too isolating – not to mention socially cumbersome – to consider. So, at 18 I finally joined the ranks of so many LGBTQ+ youth in their exodus from rural to urban living. University was my big chance.
Unfortunately, the experience wasn’t everything I had imagined. At the door I was asked to put on a badge that showed my preferred pronouns, and my small joke, “I came here to get away from labels!” was met with a confused half-smile. As the evening progressed and talk turned from “Black Lives Matter” to “Free the Nipple”, one thing became increasingly clear: this wasn’t a broad church of LGBTQ+ identifiers; rather it was a society of LGBTQ+ socialists. Or more accurately, a society for LGBTQ+ extreme activists. As a natural lefty I wasn’t uncomfortable, but as an observer I couldn’t help but become aware of the exclusivity of the group. My first impression was that only a certain type of person belonged in this society, and if you weren’t one of them then they might think you were a dangerous malcontent.
My impression was reinforced when, later that year, I took part in a fundraiser showing of The Danish Girl: “£4 for a film and some popcorn – all for a good cause!” There was an immediate backlash from board members of the LGBTQ+ society. “I don’t think I’ll make this film – it’s a transmisogynist disgrace,” one member wrote on our Facebook event. Word spread fast and our page quickly became a target for attack. But why us? As to whether or not transgender characters should exclusively be played by transgender actors, I do not know, but the purpose of the film night was to raise money for charity. There was no political agenda and nobody who was interested in attending the film was signing up for one. Turning such aggressive attention to such a small, well-intentioned event achieves nothing but an ego boost. There was no positive outcome: a small charity suffered and no progression for transgender students on campus was achieved in the process. This turned out to be just one of many cases where good people were shouted down by the rage of the society in their fight for respect.
This is very worrying for two reasons. The first is that to assume gay people should have a specific political allegiance is to completely go against the whole rhetoric of “you have the right to be yourself” that is promoted by the LGBTQ+ community. Secondly, there is a long way to go before all sexualities and gender identities are treated equally. Being provoked to aggression over such minor details only encourages perfectly privileged people to feel like victims, and it makes enemies of people who are on your side.
Our brains are great risk assessors. We wouldn’t have made it this far if our heads had not told us to assume certain things and simplify certain complications. If a woman is telling me about her wedding day and I say: “Oh, who’s the lucky guy?” and she corrects me; that’s not me being homophobic – it is statistically a remark that would have worked well for me. It would be homophobic if I then went on to rant about the sanctity of marriage. As a gay person, I will live an easier life if I accept that the majority are on my side, but I myself will always belong to a minority. And for the world to be fair it makes sense that the majority (i.e. straight people) will be marketed to a little more than myself. Homophobia is a serious issue and we shouldn’t dilute its seriousness by throwing the phrase around unnecessarily.
The LGBTQ+ society is made up of good people, but they risk pushing people away with the relentlessness of their grievances. Progression will happen, but not because you get 100 people to write a letter to a lecturer who misgendered you in their marking.
We have to be smarter than that. And we have to be kinder than that.