Monday, 1 June 2020

Raising the Pink Flag - Why homophobes are their own worst enemies

Some of the blogs I write are simply off the cuff, some spend weeks, months or even years gestating, because I feel I have something I have to say, and I want to get it right. I suspect that this blog is the one with the longest gestation period of them all. I've started it several times and abandoned it, as I felt I simply hadn't done the job properly. I was unhappy with the title, the content and the prevarication in what I said. Given the beatings, the murders, the lost job opportunities, the depression, the mental illness suffered by those on the sharp end of homophobia, I daresay that anyone who has suffered this will simply read the title and dismiss it as the work of an idiot. In many ways they'd be right to feel like this. I am not asking for sympathy for the thugs and idiots. Quite the opposite, but I have come to conclude that whilst the legal battle is won, there is still a lot of under the carpet problems and to address this, we really have to address the ignorance that lies at the heart of it.

I in no way expect anyone to agree with me, but for me, to live imprisoned in a wall of ignorance, hating and lashing out for no better reason than an illogical  need to interfere in other adults lives is a very poor existence indeed. Whilst I learned very early on to understand how racism was a very self defeating form of behaviour, in some ways homophobia is a slightly more difficult beast to pin down. In many ways, you only need to suffer it, if you are brave enough to be honest about who you are. It seems to me that when hard right religious types rant about other peoples lifestyles, they ignore the fact that honesty and truth are amongst the most important characteristics of the faiths they profess to follow. Is there anything more absurd than disliking someone for being honest about themselves.

What really got me thinking about this was a an interview with Colin Newman of Wire. Back in 1977, when I was a teenage punk rocker, Wire released their seminal debut album Pink Flag. I heard some tracks on the John Peel show and immediately bought it. I was at Finchley Catholic High School at the time, which had a highly homophobic atmosphere. I mentioned to a friend that I'd just bought the album. His response shocked me. He informed me, in rather colourful language that Wire were all gay and that the album was full of gay anthems. One of my favourite songs, 12XU mentioned the practise of Cottaging (gay men hooking up in public lavatories) and asked me if this love of the band reflected my own sexual leanings. As I thought Wire were brilliant, I decided, for my own safety, to keep Wire as a guilty pleasure.

A couple of months after, I saw them at The Marquee. They were about to release Chairs Missing, their second album and another masterpiece. Wire had an unusual habit of never playing old material.  As I hadn't heard the new material, that was rather different, I was initially disappointed, but by the end of the set, I realised that I'd been in the presence of geniuses. The only problem was that I really couldn't tell any of my school mates about what a great show I'd seen. I was heartened that the rest of the audience were also seemingly unperturbed. It was a huge lesson for me. I could either conform to stereotypical bigotry of my school mates, or I could base my choices on the talents of the artists. I made a conscious decision that I would take no interest in the colour, creed or sexuality of any artist. If I liked their music, that was enough for me. I wasn't going to put the works of Little Richard, Lou Reed, Dee Dee Ramone or The New York Dolls in the cultural dustbin just because of someone else's idiotic prejudices.

Things have changed a lot since 1977, and in regards to homophobia, very much for the better. I had completely forgotten about the conversation about Wire until we went to Biarritz, in the heady days of last autumn. One day, it was raining and we had been for a long walk. I was doing some net surfing, and I found an interview with Colin Newman of Wire, celebrating the 40th anniversary of their third album 154. It was fascinating. About half way through the interview, he made a statement that shocked me to my core. He started talking about the birth of his daughter and how his wife was none too impressed when he went out and got bladdered to celebrate. It had never, ever occurred to me that the information passed to me by my schoolmate at FCHS might have been wrong. I mean, an album called Pink Flag is a pretty clear symbol to a fifteen year old.

A horror took me over, one that chilled me to my bones. Just suppose, I'd succumbed to the herd mentality? I've probably seen Wire 20 or 30 times, I'd have missed that. Their first three albums are probably amongst the top ten in my collection  for times I've played them. They've probably been played thousands of times each (my wife dislikes them intensely, otherwise I'm sure they would have been played a million times). Then there are the other bands and artists that I'd have missed out on. The Tom Robinson band are another that springs to mind from that era. I loved 2468 Motorway and had a TRB badge. When they released Glad to Be Gay, I removed it from my jacket, more for reasons of personal safety than anything else, but I still maintained a love of the band, one of Londons best. Things have changed beyond recognition. Today, it would seem absurd to dislike a band for the sexuality of the artists. 

But homophobia has not gone away, it has just gone underground. Occasionally you will see evidence that it has raised its ugly head. The two young girls attacked on a London bus last year is one example that springs to mind. Whilst for those ingrained with prejudice, I suppose they might think missing out on great music and arts is a price worth paying for their idiocy, there is a fine example of why prejudice can ultimately destroy you.

I remember talking to my Father, who was  a World War II bomber pilot, about homophobia in the forces in the second world war. He gave me an interesting perspective. He said "When your life depends on it, you soon discard any prejudices you may have. You want the best possible people on your team, because your life depends on it". We were discussing Alan Turing. My Dad pointed out that Germany locked up gays in concentration camps. We just asked them to stay in the closet (not right, I hasten to add, but better than a gas chamber). As a result, Turing cracked the Enigma code and the Allies won the war.

The Nazi's were a despicable regime.  Their downfall was an exercise in what happens when you let stupidity and prejudice govern your decision making process. When you move away from fairness and towards discrimination, you move away from having the best person doing the job. When you don't have the best person doing the job, you have by default made your enemy stronger. You are your own worst enemy.

Why not find out why I love Wire here (and why Clare hates them)

No comments: