There is a great disruption in the fabric of socialmeaning. Established frames of reference and certainties are being disrupted, and previously affirmed assumptions are being displaced. We are used to science fiction stories racing against the clock to fix tears and ruptures that threaten the whole of reality. I never thought that I’d be one of the people in a far-fetched story trying to defend myself from impending doom, but here we are.
The disruption has been happening for some time, and I’ve been distracting myself from paying attention to it because I’ve had other things to deal with, and a quiet life seems the easier option. Not now. I’ve gone and jumped into the chaos with two feet, and now I’m wondering if I can find solid ground again as reality shifts and twists around me.
What started this off was the conformation in the High Court that LGB Alliance have been correctly designated as a charity by the Charities Commission, the success of Alison Bailey in winning an employment tribunal against her former employer, and now the Labour Party shifting its views on reform of the Equality Act to ensure that sex and same-sex attraction remain the key measure of discrimination in the Equality Act.
A couple of points that need making apparent, so there is no misunderstanding of my position on these matters:
- The rights of Women, Lesbians, Gay Men and Bisexuals are protected in British Law under the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998.
- These are sex-based rights, and are afforded on the biological reality that sex is an essential and immutable category for distinguishing biological males from females.
- The sex of a person cannot change, nor does a person’s sex change through periods of their life, except according to natural processes that are in accordance with the species of hominoids that humans are part of.
- Some people are men, i.e. male, and some people are women, i.e. female. The process of reproduction in its natural state is a mechanism and drive that is between men and women, i.e. heterosexual people.
- There are then a few people, like myself, who are same sex attracted. Some homosexuals are entirely same-sex attracted, though others are attracted by each sex.
- Gender dysphoria is less common than is presented in the media.
- Homosexuality is innate. It is not a choice, an affliction or a medical condition, as it has been characterised in the past by the state, the medical profession and certain religions.
- Puberty is the point at which we transition from children to sexual maturity. Puberty is a natural experience for all men and women, and is a period when children are transformed into adults by naturally occurring biological processes, which if properly socialised, result in a sex-based identity that enables us to live with, and interact with, others based on fixed assumptions. These assumptions, however, require the ability to give consent and are dependent on a sense of personal agency.
Where I am concerned about ideas that are expressed in the media, and which have become polarised in political discussion as exhibited on social media, is the issue of gender identity. I’ve been standing back on the sidelines as the debate about ‘gender identity’ has raged. I’ve not really taken much interest because it has felt distant and something that politically lobby groups have been using to promote their own interests.
I’ve sort of woken up to this now, and I’ve started to listen more carefully to some of the debates and discussions. I’m concerned, to cut to the chase, that Stonewall has become an ideologically driven organisation acting in the mode of a cult, and that the promise of diversity that is being offered by Stonewall, in reality, is highly regressive and homophobic.
My principal concern is that Stonewall is advocating for a social concept and right of ‘gender self-affirmation’ that will negatively impact the natural development of young same-sex attracted and bisexual people. Stonewall is actively conflating sexuality with gender-dysphoria, and this places an unacceptable additional burden on young gay and bisexual people to transpose their understanding of themselves from a sex-based state to a gender-based state.
There are precious few positive and affirmative role models for young gay people to identify with, so anything that weakens the symbolic certainty that would otherwise be afforded to them, needs to be challenged and questioned. We should always ask what motivates people when they propose changes or try to introduce new meaning frameworks.
There is a common meaning slip that has entered into popular discussion about sexual and gender identity, which is to conflate sexual identity with gender dysphoria. So, rather than allowing young people to explore their sexuality in a natural process of becoming, where they can learn from their own experience, there has instead become arisen an insistence that something must be wrong. At no stage in my life have I ever felt gender incongruity, and the vast majority of gay and lesbian people that I have known have never reported or expressed a sense of gender incongruity, at least not in public. So this feels like a new and recent phenomenon.
When I reflect on my childhood, what does it tell me about how circumstances have changed today. I grew up in a loving family, in Liverpool in the 1970s and 80s. We were working-class. The primary determination of identity was masculinity and femininity, but other things were going on, and people had to deal with mass unemployment and poverty, so most people turned a blind eye or never really considered what it meant to define their gender. They were just getting on with their lives.
In the 80s, Pete Burns and Holly Johnson were two of the biggest pop stars on the planet. In the charts, Queen, Wham, Pet Shop Boys, Culture Club, Bronski Beat all had a strong gay male attitude. A friend of mine described his father as being a massive homophobe, and yet these were his favourite bands.
Did I know any gay people when I was in my teens? I had a boyfriend and we went to clubs. I went to the Hacienda once and thought it was rubbish. Even before the internet, it was possible to find out where gay clubs and bars were, just by asking people. When I moved to Leicester in 1993 I had my copy of Gay Times with me, and the first thing I did was check out the gay bars and clubs. The Dover Castle was like a railway station pub.
The most difficult challenge at the time was AIDS, which basically put the fear of god in most gay people. I tend to put my head in the sand and avoid getting involved with these kinds of issues, so I was fortunate not to be immediately affected. Denial is not a good state of existence, but it has always been easier to do my own thing and not get involved in single causes.
When I lived in Manchester, I went on the anti-Section 28 march, not really understanding who all the other people were on the march. However, It felt like there was something going on, but this was probably more the anti-Thatcher vibe than anything else. House music was popular, and no one ever questioned my sexual identity or expected me to fit into a pre-defined mould. Well, not that I know of or have been told about.
During my late teens and twenties, most of the time being in clubs and bars was totally ordinary. There was nothing special. Just people standing around drinking. There was no glamour or drama. The drag-queens were either acerbic and bitter, or bitter and acerbic. Lesbians went to women only bars, and gay men went to men only bars.
I visited Canal Street a few years ago, and was shocked by the number of fag-hags and straight people hanging around having a party. I’m of the generation that bars and clubs didn’t open out on to the street, but where behind closed doors. The gay scene, as far as I was concerned, was a means to an end. Crap music, sticky floors, and a ridiculous set of rituals to get attention, which I could never play.
This was all before social media, of course. The shift that has happened since it’s been possible to live a life online is clearly having massive repercussions on today’s younger people that are different to what I experienced. In my day, you could be fabulous in the club, but you still had to get a bus or walk home when you couldn’t afford a taxi. Necessity is a great leveller.
After messing up my life in Manchester, I went back to Liverpool and studied Media and Film Studies, then I moved to Leicester to do a Media Studies undergraduate degree. The film studies component always seemed facile to me. The focus was on representation and ideology, whereas I asserted myself as a pragmatist. I still have a copy of An Introduction to Post-Modernism, signed by Jean Baudrillard. So I’ve lived through the fashion of theory. Baudrillard warned about the problems of simulation in postmodern society. I wonder what he would think of the manifestation of gender non-conformity on a mass-scale?
As such, I have always been more interested in what people do with media, rather than what we might think media does to them. It took me ten years to finish my PhD, so I’m now a Doctor of Community Media. My methodology was ethnographic, and my frame of analysis is Social Interactionism, which asks how do people find the world and their experience meaningful? I don’t simply look at the world as a set of functions or transactions, that can be easily categorised and understood. Instead I think about our interaction with the world as an oscillation between our empirical experience, and the symbolic framework that explains that experience. What makes life meaningful?
People are meaning oriented, and so to understand this, we not only have to consider how the world is manifested to us in space and time, as sensed experience, but we also have to consider the symbolic and archetypal forces that shape the meanings that we repeatedly live with. Carl Jung described himself as a Kantian through and through, and he understood that the collective unconscious shapes our experience. Unlike Freud, who many film scholars and structuralist theorists objectify, Jung instead taps into the deep stories that shape human development, the symbolic and the deeper meanings that change only slowly.
Jung understood the relationship between social expression and meaningfulness. Jung recognised that these are relative forces, so if we change one, i.e. the symbolic structure, then we see changes in society. Similarly, if we change society, it changes the symbolic dynamic that forms our psyche. We don’t live in a static universe, and our understanding of our place within this universe is constantly changing. In homage to Einstein, I have called this socialmeaning, and we can think of it analogously to spacetime.
Some meanings, however, are very deeply rooted in our primitive ancestral and primordial sense of being, and we play with them or disrupt them at our peril. What is saving us from the void or from falling into chaos is our culture and the civilisation that we have established. While our culture changes, and the attitudes towards the sexes change within it, the sexes themselves, the biological reality of our being does not change. These are archetypal.
I’m pleased that younger people are exploring and discovering a sense of gender identity that is in accord with their sense of self. I hope the burst of creativity that comes with it is productive and exhilarating. My concern, though, is that those who facilitate and support a corrupted model gender identity do not have this concern at heart. Who cares for this fragile sense of self-expression? The middle-managers, the care-workers, the human resource departments and the public relations and marketing teams? Rather than celebrating and opening up spaces of creative expression, these officials and bureaucrats are exploiting people for their own managerial at ends. What should be a spontaneous expression of culture by young people themselves has been turned into an endless seminar of political correctness.
One big difference between when I was finding my sense of self, and now, is that we were on our own. We had no Diversity, Equality and Inclusion schemes to affirm an identity for us. We had no social media companies amplifying our individual sense of anxiety back to us in a corrupted form. It wasn’t so much of a performance, a song and a dance. We had to do things for ourselves.
I don’t go to Pride events because I don’t need housing associations, or the police and fire brigade, to affirm my sense of self. I don’t need the other people to define me. When I look back at my teens, I only ever once held the hands of a girl at a party, and I didn’t have a clue what to do. I’ve never been confused about my sexual identity, and I don’t want a London-based Public Relations agency telling me how I should feel, think or express myself.
What I don’t want is to have anyone tell me how I should and should not think. Marie Louise von Franz says that the hardest thing to ask anyone is ‘what do you think?’ Try it. Forget what other people say or expect you to think. What do you actually think?
Going back to where I started, the rupture that we are experiencing will pass. The focus on gender as a performative mode of self-identification will run its course as social norms are reconfigured and social respectfulness is reasserted, and we learn to keep adult culture and ideas out of the heads of children. The online porn explosion has never really been dealt with, for example. The online culture of dating and hook-up apps has given us a mental health problem on a massive scale. We need to be dealing with that.
What we can’t do is brush things under the carpet. We have to be able to talk about them and figure out what is going on with one another. The question, though, is how do we ensure that everyone’s rights are respected, and that no one feels that they can’t speak freely for fear of reprisals? My favourite saying of Jung’s goes something like ‘If you deny people the opportunity to tell their stories, evil will prosper’.
Stories are one side of our social experience, but they have to be understood in relation to facts, otherwise we will descend into chaos or fall into the void.