2011

I read ‘Anti-Gay’ in February this year. It was around the time Gaga released ‘Born this Way’ and the ‘gay community’ seemed to collectively suspend all critical faculties. Only a couple of weeks later, Johann Hari wrote his awful, racist lies about ‘Muslim homophobia’ in Tower Hamlets and the piece went viral, shared by countless educated people who should have known better. That piece and the reaction to it (from Hari, from his colleagues, from his readers) proved to be the catalyst for a serious appraisal of my own beliefs and approaches towards the media, identity politics and wider politics.

It took in ‘gay activists’ in Tower Hamlets, Caitlin Moran, Johann Hari, Patrick Strudwick and Sunny Hundal (repeatedly – exactly a year ago I actually followed Johann, Patrick and Sunny. I would sometimes engage in harmless banter with them. It was only when I criticised them that they turned (quite insanely) nasty and this response proved to be quite typical of their peers like Caitlin and Grace Dent. An honourable mention to Eva Wiseman, who somehow tracked down a criticism I made of one of her articles (I didn’t send it to her) and responded in very good humour) and the John Snow “kiss-ins”. The Hari scandal, by complete coincidence, unfolded only weeks after my own disillusionment with him and the response to that further informed my self-criticism. It led me to be depressed at the ironic cynicism which passes as ‘writing’ for so many prominent figures in the media (and the ironic responses they receive). 

The response by many of my peers to the London riots only added to the sense that I had been living in a cosy bubble for many years, not really questioning anything around me but instead being happy to have my opinions reflected back at me. My disgust with identity politics led to a re-focusing on class and in increasing disdain for the petty politics of Labour vs Tory (something which, again, I have been frequently guilty of). I have been bored to death by the tedious and irrelevant chattering about Ed Miliband being replaced by someone more presentable. It seems that ‘Labour’ or ‘Tory’ have in many quarters become just another form of ‘identity’, signifying something while meaning nothing. My thinking of late has been around trying to form a coherent narrative relating class to many of the above issues and why identity politics inevitably reaches a cul-de-sac that inevitably ends up serving the powerful and diverting from the real problems.

I’ve come in for a lot of flack while thinking through all this stuff. Of course I know that I can seem smug, vitriolic, aggressive in my writing but really I think many of the responses I have received are more to do with the things I’m questioning and how the person relates to them than with anything relating to me. I don’t claim to know any great ‘truth’ or to be ‘correct’ but I think it’s fair to say that my politics and my approach to politics has completely altered this year, more so than it has done probably since university over a decade ago. A decade seems like a long enough time to coast along without seriously having my beliefs challenged. That is the fundamental thing – whomever else has been a part of this, it’s my own thinking and beliefs that I have ultimately been criticising. I feel much better for it and feel excited about what 2012 will bring – in terms of what I will learn and also what I can do to help fight the battles I believe are important.

Edit- and in the spirit of continuing to learn, if anyone has any recommendations for future reading please comment below and let me know.

This perfectly exposes the fundamental problem of separating crimes, particularly violent crimes, by various traits shared by victims and by their presumed causes. Much of the rhetoric aggressively voiced by many gay activists (and indeed wider) could be (and is) portrayed as ‘anti-Catholic’. If you have a story like this, one ‘side’ will use it to bash the other. ‘Look! Look what your words lead to!’ And the other ‘side’ will take a story like this and say the same thing. It becomes a matter of various interest groups competing to be the most victimised and most able to spin a suitable narrative from that. The violence becomes lost in this – any common empathy and, most importantly, common response to it becomes all but impossible.

It also dehumanises the victims who increasingly cease to be seen as human beings and are instead reduced to an abstract ‘difference’: a ‘gay’, a ‘Catholic’. You could see this in the instant response to the murder of Stuart Walker . He immediately became ‘a gay man’ who had been murdered because of his sexuality. As that link shows, this interpretation spread worldwide very quickly (in a way in which it would not have had Stuart not been gay – I don’t imagine very many people outside of Scotland are aware of the case of Zoe Nelson, for example). Then, over the course of the evening, some possible ‘explanations’ (not justifications, of course) for the murder came out (some of them quite unsavory). As quickly as he had become ‘a gay’ martyr, Stuart was dropped. The column which Patrick Strudwick (yes, him again) had written within 24 hours of the discovery of Stuart’s body never appeared, and anyone familiar with his work will know why – it would have fixated on Stuart’s sexuality and used it to push a narrative of increasing ‘hate crimes’ against gay people. Now, Stuart is of no use and I doubt most of the people who expressed outrage at his death are even aware that someone was caught and charged with it (the Pink Paper did report Stuart’s funeral last week but they do tend to report on anything that happens to anyone gay, anywhere, ever).

I had a discussion about ‘hate crimes’ this year with a transexual woman. She agreed that they were a ridiculous and divisive concept. Yet she still wanted violence against transexuals to be classed as a ‘hate crime’ in legislation. Her (not unreasonable) reasoning was that, since hate crime legislation wasn’t going anywhere any time soon, her ‘community’ deserved that special recognition and protection too. In the frequently depressing discussion that recently sprung up about online abuse against females, I repeatedly saw people arguing that making this abuse a ‘hate crime’ was the way to deal with it. Where does it end and how many differences do we have to highlight before we step back and say ‘hold on…all murder (for example) is hateful and wrong, no matter who the victim is. No murder is ‘better’ than another. No murder is intrinsically more ‘tragic’ than another.’ That to me is real equality – expecting that I’ll be treated the same as anyone else, even if something dreadful happens to me. I don’t want to be reduced to my ‘difference’, thank you very much.

Most Scottish religious hate crimes ‘target Catholics’