“UNEMBARRASSED (PLASTIC?) HALF-JOCK”
Maggie & Me
This is a sort-of autobiography of a man in his mid-thirties, of (religiously) mixed parents in industrial Scotland. Such things matter in the central belt of Scotland, but it is more a matter of ethnic origin than religious feeling. The vast majority of RCs in Scotland are of Irish origin, and that mark (of Cain?) can stretch well beyond the fifth generation. Damian Barr’s ‘Catholic’ parent was his mother who was religiously indifferent, if not somewhat hostile to the church, on the grounds that she was divorced. ‘Damian’ is definitely a ‘Catholic’ name, it became popular in the twentieth century due to a Belgian priest who ministered to lepers in Molokai a south Pacific island. He (Mr. Barr) may, given his age, have been named for the central character in a Hollywood horror movie. Given that that character was the Devil, no less, in disguise, that notion may be inaccurate. But there were an awful lot of ‘Damian’s’ so named in the late 1970s an early ’80s. The Belgian missionary’s surname was rendered ‘Damien’.
Damian Barr was sent to State schools rather than semi-independent Catholic ones. Despite the ‘Taig’ name he wasn’t given too much hassle. That, in ever-increasing quantities, was brought on by the fact that he was deemed to be queer quite early in his schooldays. ‘Gay Barr’, ‘Gaymian’ and other more brutal nicknames followed him from primary to secondary school. That he was very tall and willowy from his very early teens didn’t help, nor that he was the smartest in his class. His first encounter with genuine disappointment was not getting a big prize in his secondary (the Scottish equivalent of a Grammar) school for being an all-round brilliant pupil. He was half way out of his seat before another boy’s name was called, and he was surprised at how angry and disappointed he was. Despite that, he tended to win every other prize worth having, including one to study in Cambridge. He had been expecting to go to Strathclyde. He wasn’t snooty about that eventuality, but Cambridge was a usefully long way away from prying family, neighbours and ‘friends’.
It really isn’t much of a ‘story’ but it is very well written and he tells us about his intimate friendship with a handsome fair haired boy, “Mark”, who decides in their very early teens that there is something wrong with the relationship. He (Mark) become heavily involved with girls, a large plurality of them. He doesn’t get forced into marriage because the girls, mostly, insist on condoms being used. Mark acknowledges Damian when the latter returns to the isolated housing estate (called ‘schemes’ in Scotland) on the periphery of Glasgow they lived in. Some ‘schemes’ are enormous, the ‘planners’ forgot to include amenities, like shops, much less social spaces like club premises; churches and church halls weren’t even an afterthought. Public transport was heavily used for shopping (women had to travel into Glasgow, up to twenty miles away, to get basics. Entrepreneurship in these matters was entirely in Indian hands. The grocer’s son encountered in school was called ‘Ahmed’.
Damian eventually discovers the deeply closeted Gay life of his school, his scheme, and later the ‘Gay Scene’ in central Glasgow where he had happy times in the pubs and discos. He was earning money working part time and weekends in shops mostly, and had something like genuine privacy because none of his elders were particularly interested in him, or his younger sister. They were quite enthusiastic about pointing out that she was more masculine than he was. This tomboy eventually settled down, and trained as a nurse, after Damian made good his escape to Cambridge, then London. (His family were quite proud of the fact that he got to university, especially one of the few they could name.)
This is a fairly well-trodden path in terms of queer autobiography, except for its straightforward approach to his sexuality. He writes at one point “I was gay” a simple, slightly relieved, acknowledgement of a fact. There are no dramatics, melo-, or otherwise. There are a number of comic interludes in this narrative from his schooldays to disastrous job interviews. Towering over teachers, school bullies, and interviewers isn’t always useful, it can provoke some into pointless aggression, Pointless, because Damian Barr could probably pick such people up and give them a good shake. He also encounters men he has made contact with through advertisements in a magazine made up of adverts for, mostly, unwanted hardware. They are mostly middle-aged and not quite the Adonai they implied in their ads.
Most readers will probably enjoy this well-told tale, and find an awful lot of points in common with his progress through his adolescence. And if you try the internet you might get this treat for pennies (not that one begrudges Damian a good return on the work he put into this text).
PS Thatcher doesn’t loom large, or small, in this text – quotes from the good Lady preface each chapter – in the manner of uplifting Victorian books.
The Green Party believes the Bill needs specific inclusion of LGBTQ bullying as a further measure to protect young people.
Ms Wilson’s interpretation of what is “indoctrination with gay materials” highlights a woeful lack of knowledge. It appears she is implying that children should be whipped into line to follow a particular social narrative. This is unhelpful, dangerous and part of the wider problem.
We need to ensure that we teach our children confidence, individuality and, most importantly, love for themselves and others. Every child is different and should be celebrated as such.
I completely refute the baseless attempt to provide a correlation between providing services under the bullying Bill and “sexualisation”.
This is unfounded, precarious and unsubstantiated nonsense.
Chair, Queer Greens NI
Co-founder of ‘Coming Out Muslim’
Co-authored by Terna and Andrew Stehlik
Even among the most progressive, well-educated and best-intentioned individuals, this is a comment which is heard far too often. People who have no trouble understanding that lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people have existed throughout history, in every nation, culture, religion and ethnicity, still have trouble accepting someone can be both queer and a faithful believer in Islam.
Admittedly, some confusion is understandable, as the Muslim record for tolerance is not commendable. On the contrary, Sharia, which is the most orthodox form of Islamic law, can be evoked to issue a death penalty for practicing homosexuals in Muslim countries such as Iran, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. And, in 2011, when the Human Rights Council of the United Nations passed its first-ever resolution recognizing LGBTQ rights, it gained full support from the Americas and Europe, but was almost unanimously voted against by countries with a Muslim majority.
Nonetheless, there are queer Muslims, and they are making themselves known in growing numbers. The annual celebration of Ramadan (which began on June 17) coincides with Gay Pride Month this year, providing a unique opportunity to consider the current state of LGBTQ Muslims, as well as their likely future.
Why is this? Because Ramadan, which according to Islamic tradition, honors the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, is not only commemorated through fasting from dawn to sunset, but is also a time known for great acts of kindness towards the neediest. Charity is very important to Islam year-round, but it is believed that good deeds performed during Ramadan are looked upon by Allah (God) with special favor.
While it takes discipline to keep one’s mouth shut and forgo all food and drink for many hours a day, it also requires bravery to open one’s mouth wide and speak up with compassion and charity for the rights of all human beings to be whole. This is what we’re attempting to do with “Coming Out Muslim: Radical Acts of Love,” a storytelling performance which has been shared on stages across the United States, and will appear at Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York City on Wednesday, June 24.
The show’s title is deliberately ambiguous. It suggests both the self-revelation which occurs in publicly declaring one’s queer sexuality, as well as the challenges of being open about one’s faith in Islam in a post-9/11 America, where fears and suspicions linger that all Muslims are terrorists. As recently reported in The New Yorker magazine, statistics from the F.B.I. show that hate crimes against Muslims are five times as common as they were before 2001. Given this environment, it is exponentially more dangerous to proclaim, “Allah made me Muslim; Allah made me queer.”
In making such a courageous assertion, LGBTQ Muslims are becoming more visible at the intersection of faith and sexuality, joining conversations which have been underway for quite some time within Christianity and Judaism. What these three faiths have in common, of course, is not only an Abrahamic tradition, but a homophobia based in large part on a single scriptural story, that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
More modern Muslim scholars, along with freer-thinking Jewish and Christian theologians, advocate interpretations indicating that the true offense shown in the story of Lot is a threat of male rape, and a violent failure to show hospitality to strangers. New attention is being paid as well to verses in the Quran which non-judgmentally describe the existence of men who have no desire for women. And, some historians now point out that in earlier Islamic societies, same-sex relationships were celebrated in love poems written by Persian, Urdu and Sufi poets.
As for those contemporary Muslims who now choose to find a rationale for the death penalty against homosexuality in the hadith, or non-Quranic stories that are attributed to Prophet Muhammad, it must be remembered there is also a hadith where the Prophet says, if anything you have heard about me makes you turn away from me, it is not from me. Violence against sexual and gender minorities is not aligned with the Prophet’s example of love and tolerance in community.
Most Americans, many Muslims, and a lot of LGBTQ people do not know that Islam has room for all of us. And, there may be quite a few who, even after hearing so, will respond, “Well, all this is unique to queer Muslims, what does this have to do with me?”
Our answer is, a lot. Because we believe that the more specific a story is, the more universal.
“Coming Out Muslim” speaks to the universal wish to be recognized as multi-layered individuals, who are parts of families and communities, who struggle and strive for wholeness. Time and time again, people come up to us after performances — men, women, heterosexuals, gays and lesbians, Christians and atheists — and tell us exactly this.
Coming out, then, is really about letting the world know who you are. So, yes, there are queer Muslims!
By taking pride in this, change can occur and love can grow.
By most standards, I’ve won the queer lottery. I live in one of the first U.S. states to have legalized gay marriage; I have parents who went through only a minimal learning curve when I came out to them; I attend a high school that not only has a gay-straight alliance, but whose gay-straight alliance is active enough that the school newspaper often reports on its activities. I’m lucky. I know that.
And yet, here I am: seventeen years old, proudly queer, out to everyone I know online—but I’m still beyond terrified to tell anyone in school of my sexuality. Skipping over the inevitable self-torture (“If you can’t even come out here, how are you ever going to live out of the closet at all?”), I think it’s safe to blame my fears on friendship.
Here’s the thing: most of my friends are straight guys. And in high school—and possibly everywhere—being gay, bisexual, pansexual, or otherwise Not Straight while remaining close friends with straight people of the same gender is often really, really hard. And it’s not for any one reason, except maybe some combination of a) excessive hormones and b) people’s lack of exposure to actual same-gender relationships. But it’s always there—this unspoken agreement that being gay, while not explicitly bad, isweird, something meant for only one kind of person in a place that isn’t here.
Though within my social circle I only occasionally hear homophobic jokes made, the otherness of who I am slips into seemingly every conversation—like how discussing a recent Game of Thrones episode sends me into an internal panic when one person mentions how unnecessary and gross “those gay scenes” are, or how another has to preface his reluctance to talk to a girl he likes with “I’m not gay, but…,” or how people use the phrase “this is an accepting school” as a punch line rather than as a motto.
And, look, if I were to come out tomorrow—just leap up onto the dining hall table and shout “I DECLARE MY HOMOSEXUALITY!!!!!”*—I doubt I’d lose more than a single friend. I doubt many people would stop talking to me, because this is an accepting school, because I don’t have to fear for my safety, because I’m lucky. But it would be… different. Even at my school, most people really don’t understand m/m attraction. Mostly, I think this is for the obvious reason—when you tell a group of straight high school boys that you’re interested in guys, their minds automatically go to the whole sex part. Equally unhelpful is how some people instantly connect a same-gender friend being gay or bisexual with the fact that the friend could now be attracted to them, and then totally change how they act around him because of it.
That is what scares me: friends suddenly becoming hyperaware of everything I do and say for fear that I’m attracted to them.
I don’t think my feelings are irrational, either. I mean, there’s a reason why every single guy who has come out at my school is friends with almost all girls.
And it’d be so easy for me to say that my fears exist because my friends are bad, or because they’re shallow, or whatever it is, but that’s just not true. These kids, they are funny and cool and intelligent and self-aware and—yeah—they also really don’t have a problem with someone’s sexuality. I can name maybe one person within my social circle who I think would actually be upset. But there is still this general acknowledgement that straight is the strict default, and that queer people only exist “somewhere over there.”
To me, this has always been the hardest thing about being gay in high school—trying to grapple with the fact that even people as awesome as my friends might look at me differently after knowing this one part of who I am.
I tell you this because I want to illustrate the way in which being queer influences my everyday life. In large part because of my sexuality, I’m constantly questioning the value of my friendships, constantly feeling isolated by my own “otherness.”
After coming out, in itself such a huge and terrifying moment and one that we always need more YA books to cover, for me and for many other queer teens I’ve talked to, a hell of a lot of our struggles seem to revolve around friendships. But in queer YA, just like in straight YA, a lot of times complex looks at friendship get passed up in favor of more screen time for romantic relationships.
And including romance is great—one can never have too much kissing, especially of the queer variety, and I really hope the recent increase in queer romance books continues. But although romance is a big deal to a lot of us, it’s also not usually the most pressing issue. As much as I sometimes wish it were, my sexuality is not a nice little box that I can slap a ribbon on and push aside when I’m bored. Rather, it seeps into everything I do, and it makes something as basic as maintaining positive friendships with straight people of the same gender a constant struggle.
The YA category is famously riddled with the “Gay Best Friend” trope, where the straight hero has a queer friend/sidekick. In this trope, the hero usually affirms once or twice how totally cool with their friend’s sexuality or gender identity they are and then drops the subject in favor of, like, fighting bad guys and toppling regimes and stuff. And I think that’s good—that the main character is accepting, yeah, and also that the book has some form of queer representation.
But it’s also so rare for us to get the story from the point of view of that gay best friend—to hear about all of the times the straight hero said something homophobic to him without realizing, how many times the friend opened his mouth to point it out and then psyched himself out of it, and how often moments like these have made him feel different, and other, and alone.
And I look at that, that gay best friend trope, and I think: this is my life. The struggles that kid must go through every day—that’s what I deal with, too.
What I’d like to see—and what I hope to write—is more YA books along these lines, books that take hard looks at sexuality in the context of high school friendships and at the myriad of little internal conflicts that result from them.
Struggling with friendships is also in no way limited to a) males and b) sexuality. (I focused on these aspects only because they’re my personal experience.) It extends to all genders and to people all across the queer spectrum. From what I’ve heard, many, many LGBTQIA+ people have a hard time navigating their friendships, and I think it’s hugely important that we have books to guide us.
I mean, reading YA has already helped me immensely in understanding who I am. As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing queer YA can’t do.
*By the way, “I Declare My Homosexuality” is going to be the title of my tell-all memoir. Look out, publishing world.
March 28 2013 4:00 AM ET
Adele Tulli’s documentary Out in Mumbai, which follows three LGBT Indian natives in the run-up to Mumbai’s first Pride celebration, begins with a focus on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. It is a colonial-era law criminalizing any sexual activity “against the order of nature,” particularly intercourse between adults of the same sex.
On July 2009, the High Court of Delhi overturned the 150-year-old law as it violated consenting adults’ constitutional right to legal equality before the law.
We spoke to Tulli about her documentary — which premiered this month on the gay TV network HereTV — and about the future of India’s LGBT movement, the role she hopes her film plays in moving Indian queer rights forward, and more.
The Advocate: What compelled you to make the documentary and how did you go about finding its subjects?
Adele Tulli: I have been traveling to India for the last 10 years, lots of different reasons brought me there, among those my studies. I studied South Asian studies, focusing on social movements in contemporary India, mainly feminist and LGBT movements. When Section 377, the colonial law that criminalized homosexuality in the country, was finally repealed in 2009, the impact was amazing. LGBT issues were all over the news and for the first time the whole indian society had to acknowledge them. I was in Mumbai a year later and the energy among the LGBT community was still so vibrant. We were preparing the celebrations for the first anniversary of Section 377’s repeal and there came the idea of making it into a film. The documentary follows three people from Mumbai’s LGBT community that find themselves in the middle of this historic moment of India’s LGBT history. They are all close friends who were willing to share their personal stories, so to find them was not so difficult.
What have been your personal experiences with LGBT discrimination and community in Mumbai?
I recognize the importance of identity politics at a political level, but at a personal level I tend to avoid labels. If I had to choose one, maybe I would say queer. It depends on the context, if I am with a girlfriend in a very hetero-normative context, I would definitely call myself a lesbian. My experience with LGBT discrimination in Mumbai is not so different from a lot of other places where being gay is still very hard, Italy, where I come from, included. While I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity of being in Mumbai during the first year of freedom of the LGBT community, the energy was so empowering. After years of invisibility, the struggles of the community were finally acknowledged and even if a law does not change society in one day, the impact it had on people was extraordinary. So many people came out, joined the community, and so many LGBT events, support groups, organizations were born.
According to Wikipedia, “The [Section 377] has not been used against homosexuals (or against consenting adults) is borne out by the history of convictions under this law in India, wherein there has been no case of a consensual homosexual act being prosecuted / convicted under this act.” Is this true?
It is true that convictions under the law were rare, but the main problem of Section 377 was that it was often used by police and social bigots to intimidate, threaten, harass and blackmail the gay and hijra community, preventing them from accessing legal protection from violence. The criminalization justified the social stigma and perpetuated a culture of silence around homosexuality that resulted in denial and rejection at home along with discrimination in workplaces and public spaces. It also constituted an impediment for organizations working on HIV prevention to provide health services and HIV/AIDS related information to sexual minority groups, etc.
What do you think are the top political priorities and future challenges for the LGBT movement in India?
First of all, [the Indian LGBT movement wants to] make sure that the Supreme Court approves the Delhi High Court judgement on Section 377. The Delhi High Court’s historic verdict of 2009 that read down Section 377 has been contested by a group of opponents and at the moment the Supreme Court is still due to rule its final verdict, so the case is still pending.
Then, the LGBT movement has still to face a large section of Indian society that is deeply conservative and homophobic. There are limits to which a law can change society. So this has to be done by grass-root politics, campaigning, creating safe spaces to allow LGBT people to come together and fight. The battle has just began, as Pallav [a gay activist that appears in Out in Mumbai] says in the film.
What do you hope to make happen with your film, in terms of cultural change and social awareness?
The film is probably just a drop in the ocean, but I hope it can help the LGBT cause, not only in India, but everywhere. I strongly believe in the political strength of personal stories. I hope that watching the film anyone could connect at a human level with the three characters and understand that sexuality and gender identities are personal matters, there shouldn’t be any social norm regulating them, let alone a law criminalizing them.
For queer people, in many ways, there has never been a time in history like the present. Although oppression and inequality are still rampant, there have also in recent years been a number of firsts, breakthroughs and other positive developments that once seemed like they would never come.
2014 was an especially good year for queer equality in the U.S. Over 60 percent of Americans now live in states that permit same-sex marriage, and advocates in ever-increasing numbers are speaking out for the cause.
We don’t mean to suggest that there haven’t been setbacks, or that things aren’t still wildly unjust in almost every part of the world. But at the same time, we think it’s worth observing, and celebrating, the real progress that the 21st century has brought to many.
Below, we’ve rounded up some of the most important milestones in queer rights from the past 14 years. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2015 and beyond.
Note: For ease of navigation, we recommend viewing on a non-mobile device.
Link to Timeline
The Outburst Queer Arts Festival runs from the 14th to 22nd November 2014. It’s programme is wide ranging and will have something for everyone, so please do try and get to at least one event and support a cracking organisation and series of events