Are you Glad To Be Gay?
This year I’ve resolved to see lots of live music, so on a whim I booked myself into the annual fan party of my favourite BBC 6Music DJ, Tom Robinson. He would be performing his 1978 Power In The Darkness album in its entirety.
I’d forgive you for not being familiar with the music. Tom has had three hits: 2-4-6-8 Motorway (which I fondly remember my dad singing to me, along with Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now and Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick), War Baby, and Glad to Be Gay. All of them good, but none of them within the last 30 years. It is the latter song which really chimed with me when it was sung live.
I played the album in the car en route to the gig, as a reminder for me and a quick education for my husband. It led to an interesting discussion about when cultural references will date music – inspired by the song Grey Cortina. My view is that the style of music will often date the song more than the reference – look at Fat Bottomed Girls / Bicycle Race for example – but in any event, this chat kept us occupied until we arrived at the venue.
The audience seemed to be full of old punks – men in their 60s with short bleached hair, wearing denims and union flag clothing – in fact I would have assumed they were politically far-right and felt threatened by their presence, sitting on show at the front in a wheelchair, were it not for the reason that we were all there to come together over this protest album. That taught me a lesson in not judging on appearance. Watching these men dance, badly but unselfconsciously, made me realise the importance of being confident in who you are and not worrying about other people’s perception.
In fact, that was the key message I took home. Glad To Be Gay is something of an anthem, the gist of which is a sarcastic disbelief that people could be attacked for their sexuality, especially by British police who are the “best in the world”, held together with a sing-along chorus that unites everyone.
As I listened, the words hit home. References to being “beaten unconscious and left in the dark” made me recall a family friend, a soft-spoken, gentle and kind man, who once turned up at our house with his face having been brutally bruised. My parents told me he was walking through the park when nasty people hurt him. I was too young to understand about sexuality, and I was given the simple explanation that there are some bad people out there… but now I think I understand what happened. And I am appalled.
By the time I attended secondary school, I knew I was bisexual. I had an expensive private education where nobody dared to do anything other than demonstrate heterosexuality. Girls were expected to obsess over a favourite from the rugby team. Boys even had wanking competitions in their dormitories. But I knew I was different – exchanging love poetry with one girl, and signing up to try croquet because a friend’s cute sister would be there in a short sports skirt. These were never things you could discuss openly, but of course it happened. Nobody could be honest about who they were, unless they were 100% straight, joining in the macho games of daring “fingerfucks” in the back of the minibus on school trips, chalking off their conquests for everyone to see. Pity the poor girls who were proud to have been abused in this manner, and thought they were somehow cool.
Fast forward through school and university… A few weeks into my first proper job, I made a visit home. Inevitably I was asked whether I was seeing anyone at present? My reply – that I’d just had a wonderful weekend with a really lovely girl – was welcome until I said the word “girl”. Suddenly it was made clear that we would never speak of this again, and such conversations were not welcome. I’m sorry? I happened to sleep with a girl – a gorgeous, fun, sensitive girl, for what it’s worth – and because of her gender the topic is infra dig? Suddenly I felt choked, and not allowed to be “me”. Yet this can only be a small version of what my gay and lesbian friends experienced. It felt that being gay was good enough for my friends (of whom many happen to be LGBT*) but somehow it was not good enough for me. Things may have moved on since Tom penned his anthem, but it seems that some people still feel threatened by the concept.
In some ways, I can see a parallel between sexuality and disability. Not because of everyday discrimination and judgement – although that does happen – but because “normal” people often make the assumption that we (disabled people) will surround ourselves with people who have a difference which attracts attention and then decide “I must have what they’ve got”. Or even worse, “I want what they’ve got” – some inadvertent sort of Munchausen’s Syndrome. Even medics often tell us to distance yourself from other people with disabilities so as not to be drawn in to that world, as if it will be unhealthy – but when you feel alienated or are lying awake in the small hours, with pain or conflicted thoughts, the only relief can be friendship from someone who understands exactly how you are feeling. It doesn’t work like the bigots assume – perhaps something will chime with you and make you realise “yes, this is how I am!” but if it’s not what you already carry within yourself, it won’t happen. People who can share experiences, sympathy and solidarity are good for us, not leading us astray! And that applies whether you are disabled, gay, trans* – or in any other social group. It is an insult for people to assume we can be “turned”.
Coming back to the gig: as I described, it was full of all sorts of people, though most appeared to be older men with denim, tattoos or union flag clothing. The kind of people who would intimidate me in any other situation. But I had misjudged them. Here we were, all fans of Tom Robinson’s music, chanting along in solidarity: “Sing if you’re glad to be gay, sing if you’re happy that way, hey! Sing if you’re glad to be gay, sing if you’re happy that way.” Everyone joined in – my husband, children, everyone in sight. There was a shared feeling of understanding, and support – and it felt good. Finally I felt I belonged, and that as a group we could take a step forward.
I am glad to be gay. Are you?