Saturday, 29 December 2012

The MP and the friends of Dorothy

Unaccustomed as I am to saying that I feel sorry for Tories, I do feel for David Davies MP.

Having committed the modern faux pas of saying what he was actually thinking without having it checked by a press officer first, and suggesting that no parent wanted their child to be gay, he then agreed to be interviewed by the Guardian in the wake of the furore.

The interview itself is extraordinary. One could be forgiven for thinking that Davies had been brought up in the 1950s (or before), not the 1970s.

But it also reads as utterly guileless. What comes across is not the voice of someone who has, in the intervening days, been schooled sharply in what to say and what not to say.

Davies is apparently bemused by the fuss after his initial comments.

But in what was eventually printed, he is willing not only to say that he might have had difficulty conveying what he meant, but that he may also be wrong.

That in itself is refreshing, and his honesty should be applauded.

But what emerges – and this is why the whole saga is valuable – is that Davies is someone who finds sexuality and gender genuinely confusing. In that, he is far from alone.

Davies appears to assume, for instance, that in the 1980s, a bloke couldn’t listen to Erasure if he wasn’t gay. It was okay for girls, obviously – he appears never to have considered what gay girls might have listened to – but not for a straight boy.

Although he now says he has Boy George’s greatest hits in his own collection. So we have progress.

Part of Davies’s discomfort is related to sex education – if same-sex marriage is made legal, will teachers have to explain to their class about anal sex? Well presumably no more than they now have to explain to their pupils about heterosexual anal sex – or oral sex or all manner of other forms of sexual activity that occurs between straight married couples.

On a train a few days ago, a couple (no older than me) got on and the woman picked up one of the papers that was lying, abandoned, on the seat.

After a few minutes, she said: “It seems that most boys now get their sex education from pornography.”

There was a pause.

“They should just ban it!” she announced.

Ban what? Sex education?

Indeed, perhaps the point is that sex education has long been a problem in the UK and it needs a radical overhaul – and a lot more openness and honesty.

And that’s as true of heterosexual sex as any bendier variety.

There needs to be much more education done on the issues of sexuality – and gender – which many people still conflate.

Many people still have very conventional attitudes to the latter – even if some of us would expect otherwise.

I’ve noted previously that some women I know, who are most certainly not politically unaware, have expressed surprise that my interests include so-called male subjects – elements of military history, for instance.

Yet it’s hard to imagine that they really believe that all women should be interested in so-called ‘girlie’ subjects alone. But the truth is that for all their political education and knowledge, they still fall into a trap on gender.

Some years ago, in my working-class local, one of the regulars approached me with a 'problem'. He was rather the worse for wear, but most genuinely upset.

"Am, I gay?" he managed to ask.

"I get a hard-on when my wife touches my nipples."

I managed to cobble together an answer that no, that didn't mean that he was gay. He was quite 'normal' (whatever that means), that the male nipples are as much an erogenous zone as the female variety, and that he should celebrate it.

He seemed to be much relieved.

Only a few weeks ago, a young gay man was chatting with me and happened to notice a badge pinned to my jacket.

‘I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,’ it said.

Are you a friend of Dorothy,” he asked.

“Well,” I said, “a sort of part-time friend”.

He was confused. I explained that I meant that I was bisexual.

And then I added the observation of an old friend that I was “a gay man in a woman’s body”. It’s something that I’ve though amusing ever since she said it to me.

“But wouldn’t that make you straight?” he asked.

Well, half straight, perhaps.

But you see the point? Even those that you’d expect to be much more au fait with the range of human sexuality (that we currently know of) can still be confused by it.

It’s little wonder then, that even now, bisexuality still causes confusion – although thankfully we’re largely past the claims that it’s merely a form of fence-sitting.

But that’s hardly the only aspect of sexuality and gender that confuses people.

Many are particularly confused by transgender issues because they conflate sexuality and gender: ‘why would someone who was born as male and wanting to be female fancy other women?’ is just one ‘for instance’.

And how many people actually hardly realise that female-to-male transgender people even exist? Probably about as many as who have heard that drag kings exist.

How many people think that the process of transitioning is simply something akin to cosmetic surgery?

There’s plenty to get antsy with Davies about – for goodness sake David, even the IMF says that austerity doesn’t work – but this is not it.

Hopefully, his painfully honest comments can trigger a real – and widespread – discussion about what sexuality and gender really mean.

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