That time we accidentally went to see Josie Long and she was awesome

It was my birthday last week, so Naomi took some days off work to do exciting birthday things. One of them was going to Brighton for the afternoon, to visit our favourite shops: Lush, Boho Gelato and Purezza. Brighton is full of vegan cafes and restaurants, but I figure why fix what isn’t broken, so we go to Purezza and Boho Gelato whenever we’re there and I always get a mushroom pizza. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit.

josie-long

Anyway, we parked near Brighton Dome and as we got out of the car I spotted a poster advertising Josie Long’s current tour. I pointed it out to Naomi, because the name Josie Long seemed familiar and I felt that it was in some way linked to Naomi – perhaps she had mentioned liking her, or expressed a wish to see her. Naomi seemed pleased and we headed over to look at the poster. Aha! Josie Long was playing in Brighton Dome this very weekend. We tracked down the ticket office and booked tickets, pleased to find there were still some available.

It wasn’t until we got home and were telling Naomi’s evening PA about our day that it transpired that each of us had thought the other was a big fan of Josie Long and neither actually knew who she was… Concerned that her name might have been familiar to me because she had been slated for being a racist homophobe or something, I checked the blurb for her show. It seemed encouragingly non-racist and non-homophobey, so we laughed at our ridiculously English communication and went along to the show. Continue reading

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What Are We Going to Do?

I slept well last night, surprisingly enough. In 2008 I struggled to sleep, wondering what was happening across the pond and whether I’d wake up in a world where the most powerful person on the planet was a man who approved of the death penalty but not contraception, opposes abortion but supports embryonic stem cell research, doesn’t believe my marriage will be valid before God, and thinks autism is caused by vaccines. A world of inconsistency, illogical reasoning, ignorance to facts and the imposition of beliefs on others. Thankfully, the morning brought a different result. My sleepless night had been for naught.

Last year I went to sleep on the night of the UK general election cautiously optimistic that I would wake to negotiations between the left-leaning parties with a view to forming a coalition government. I actually woke up to discover almost the opposite. A frighteningly high number of people had voted for a party with openly racist policies. A majority of this country had voted for a party which not only admits to but prides itself on prioritising economic value above all else, including the inherent value of human life. It would be irrational (and we know how I feel about irrationality!) to suggest that the result might have been different had I kept an anxious vigil. At least I was well-rested when I had to face the horrible truth.

Over the last year the consequences of that decision by this country, my country, Britain, a country and a people with whom I have had a very complicated relationship most of my life, have become starkly clear. I was still working in the NHS when the 2015 election results were published, and the mood in the hospital was grim. We could all see the writing on the wall: funding cuts, not just to the NHS but to the social care institutions that kept people out of hospital, benefit cuts to the already-struggling families trying to overcome generations of class discrimination and income inequality, an indefinite period in which we would be “all in this together” in much the same way that all animals are equal on Manor Farm. I was in shock. I really had thought that we had started to wake up to the fact that you can’t make decisions about people’s lives based on purely economic measures. I was wrong.

Yesterday I went to sleep believing that despite the fear-mongering, the inaccurate “facts”, the enthusiastic dividing of camps and the alarming rhetoric, the knowledge that we have more in common would win out. I thought about how much of the food in supermarkets comes from Spain, France and Portugal, and how EU export laws have made lower food prices possible. I’m in favour of buying locally, and personally I try to avoid produce that’s crossed oceans to reach my basket, but not everyone has the luxury of being able to afford that choice. Without the EU, food is going to cost more.

I fell asleep after an evening during which I read over the introductory chapter of my friend’s book, about feminism in Germany since the 1970s. She’s German, but she’s lived in this country for years and worked not only in academia but also in activism, striving for peace, unity and a fairer system which treats everyone with respect. She is just one of dozens of Europeans I know who live in the UK, work here, pay income tax and VAT and council tax and contribute to the British economy just as much as if they had been born here. They didn’t get to vote yesterday, but it is not an exaggeration to say that the vote they were excluded from was crucial to the structure of the lives. Britain leaves the EU and they may have to leave Britain.

You know the punchline already: I woke up and the fear had won. That vile serpent Niggle Farridge is all over the news, brandishing his passport and crowing about independence. I wonder what his German wife feels about that? The £350,000,000 that supposedly was being sucked into Brussels out of the desperate fingers of the NHS has evaporated into the puff of hot air it always was and I want to run into the street screaming “WE TOLD YOU IT WAS A LIE!” but I can’t bring myself to get dressed and face the day. Maybe if I stay inside, in my bedroom, with my blissfully-unaware cat purring happily on my lap, I can avoid having to fully accept what has happened.

I hate change. I hate uncertainty. Even if I strongly believed that remaining in the EU was a bad idea, I would have found a Leave vote difficult to deal with. The fear and anxiety is magnified a thousand-fold by the fact that the uncertain changes that we are facing are a consequence of thousands, millions, of people making a choice based on inaccurate figures, simplistic divisions and xenophobic prophesying. Not everyone who wants to leave the EU is motivated by racism, but a frighteningly high number of them are. There’s no way to parse “Britain first” that doesn’t imply that everyone else, all those Others, come last. The UK must “take care of its own”, an alarming concept for anyone who identifies with any group that hasn’t always been embraced as part of the family: people with mental health problems, people with disabilities, people of colour, queer people, poor people… anyone, in short, who is too different from those glorious patterns of Britishness, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and our dear friend Niggle. A Turkish-Swiss American, an adopted Scot who turned his back on the Labour party, and single-issue rich boy with a German wife, German ancestry and a spectacular ability to spin reality into a tissue of deceit.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what is going to happen and I don’t know how we can cope. Things are going to get worse, and I don’t know if they can get better. How have we reached this point, where people genuinely believe that arbitrary lines on a map have more bearing on people’s worth than anything else?

I’ve never been proud to be English. For a start, that would be a betrayal of my Scottish heritage which has shaped my identity a dozen ways. I think “English” and I see drunk football thugs throwing bottles, skinheads hurling abuse and talking about racial purity, red-coated aristocrats galloping across fields to slaughter animals for sport. But I did used to be proud to be British. I grew up in the north of England, where immigration is a decades-old tradition which has enriched the culture, boosted the economy and broadened the minds of generations. My best friends, the three women who were designated my bridesmaids long before I knew the name of the bride, are all the children of immigrants. I speak three European languages, understand a smattering of three more, have lived in and visited a dozen countries and can’t think of a single area of my life which hasn’t been improved by people making use of the freedom of movement. Now that is in jeopardy.

This is a rambling post and I don’t really know how to end it, because this is only the start. No one knows what is going to happen next, but I predict it won’t be a sudden upswing in the welfare and prospects of the British people. Whoever they are. It won’t be a better-funded NHS, lower unemployment, cheaper food, fewer terrorist threats. I’m scared.

In 200 years, what will our descendants think of us?

Earlier this evening, my eye was caught by this blog post about the recent legal flip-flopping in Indiana about gay marriage. It got me to thinking, yet again, about something that I have never been able to understand.

Why do people have a problem with gay people getting married?

I mean, seriously. I can’t comprehend it. I know intellectually that some people have a problem with the concept of homosexuality at all – depressingly, this includes some members of my own immediate family – but I know that in the same way that I know that the universe is infinite and expanding all the time. I accept it to be true, but I simply can’t begin to wrap my mind around how that can be the case. Unfortunately, the nature of the universe, whilst being very interesting and obviously crucial to my mere existence, doesn’t have as much impact on my day-to-day perception of myself in society as the reality of homophobia.

Just a few months ago, gay marriage finally became legal in the UK. I say finally but in context of UK law in general it actually happened pretty quickly. Section 28, a despicable law which made it illegal to tell children in schools that gay people were, y’know, real and allowed to exist and (gasp!) sometimes even had families, wasn’t repealed in the whole of the UK until 2003. For the first twelve years of my life, it was illegal for my teachers to tell me that not all men loved women or vice versa. No wonder I was so muddled when I realised that I didn’t only like boys.

So the fact that just over a decade later it became possible for gay people, whose existence was no longer treated as a dirty secret, to make the same legally-binding public declaration of their love is significant and rapid progress. But what baffles me is that this progress had to be made at all. I know all the arguments that people make about why homosexuality is wrong or unnatural but they just don’t ring true in my experience. Well, they wouldn’t, would that? It’s not unnatural for me.

I was deeply saddened when I watched a video in which the Archbishop of Canterbury declared that gay marriage would “damage the fabric of society”. Apparently, this is because marriage is intended as a covenant and the foundation of the family, the “cornerstone of our society”.

Now Archbishop Welby’s argument is not the foaming-at-the-mouth tirade that we often see from individuals in the USA. He supports the concept of a “separate but equal” form of same-gender relationships, but he doesn’t want it to be called marriage because that, somehow, weakens the concept of a mechanism around which to base a secure family unit in which to raise children.

And I can’t help but think, what does he think gay marriage is? I can’t speak for anyone else, although I have a pretty good idea that I’m not alone in this, but the reason I want to get married, to a woman or to a man, is so that I can form a secure family unit and raise children. I’ll even take those children to church regularly, which is more than can be said for a lot of heterosexual married couples (and that’s fine, of course – but it seems bizarre that the head of the Anglican church would prefer atheist heterosexual marriage to Christian homosexual marriage).

Apart from anything else, I don’t really see why it matters to anyone else who I marry. If your own marriage is so fragile that it can be damaged by the marriage of two men or two women, then I think you need to look closely at your priorities and maybe seek some relationship counselling. If your argument against gay marriage is that two gay people (always assuming that they are cisgendered, a caveat that is often overlooked in this debate) cannot reproduce in the standard biological manner, then I would like to know what you think of marriages between heterosexual but infertile couples, or couples who are childless by choice.

I fully intend to have children. I’d like to do so in the “normal”, biological, pregnancy-then-labour manner. I might need some kind of medical assistance to do so, but that’s the case no matter the gender of my partner. I’ve never been pregnant. I don’t know whether I can get pregnant. Maybe even if I marry a man, I will be unable to grow a person in my uterus. Would that invalidate my marriage? Would it invalidate yours?

At the end of the day, my view is that my relationship is the business of me, my partner, and no one else. I try to be respectful of my relatives’ discomfort with my “unconventional” lifestyle, but I can’t deny that I get frustrated. I want to talk about my girlfriend; I want to share my excitement about holidays we have planned or wonderful days out we’ve enjoyed; I want to ask for advice when I’m not sure how to deal with issues that arise. It’s saddening to have to tiptoe around people’s prejudices before I can even begin to share this aspect of my life with the people I love. It doesn’t make sense to me that those prejudices even exist.

I was trying to explain to someone today how the knowledge of the existence of homophobia is a constant presence that follows non-hetero people around even if, like me, they have only ever experienced it in a very vague and minor sense. Every time I meet someone new, every time I have a conversation that touches on relationships, every time someone asks me whether I have a boyfriend, I have to make a snap judgement about whether they will react badly to the answer. I have to constantly choose between lying to protect myself from a potentially negative reaction or being honest and opening myself up to hurt. Straight people don’t have to do this. Straight people don’t have to think “will it damage my professional relationship with this person if I disclose to them that my partner is female?” whenever the labouring woman they are caring for asks them whether they’re married. (OK, most people don’t have that problem whatever their orientation – but feel free to substitute whatever career-relevant situation is most appropriate to your life).

Two hundred years ago, slavery was legal. I wasn’t around at that point, so I can’t speak from experience, but I am assuming that it was considered normal to keep slaves. I presume that the majority of people didn’t see a problem with categorising one group of people as less worthy of respect, equal treatment and freedom than another. Now, it would be rare indeed for someone to publically announce that they believe that slavery should be legal, because treating black people the same as white people damages the concept of being a free citizen. Certainly any person who espoused such views would not be allowed to be part of the country’s legislative body*.

I hope that in the same way, two hundred years from now, or preferably much sooner, people will be staggered to think that it was generally accepted that it was ok to treat relationships between two people of the same gender as somehow different from, and less valuable than, relationships between two people of the opposite gender. It makes me optimistic to recall that children born in the UK from now on will grow up in a country where gay marriage is legal and exists, even if there are still some people who don’t like that fact. But I wish that I had been one of those children. I wish my parents had been. I wish Archbishop Welby had been. If nothing else, it would have made my adolescence a lot easier.

 

 

* For anyone unfamiliar with the British constitutional system, the Anglican archbishops of Canterbury and York, as well as 24 other bishops, sit in the House of Lords, the upper house of the legislature. This means they have significant influence over whether legislation is passed.