Riding a political roller-coaster
The world of politics can sometimes seem to make little sense. Decisions are taken that seem inherently short-sighted, or transparently unfair, but it’s difficult to be angry all the time. When you feel as if your voice isn’t being heard, then you quickly lose the will to speak.
When things seem to shift against you, that’s a salient reminder that it’s a false assumption to view the world as being on some sort of natural progression from darkness to lightness. Obviously, what you term or define as darkness and lightness is totally subjective, but an easy bell-weather for me is the experience of LGBTQ people.
For example, there have been points in history - in countries and places around the world - where the experience of LGBTQ people has been positive, and then things seem to have gone backwards, turning that experience negative. It’s not linear – it doesn’t start out bad and then get better, it’s more of a roller-coaster, or perhaps we’re just spinning in circles.
One of the most successful advocacy campaigns designed to support young LGBTQ people was the It Gets Better project, created by Dan Savage and Terry Miller. It’s a nice, simple message – hang in there, stay strong, you may feel terrible now but don’t worry, things will get better. The reality is a bit more complex than that – things might get a bit better, but not necessarily, and they might get better for a little bit, but then go backwards. The reality is that wherever you are on your journey through life, you’ve probably got a pretty rough road ahead of you.
Berlin between the wars is one of the easiest examples that comes to mind. Documented by Christopher Isherwood, and celebrated in the movie Cabaret, there was a vibrant and eclectic scene in Berlin in the 1920s – being gay wasn’t a big deal, there was an enormous sense of freedom, and people lived and loved openly without fear of what the world thought of them. Then the mood of the country changed, fascism became fashionable, and you get an event like the Night of the Long Knives when hit squads used summary execution to kill off their rivals and dissenters – many of whom seemed to be gay men.
Is fascism on the rise today? Only history will tell us, but a lot of the warning signs seem to be there.
Systematic persecution of gay men is nothing new, but it’s shocking that we accept that it’s just how things are in today’s world. In Syria gay men are thrown to their death from tall buildings. In Chechnya gay men are being reported to the authorities by their families, rounded up into concentration camps. In Egypt, police are using social media posts as evidence for the arrest of gay men. It’s not difficult to find examples from all around the world that demonstrate that LGBTQ people are a particularly vulnerable minority.
It would be somehow comforting to be able to view the experience of LGBTQ in places like Syria as as being the nadir, the point of darkness from which “it gets better…” That gradually, over time, attitudes will change, protections will be enacted, and the queer people of Syria will one day reach the nirvana of marriage equality to which we apparently all aspire.
But that’s not how it works. Syria used to be part of the Ottoman empire. In its approach to sex between men, the Ottoman empire was similar to the Ancient Greeks – it was socially acceptable for men to have sex with each other, particularly in an older male/younger male scenario. The younger male was referred to as the amrad, or beardless - equivalent to the eromenos in Ancient Greece.
We can’t necessarily draw direct comparisons with what has happened in the past, but there are enough examples in our history to suggest that we can’t be complacent. For the LGBTQ people that are lucky enough to live in places such as Europe or the US, we need to be vigilant and fiercely protective of the advances in equality that have been achieved, otherwise our roller-coaster could easily career in the direction of repression, discrimination, and risks to personal safety.
Despite the well-documented battles with mental health that queer people disproportionately have to contend with, there’s research out there that demonstrates that LGBTQ people are incredibly resilient. We have to be, it’s a survival mechanism. We’ve come through bullying at school, we’ve come through confusion and a sense of otherness during adolescence, we’ve navigated religious disapproval, coped with systemic discrimination, and negotiated family relationships that have to evolve to accommodate our sexuality once we’re ready to talk openly about who we really are.
It’s that resilience that we need to call on now.
This is not a time for hiding. This is not a time for keeping your head down. This is not a time to be distracted by petty squabbles about things that don’t matter. Now is the time to speak up for ourselves, to speak up for each other. Now is the time to take a world view, a global view.
LGBTQ people come in all shapes and sizes. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we have an obligation to to try and help each other, to try and work together, to keep each other safe, to improve the lives of each other.
Buckle in everyone, it looks like we’ve got a bumpy ride ahead.