This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening To… Gay Songs of my Coming Out June 30, 2012Posted by Tomboktu in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to..., LGBT Rights.
Like last week’s contribution from irishelectionliterature to the TWIMBLT… series, today’s is a selection from various artists that have particular memories for the contributor rather than a selection from a single artist. And, in fact, the title is a lie: I’ll be so busy with the Dublin Pride parade during the day and the Pride party tonight that I won’t have time to listen to these songs, and I would be very surprised if they got an airing on any of the floats in the parade, at the Pride in the Park in its new, larger home at Merrion Square, or at the Kaleidoscope Pride Night. [And it is Dublin Pride parade , despite the temptation of some to call it simply "the Pride parade". Pride events are held in other places too: Cork, Belfast, Galway, Limerick, Drogheda, Derry, Waterford, Manorhamilton, Artane, and Easky to name a few.]
The common link with all but one of these is that I listened to or heard them when I was coming out not quite a quarter century ago. But these are not simply the sound track that places events at a time in my own personal history: they helped, hindered and shaped my coming out and … well, it is a phrase that can sound pompous… they helped, hindered and shaped my identity as it changed over that period. It is more a Desert Island Discs than a TWMIBLT… .
The other reason the title is a lie is that the songs are a hook on which I am hanging some ruminations on coming out.
These songs weren’t the only external source of influence I had when I was coming out. I had the luck of access to the Internet before the Web was invented, and the discussion group soc.motss (I would love to know if it continues outside the google connection/version) was the most important source of information and ideas that influenced me. Before I had access to soc.motss, I had come across information: ocassional articles in the mainstream newspapers and in USI magazines. A photo of Lance Pettit and others in the Irish Independent when UCD’s Gaysoc got recognition is one memory, although I cannot date it. And the fact that I read an article in a USI magazine by somebody from Northern Ireland about coming out also sticks in my memory from the period before I myself made any moves. To be clear: the fact that I read the article (and that the magazine was an A4, professionally printed affair) is what sticks, not the content of the article. And another source in the lead-in period was the sleeve notes to Bronski Beat’s The Age of Consent. Of the songs, Why was the one that affected me most. Looking back, that seems bizzare: it amounts to a warning that coming out would be a dangerous step. Even having the album was risky: when I realised the insert in the sleeve listed the ages of consent across European countries and was clearly pro-gay, I hid it in the bottom of the wardrobe in my bedroom to prevent my mother from seeing it.
I find it hard to say if any of that “input” helped or not. On balance, I think not. It was sparodic, and all one way, and impersonal: I didn’t know Lance Pettit or the USI writer. When I finished my degree, I moved to another city to do a masters. And it was there that I got access to soc.motss. I was going through the discussion groups the college had access to. They ranged widely: rec.humour, talk.politics, sci.physics and wading through the list I stumbled on the weirdly named soc.motss. The content was clearly gay, but I could not figure out why it had that name or what that name meant. But a daily dose of ongoing discussion of gay issues was mind-blowing. Initally the discussion of, say, “FGTATWSC” didn’t make much more sense when I discovered that it meant Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. But a few months later when the movie arrived in Ireland, light dawned. Actually, FGTATWSC was released after I had come out, but it was the kind of topic that was in the mix. Other topics were less opaque: Mormonism and homosexuality, berdaches [I didn't know -- if you don't look it up], new HIV treatments, HIV politics, gay politicians, gay politicians at state level, gay politicians at city level, lesbian invisibility, queer bashing, Elton John, and on and on and on. Two things strike me now as important: it was daily and although there were posts and replies about coming out, all that other stuff changed the question from one of coming out from secrecy to coming out into a gay community. The fact that soc.motss was mainly USA and UK based was a bit of problem, but at least I did have access to something about those of us attracted to member of the same sex (from which motss comes).
Two documents that came up in discussion were hugely enegergising: The Heterosexual Questionnaire [among others: What do you think caused your heterosexuality? Do your parents know you are straight?] and Queers Read This. It is a paradox that Queers Read This should be energising: it presented an even more distressful scenario than Bronski Beat had. It still shocks most of the younger gay people I meet these days when I direct them to it. But for me, it was polticial and demanded action.
And somewhere in that mix I came across Tom Robinson’s anthem for the gay community Sing If You’re Glad to be Gay. An irony today (specifically today, 30 June 2012) in Dublin is that the first line of the song refers to the British police, in a very different relation to gay men than we will see on the streets of Dublin this afternoon: some of the British lgbt police will be marching in the Dublin Pride Parade, and in their uniforms, alongside colleagues from police services in Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and 10 or so other countries, a privilege denied the lesbian, bisexual and gay members of An Garda Síochána.
My coming out became more of a political action than a personal one. I devoted more energy to lgb activism than I did to hunting romance. And so, after I did come out, anything that hit a note, provided it wasn’t dire, got added to the playlist. Among that category was Chumbawamba’s Homophobia.
The other key anthem of the time was Gloria Gaynor’s I am what I am — key because when I used to visit the gay disco at The Other Place in Cork, it was always the song used to close the night. I didn’t realise for years that the original came from the musical La Cage Aux Folles. The angry activist in me loves the transgression in that movie: a gay man pretends to be a woman and wife of his partner for the sake of their child — a gay couple with a child! — who has become engaged to the daughter of a snob. It was a nice piece of timing for my post that at the European Gay Police Association’s conference in Dublin yesterday, the Equality Authority’s Director of Legal Services, Brian Merriman, reminded the delegates — police officers, remember — that we celebrate pride at this time because when police in New York on 28 June 1969 raided the Stonewall bar, it was the drag queens and transvestites and cross-dressers — not the polite gay activists who set the strategies designed to achieve more tolerance — but the trannies, whom everybody held in contempt, who turned and fought New York’s finest and put them under siege and needing the Tactical Unit to come and rescue them.
There is no doubt that coming out has changed since the late 1980s and early 1990s when I was preparing for it, and making that move. Nobody in my classes at school or at college were out at those times. All in those groups who has come out moved from home before doing so, and all came out in their early 20s. I acknowledge that that was not a universal experience, and I have met lesbian and gay people over the years who are the same age as me who did come out while still at home and still at school. But I met a colleague of a friend on the bus home a few months ago, and the conversation turned to gay issues. (He is straight.) He told me that when he did his Leaving Certificate eight or nine years ago, the pattern in his year, and the years before and after, was that on the night the results were published, somebody would come out in the pub when they were celebrating, and safely away from school. Last year, the younger brother of one of his classmates reported that two had come out in transition year, still in school. And a youth worker with BeLonG To told the European Gay Police Conference yesterday that BeLonG To now faces a challenge because it gets calls from people between 10 and 13, all below the service’s lower age limit, who are coing out and want to join.
My musings have focused on when I first came out. I have in fact had to do it again a few times since then. The most recent was last year when I was elected to the branch committee in my union, and came to attend meetings with people from other parts of my employer’s organisation I had not met or worked with before. A participant in the Rainbow Service’s research on the experiences of lgbt people in the workplace eloquently expressed my feelings on that experience
That type of coming out presents a challenge I have not seen or heard discussed much. It did come up at the European Gay Police Conference, in a workshop on Thursday, when a Swiss officer said that a the homophobia he now sees is not the traditionally understood direct bullying or prejudice by older managers. Those senior and older officers, he said, have changed, have accepted that the old ways were wrong. It is the younger, middle managers, a little older than him who are the source of problems. Their reasoning is that since discrmination in the workplace is now illegal and since civil partnership or same-sex marriage are available, and since bullying has (nearly) been eliminated, there is no need for gay officers to bring up their homosexuality in work.
I wonder will it ever be possible to end the concept of coming out — will asking somebody if they’ve told their parents they are gay will make as much nonesense as asking them if they’ve told their parents they are straight.
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The gay music I come across when I was coming out wasn’t all political. One humorous song I came across and liked was written by Elton John but performed by Tom Robinson: Never Gonna Fall in Love (Again)
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A while ago, I discovered an Irish contribution to the catalogue. Strictly speaking, it doesn’t belong in a post about the songs of my coming out because I did not hear or know about it then, although it was released as a single at the time I moved away from home to do that postgrad and discover soc.motss. And I like it because it brings out that pain of being gay in adifferent era without the overt, in-your-face politics of Tom Robinson or Chumbawamba. Here is The Radiators from Space with Under Clery’s Clock