Alex Gabriel

Queer left politics, pop culture and skepticism.

Straight euphemisms for ‘a particular lifestyle’

Hayley Stevens, who now shares a blogging platform with me, just posted about Keith O’Brien’s Easter sermon. It’s a good post, so I’d only be retreading her path if I gave my own opinion of the silly claims he makes, but I’ll use one phrase of his as a starting point. She quotes him:

‘Recently, various Christians in our Society were marginalised and prevented from acting in accordance with their beliefs because they were not willing to publicly endorse a particular lifestyle.  You have only to ask a couple with regard to their bed and breakfast business; certain relationship councillors; and people who had valiantly fostered children for many years of their particular experiences – and I am sure they are not exaggerating them!’

O’Brien’s examples make clear that he’s talking about gay relationships, so it’s obvious he calls this ‘a particular lifestyle’ to euphemise rather than obscure. It’s an instinct I’ve seen often in straight people of a certain age, and not just religious ones, which bothers me far more than direct abuse; to hedge around queerness verbally is, I think, a much more alarming kind of slur.

I’ve had more or less every straight term of abuse, but ‘faggot’ and ‘cocksucker’ have never hurt my feelings. They’re words a bigot would never use in their ideal world, acknowledging what is for them an uncomfortable reality. To call me that is to state not only that I have the kind(s) of sex you wish I couldn’t, but that you’re completely, utterly unable to stop me. It’s a mark of my ability to fuck with you – which as far I’m concerned is the whole point.

That’s why I like ‘queer’, not just as an inclusive umbrella term but as a positive descriptor. I love its confrontational tone, its celebration of bad behaviour; as if to say Yes, we know we freak you out. Just try and stop us.

There’s power in our status as anomalies of sex and gender, a glitch in straight society’s programming, a spanner in the works which can’t be ignored. We’re the grit which the priesthood just can’t wiggle out of its shoe. When people call us deviants and perverts and freaks, they’re implicitly illustrating the threat we pose – as if, should we not be kept far away from their social order, we might jam its workings and cause it to collapse. To a problem child like me, that’s practically viagra.

Frustrating, then, when all this is reduced to ‘a particular lifestyle’. I do get a partial, gratifying sense that O’Brien is afraid of saying what he really means, but the overriding impression is that gay relationships don’t deserve mention. It’s a marginalising tactic, like a teacher who refers to ‘certain pupils’ drawing rude pictures so as not to confer street cred on the guilty parties. The same is true when my grandmother calls me ‘peculiar’, glossing all the troubling potential of queer sexuality as simply an eccentric quirk, and when my mum asks me every year or two, ‘So… are you gay?’

I’m not, but I do. Referring to my queerness as something I simply am and not a pattern of behaviour with politics, intent and motive running through it. The sex I have – with men, women, genderqueer folk or whomever – is threatening and ideological, embodying a general instinct to fuck with things. It’s not just an inoccuous quality, like height or hair colour. To imply that I only like sex with men because I was born this way insults its status as a rebellious act, and to gloss me as ‘being gay’ skirts around the blunt reality of my liking cock as determinedly as Keith O’Brien’s vagueness.

This is entrenched. It’s not just references to ‘being’ and ‘lifestyle’, it’s the media’s fixation with ‘love’ in its discourse on LGBT issues (gay marriage, especially); it’s the gay community’s increasing self-sanitisation, replacing sex ads in its magazines with vouchers for designer clothing and swapping pills for cocktails, all to court mum and dad’s acceptance. More and more, the upstart nature of what we do is being straightened out of our communities, and it terrifies me.

‘Gay’? I’m a faeces-eating, semen-drinking fag soldier for Satan. If like Keith O’Brien you don’t like that, you should be scared.


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