Sunday, 15 January 2017
Will we ever be truly equal?
Yesterday I decided to have a sauna after my gym workout. I'm suffering a bit from osteoarthritis in my left hand, and had read that dry saunas could offer relief. There was only one other person in the sauna, a very overweight Indian guy of indeterminate age, though, as he mentioned that his father was my age, I'm assuming he was in his 30s. We started chatting, just small talk, and then he asked me if had any children.
"No," I said.
"Why you not married?" he asked.
"So far I never wanted to get married," I replied.
And there it was, that moment when I considered briefly evading the issue, not telling the truth. Why? Because I was worried about his reaction? I've been out to friends and family for the best part of 40 years now. You'd think I wouldn't have a problem anymore, but still there was the briefest of pauses (and it really annoys me) before I replied,
He was a little taken aback.
"In my country you would be shot," he grunted.
"And if you did that in my country, the one you're in at the moment, you'd go to prison - for a very long time."
He accepted that with equanimity and oddly enough the conversation didn't end there. By his own admission he was pretty uneducated, and I ended up giving him a short history lesson about the Second World War. (He thought the Nazis were Jewish and American!) The question of my sexuality was soon forgotten. When my time was up and I headed for the shower, he wished me well and that was that.
However, afterwards I pondered my hesitance in telling him I was gay. It bothered me. Haven't we, haven't I, moved on from the attitudes of previous generations? After all, in this country, and quite a few others around the world now, we can even get married. Surely we've reached a stage in society where one can reveal one's sexuality without fear of reproval.
Well only recently, our new right wing, UKIP influenced, Tory government voted to block compulsory LGBT-inclusive sex education. Religious sensibilities, it seems, are more important than teaching children it's ok to be gay, more important than tackling the bullying so many LGBT children suffer on a daily basis. So we haven't come that far since Section 28 after all. It might be legal for us to get married now, but let's not talk about it, or at least if we do, only in the abstract. The fact that LGBT couples actually have sex is something we'd rather not think about.
As a hard Brexit becomes increasingly likely, as the UK isolates itself more and more from the rest of Europe, and as the UK removes itself from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, then we will need to be ever alert to the possibility that freedoms so recently won can be taken away. Look at what's happening in the USA. Trump isn't even in the White House yet, but already steps are being taken to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and millions who were given hope will now be left without any form of health insurance.
We are living in a different world now from the one I thought I lived in, a post truth world. Liberal is now a dirty word. Intellectuals and experts are mistrusted, education (in the old sense of acquiring knowledge) derided, and ignorance applauded, and, in this climate, maybe it isn't so strange that I should mark that slight pause before acknowledging my sexuality.