I wasn't expecting it to be enthralling, but I did watch the entire first hour of Stephen Fry's BBC2 two-part documentary last night, called Out There, which found him reflecting on what it meant to be gay in the UK and abroad.
In the UK the legal position for gay men and women is plainly much, much better than it has ever been, but Mr Fry pointed out that rights can be taken away as well as given, and attitudes and prejudices cannot be legislated away. Whatever the laws says, it can't prevent hidden malicious thinking in hate-filled minds.
As ever, the programme was almost exclusively about what it meant to be a gay man. Only one lesbian girl was featured, sadly reflecting the general lack of interest in (or refusal to acknowledge the existence of) female gayness. I don't think that was Mr Fry's personal intention, but the result of how the programme was edited. I say this because of his obvious deep empathy with his one female interviewee, a young black lesbian girl in Uganda, with whom he gently spoke and clearly liked as a person. At the tender age of fourteen, she was raped by a farm hand who believed that rough sex with him would 'correct' her. He penetrated her only once in a brief no-nonsense encounter, but it left her bleeding and pregnant. Her family arranged an immediate abortion for her, although of course this was yet another type of trauma for someone still a child. Naturally the 'corrective rape' hadn't worked, and she knew she was still gay, and would always be.
Mr Fry put the fact that gay people are born the way they are, and cannot be talked into being gay, nor talked out of it, to more than one Ugandan official. But to no avail.
It was so dispiriting to watch these men giving the church line, or the party line, on what they believed 'being gay' was all about. Men must use their penis only on women, and it was better for a man who was in doubt about his sexuality to rape a woman, than give way to an impulse to have sex with another man. Hmmm! I thought I detected fear of the Devil and Eternal Damnation in there somewhere. Stephen Fry himself was amazed at the total doctrinaire focus on sodomy and ludicrously-imagined physical effects (such as exploding penises). Other kinds of sexual expression, such as fellatio, and the deep love and commitment often to be found in gay relationships, were completely ignored.
And there was this idea that gay people wanted to recruit others to their way of life, to corrupt them - thus turning official efforts to hunt down gay people into a just crusade, to cleanse society of an evil thing. Clearly it was already a serious moral crime to be gay in Uganda; shortly it would also be a statutory crime, carrying severe punishment. How very sad and blind. More than that: an ugly manifestation of death-dealing bigotry. A Kampala radio station owner, himself cool and easy about gay Ugandans, thought that the proposed anti-gay legislation would prove unenforceable and fail. I wouldn't bank on it.
But even in the USA he found there were people who thought that gayness was an acquired condition that could be 'educated' out of you, or expunged with the right therapy. Stephen Fry went to see Dr Nicolosi (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Nicolosi) to enquire about his reparative therapy which seeks to 'cure' patients of their gayness. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversion_therapy#Reparative_therapy for a detailed discussion of various types of 'conversion' therapies, including Dr Nicolosi's. Again, the therapy was attempting the impossible, and bound to fail.
You will notice that I personally agree with Mr Fry on what being gay is about: that it is an inborn condition, and can't be got rid of by re-education, nor by the threat of punishment. It's something that needs understanding, and absorption into the mainstream of life, into normality.
I agree not because I am myself gay, but because I am trans, and see very close parallels. In fact, almost at every point, you could have substituted the word 'trans' for 'gay' in what was being discussed in the documentary. And of course there is the common misconception that every trans woman is really a gay man. The two things - being gay, being trans - are quite distinct. A trans person can be straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, anything at all. But much of the ordinary public doesn't get a grip on that. The confusion is compounded by the mirror effect of transition. What was 'straight' in pre-transition life becomes 'gay', and vice versa. Historically I had sex only with natal females, never with natal men, and so I was regarded as straight. But if I stick to females when (and if ever) I resume a sex life, I will be regarded as gay. In order to retain that straight label, I'll somehow have to develop a sexual interest in men. That'll be so hard. Actually, I want an uncomplicated independent life, without sex in it at all.
So am I safe to visit Uganda? I wouldn't like to put it to the test, because the very fact that I would be detected as 'trans' would (if not crime enough) label me as 'gay' or 'presumed to be gay', and my life would then be in danger. Perhaps it's just as well that I can't afford worldwide travel any more!