Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Stephen Fry: Out There

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!

15 comments:

  1. You are right about 'parallels' but there is no real comparison as one condition centres on gender and the other sexuality. Whilst it may be true that they are both conditions we are born with there has to be a measure of self-control. Speaking as I do as a Christian I believe it is not wrong to be a homosexual but it is wrong to act upon it. In a similar way but far from being the same those who change gender I feel should then become celibate. Scripture tells us that homosexuality is wrong and totally goes against the will of God. Being transsexual on the other hand it not mentioned anywhere in Scripture though there is a passage in which Paul says that he wished those who are effeminate (I am assuming that if you are male to female that surely must apply) would go the whole way and emasculate themselves (meaning castration which in effect is what we have undergone if you think about it). The whole point of the argument as far as Scripture and therefore God says is that sodomy is an evil sin and has no part in a Christian way of life. I can only speak as a Christian of course but others will think differently. This too is forecast and spoken about in Scripture as we fall further and further away from God. No, it is not normal behaviour to engage in homosexual acts in the eyes of God.

    Shirley Anne x

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  2. I accept that Shirley Anne has her understanding of scripture, but it is important to note that her belief that homosexuality goes against the will of God is not a view shared by an ever growing body of Christians, a group I am very happy to belong to.

    I hope no Christian would ever claim their understanding of sometimes obscure scripture is necessarily definitive. We all need to accept we may have misunderstood what we think to be the mind of God and I confess I may be mistaken. However I hope Shirley Anne will also agree that her understanding may be flawed.

    I do hope that if the opportunity ever presents itself for she and I to worship alongside each other, she will not hold against me my disagreement with her view that those such as myself who undergo gender reassignment should become celibate.

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  3. Couldn't agree more about the parallels. In each case a fact about our lives makes the people around us upset. In each case these same people seem determined to find a way to justify their feelings and "fix"another.
    I find it a continuing puzzle that these same people are determined to limit their all-powerful Deity to flawed human proportions.
    It almost seems like they would like to think that same all-powerful Deity is incapable of independent action as It sees fit.
    Justifying humanities' flaws I.e. the desire to control others, by relying on ancient scrolls is hopefully something we can outgrow as a race soon.
    Violence of this sort should never be justified.

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  4. What I want to know is which part of..... Romans 1:27
    'In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.'..............don't those Christians who think Scripture is ambiguous? These are the children of God who are falling away from the truth, the ones who only want to hear what their itching ears want to hear. We either have to believe that Scripture is God breathed or we deny its authority completely. We cannot pick and choose which parts we want to believe and reject the rest. I do admit that my understanding of Scripture may be flawed in part but this issue is very fundamental and is without ambiguity.
    The Bible is either God's word or it isn't. I believe it is.

    Shirley Anne x

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  5. Have a look at this short article then tell me that I am wrong http://vineoflifenews.com/the-truth-can-be-hard-to-swallow/

    Shirley Anne x

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  7. I've looked at it, Shirley Anne, but I'm underwhelmed. Of course sodomy (male rape), sex with children and the like are WRONG in any civilised society. We didn't need The Vine of Life to tell us that. But the article fails to address the questions repeatedly posed by Stephen Fry: "Why is being gay wrong?" and "What is it about two guys loving each other that is so terrible?" To reply that "it's wrong because the Bible says so," will not do. To borrow Stephen Fry's example, if a law said that having a red telephone was wrong, we would ask "Why? What harm would a red telephone do us?" To be a good law, it must shield us from harm or promote the common good.

    For the vast majority of heterosexual people, the thought of jumping into bed with someone of their own gender is distasteful in the extreme. Little wonder, then, that those who wrote scripture believed God too would find it obnoxious. They also believed that women who were raped and didn't scream for help should be stoned, and that God detests those who cross-dress. But more than two thousand years later, most of us can see that they got some things wrong. They got a lot right too, of course.

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  8. Does the pot question the potter? If God condones what He says is sin then Jesus died for nothing.

    Shirley Anne x

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  9. Also Angela I didn't say that being homosexual was in itself wrong. I said practicing it was wrong.

    Shirley Anne xs

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  10. And by 'practicing homosexuality' you specifically mean having sex in any form with someone else of the same sex? That does not seem right, to allow homosexual persons to exist, but to deny them the particular kind of sexual expression they are (by their innate disposition) most likely to desire.

    By the way, I hope that all along we are keeping in sight the sex that lesbian women might have, and are not simply discussing what two males might do. Or is female homosexuality in some way nicer and less controversial, and can be ignored?

    As a non-religious person, the issue for me is whether there is anything clearly unnatural here, and I can't see anything. Locally conventional notions of distaste or normality are irrelevant. So are laws and the prejudices of the ancients, however eminent. Arguments that homosexuality undermines the propagation of the species seem unconvincing, and I would actually argue that the existence of gay people is one way in which a natural brake is applied to explosive population growth. Similarly it is not a crime to stay single and never reproduce, regardless of whether one is straight or gay.

    Lucy

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  11. When Shirley Anne writes "We either have to believe that Scripture is God breathed .... We cannot pick and choose which parts we want to believe and reject the rest.. " she moves down a particular road that can no doubt lead to a clear set of life guidelines for her to follow. She may wish to deny herself the modern convenience of an inside toilet, wearing wool and cotton fabrics simultaneously and she may even feel it is in order to keep slaves (so long as they are foreigners), but such a lifestyle is not one that many today, Christians or otherwise, will wish to share. To get the most out of bible study, it is important to undertake it with one's mind open to try and hear what God may be communicating to us today. Taking from the bible's pages only what God inspired in writers so many centuries ago is a closed mind approach that is not listening for revelation.

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  12. Sorry Mel but God's word is the same yesterday as it is today. You have to remember that although many of the ancient laws were written for the people of that time, you might call them social laws but other laws such as the Commandments, the beatitudes and those which are written in the NT a matter of less than 2000 years ago are very much revelant today. God said in the OT that homosexuality for both genders is wrong and it is repeated in the NT. The truth is hard to swallow for some people, even Christians. God does speak into our hearts if we are open to His Spirit. God is telling me fornication, homosexuality and all other form of wickedness are evil. I repeat what is in my heart and trust Him hat it is accordance with His will. I urge all my brothers and sisters in Christ to do likewise, to be a witness to the unbelieving heart and a world which has rejected God.

    Shirley Anne x

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    1. Did you even watch the documentary? Did you see the face of the young Ugandan women raped at age 14 because her attacker thought doing so would stop her being gay? Did you see the face of the Brazilian mother whose son was tortured for two hours and then killed aged 15 because he was gay? How about Christians go bring healing into lives instead of spouting the same old rhetoric and clearly not caring less about the actual people involved. Christians need to condemn homophobic behaviour and attacks and then people just might start listening to them or wanting to know their God, rather than coming across as so unloving just constantly quoting the same Bible verses again and again. Will the Bible verses bring that woman's son back?

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  13. This little 'debate' reminds me why "Christianity" cannot seem to help me in my daily life. As a youth, even before I knew the history of the early church (every person who calls themselves Christian needs to know how the religion began) I read that part of the bible where Jesus told the disciples two commandments to replace the ten:
    Matthew 22:37-40, "Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.."
    and I mistook this to mean that love was more important than judgement and condemnation. Experience has sadly convinced me otherwise.

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Lucy Melford