The title of this blog comes from a strange phrase used on the Radio Four flagship news program PM. In an item about the anti LGBT school protests in Birmingham the reporter sought to reassure listeners that five year old children were not having anal sex described in graphic detail, by saying there are no lessons on the “mechanics of homosexuality”
It is easy to dismiss language like this, or to mock it as a great band name (a queer Mike and the Mechanics anyone? ) however this would a mistake. Language matters, and in this less tolerant, and more divided nation, where hate crime is on the rise, the language used to describe LGBTQAI people matters immensely.
What does someone imply by the phrase “the mechanics of homosexuality”? Firstly there is that term homosexuality – it is rarely used today by those who support LGBTQAI rights. It is a pathologising and stigmatized word, usually only aimed at labeling gay men, and carrying a history of negative connotations. It is similar to using the word “coloured” which I hope the BBC would consider unacceptable on its news shows whilst possibly acceptable in a historical context. Homosexuality is a medical term from the dark pages of history, where it was seen to be a mental illness. We have just celebrated IDAHOBIT – a day which marks the removal of homosexuality from the International Classification of Disease. It seems we can depathologise the ICD but not the attitudes of those we might expect better from.
The phrase as a whole does something quite common in attacks on LGBTAQI people, it reduces our identities to sex acts. What exactly did the reporter mean by mechanics? Was she talking of sitting by a dying lovers bed? Greeting your new child into the world? Was she describing being assaulted at work, a common LGBTQAI experience as new research shows? Or was she talking about sodomy? Since homosexuality is rarely used to describe relationships between women I think we can safely assume it was the latter she intended. The TUC report released last week into experiences in the workplace specifically highlighted how hypersexualisation was behind many of the assaults and harassment LGBTQAI people experience. The hypersexualisation of LGBTQAI identities is something which causes immense harm.
Sex acts themselves are of course neither gay, straight, bi or anything else. Anyone can engage in any sexual behaviour, and it does not say anything about their identity. To put it bluntly, being queer is who you are, not who, or what you do.
However by treating LGBTQAI people as nothing more than a mechanistic set of sex acts then othering is encouraged.
I have a depth and humanity which extends into every aspect of my life
You are anal sex
The difference is stark, and one which still carries the weight of that old term “sodomite”. Consider for a moment what the phrase “the mechanics of heterosexuality” might imply? Could you even imagine it being used, for example on a story about sex education in schools?
In denying full humanity to LGBTQAI people it becomes easier to deny them rights. to demand that that their existence is not even mentioned. To create the idea that the very existence of LGBTAQI people is a threat to children a link needs to be made between them and dangerous behaviour. Post the decriminalisation of homosexuality that link was made very often by implying that LGBTQAI people, and particularly gay men, were nothing more than certain sex acts, which they could not control. Protecting children from homosexuality has been linked in peoples minds with protecting them from the mechanics of homosexuality.
We must challenge this linkage, and stand up against the othering which deems the very mention of LGBTAQI people to be a threat. We love, laugh, sing, dance, read, eat, drink, raise children, grieve, watch GOT and listen to the radio just like anyone else. Defining entire sections of the population by sex acts you assume they are having is an indication of how deep rooted prejudice against LGBTQAI people still is.