A spokesman for which homosexuals?

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The Independent Online
PETER TATCHELL, once the homosexual loser of the famous Bermondsey by- election, now of OutRage, wrote interestingly in the Independent on 12 May: 'Gay rights: as not seen on TV'. From his article, I would guess that he fancies he is confronted with a formidable prejudice, or even conspiracy, against homosexuals and their rights, or even against him personally - though I remember him without shudders. If there is any prejudice, I am sure it is not against homosexuals as such but against homosexuality organised, aggressive, imperialistic. It asserts 'rights' that are offensive to many, questionable, even, to some of its supposed beneficiaries, who might prefer a quiet and uncontentious life, at peace with their neighbours.

This organised homosexuality expresses itself in enormous noisy demonstrations, a million strong in Washington recently, 100,000 strong last year in London. According to Mr Tatchell, neither was reported on the BBC or ITV. According to Jenny Abramsky of the BBC, the Washington one was reported, though in part eclipsed by the bomb explosion in the City. The London one may not have been reported. The BBC's supposed reticence anyway infuriated Mr Tatchell, who absurdly regards the London demo as the 'biggest political event in Britain for many years'.

Why the BBC's silence, Mr Tatchell inquires? The decision to gag, as he sees it, he assumes to be taken on political rather than journalistic grounds, based perhaps on 'moral judgements' that he seems to deplore, rather than on any presumably more permissive 'objective journalistic criteria'.

Whom does Mr Tatchell purport to represent? In his own eyes, he is a 'spokesperson' for the 'gay and lesbian community'. Does this 'community' exist? If it did, it would presumably include all manner of gays and lesbians who have far more in common with those outside the 'community' than with others within it, and nothing in common with Mr Tatchell except for one thing - which they may not rejoice in or regard as all-important.

Unless singularly unlucky, we have all known homosexuals wise, witty or amusing, likeable, capable, learned or talented, discreet, well balanced, patient, even saintly, and so on. Are such admirable people, who mostly would not be seen dead at a demo, well represented by Mr Tatchell? Of course not.

How then, when, by whom was Mr Tatchell elected or otherwise chosen as a 'spokesperson'? Doubtless, he was appointed by himself and by others as obsessively one-sided as he is. Who else? Is it not the summit of bad luck for any minority to be officially recognised as a 'community', to be thus presumed homogenous, to have 'spokespersons' foisted on it, apparently licensed to make all sorts of claims on behalf of an artificial, captive constituency, part of which may well recognise them to be unreasonable or outrageous.

For instance, do all homosexuals think it unconditionally wrong that any homosexual should be denied any job or dismissed from it? I doubt it. Who has asked them? Such setbacks, after all, are not unknown in the 'normal' world.

Do all homosexuals think that they should be free to use public money and institutions to proselytise? I doubt that, too. Homosexual friends have described to me their sexuality as a grievous burden and handicap, not to be lightly or eagerly transmitted onwards. They see themselves, to adapt Hofmannsthal, as men and women without shadows (ie, without children). They are not gay at all, but sad]

Do all homosexuals, mindful of the purposes of marriage as laid down in the Prayer Book, deem it proper that homosexual couples should be married in church, or even in a register office? I doubt that, too. Many strict high churchmen, if chaste themselves, are none the less themselves homosexually inclined.

Do all homosexuals agree that the age of homosexual consent should be lowered? Of those who do, what can be their motives?

All these objectives are contentious. Yet Mr Tatchell and his friends push ahead with them all. With each success, new objectives may be added, all without consultation or assent.

Mr Tatchell bewails the fact that, unlike 'black and women's rights campaigners', who appear often, 'gay spokespersons are never invited to participate' in Any Questions. Again, I have some sympathy with him. If any single-issue bores are 'often' invited, why not Mr Tatchell?

Better still, perhaps, ban the lot] Such programmes would be less tedious if the participants were chosen not as 'representing' something or other but simply because, whether queer, black or neither, they are wise or witty.

'We are banned from membership of the armed forces,' Mr Tatchell further wails. This is presumably to him a matter of high principle rather than personal grievance. I never saw him as a frustrated military man, though I have seen some odd officers in my day, notably in the shaving mirror.

The ban anyway was, during the war, remarkably ineffective. Queer officers abounded and prospered. Some were of the grim and gloomy sort, strict disciplinarians, puritanical and severely sublimated, with often a streak of sadism. Others were amiably camp, sometimes hilariously so, good company, popular, gay in the old fine sense, often spectacularly brave, laughing at danger, volunteering for any risky assignment.

Why so? Well, partly because the poor fellows had less than others to go home to after the war, little certain to live for. Their mirth often concealed a great loneliness and sorrow. Officers with wives and families were by contrast ready to do their duty, but thought twice about anything beyond it.

The so-called ban on homosexuals, rarely enforced, was more enabling than mandatory. It enabled commanding officers to be rid of subordinates whose effeminacy caused ridicule, whose conduct caused scandal, whose motives for joining the Army were suspect, who seemed more interested in sodomy than soldiering.

Poor Ronald Firbank, the gay novelist, would have had to go ('Rum fellow, doesn't quite fit in'), though my commanding officer in the war was a kinsman of his - Colonel Firbank, a very different kettle of fish. He later became a respected general.

Faced by someone he didn't know, Ronald Firbank was so shy that he would 'wriggle and giggle, waving his hands helplessly above his head, spluttering over his words, and lapsing into complete incoherence'. I think even the indulgent Mr Tatchell would have banned him.