"Is my dog gay?" Well, how could you even tell?

Jane Fae ponders the lessons a gay dog from Tennessee can teach us all about human sexuality.

Phew! The world breathed a sigh of collective relief last week, as the Tennessee pooch, under sentence of death after its owner decided it might be gay, found a new home.

The tension may have been short-lived: it took little more than a couple of hours between the story breaking on the interweb and a kind soul coming forward to rescue the condemned canine. Still, it set me thinking. A dog’s gotta do what a dog’s gotta do: can it make any sort of sense to accuse him – or indeed, any animal – of being gay just because he gets a little frisky with another same-gendered mutt?

What, after all, is “gayness”? Is it as simple as who you shag? Who you are attracted to? Or something infinitely more sublime?

I have a friend who identifies as lesbian. Likes women, sleeps with women, has recently ended a long-term relationship with ditto. Definitely “one of them”. Except for the occasional lapse: the one-nighters where – she is shameless in owning this – she has gone out with the express intent of finding a man for carnal purposes. Still, she reckoned, that didn’t make her straight. Or even bi.

I didn’t get that at all – until I did. I, too, identify as lesbian: can count on the fingers of one hand the men I’ve fancied: all three, very girlish boys.

Girlish boys – and boyish girls. I still drool over images of a leather-jacketed Judith Butler speaking her mind politically. Obviously I am turned on by post-structuralist philosophy! And a certain type of woman.

But there are those moments – usually late night ones – when the body plays funny tricks. When it twitches and gaps and, unbidden, my thoughts turn toward the darker side. More precisely, towards the fantasy of a jolly good rogering, even if – my friends think I joke on this: I don’t – my good-natured, attentive rogerer wears a paper bag on his head, and leaves politely, wordlessly, at the end.

“Tell us about it, Jane!”

“I've never...never...”

Not for nothing is my favourite Rocky Horror persona the virginal Janet “slut” Weiss. Toucha-toucha-toucha-touch me: I want to be dirty!

I’d also quite like to curl in the arms of that ultimate father-figure, Valjean. Physical attraction? No: just comfort.

If its difficult to pin down us human apes with a simple label, how much more so to categorise animal attraction? Does it even make sense to talk of gay and straight animals? Apparently some humans think it does: for instance, the lady who attempted to foist her own heteronormative values on her dog and our’s, the other day, with excited cries of “stop that! Its dirty”.

Presumably, rather than seeing two dogs engaged in some pretty banal doggy bonding, she felt duty bound to intervene to prevent an outbreak of bestial tonguing. The shame!

Though this starts to turn the argument full circle – and not necessarily in any direction that offers solace to your average homophobe. Whisper it low, but: I’m also a fan of evolutionary psychology – at least as study. I know that’s considered anathema in some quarters: but then, unlike some (reactionary) journalists, I actually studied the subject, the techniques. I’m well aware of its limits and would certainly hesitate to make broad generalisations about what is “right” for humans based on some spurious interpretation of “natural laws”.

Except. I can be mischievous, too. Standing back and observing human society: assuming, as some folks have, that alpha-male led polygamy is somehow the natural order of things; one ends up with a most uncomfortable conclusion (for some). For in such a society, not only would gayness be “natural” for the vast majority of males: it would be virtually de rigueur.

Oh, my! That, perhaps, highlights the difficulties of trying to write human experience over onto the animal world – and vice-versa. Sometimes, two dogs, licking each others’ nether regions are just that – and no more. Neither example for us humans – nor creatures acting in any way unnaturally.

Though, at the end of this sorry tale, I can’t help wanting to find the heartless b*d who set this story off in the first place. “Do you believe in God?”, I’d ask.

“And if you do, how do you know that a 'gay dog' deserves to be killed for no other reason than that it is true to its nature - and not a sign from God that you got it wrong.

That in this 'mixed up, muddled up, shook up world', gayness is as natural a state of being as any other?”

A dog takes part in a rally celebrating equal marriage in Mexico City. Photograph: Getty Images

Jane Fae is a feminist writer. She tweets as @JaneFae.

Nicola Sturgeon and Tony Blair. Photo: Getty
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Nicola Sturgeon's SNP, like Tony Blair's New Labour, is heading for a crash landing

The fall of Tony Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP.

If there was one thing the SNP and New Labour had in common, it was the hope. Both offered themselves as a burning torch of optimism to publics that had become tired of the same old gang running things in the same old way. Both promised a fairer, more equal society and a fearless embrace of the modern world with an appealing freshness and energy. The voters bought it: both won big, repeatedly.

The thing is, if you’re elected on a mandate to be different, you’d better be different. In many areas, for a long time, New Labour managed to be just that. The smiling PM with the huge majority pushed through radical policies, some of which even worked. Tony Blair’s methodology was so successful and so convincing that the Conservatives and the Lib Dems reshaped themselves in his likeness. Arguably, a form of New Labour won in 2010 and 2015.

But, as they say, it’s the hope that kills you. When the inevitable attritional realities of governing start to weigh, when you make, as you will, bad decisions, when the list of enemies grows long, when you’ve just had your time, you’ll fall like all the rest – only, when you’ve soared so close to the sun, you have that much further to plummet.

The fall of Blair and of Labour should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP. Sunday night’s debate between the Scottish party leaders was, I think, a foretaste of what’s coming – a public that until recently was politically and emotionally invested in the Nats is growing restive. In time, this will turn to disenchantment, then anger, then revenge at the ballot box. This is the unbreakable cycle of democratic politics.

Some of us have warned since the start that the SNP had over-promised and could only under-deliver. Its raison d’etre is independence; everything else - literally everything else - is just another brick to build the path. And so education reform cannot be either radical or unpopular, even if it needs to be so to work, because the SNP cannot afford to alienate teachers or the teaching unions or parents. Bricks, you see. Same with the NHS and doctors and health unions and patients. All the separatists have done – all they could have done, given their nature - is deploy the rhetoric of the radical while in reality body-swerving hard choices and conflict at any cost. And where they have found themselves taking flak, they’ve pointed south to Westminster: "it’s no’ our fault, it’s theirs".

But voters show signs of wearying of the predictable blame game and waking up to the time-limited strategy of show-over-substance. Middle Scotland is either ignored or maligned by the middle-class socialists who drive the nation’s political debate, but it is where elections are won. The SNP has secured the support of enough of these people to win every recent election in style, but somewhere along the way the party seems to have forgotten this was a mandate not for independence, but for good government. Ten years in to SNP rule, each new audit of public services seems to wail like a warning siren – things aren’t just not improving, they’re getting worse. The SNP is not keeping its part of the deal.

So, during Sunday night’s debate it was Nicola Sturgeon, not Ruth Davidson or Kezia Dugdale, who found herself in the audience’s cross-hairs. It will have been a strange experience for a woman more used to public adulation and a clamour for selfies. There were the teachers, who complained about the damp squib that is the Curriculum for Excellence, the SNP’s flagship education policy; who pointed out that a fifth of primary pupils are leaving without basic literacy and numeracy skills; and who warned that lowering the standard of exams in order to push up the pass rate was not a mark of success.

Then there was the nurse who said she had been forced to use a food bank (the existence of which has been used repeatedly by the SNP as a stick with which to beat the Conservatives and Westminster): ‘I can’t manage on the salary I have [which is set by the Scottish Government]. You have no idea how demoralising it is to work in the NHS. Don’t come on your announced visits, come in in the middle of any day to any ward, any A&E department and see what we’re up against.’ She delivered the evening’s killer line: ‘Do you think your perceived obsession with independence might actually cost you… in this election?’

The list of reasonable criticisms is growing and will grow further. The ideological obsession with free university tuition for Scottish students is increasingly seen as a sop to the better-off, while in England the fee-charging regime has seen the number of students coming from poorer families climb. Ms Sturgeon’s demand for a quick second independence referendum, when a worried middle Scotland was focused on what Brexit might mean for its future, was tone deaf.

The SNP has another problem (one that New Labour, for all its flaws, didn’t face): its doctrine of infallibility. The Nats’ constitution explicitly prohibits its elected members from criticising the party, its policies or each other. While total unity is useful when you’re on the climb, it starts to look bonkers when the cracks are showing. Allowing public self-criticism, far from being a sign of weakness, is a necessary vent for inner tensions and a sign to voters that a political party is something more than a cult.

That ‘cult’ word has long dogged the SNP and its supporters. The party has tried hard to normalise its electoral appeal while keeping the flame of independence burning bright, but it has been a difficult balancing act. The pro-independence mob is an ugly thing when it is unleashed (and it has suited the leadership to open the cage at times). Claire Austin, the nurse who criticised the First Minister on Sunday, has found herself at its mercy. Immediately after the debate, the Nats briefed (wrongly) that she was the wife of a Tory councilor. The SNP branch in Stirling said Tebbitishly that if she was having to use food banks "maybe she needs to tighten her belt a bit more?" Joanna Cherry, a QC, MP and the SNP’s Home Affairs spokesperson, was forced to publicly apologise for spreading "Twitter rumours" about Ms Austin.

The ravening horde has largely kept its head down since the 2014 independence referendum, but we now see it hasn’t gone away - it is not enough for the SNP’s critics to be debated, they must be destroyed. This isn’t the behaviour of a normal political party: it’s the behaviour of a cult.

I might be wrong, but I have a feeling that when the SNP does fall it will fall quite quickly. Its belief in its infallibility, its inability or unwillingness to do self-deprecation or apology, will increasingly aggravate voters. There is nothing to suggest the current public policy failings will be addressed, and plenty of signs that things will get worse. How, then, do you arrest your fall?

The SNP offered hope and promised it was different, and the voters believed. The sense of betrayal could make for a very hard landing indeed.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

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