Lez Miserable: "The fundamental problem with 'Straight Pride' is that homophobes have no idea how to party"

For Eleanor Margolis, Gay Pride will always be Out Pride - a day when gay people are proud of who they are in spite of what the most conservative elements of society want them to be.

Straight Pride: it exists. No really, it’s an actual thing – hence the capitals. And I’m actually a bit late to it. It’s been around in various forms since the dawn of Gay Pride. But now it has a Twitter account so it must be pretty damn official. Initially I thought it was a joke invented by some gays with a fantastic sense of irony. Only the other day, when a friend linked me to the Straight Pride website (which calls for real-life hetero marches) did I realise that certain people actually want a medal for having missionary sex atop John Lewis bed sheets. Straight Pride UK, with its risible Twitter following of under 500, is hardly intimidating. But it does raise a few important issues.

Aside from being a gay-bashing version of the White Power movement, the fundamental problem with Straight Pride is that homophobes have no idea how to party. Racists, at least, seem to know how to have a good time. OK – bellowing semi-literate nationalist rhetoric into a wheelie bin may not be everybody’s idea of fun, but you have to hand it to those cheeky EDL monkeys; they never look bored. A Straight Pride march, on the other hand, would look something like this: hetero couples dressed as semi-detached mock Tudor houses plod down half-empty streets to that sad trombone music from retro cartoons, on repeat. Dead-eyed children wave the Straight Pride flag (six stripes of mildly differing shades of beige) while listlessly tossing stale twiglets into a crowd of thirteen people and an elderly corgi called Doreen.

As a concept, Straight Pride is rather like Brunette Pride or Lactose Intolerance Pride. Then again, isn’t Gay Pride absurd for exactly the same reason? This may come as a surprise, but I’m not proud of being gay. Neither, of course, am I ashamed of it. It’s not something I chose, won or achieved, so why congratulate myself for it? Perhaps if my school had given me a “Least Heterosexual Girl” certificate along with my GCSEs, I’d be more boastful about my sexuality. But in reality, I’m about as proud of being gay as I am of the concavity of my bellybutton. For the most part, pride is bizarre. The most baffling is the regional kind. I’m glad I’m a Londoner, for example, but how the foof could anyone be proud of a geographical accident of birth? The only localised thing that I’m vaguely proud of is supporting Nottingham Forest. But that is both a choice and an affliction.

I am, however proud – exceedingly so – of being out. And as long as we live in a world where coming out requires bravery, all out LGBT people should feel the same. What’s important is that we draw a distinction between pride in our biology and pride in our actions.

In its most basic, unquestioned form, Gay Pride feeds into the idea that we choose our sexuality. How else could we possibly be proud of it? While it’s important to celebrate everything that comes with being gay – the culture, the community and the flouting of social norms – pride in gayness in itself is hypocritical. When we say that we’re proud of being gay, we pander to the people who are proud to be white, proud to be human, or proud that the last dump they took was shaped like Taylor Swift. These people require us to be proud of our sexuality in the same way that they are of theirs. What would actually make us cleverer than the Straight Pride bunch is outright refusing to be proud of being gay.

No part of me wants to abandon the Gay Pride movement. I’ve been to nearly every London Pride (and a few Brighton ones) since I was seventeen and I’m not going to stop. Hell, a couple of times I even went for reasons other than getting laid: political reasons and that. But for me, Gay Pride will always be Out Pride. It would be wrong for me to demand that all oppressed minorities stop being proud of who they are, but I’d like to suggest a caveat. We should be proud of who we are in spite of what the most conservative elements of society want us to be. Pride without achievement is always problematic; our achievement is our in-spiteness.  

The 2012 World Pride parade in London. Photograph: Getty Images

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle