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.

Getty
Show Hide image

Stop saying identity politics caused Trump

It's a wildly unsophisticated analysis that ignores the fact that all politics is inflected by identity.

Look, I don't mean to be funny, but is there something in the water supply? When Mark Lilla wrote his jeremiad against "identity liberalism" in the New York Times, it was comprehensively picked over and rebutted. But this zombie take has risen again. In the last 24 hours, all these tweets have drifted across my timeline:

And then this (now deleted, I think, probably because I was mean about it on Twitter).

And finally, for the hat-trick . . .

Isn't it beautiful to see a Blairite, a Liberal Leaver and a Corbynite come together like this? Maybe there is a future for cross-spectrum, consensual politics in this country.

These are all versions of a criticism which has swilled around since Bernie Sanders entered the US presidential race, and ran on a platform of economic populism. They have been turbocharged by Sanders' criticisms since the result, where he blamed Clinton's loss on her attempt to carve up the electorate into narrow groups. And they are now repeated ad nauseam by anyone wanting to sound profound: what if, like, Black Lives Matter are the real racists, yeah? Because they talk about race all the time.

This glib analysis has the logical endpoint that if only people didn't point out racism or sexism or homophobia, those things would be less of a problem. Talking about them is counterproductive, because it puts people's backs up (for a given definition of "people"). She who smelt it, dealt it.

Now, I have strong criticisms of what I would call Pure Identity Politics, unmoored from economics or structural concerns. I have trouble with the idea of Caitlyn Jenner as an "LGBT icon", given her longstanding opposition to gay marriage and her support for an administration whose vice-president appears to think you can electrocute the gay out of people. I celebrate female leaders even if I don't agree with their politics, because there shouldn't be an additional Goodness Test which women have to pass to be deemed worthy of the same opportunities as men. But I don't think feminism's job is done when there are simply a few more female CEOs or political leaders, particularly if (as is now the case) those women are more likely than their male peers to be childless. Role models only get you so far. Structures are important too.

I also think there are fair criticisms to be made of the Clinton campaign, which was brave - or foolish, depending on your taste - to associate her so explicitly with progressive causes. Stephen Bush and I have talked on the podcast about how hard Barack Obama worked to reassure White America that he wasn't threatening, earning himself the ire of the likes of Cornel West. Hillary Clinton was less mindful of the feelings of both White America and Male America, running an advert explicitly addressed to African-Americans, and using (as James Morris pointed out to me on Twitter) the slogan "I'm With Her". 

Watching back old Barack Obama clips (look, everyone needs a hobby), it's notable how many times he stressed the "united" in "united states of America". It felt as though he was trying to usher in a post-racial age by the sheer force of his rhetoric. 

As Obama told Ta-Nehisi Coates during his last days in office, he thought deeply about how to appeal to all races: 

"How do I pull all these different strains together: Kenya and Hawaii and Kansas, and white and black and Asian—how does that fit? And through action, through work, I suddenly see myself as part of the bigger process for, yes, delivering justice for the [African American community] and specifically the South Side community, the low-income people—justice on behalf of the African American community. But also thereby promoting my ideas of justice and equality and empathy that my mother taught me were universal. So I’m in a position to understand those essential parts of me not as separate and apart from any particular community but connected to every community."

Clinton's mistake was perhaps that she thought this caution was no longer needed.

So there are criticisms of "identity politics" that I accept, even as I wearily feel that - like "neoliberalism" - it has become a bogeyman, a dumpster for anything that people don't like but don't care to articulate more fully.

But there are caveats, and very good reasons why anyone pretending to a sophisticated analysis of politics shouldn't say that "identity politics caused Trump".

The first is that if you have an identity that any way marks you out from the norm, you can't change that. Hillary Clinton couldn't not be the first woman candidate from a major party running for the US presidency. She either had to embrace it, or downplay it. Donald Trump faced no such decision. 

The second is that, actually, Clinton didn't run an explicitly identity-focused campaign on the ground, at least not in terms of her being a woman. Through the prism of the press, and because of the rubbernecker's dream that is misogyny on social media, her gender inevitably loomed large. But as Rebecca Solnit wrote in the LRB:

"The Vox journalist David Roberts did a word-frequency analysis on Clinton’s campaign speeches and concluded that she mostly talked about workers, jobs, education and the economy, exactly the things she was berated for neglecting. She mentioned jobs almost 600 times, racism, women’s rights and abortion a few dozen times each. But she was assumed to be talking about her gender all the time, though it was everyone else who couldn’t shut up about it."

My final problem with the "identity politics caused Trump" argument is that it assumes that explicit appeals to whiteness and masculinity are not identity politics. That calling Mexicans "rapists" and promising to build a wall to keep them out is not identity politics. That promising to "make America great again" at the expense of the Chinese or other trading partners is not identity politics. That selling a candidate as an unreconstructed alpha male is not identity politics. When you put it that way, I do accept that identity politics caused Trump. But I'm guessing that's not what people mean when they criticise identity politics. 

Let's be clear: America is a country built on identity politics. The "all men" who were created equal notably excluded a huge number of Americans. Jim Crow laws were nothing if not identity politics. The electoral college was instituted to benefit southern slave-owners. This year's voting restrictions disproportionately affected populations which lean Democrat. There is no way to fight this without prompting a backlash: that's what happens when you demand that the privileged give up some of their perks. 

I don't know what the "identity politics caused Trump" guys want gay rights campaigners, anti-racism activists or feminists to do. Those on the left, like Richard Burgon, seem to want a "no war but the class war" approach, which would be all very well if race and gender didn't intersect with economics (the majority of unpaid care falls squarely on women; in the US, black households have far fewer assets than white ones.)

Those on the right, like Daniel Hannan, seem to just want people banging on about racism and homophobia to shut up because he, personally, finds it boring. Perhaps they don't know any old English poetry with which to delight their followers instead. (Actually, I think Hannan might have hit on an important psychological factor in some of these critiques: when conversations centre on anti-racism, feminism and other identity movements, white men don't benefit from their usual unearned assumption of expertise in the subject at hand. No wonder they find discussion of them boring.)

Both of these criticisms end up in the same place. Pipe down, ladies. By complaining, you're only making it worse. Hush now, Black Lives Matter: white people find your message alienating. We'll sort out police racism... well, eventually. Probably. Just hold tight and see how it goes. Look, gay people, could you be a trifle... less gay? It's distracting.

I'm here all day for a discussion about the best tactics for progressive campaigners to use. I'm sympathetic to the argument that furious tweets, and even marches, have limited effect compared with other types of resistance.

But I can't stand by while a candidate wins on an identity-based platform, in a political system shaped by identity, and it's apparently the fault of the other side for talking too much about identity.

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.