Lez Miserable: "I want a gigantic, champagne-drenched, public celebration of same-sex love"

The instinctive urge to get married is a hard one to rationalise, finds Eleanor Margolis, but she could do without being judged by other members of the gay community.

It’s not often that I’m moved by Muppets. I can appreciate that Kermit has a hard time being green and Oscar the Grouch is a depressive who lives in a dustbin. That’s some reasonably high quality pathos, but it doesn’t quite reduce me to tears. Seeing Bert and Ernie, outed as a gay couple, on the other hand, snuggled up on the sofa on last week’s DOMA-bashing New Yorker cover got me genuinely choked up (the happy sort). And, frankly, I don’t know who I am any more. The controversial cover is not only exceptionally twee, but arguably irreverent towards the bitterly-fought battle for gay rights that has a rainbow coloured trail of carnage leading right back to the Stonewall riots of the 60s. Yet I found myself looking at two of my favourite childhood characters in a state of gay domestic bliss and thinking, “I want that.”

So there we have it, last week, a pair of fuzzy-faced humanoids made me want to get married and spawn 2.4 biblically-named children. I haven’t been this easily influenced by the Muppets since Sesame Street gave me the low-down on the letter D when I was a toddler. OK – this feeling isn’t entirely new. I’ve always had a thing for monogamy. And cake. Sentimentality? Not so much. Weddings I can take or leave. The “take” part is mostly free booze-driven. So why the hell would I want to get married?

There’s a small but loud voice within the LGBT community that throws scorn on the idea of queers aping a heteronormative institution. I can see where this rowdy lot are coming from – what’s the point in marriage in the first place? But I just can’t bring myself to join them. Every time I see gays slating gay marriage, I feel this weird pang of sadness. Weddings may well be these bizarrely ritualistic and mawkish conformity-fests, but there’s no reason why the entire institution of marriage should be hetero-owned. If gays want to appropriate a slightly fusty, traditionally straight practice, who gives a white, frilly frock? Rejecting a right that’s been so ferociously fought for is one thing, but labelling those who embrace it as traitors to the queer cause is hateful.

Plus, what’s going to hurt the homophobes more: bile-flecked in-fighting about the intricacies of queer politics or a gigantic, bacchanalian, champagne-drenched, public celebration of same-sex love? Bitterly judging members of our own community for “selling out” is a pretty poor approach to making the world less shitty for LGBT people. Why not, instead, take our gigantic hard-ons for one another and rub them in the haters’ faces?

I’ve tried to work out exactly what it is that makes me want to get married and I can’t. It’s almost an instinctive urge though, so I’m willing to accept that I’ve been socially conditioned. A part of me definitely sees gay weddings as a big middle finger to the conservatives and religious nutjobs who think they own marriage. There’s no doubt that I want to play a part in that middle finger brandishing. But saying a loud, “fuck you”, to society seems like a dysfunctional reason to celebrate your love for someone. Maybe a part of me (my inner child?) just wants to wear a pretty dress and throw a party for all the people I love. But what about the spending the rest of my life with one person part? Maybe that should scare me, but it doesn’t. Being single, I’m a long way off that kind of commitment and I’m still not averse to having fun. But I imagine that if I were having more casual sex, I’d be starting to get bored with it.

Whatever my reasons for wanting to get married may be, I feel it’s my right not to be judged by members of my own community. Hey – fellow gays - let’s leave the judging to Norman Tebbit, yeah? With the UK’s brand new equal marriage legislation, I’m looking  forward to getting my first gay wedding invitations from my friends in relationships. No pressure, guys.

Now find out whether same-sex marriage could threaten traditional gender roles (clue: only if it magically turned everyone gay).

 

A same-sex marriage supporter outside the Supreme Court in the US. Photograph: Getty Images

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

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era