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10 April 2000

From limp wrist to long finger

Neil McKenna thought he was gay; now science says he's not. He fears that it will all end badly

By Neil McKenna

Salvation is at last at hand. Literally. Last week, I made the astonishing discovery that I am, in fact, a heterosexual man – and have been such since birth. I now formally assert and claim the rights and privileges of the heterosexual male and declare that I will, from this day forward, strut my heterosexual stuff with all due vim and vigour.

In a similar vein, my friend Pam the Lesbian has discovered that she is indubitably a heterosexual woman. In less time than it takes to snap our ring fingers – or is it our index fingers? – we have been translated from a more-or-less-oppressed homosexual minority to the smug, self-satisfied and unthinking heterosexual majority.

Our translation to this heterosexual state of grace has come about as a result of a study of 720 people attending a street festival in San Francisco, which revealed, according to the science journal Nature, the cataclysmic finding that the relative length of index finger to ring finger is an indicator of sexual orientation.

This is true gay liberation. No more limp wrists, lisps and an unhealthy interest in 18th-century soft-paste porcelain for me. No more facial hair, penis envy and a boarding kennel in Rutland for Pam. No more campery-poo. No more Judy Garland (Oh Judy, our Judy!). No more active or passive, butch or femme; no more puffs, pansies, nancies, nellies, bull-dykes and bum-boys; no more gay pride, no more gay prejudice; no more fear, no more hatred, no more violence, no more (self-) loathing.

Stop it right there. I’m terribly sorry, but I really (really, really, really) don’t want to be heterosexual. And Pam the Lesbian really, really, really doesn’t want to be heterosexual. We are, each in our own quiet and decidedly eccentric ways, glad – very glad – to be gay, glad to be who we are, glad to live the life we live and glad to love the people we love.

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We know that our sexuality doesn’t depend on the relative lengths of our fingers – or any other organs. We know that biology is not, and has never been, the whole story. We know that words such as spirit and soul and love and desire and choice and joy are the true language of our sexuality.

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We’ve heard it all before. We’ve listened and we’ve watched as the siren songs of science and sexology and psychology and psychoanalysis have weighed and measured and debated and deliberated and posited and hypothesised and asserted and decided and concluded who we are, what we are and why we are.

We know all about women in men’s bodies, and men in women’s bodies; about dominating mothers and banished fathers and reviled grandfathers; about girlie boys and boyish girls; about too much or too little testosterone/oestrogen/backbone.

We’ve heard about will-power and moral fibre; about arrested development, shrivelled generative organs and enlarged hypothalamuses; about masturbatory insanity and spermotorrhea; about hereditary syphilis, moral degeneracy, disease and madness.

We’ve been told that we’re quirks, freaks and inverts; that we’re biological accidents, unnatural curiosities and criminals; that we are dangerous, degenerate and contagious; a corruption of the body politic, spreaders of disease and decay, harbingers of disasters both natural and divine.

Then we have been treated. And honey, have we been treated. All in the name of the law or in the name of the Lord or in the name of a cure, we’ve been imprisoned, beaten and tortured; put to death, stoned to death, starved to death and worked to death. We have been fed hormones and given lobotomies; been electrocuted, and made to vomit in the name of something called “aversion therapy”. Again in the name of a cure, in Nazi concentration camps, we were subjected to hideous medical experiments where we were castrated first and then fed male hormones to see if we could become “normal”.

We’ve been in and out of prisons, mental hospitals and doctors’ surgeries. And some of us have – quite understandably under the circumstances – given up the ghost and gone mad or bad or taken our own lives because they were no longer worth living.

All the time, we’ve tried our very best to be reasonable and rational and patient. We’ve spent a thousand years waiting for law reform and some measure of equality, and we’ve had to be grovellingly grateful for every small morsel of civil liberties and social acceptability that has come our way.

It’s still legal to sack us from our jobs. It’s still legal to discriminate against us in employment. It’s still legal to discriminate against us in housing and pensions and tax and virtually everything else. There’s still violence and queer bashing and homophobic bullying. And our children still can’t get help and support in schools because of Clause 28.

So you can imagine, can’t you, what fun – what really great fun – it is for us to have our sexuality forensically dissected and pored over and anatomised and pathologised yet again for the prurient delectation of the great British heterosexual.

And you can imagine, too, how happy we are to feel that we are fair game for this kind of eugenic enterprise, which reminds us of nothing so much as the scientific measuring of the dimensions of Jewish skulls in the Third Reich’s quest to prove that Jews were subhuman.

And you can understand, can’t you, why we’re just a teensy-weensy bit petrified when we see new speculations as to the cause of our sexuality. Cause implies cure. Cure suggests disease.

We’ve heard it all before and we’ve seen it all before and we know that it’s probably going to end in tears for some, if not all, of our number.

So, without wanting to spoil the party – because, after all, it is your party – we, that is me and Pam the Lesbian and quite a few others of our kind, hope you won’t mind too much if we tell you where you can stick your index and ring fingers.