The recent cowardly attack on a young gay police trainee in Liverpool follows closely on the heels of a similar piece of viciousness in London and is evidence of a worrying trend. Newsnight are looking into it tonight, with contributors including Johann Hari. They'll be asking where this rise in homophobic attacks by young people is coming from.
It's a complex issue and there are a lot of factors that probably contribute. The economy probably has something to do it - when young people are on the street with no prospects they're going to seek some outlet, and, depressingly often, that outlet is beating up the different. Never mind the fact that GLBTQ people are probably being hit just as hard by the recession, perhaps even more so - adopt the socialism of fools and blame it on the hate-group.
It doesn't help that there are figures in the media all too happy to spread the hate. Whether it's a Bishop and a crap DJ, a pointless newspaper opinion-monkey who looks like Tracy Turnblatt's uglier sister, or even Mister Fucking T, there's no shortage of media figures all too happy to contribute to a climate in which people who don't fit the heteronormative template are othered as deviants and weirdos.
I think there's another factor at work, though. I think one reason why we're seeing more young people attacking those of differing sexuality is the fact that we currently live in a sexually toxic culture. And the focus of that sexual toxicity is children.
Somewhere, we seem as a culture to have developed a deeply unhealthy fixation on the sexual abuse of children (I deliberately avoid the term paedophilia, because etymologically that suggests abusers love the kids they rape. They don't. Nobody who abuses another human being against their will just to make themselves feel good does it out of love.) Let's be clear on this: the sexual abuse of children is abhorrent. People who abuse children are scum. People who get off on the abuse of children are scum. But our problem is that there are an awful lot of people in this culture who do get off on the sexual abuse of children, but won't admit to it, because they get their jollies in a different way.
These are the people queueing up to buy misery memoirs. The people who froth at the mouth at the latest abuse-scandal on the news and derive an all-too-obvious pleasure in telling you what they'd do to these bastards. Ramsey Dukes had their number a long time ago. He suggested a thought experiment: imagine you're interviewing people to be babysitters for your children. One seems nice and friendly, another goes on obsessively about how kids are incessantly under threat from filthy perverts, yes, scum, lurking around the corners desperate to get at them, drag them away to some lair and then, hmm, yes do terrible, terrible things to them...which one do you leave your kids with?
You wouldn't leave them with the slavering obsessive, that's for sure. Because some instinct would tell you that a person that obsessed with badness happening to children is going to give them a very, very warped environment.
Except that we are giving people like that access to our children. We're letting them get right in their heads and fill them up with toxic bullshit.
The most depressing sight I ever saw in my teaching days was that of teenagers reading misery memoirs. Those books are incredibly popular with adolescents, and that frightens me. It frightens me because these are kids just coming to terms with sex and sexuality, and the depictions they find of those things in the culture are stories of children being preyed on by sick, twisted, evil adults.
Imagine you're a teenager. You're in the grip of crazy hormonal behaviour. You're growing hair in weird places. Bits of you are getting bigger and changing shape. You're starting to experience feelings of desire for others and, more importantly, you're also becoming aware of the fact that you can excite desire in others too.
And the only media you're getting which doesn't talk down to you about sex, which treats it in any way which isn't hedged about with paranoia and stupidity and kow-towing to spineless, moralising puritans, are stories about adults who desire kids like you in the most horrible way and who do terrible things to them.
That's going to fuck you up. That's going to make you paranoid about sexuality, and particularly about any sexuality which lies outside your boundaries of what's 'normal'. And when you see someone who lies outside those boundaries, that paranoia, that fear, is going to be triggered. Add to that a media which colludes in the othering of those with non-heteronormative lifestyles, and you have a recipe for violence.
What to do about this is more problematic. We can't censor misery memoirs. But we need to tell kids that their depiction of the adult, sexual world is a gross misrepresentation. Most sex isn't like that. We need to take a genuinely mature approach to teaching our teens about sex and sexuality, and stop the hysteria and paranoia by which the actions of a tiny minority of people cause us to regard all adult/child interaction as a minefield which needs to be watched and monitored obsessively by the government and other self-appointed guardians of morality. We need to teach kids that differing sexuality is normal, that sexual difference is not sexual deviancy, that the only truly abhorrent sexuality is that which abuses without consent. And we need to put a stop to a culture in which kids are learning about such deviancy before we teach them about normal sexuality.
Kids will be less sexually bigoted if we let them grow up and develop as healthy sexual beings. And that means we have to try as hard as we can to create a culture which can be the good babysitter, rather than a culture happy to leave its childrens psyches in the care of foaming-at-the-mouth paedo-obsessives.