Thursday, 4 August 2016

What Botham Believes

'Personally, I believe that England is an island.' - Ian Botham, discussing the EU referendum

I believe

that England is an island

that Europe is a planet

that space is a country

that black hole is something you
can't say these days

that all holes matter

that Britain is a rocketship
disguised as a dropping balloon

that flags are magic

that sometimes you just don't see
another white face

that my black friends
don't secretly say I'm a racist

that women don't roll their eyes
when I say no-one loves them more than me

that there is no smoke without fire
but two sides to every tango
depending on how well I knew the accused

that we all know what 'flamboyant' means

that they would say that, wouldn't they

I believe
that England is an island

I don't believe
that global warming means the seas will rise

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

From the archives: Bashing Back on Biggins' Biphobia

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. I see Christopher Biggins has once more made an oaf of himself by airing his weird, icky opinions about bisexuals in public, this time via the medium of moribund Endemol reality show format Celebrity Big Brother. This is not news: the following piece was written in 2014 (for the now-defunct So So Gay) in response to a previous incident of Biggins letting it all hang out in regard to his snide opinions about sexual diversity. Of the journalistic work I've done, this is one of my favourite pieces, so I'm delighted to present it to you again - as I will whenever I hear that Biggins has made his mouth go about one of the most vulnerable parts of the queer community. 
Bad news for anyone who’s enjoyed my last few posts on here: I don’t exist, apparently! That’s the considered opinion of noted commentator on human sexuality Christopher ‘Rentaghost’ Biggins. In an interview with Britain’s top guilt-purchase magazine, The Big Issue, the former Wolverhampton’s Aladdin Pantomime star said that ‘the world is full of bisexuals’ who ‘ruin a woman’s life’ and ‘lead a double life, so how can you be a real person?’
Ontologically, this is quite the puzzler. The world is full of people who aren’t real? Has Biggins discovered the key to the Matrix? Is he The One? And, as a pansexual trans woman who’s attracted to people of all genders and none, who is this woman whose life I, along with all bisexuals, am responsible for ruining? It can’t be my ex-wife, with whom I get on quite well, to be honest. I’m pretty sure it isn’t the ex-girlfriend who came before her, either. I suppose as a trans activist I have been responsible, collectively, for stopping Julie Bindel getting some gigs, and I did perform at the Bar Wotever show where Cathy Brennan tried to claim, stood beneath a giant poster of Amy Lame’s face, that she was being thrown out of the building for being a lesbian rather than for being a massive transphobe: but I’m pretty certain that isn’t what Biggins is on about.
Okay, I’m being facetious: but is there any better response to Biggins trotting out a chestnut that’s older than one of the jokes in his pantomimes? Seriously, we’ve been here before: this is the ever-popular canard that bi people don’t exist: that at best being bi is ‘just a phase‘ and at worst we’re all just gay men and women in denial. A familiar one, that: as a trans woman I’m used to dealing with the surprisingly common assumption that the reason I take dihydrotestosterone-suppressants, constantly assault my body with a variety of hair-removal products, and am engaged in a seemingly never-ending to-and-fro between my GP and my Gender Identity Clinic, is that I want to find a way to feel more comfortable about fancying men. Which, given that my primary attraction seems to be towards feminine-identified individuals, is always something of a surprise to me.
What Biggins is doing here is projecting, basically: the behaviour he describes, gay men in denial marrying women, then having to divorce them when they realise that a wedding ring is not a magical get-out-of-gayness card, is actually something he’s done in his own life: from 1971 to 1974, Biggins was married to the Australian actress Beatrice Norbury. As Biggins himself admits, ‘I met a girl and married her because I thought that was the thing to do…I hadn’t thought it through and of course it didn’t work’. Perhaps it’s Biggins’ guilt over this failed marriage which leads him to make the category error of accusing bisexuals of ‘ruining women’s lives’.
Because a category error is what it is. I don’t know how horrible it is for a woman who believes herself to be in a heterosexual marriage to discover her husband is gay: certainly it’s never nice to feel your partner has concealed something from you, but I suspect this is very much one of those your-mileage-may-vary situations. Some women will take a revelation like that in stride, some will be devastated by it. But however painful such an experience may be, it really ought to be pointed out that ‘bisexuals’ and ‘closeted gay men who marry straight women in an attempt to conceal their true sexuality’ are not the same thing. Nope. Nuh-uh. Nah. Degree of overlap in that Venn diagram? Not a heckuva lot, to be honest.
Does this matter? Well, on one level, maybe not so much: BIGGINS WRONG ABOUT ISSUE is something of a dog-bites-man headline at this point: he criticised the ITV sitcom and McKellen/Jacobi vehicle Vicious on the grounds that it would stoke homophobia (rather than on the more formidable grounds that it was just a bit crap really), and he is a supporter of the Conservative party. More seriously, in an interview with the Gloucestershire Echo (who actually used the phrase ‘flamboyant actor’ to describe him, in 2013 – bless!) he argued that celebrities accused of rape and sexual abuse – such as, say, Max Clifford – were victims of a ‘witch hunt’, with ‘people claiming to have slept with celebrities because they think they’re likely to get money out of it.’ He went on that in his opinion ‘celebrities should be given privacy like the accusers until the accusations are proven’.
Well, you know what a bad idea I think that is – although it needs to be said that Biggins is actually advocating an even more bizarre position than Nigel Evans. Evans’ idea that all rape defendants should be granted anonymity is a staggeringly bad one – but the former Deputy Speaker is at least in favour of anonymity for all defendants, while the man who co-starred with Danny Dyer in the 2012 remake of Run for Your Wife  believes a special exception should be made only for ‘celebrities’. Civilians accused of rape would apparently still be named under the Biggins Code. Good to know.
However, celebrity opinions – as vacuous as they might be – do not actually happen in a vacuum. Biggins’ opinions about people claiming to have been raped by celebrities in the hopes of getting a big pay-out (and on what basis are they supposed to think this? Can you remember a case of someone sexually assaulted by a celeb making a huge wad of cash out of it? Because I can’t) play out against a background of rape culture; similarly, his stance that bisexuals are simply gay men in denial plays out against a culture in which bisexuals are far more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than monosexuals, far more likely to report feeling suicidal, and also more likely to suffer from economic oppression too.
It’s not hard to work out why this is the case: not only do bisexuals experience the garden-variety homophobia all of us in the LGBT community have to put up with, we also get to deal with put-downs from monosexual gay men and lesbians who criticise us for being ‘greedy’ and ‘selfish’, for not being ‘gold-star lesbians‘. Not only do we have people from the straight world dissing us, we have people who are supposedly on our own side having a pop too!
And that’s bad enough when those opinions are coming from some drunk, bitter old queen propping up one of the local gay bars and wondering why no-one wants to have sex with a catch like him; when those opinions are amplified by the megaphone of celebrity it’s worse. I was being sarcastic about the guilt-purchase nature of the Big Issue earlier: whenever I buy the magazine (which isn’t every week because some weeks I don’t have the money to afford a magazine sold by homeless people - ha ha ha, seriously do not go into poetry, kids) I’ve always enjoyed it. But I’m glad I missed the issue with the Biggins interview, because I would have been really upset and angry to see a magazine I like and respect running a piece in which someone says people like me don’t exist and accuses us of ruining women’s lives. And – finances aside – I’m in a pretty good place right now. I’m not suicidal. But I have been, at times. And, while I’m not sure the opinions of a former Surprise, Surprise co-host would be enough to push me over the edge, they certainly wouldn’t do anything to help. Especially a couple of years ago, when I was a closeted trans person, afraid to come out because I feared what people would think.
Rather like Biggins back in the seventies, actually, when he married to try and shore up his heterosexual credibility. Fortunately, society has changed a lot since then. Things have progressed, and got better, not just for monosexual, cisgender gay people but for those of all genders, all sexualities, and none. We live in a more progressive society than we used to. And, as a man who lent his support to the celebrations of the passing of the Equal Marriage Act, Britain’s best-known panto dame no doubt likes to think that he is in the forefront of that progressive trend along with the rest of us. But – as his biphobic comments make clear – oh no, he isn’t. He’s behind us.