Must our politics reflect our sexuality?
The first person I ever interviewed was also the most right-wing. He was an anti-abortion, pro-free market apparition in a navy suit. His hair – blond, sideparted and large – was true Republican (he was American). He was also gay.
At the time (my early 20s) I wasn’t sure how such a human could exist. I owed my entire happiness, such as it was at the time, to lefty liberalism. No one in my Guardian-reading bubble had ever questioned my deservingness, as a lesbian, of rights. That was the realm of people lurking on the periphery of the bubble, hitting it with rolled-up Daily Mails and gnashing their teeth. That was the realm – I had every inclination to believe – of this gay interviewee.
He was part of a now- dissolved US LGBT conservative organisation called Goproud. I’d come all the way to their headquarters in Washington DC, to find out what their deal was. To me, a queer conservative was like a Jewish Nazi. I wanted to know how these peculiar people could be so loyal to the very right-wing activists who repeatedly excluded them from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Economics aside, wasn’t social liberalism written into our rainbow-striped DNA? It had never really occurred to me that there were queers outside the bubble.
As I sat in a Mexican restaurant a short walk from the White House, munching a salad and pretending to be a Real Journalist, my new and actually rather sweet and charming gay Republican buddy told me that he was pro-same-sex marriage because he was a conservative. Marriage, after all, is a conservative institution. If gays were, for some reason, excluded from being handed the death penalty, I imagined he’d be trying to fight for our right to the lethal injection.
A few years later, in the UK at least, LGBT Tories are a little bit more mainstream. And lesbian Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is someone I can genuinely see myself enjoying getting pissed with. But that isn’t to say I particularly understand, even now, how anyone who has ever experienced homophobia could vote the same way as their oppressors. Of course, bigotry of all kinds exists on the left too but it isn’t the literal guiding force of the ideology. Sure, it was the Tories who brought in same-sex marriage. But maybe my American friend had a point. Maybe they did do it out of pure conservativeness.
I like to think I’d still be a liberal lefty if I wasn’t gay. But it would be wrong to say my sexuality plays no part in how I read the news. Occasionally, it feels like I’m only on the left in the first place because I’m a lesbian with some degree of self-worth. Then again, to a lot of my queer- Marxist-vegetable-riot-type friends, I’m basically a low-grade Mussolini who’s only ever been to a protest to pull. Unsuccessfully. There comes a point at which you realise there’s probably more to changing the world than owning a pair of DMS.
Like any good gay, though, I have a handful of acquaintances I met at protests (I met a particularly lovely friend at an anti- Putin demonstration a few years ago), or at Pride. Not that Pride is especially political these days; but that’s a whole different story. Having said that, when you’re LGBTQ, nearly everything you do can feel like a political statement. Dykily buying ham from the Co- Op. Lesbianically signing for a delivery of bulk-bought cat food. It’s hard to feel really and truly Middle England when your sexuality is still offensive to so many people.
On the flipside, there was the time I went to a gig at a queer squat in south London and ended up sweating in a corner like the M&S sandwich- eating nark I am. If anything, the intersection of my sexuality and my politics has probably taught me that I’m just not very cool. But I’m still no gay Tory.
When you’re LGBTQ, everything you do feels like a political statement