A Sermon at the Funeral of Hope (no prayers, please, by request)
Note: Written a few days after the massacre at Pulse Nightclub, Orlando and the morning after dedicated grass roots politician, Jo Cox was stabbed to death while doing her job.
I’m feeling a bit sick.
I’m also angry, confused and sad. Which is all rather new to me.
I’m usually quite a cheery little chap, having had my darker emotions removed along with my tonsils aged seven. I got ice cream
But this week, this bloody week, I don’t see the glass as half full.
I don’t even see the glass at all.
49 dead, Trump Trumpeting, Little England preparing to push Great Britain off a cliff, and now a dedicated, grass roots politician shot and stabbed to death simply for trying to help. Add to all this the dark forces of England’s football hooligans rising up from the shadows like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and it feels like all of a sudden the skies are darkening – can pestilence and the reckoning be far behind?
Or am I watching too much Penny Dreadful?
What I have been watching, seeking refuge perhaps, is lots of gay history. Act Up docs, Paris is Burning, the story of Divine. All set in darker days perhaps. But simpler too But a desire to return to simpler days can be a dangerous thing as we are finding to our cost.
There has been solace in the vigils, the Facebook posts, the poignant and passionate articles. It’s helped just to learn that I’m not the only one who still has to check himself before reaching out for my husband’s hand in public (hear that: I have a husband – there is progress!) Yet still all of our PDAs are stamped with ‘proceed with caution’.
But we are an extraordinarily resilient minority – the way we face down hatred not just with love but with largesse and defiant humour restores my hope and pride every time we get knocked back a step or two after having taken so many steps forward.
While there’s a Pulse, there’s life, love and dancing. I hope there is a Pulse at every Pride this year.
Like I say, I generally choose to see the glass half full. But it’s weeks like this that make me stare more intently into the troubled waters therein (actually it’s usually red wine). And sometimes this makes me face some dark truths I’d rather weren’t there.
I hope I’m a good person. Certainly I try to see the good in everyone. Be they Christian, Jew, Muslim – even Republican – if someone comes to me in the spirit of friendship then that friendship will be returned twice over. Most people are wonderful. Christians, Jews and Muslims that have found a way to accept my sexuality, to accept who I am are, perhaps, the most wonderful of all. Because they have managed to do this IN SPITE of their religion not because of it.
But here’s my dark, uncomfortable truth: In all three of the Abrahamic religions, according to their Holy Books, each of which is hailed as the irrefutable Word of God, one thing is undeniable:
God. Hates. Fags.
This is not an extreme view. This is the Word of God. Pure and Simple. That there have been so many generous and loving attempts to ‘interpret’ these words to offer up a way by which gays and the devout can peacefully co-exist is a testament to the goodness in man not the goodness in religion.
And there are really only so many ways you can interpret the word ‘abomination’. I so want a world in which we can all live peacefully together. And I will never judge someone who does not seek to judge me (unless they’re wearing Crocs).
But right now: - 49 of my brothers and sisters and allies were just killed by religion (be it an act of terror or a hate crime, religion is at the root) - countries (not just extremists) who have allowed themselves to be led by religion still stone us, hang us and throw us off buildings and then post and boast about it on Facebook.
So right now?
I think I’ve stretched out my olive branch as far as it will go. I believe in a better world. I believe in building it piece by peace. But that world needs good foundations with nothing rotten or conflicting at the core. And nothing gets done by sticking your head in the sand and pretending these problems don’t exist.
So I guess I finally have a pretty good idea what anger feels like. Given the choice I think I’d rather have my tonsils back.
Meantime, I’m also feeling confused.
I’m confused – and troubled - by the word ‘terrorist’. Not so much by the way the right wing press long to apply it as a means of vilifying all Muslims, although I agree that is a disgrace. No, my trouble…the feeling in my gut…is that I don’t want to dignify the murderer in Orlando OR the murderer of Jo Cox with that title.
Here’s a dictionary definition:
“A person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”
Maybe it’s a life lived under the threat of the IRA but I take that to mean co-ordinated political aims. And on that basis one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Another man’s hero.
What if Mateen’s call into 911 to associate himself with Isis was nothing more than an attempt to elevate his base, selfish, self-destructive act of homophobia to something that would be considered an act of heroism to others? Perhaps even giving him martyr status and a gold pass to Eternal Life?
Do we want to accord him this? Is that how we wish to dignify the mindless murder of Jo Cox?
It is the American right wing press that have decided that ‘terrorist’ is the lowest of the low. Should we unthinkingly accept their definition?
The facts are still not in on Jo Cox’s murderer and I’m deeply uncomfortable speculating on his motive until they are. But it’s pretty certain to be an altogether more squalid affair. Even if he did have far right connections or a liking for Britain First, was he really their freedom fighter? Do we want to glamorise them to the extent that we believe they are capable of such militarisation?
I suspect we will find him to be a sad, festering loser with mental health issues that rendered him all too vulnerable to the bile being stirred up by Johnson, Gove, Farage and Murdoch. A ticking timebomb maybe but not a terrorist in my book.
Of all the posts I’ve read about Jo Cox’s death, the one that has touched me most is Zack Polanski's. He’s uniquely qualified to comment amongst my Facebook friend’s as he hasn’t just stood on the side lines and judged like the rest of us, he got stuck in and sought election. I may not agree with all of his politics but that he has been willing to wade in and get his hands dirty and his soul battered is something I have deep respect for.
Most tellingly and touchingly his comments (certainly the initial ones) about Jo have avoided all speculation on her murderer and its possible political ties. Zack is a passionate Remainer – he could have used this moment to serve his cause. Instead he talked about Jo’s political ideals, her dedication and hard work. Whilst the Farage-Murdoch monster must not be let off the hook, I do wonder whether the utter contempt and derision we have all been spewing at our politicians (of all parties) has also been a contribution to this seeming anger and resentment towards ‘the establishment’ and ‘the elite’ - whose very namelessness means that, for many, the only obvious targets are politicians. Ever since the 2009 Expenses Scandal we have held these underpaid and mostly highly dedicated workers in such low regard. Numerous politicians have started to disclose that this was when the mood changed and they started to feel unsafe in their own surgeries.
Sometimes trust begets trust. And cynical distrust – no matter how satisfying at the time – is ultimately corrosive.
It’s so easy to blame the bad guys. Not so easy to admit that sometimes the good guys get it wrong.
This week has been a triple whammy of emotional experience for me – not only am I angry and confused, but the surprise emotion has been overwhelming sadness.
All week I’ve been feeling increasingly cold from the inside. Like a Dementor on a downer has sucked the marrow out of my bones. And I was genuinely startled when I figured out the cause: The EU referendum.
See, thing is, I didn’t think I cared that much. I tend to engage in politics in very much a fence-sitting kind of way. I did vote once, a long time ago. But I looked over at the lady in the next booth with the bad teeth and nylon C&A blouse and realised that she had every bit as much democratic leverage as I did. And I was so appalled that I immediately retreated into the world of media where voting is considered ‘getting involved’ and deeply frowned upon. Why get involved when you can sit in judgement never getting your hands dirty? Which, of course, is what I continue to do today in this Cathedral of Lofty Judgement, the blog.
In other words, I’m a snob. But, nowadays, a snob with the humility to know he’s a snob. Which is a little better than the snobs who don’t yet realise that they’re snobs. Who, in my newly humble opinion, are partly responsible for us (most likely) leaving Europe. More of this later.
My personal view, Europe-wise, is that on an economic level I don’t think anyone of us – politician or pleb – has the first fucking clue what will happen if/when we leave. Or stay for that matter. It is arrogant to assume that the EU needs us to push it over the precipice. It might prove perfectly capable of doing that on its own.
But on an emotional level (once I’d gathered them all together, re-introduced myself and had a good team talk), I’m emphatically for staying. I’m a one-worlder. I’ve never called myself English, only British and I’d much rather call myself a European. And even that’s only until Gene Rodenberry’s Federation of Humanity finally falls into place. Then I’m off to Vulcan where I may finally be understood.
But my overwhelming sadness is not because we are likely to be leaving but because of WHY we are likely to be leaving. We’re not leaving for any of the perfectly intelligent and plausible reasons some have put forward. We are leaving because a large amount of my countrymen feel angry and rejected and unlistened to. And this is their revenge.
And I am sad because, for the moment, I have lost all faith in the people of my country.
Four weeks ago I didn’t, for even for a second, think we would be leaving. I had faith in the common good sense of my countrymen. Just as Obama has talked in ‘having faith in the American people’ when discussing the prospect of Trump. Now? Not so much. And as a result, President Trump doesn’t seem as farcical notion as it did just a few days ago.
So who’s to blame?
I’m not going to point the finger at the Tories. Simply because it’s too easy. Cameron’s motive in calling a referendum is beneath contempt. It was an arrogant gamble intended to shore him up as leader of his party by finally putting the subject that constantly threatened to divide them to bed. It was never anything to do with the will of the people, it was barely about Europe. It was just a badly timed internal party power play.
Nor am I going to finger Farage or Murdoch (sorry for that image). Again too easy. Of course they are culpable. But we’ve spent so many years throwing everything we have at them, there comes a point (a long time ago in fact) when they become immune. They are Super Gonorrhea and our relentless half-hearted antibiotic jabs have only made them stronger.
But they do have a weakness which we have failed to exploit.
A long time ago, when I was a (largely stoned) student, I once woke up for five minutes in one of my media classes and accidentally learned a thing:
The tabloid press is in the business of re-enforcing already held prejudices.
The key bit being ‘already held’. In other words, if those prejudices aren’t there in the first place, Murdoch (and Farage with his disgusting poster) are powerless. So who are these holders of prejudice? Why don’t we just de-prejudice them? Well, largely, they’re the white working classes. Mostly older, mostly male. In America they’re the folk that Donald and Bernie have been fighting over. Over here, they used to be the Labour heartland. Some moved across to the Tories under Thatcherism (mostly in their black cabs) and then went on to find a warmer, more straight talking, beer and pub type welcome in UKIP. But many others have remained within Labour. That Parliamentary LabourParty only woke up last week to the fact that a large amount of their white working class heartland intend to vote Brexit is unbelievably depressing. And indicative that they have still not figured out why they lost the last election.
But the problem is not really the Labour Party. True it doesn’t help that their leader is a closet Brexiter who’s been forced to surrender his convictions for the good of party stability. But it still has a legion of passionate and compassionate grass rooters, like Jo Cox, working incredibly hard to spread the word.
The problem is the Metropolitan Left: Us.
Because, pretend as we may, we simply don’t like the white working classes. I guess, at this point, I should come out as Working Class. Or at least Mixed Class. My mother was posh enough but my father was a carpenter who worked 6 days a week on building sites whilst most of the rest of his relatives sat around at home throughout the seventies on (seemingly) never-ending strike days. They were a nice lot but they always thought I was a bit odd because I had such a posh accent. This was caused by a freak accident: I was doing my finest David Niven impersonation when the wind changed.
Being mixed class isn’t easy. I grew up feeling a fraud with both my mother’s family and my father's. On the plus side it made dealing with the whole gay thing a doddle. Fraudulence was my second nature by then. And the posh voice – which I never managed to lose no matter how desperately I tried – was a principle reason I struggled to make friends. Because I wasn’t like them. Except, really, I was.
It also meant I spent an inordinate amount of time studying my friends and family – trying to understand them in the hope that I could be more like them.
Most were white, working class, entitled, bloody minded and open to bigotry. But they were also decent, loyal, genuine, warm and funny. Two things can be (and usually are) true. They are/were Labour’s heartland.
During this referendum ‘debate’ (I use that term loosely) and way before, I have watched, read and contributed to some of the most contemptuous belittling of my former clan that I can remember.
They have tried, falteringly, to tell us their first hand experiences of why they are afraid or unhappy or angry and we have shut them down with memes and Guardian articles. They have been derided, despised and humiliated, called racist and bigots.
But no-one is born a racist. No-one is born a bigot. Why have we given up on them?
Many of my friends are gay. For many of us, these are the people we left behind. Often with good reason. But whilst there may be good reasons to scorn those from your painful past, it’s not often helpful.
All it does is make us feel smug and them feel angry.
Anyone who laughed and reposted that meme with the lines…
“An immigrant with a degree is not stealing your job when all you have is 3 GCSE’s and an STI”
…is as guilty as I am of being an insensitive metropolitan snob. - No-one likes to be laughed at by smart arses. - No-one likes to be dismissed as a bigot. - No-one likes to be told that their first hand experiences aren’t as important as some statistics and political theory. - No-one’s life is as two-dimensional as our sweeping generalisations on Facebook would have us (and them) believe.
We accuse them of externalising blame: blaming immigrants. When we dump the whole responsibility on Farage’s door are we not doing the same?
If we leave Europe next week, it’s partly because we laughed instead of listened.
And that’s why I’m feeling a little sick.