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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

 

Let's all appreciate our civil rights

... because I gather that we're celebrating the 40th anniverary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which made homosexuality legal.

This is definitely cause to celebrate, because it's a bloody disgrace it was ever illegal in the first place. Even within our own lifetimes, it hasn't been equal: it's only in 2000 that the UK made the gay age of consent equal to the straight age. Meanwhile Bush has been trying to rewrite the US Constitution, apparently under the impression that it's tyranny for a government to regulate how much industries are allowed to pollute the atmosphere, but democracy for a government to regulate citizens' private lives, but I'm not going to dwell on that because even thinking about Bush makes me so angry I can't think straight.

I was going to say it's a fine thing that the 1967 law was passed, but actually, it seems more like bedrock human decency than moral heroism. It's not a 'fine thing' that the police aren't allowed to come into my house and put me in prison for sleeping with my boyfriend, it's the very least you should expect from a society with any pretence at all to civilisation, and the same applies to same-sex couples. So let's say, instead, thank goodness Parliament finally saw sense.

Here is an interesting fact: prior to 1885 in the UK, sexual contact between men wasn't illegal. The criminalisation was tacked on to a bill intended to clamp down on child prostitution by raising the female age of consent. A crusading journalist by the name of William Thomas Stead set out to prove that professional child abuse was rife, and included by way of evidence the fact that he had been able to buy a thirteen-year-old girl himself for five pounds (obviously he didn't sleep with her, but went through the whole process up to the point of getting into the bedroom). He was actually jailed for this, but his Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon caused a tremendous moral panic, and a law was enacted to raise the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen and clamp down in various ways on procurers. All of which was entirely admirable, but some intolerant bastard decided to slip in a last-minute amendment, criminalising sexual contact between adult men. This is the law that got Oscar Wilde sentenced to two years' hard labour in 1895 - a sentence that was generally agreed to be close to a death sentence, as men unused to physical labour almost invariably had their health destroyed by the treadmill, oakum-picking, semi-starvation, plank beds and general hardship. It had only been on the books for a decade.

Also: according to my university professor, the idea that female-to-female sexual contact wasn't illegal being because Queen Victoria thought it wasn't possible? Urban myth. They knew it was possible. What they were worried about was putting ideas into people's heads. The attitude towards lesbianism was a mixture of fascination and horror: the thought was utterly appalling, officially, but at the same time, many people feared that if women even heard such things could be done, they wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to do them. (A projection of the fact that if a man heard it was possible for two women to make love, he couldn't resist the temptation to think about it? It cannot have been based on observation, as I heard the word 'lesbian' first when I was five, and yet somehow have managed to keep my hands off my lesbian friends nonetheless.) So the law was kept off the books in the hopes of preserving female innocence, on the kind of irrefutable logic that if you tell people not to do something, you have to specify what that 'something' involves. And once they hear about it, there'll be no stopping them. Lesbians every which way. In fact, I've probably turned several hundred women to the pleasures of girl-fondling just by writing this last paragraph. Stop reading this now before it's too late! Save yourself for the boys! Run!

So in tribute to the fact that the UK government finally managed to pull itself together long enough to sort out that little last-minute blip that got lots of harmless citizens locked up, who here has an appropriate recommendation or link? Here are a few from me:

A rant from Boston Legal about church groups claiming to 'cure' homosexuality. Angry, hilarious and right to the point.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, author of Dykes to Watch Out For. An erudite, poignant, thoughtful, sad and ultimately redemptive autobiography documenting the parallel lives of herself and her father, both of them homosexual, including his suspicious death/suicide shortly after she came out to her family. Cannot recommend this enough.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. Just really, really good.

A little refutation of the suggestion that it's 'unnatural' to be gay: gay animals in the wild. (Warning: a few vulgar and not-very-funny jokes included. It also implies at one point that hetero sex is the 'real thing' and gay sex is just spinning your wheels, which is a bit silly, but still, 'unnatural' my eye.)

Who's got other recommendations?

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