This article first appeared on Malta Today
There was a time when being ‘different’ in any way presented real problems to those concerned. Up until the mid-60s for example, being homosexual was actually illegal in Britain, punishable by jail. It was only in 1967 that the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men, both of whom had to have attained the age of 21. In Scotland, it was decriminalised in 1981, and in Ireland in 1982.
One of the most notorious cases, now the subject of an excellent mini-series called A Very English Scandal starring Hugh Grant, was that of Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe who had to hide his sexual orientation for years until he was ‘outed’ by a scorned lover. The ensuing scandal threatened to ruin his marriage and his political career as it played out in explicit detail in the press.
We should not be too surprised by this, when one considers that as recently as the early 2000s many people in Malta were still loathe to publicly describe themselves as gay, even though it was common knowledge (and, as it turned out, no one really cared). In fact, on the whole, when civil unions were introduced, it showed that as a country we are actually quite tolerant and guests accepted subsequent invitations to weddings without a moment’s hesitation. Maybe it’s because it took so long for people to come out of the closet, but comparatively speaking (except for a few isolated incidents), I think that the extent of homophobia is relatively low and no one bats an eyelid any more. Coming out to one’s family, of course, did cause stress and turmoil, but not any more or less than in any other country I can think of.
It is for this reason that I get impatient with the type of stories I have read recently about making everything ‘gender neutral’ rather than referring to ‘she’ or ‘he’ in order not to offend those who don’t identify with either gender. There is such a thing as taking things too far and this is a case in point.
If you are so easily offended you might want to take a look at some of the real problems happening around the world, and here in our own country, which is what we really should be getting indignant about. Stark poverty, sexually abused children, women raped and beaten to a pulp, and even killed, refugees left to drown out at sea, or others who are rescued but are then exploited, being forced to work in slave conditions while living like cattle in garages. Let us be offended about humanity being so cruel and heartless to its own, before indulging ourselves in First World problems because we are not sure what our gender is.
I do not write this lightly, or out of disrespect towards anyone who truly is grappling with gender identity issues because I am sure that for them this causes them real anguish. But I also respect them enough to say that, in the grand scheme of things, they have to be careful not to become too precious and self-indulgent about this issue because they are at risk of losing the public support they used to have. We also have to be practical: just because there are those who are transitioning or have had to face prejudice because of gender identity, it does not mean the rest of the world has to make it the most important thing on its agenda. There is a huge difference between minding our own business and letting everyone live the life they want to live without making it a subject of mockery or abuse, to what seems like an attempt to impose it on everyone else. Yes, let us teach children to be tolerant of differences because kindness is always preferable to meanness and bullying, but there is no need for educational policies to suddenly become obsessed (for want of a better word) about whether we use ‘he’ or ‘she’. All this has become downright silly and much of it seems to be coming from the UK.
When you have the BBC, for example, running a story about whether Santa should be gender neutral, or even a female, then you know you have entered cuckoo land. Another headline read that the Brighton City council has recommended that schoolchildren be taught that “all genders” can menstruate as part of a transgender rights campaign. Earlier this year there was a ban on skirts in schools which opted for gender-neutral uniforms.
This could also just be click bait, of course, guaranteed to have people spluttering their morning coffee and bashing out comments in outrage on their keyboard, but there are clear signs that this is a trend which is making its way here too. I also find it plain ridiculous that rather than ensuring transgender children are not bullied, the direction being taken is to sweep all children under one umbrella just in case one of them might be transgender. I feel this is not only confusing young children unnecessarily but also forcing them into an adult world when they are not ready for it. Children tend to show you themselves what they are inquisitive about and will ask you questions – but not all children in the same age group have the same curiosity either. I also find it an imposition on parents who are (understandably) upset if such policies are foisted on them without their consent.
It seems to me that there is a small nucleus of people who are deciding to introduce all these policies in order to tick all the progressive-sounding boxes but who are failing to listen to public opinion completely and are instead barging forward regardless, not realizing that they are causing resentment, hostility and resistance. It is ironic that a community which demanded equal rights and respect for so many decades in a society which demanded conformity is now trying to impose its will on others, demanding that others conform to their views instead.