Freedom to snog

Earlier this week, two men were asked to leave the John Snow pub in London, because staff objected to them kissing each other. To say there’s been a big reaction is something of an understatement. After a mention of the incident on Twitter, it’s been picked up by both mainstream and gay media. There are planned “snogathons” at the pub, even a Guardian live kissing blog.

But, it seems, some in the gay community are not happy. And to me, that’s even more disturbing than the idea that, in 21st century Britain, two men can be ejected from a pub for what – by all accounts – was a fairly chaste event, and certainly something that you can see many straight people do.

What’s the problem?

There has been a massive amount of support from people for Jonathan Williams and James Bull, from both straight and gay, and many people say they’ll never visit the John Snow again. For myself, I’m certainly unlikely to, even though it’s just across the road from an office in which I work regularly, and I’ve enjoyed going there in the past.

But, if a straight couple can do something in a bar in public, then so too can a gay couple. The law, thankfully, no longer allows discrimination on the grounds of sexuality. I’ve never seen a sign at the John Snow saying “no kissing allowed” and plenty of people have told how they have kissed members of the opposite sex, without being asked to leave. So I don’t honestly think there’s much doubt that this happened solely because of their sexuality.

That, though, is not how some readers of the UK’s gay web sites see it. The two guys concerned have been variously described as militant, as yobs, and it’s been suggested that they were being aggressive, were practically having sex with each other, and even in one repellent comment on So So Gay that their actions were “almost inviting the couple to be queer bashed.”

One can only imagine what sage advice these people might have offered Rosa Parks…

Sorry? They were doing what?

They were yobs. Asking for it. Practically having sex. So say some of the commenters – though the couple concerned say they were doing nothing of the sort. Why are so many other gay people quick to judge, and suggest that obviously they must have been? Because no one would have complained otherwise? If you think that, then you really are living in a bubble.

And if their words aren’t good enough, how about the other straight people who said they had no problem, and were also ejected from the pub for sticking up for people? “Snogging, but not heavy petting” one of them told the Guardian, doing a better job of standing up for us than some of the gay people I’ve seen commenting online.

So so political

One of the things that I’ve noticed over the years (I’m 43, if you care, which is about 150 in gay years) is that when I express opinions, other people will very often say “You’re very political, aren’t you?” in a tone which leaves me in no doubt that they don’t see that as a positive thing.

How have we reached a stage where the reaction to an incident like this is for other gay people to say things were better in the 1980s? That gay rights has been a bad thing? That we’re too militant? I suspect that the current trend in media and politics of decrying “human rights” as a bad thing certainly doesn’t help, but actually it’s been going on for longer than that.

Back to the ghetto

One common theme in some of the complaints seems to be that, well, they’re in Soho, they could go to a gay bar. And they shouldn’t do things like that, because there might have been children, or they might have upset someone, and we must be sensitive.

Yes, there are gay bars. But you know what? Not everyone wants to go to a gay bar. We don’t all want to go somewhere where everyone eyes us up as we go in, wondering if we might be worth chatting up, where the music’s so loud you can barely be heard, and a pint of beer is well above £3.50. It’s hardly conducive to chatting on a first date.

And, aside from anything else, “We’ve got Compton Street, why do you need to go somewhere else” is hardly an argument for equality. It’s an argument for not integrating, for keeping gay people separate, and for marginalising ourselves.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that all too often, when I’m accused of being “very political” the people saying that think that, well, they can hold hands on Compton St, and go to gay bars, and nice gay shops, and go clubbing and get drugs, so everything must be ok, mustn’t it?

Sorry, no it’s not.

Ramming and thrusting the gay agenda

Gosh, I must be militant. Bet I’m the sort of person who’s wrecking it for all those meek people, aren’t I? What with wanting people to kiss, and forcing them to accept us. It’ll be – as someone hilariously suggested in the comments to one of the news reports – buggery on the counter in McDonald’s next.

Except, of course, it won’t.

I don’t think it can be more clear: discrimination is wrong. There is nothing unnatural about being gay, and a company should not treat gay people any differently than they would straight people.

If straight people can kiss in a pub, so can gay people. If they can’t, neither can gay people. Telling gay men they’re obscene, and physically throwing them out of a pub, just because you don’t like it is hateful, and disgusting.

And kissing someone, and not meekly complying when a drunk person tells you they don’t like what you’re doing does not – or should not – make you a militant. It makes you someone with enough self respect that you’re not going to be treated like a second class citizen.

Would anyone even be questioning this, if someone had complained to the bar staff about a mixed race couple kissing? Of course not; but somehow, too many gay people have allowed themselves to swallow the line that we’re just that bit different, and we have to make allowances for how other people might feel at the sight of two men being affectionate.

Suggesting that people should just go to a gay bar if they want to kiss is little more than saying “Get back to the ghetto, boys, we mustn’t frighten the straights.” It’s an argument against equality, and an argument against a more open, accepting society.

Remember the 80s?

If some people are to believed, the 1980s and 90s were much better; we didn’t have this silly equality business, and no one bothered the gays. Aside from the police, raiding not just bars, but even private homes where they thought people might be committing indecent acts – it wasn’t actually legal for two men to have sex with someone else in the house until this century. Or the newspapers, whipping up hysteria about AIDS and painting it as a gay plague.

There were laws that meant you could, in theory, be arrested for chatting up another guy in the street. For ‘causing a breach of the peace’ by kissing or holding hands in public.

There was no freedom from discrimination at work; nothing I could do except put up with a boss who knew I was gay, but would spend every car journey pointing out the breasts on women and asking me to comment on them.

There was section 28 too, and an unequal age of consent. There was the Spanner case, and many other deeply unpleasant episodes.

And there were people who were angry, and did things. Outrage had a kiss-in in Piccadilly Circus; Stonewall lobbied hard on the age of consent. People came out and fought against Section 28, or took cases to the European Court that led directly to the level of equality we have now.

But, amazingly, some people seem to think we should wind the clock back. I know not everyone can be confident, and open. But I also believe that the best way that they can become so is not by forcing people to be out, and visible, but by those of use who are confident not hiding who we are. Not equivocating in job interviews when asked about partners, not pretending to be two mates when you go out for a drink, and want to hold hands. Not refraining from kissing, if it’s appropriate.

The personal is political

Sometimes, a snog is a snog. Sometimes, intentionally or not, it’s more than that. It’s a statement that you will love whom you want, and you’ll be open and honest about that.

It’s 2011. We are past the point where people complain that a black and a white person can’t kiss; that catholics and protestants can’t kiss; that English and Germans can’t kiss. It’s about time we realised the same is true of gay people, as well.

11 Replies to “Freedom to snog”

  1. Hello Nigel
    I enjoy reading ‘Nigel Whitfield’s digital TV & technology blog’ – when the blogs are restricted to the stated subject matter. I don’t visit for what seem to be increasingly regular ‘off subject’ matter blogs, usually on gay issues/rights which is clearly a subject close to your heart. Please make it clear if this trend is to continue and I will make an informed decision whether or not to remove your blog from my list of favourites. I respect your right to hold strong views on the matter of homo sexuality but find them a bit one sided and quite ranty. Many thanks Anthony.

  2. Freedom to snog?

    Perhaps their conduct was a little more than an innocent kiss and a rosy cheeked grin?

    This whole affair sounds like a mountain has been made of a molehill

    1. Well, I think I’d rather believe the statements of the people involved, and of those who stuck up for them, than random theories on the internet from people who’s first reaction is to say “oh they must be lying, they must have been doing more than they said.” Why is the first reaction of so many people to a report of discrimination to, essentially, blame the victim and say “they weren’t innocent” ?

  3. @Anthony; you could always choose not to read these posts, they tend to stand out fairly clearly. It’s not like he entices you with promises of technical specs, only to throw liberal opinion in your face. It’s not Thought For The Day…

  4. A well written article.

    As a straight guy, I have to admit I can’t really get any proper understanding of what it must be like to be subjected to this sort of attitude from large parts of the population. I imagine it can’t be easy to write about it in such an open manner as you do – and I’d guess Anthony’s feedback is probably at the mild end of what you get.

    I try to keep an attitude that what others do is their business subject to some limits. If you’ve not causing me harm, or interfering with how I wan’t to run my life, then why should I be bothered ? If I don’t like to look at something, then in most cases I can look somewhere else.

    I recall many years ago a colleague was leaving where we worked, and for his leaving do organised quite a good evening cruise on WIndermere with buffet and jazz band. Some of the younger employees got a bit “high spirited” and it’s alleged that some skinny dipping went on when most people were propping up the bar or had gone home after the cruise. Apparently we had complaints from some old people who were upset at what they saw when they peeked though the curtains and “were forced to watch”.

    I think this epitomises the (currently growing IMO) attitude amongst a lot of people to complain about/try to have banned anything they don’t like. It seems “trying to stop anyone doing anything you don’t like” is a mass sport. It’s not new – the Victorians were big into that – but I think it’s on the rise these days.

  5. Any successful movement has its contrarians. LGBT issues didn’t become such a prominent part of the social agenda because a bunch of guys hung around in ghettoes, it was achieved (over what amounts to a lifetime) by activism that included coming out to families and friends, being queer in public and not hiding and lying, and lobbying politicians to change the law.

  6. Terrific blog post, really enjoyed reading it. Couldn’t agree more with you as well as @Jamey: the ‘enticing’ bit made me chuckle! Well put.

    @Anthony: the title of the post seems like quite a good giveaway to me as to what the post is about. Easy enough to give a miss, wouldn’t you say? Foregoing the articles that interest you just because there’s an odd one that doesn’t, – I don’t know, it feels like cutting off your nose to spite youre face. Still, completely up to you.

    I also came across a few very over-the-top reactions on gay sites. Those usually involved the mention of tongues and goodness only knows what else (I mean the made up stuff). It made me feel like posting: hang on, why are you assuming stuff and blowing things up to the n-th degree in your own head when you very apparently haven’t bothered to check the facts? I think it’s the anonymity of the Internet – at times it’s great for letting off steam but at other times it’s just too easy to take that too far. We probably all need to switch brain on first, and comment only then…

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