[This post is the first of four speeches by SEEN members from our launch event in October.]
Why is SEEN important to me? To explain this, I need to go back in time.
I’m now 38 years old, and I’ve known I was gay since my early teens. I was ‘out’ since I was 16 years old. Which, at the time, was pretty unusual especially living in the Welsh valleys.
It’s incredibly embarrassing to have to say this, but when I was 16, my best female friend romantically propositioned me. I thought I could maybe give it a go as I misconstrued my strong friendship feelings for her as potentially something else, and maybe I wasn’t 100% gay after all. As it turned out, it wasn’t her hairstyle, make-up, clothes, or feminine style that turned me off – it was the reality of her female body. It seems bizarre to have to say this now, even little over 5 years ago if I said I was gay, everyone would have understood this to mean I am exclusively homosexual, an adult human male only attracted to other adult human males. Now to say I am gay apparently means something else, it means I am attracted to someone’s internal sense of masculine ‘identity’. Well this is not so.
There aren’t many homosexuals around!
Homosexual people are actually quite a small minority, regardless of what people may assume otherwise. According to the ONS’s 2020 estimates, 2.5% of men in the UK are exclusively homosexual, and 1.1% of women are.1 However, it’s not uncommon to see a much larger figure quoted, with suggestions that as many as 1 in 10 people are part of the ‘LGBTQIA+ community’. The large number is in part due to the fact that the definition given of what it means to be ‘queer’ can be extremely broad, even extending to anyone who feels ‘outside the norms of society’.2
However, I’m here because I want to talk specifically about homosexuality, and factoring in men and women, the amount of actual homosexual people in the population is about 1 in 56. There are also, of course, bisexual people. 1.6% of women in the UK are bisexual, and 0.9% of men are. So that means an estimated 3.1% of the population of the UK are Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual by 2020 ONS estimates.
However, because so many other people now identify as ‘queer’ or another identity, homosexual men and lesbian women are now a minority within this rapidly expanding community.
Homosexual people are same-sex attracted, and it is not offensive to say so
Homosexual people are oppressed on the basis of sex. Gay men are oppressed because we are exclusively attracted to men, of the same sex. Lesbians are doubly oppressed because they are oppressed as women, their sex, and because of their attraction to other women, their same-sex attraction. To understand this oppression, you have to understand the reality of sex.
Sex matters. As JK Rowling said – ‘if sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction’.3 I am not gay because I have a particular political or philosophical belief, but only because I am exclusively same-sex attracted. No more, no less.
Another problem I have with the blanket term ‘queer’ is that it masks this important distinction. This isn’t the only issue with ‘queer’. Furthermore, for many homosexuals such as myself even the use of the word ‘queer’ is uncomfortable. For many of us ‘queer’ is a horrific slur that has been used predominantly against gay men. Noting in 2018 the website ‘Back2Stonewall’ ran a poll on the word queer, 93% of gay men who responded said they do not accept this word and still regard it as a slur.4
Homosexual people do not all have the same beliefs and opinions, regardless of what people may tell you otherwise
Along with demographic shifts in what it means to be part of the community that was once LGB, there has also been a trend towards increasing conformity in what this community thinks, politically. My own experience of ‘gay groups’ and organisations, and sadly, most LGBT networks I’ve encountered in the Civil Service, is that there is an increased expectation that I won’t talk about the fact I’m homosexual. This is because the phrases ‘homosexual’ and ‘same-sex attraction’ are sometimes considered ‘dog-whistles’ for bigotry. Gay men and lesbians may be told we have to be inclusive of people who are not gay and lesbian in our groups, organisations, meetings and safe spaces.
My experience of other staff networks has told me I have to listen to ‘allies’ who speak for me and spread the word that all gay people think and feel the same, and have the same political and philosophical beliefs.
This is not true, as I said earlier, all we have in common is our sexual orientation. Nothing more, nothing less.
I need to stress that these networks are perfectly entitled to exist, and I am sure many staff feel they represent them, but I needed to make the point how I do not feel they represent me, and that I am not even welcome in them, as to why SEEN is important to me.
Homosexuals need their own spaces
Because of the broadening of what it means to be ‘queer’ groups and spaces for actual gay men, lesbians and bisexual people, are underground in a way not seen since at least the 1980s. Secret code words, handshakes, locked doors, moving in the shadows. I know many now fear describing ourselves as homosexual lest we are ejected from the very organisations that were once set up to protect us and further our rights, because we do not necessarily share the politics of these groups
For many lesbians and homosexuals, there is a growing need for a community that understands the particular concerns and oppressions of being a gay man or a lesbian woman.
Homosexual people must be able to protect our hard-won right to associate exclusively on the basis of our sexual orientation if we so wish, and have the right to exclude people who aren’t.
Why SEEN matters to me
My experience of other staff networks has sadly been that I do not always have a voice, and I am not always made to feel welcome to talk about how I am homosexual, or to talk about the fact that sex is relevant to my orientation, or to not talk about homophobia in work.
And SEEN allows me to express this most basic fact. And that is why SEEN is of such importance to me.
This network is important to me because no other network I have found in the Civil Service allows me to discuss or describe my lived experience or talk about any of the above points. I look to SEEN to give me a voice as a homosexual man, same sex attracted who believes in the reality of sex.
Cover image: “Deep in Thought” by kreg.steppe is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/?ref=openverse.