Melodifestivalen star Viktor Frisk comes out: ‘I like girls and boys’

It’s tempting to yawn a little at the revelation that yet another relatively minor celebrity has opened up about their sexuality, especially if it’s in a country where such things aren’t so much of an issue. But visibility remains an issue for us all, and so let’s not groan at a further positive affirmation of our diversity, and just feel free to enjoy (if it’s your thing) the sight of a wet half-naked guy in bathing shorts. Oh…hmm…that’s objectification. Better not then…

Melodifestivalen star Viktor Frisk comes out: ‘I like girls and boys’

Melodifestivalen star and fashion blogger Viktor Frisk has come out, revealing “I like both girls and boys”. (Source: Pink News)

Sticks and Stones

In a week when the UN criticised Brunei for planning to stone gays to death and the first prosecutions in Uganda were announced since it introduced new draconian laws against homosexuality, the very public spat between some members of the transgender community in the US and the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race may seem trivial in comparison; nonetheless the use of appropriate labels, language and political correctness has been a continuing thorny debate in the LGBTQI community and the Women’s Movement since the dawn of consciousness.

I’m not going to get drawn into commenting in detail on the specifics of the rights and wrongs of using the words shemale and tranny – which bizarrely went so far as getting transgender rockstar Jayne County banned from Facebook in the middle of the wider kerfuffle, as language use varies between the US and Europe and I may be missing local nuances. But I will say that I can remember a time when I would have been deeply offended by someone calling me queer, a word which I now feel is an entirely comfortable description of where I stand in relation to the conventions and politics of  a wider heteronormative society, which just goes to show that the use and power of language can change.

Of course, there’s an unanswerable case for condemning blatant homophobia, transphobia, sexism and racism (anything I missed?) perpetrated by people who “aren’t us”, and  rigorously questioning our own use of stereotypes and vocabulary which we regard as otherwise unacceptable; but there are times when individually and collectively we need to lighten up, recognise irony, and most importantly, explore the overall underlying intention of what’s going on. Responses to the latest controversy have caused uproar amongst those who would speak for sections of the the transgender community in the US, and I leave you to make your own judgement.

The other day, in a separate and happily less-combative breakfast-table discussion around transgender issues (yes, dear reader, I have them) with appropriately-empowered participants, I was reminded of how things were in the mid-70s when the sadly-missed Pat Van Twest and Jackie Thrupp were at the heart of the ground-breaking British women’s theatre group Sistershow (which I briefly joined – at Jackie’s insistence – appearing as a bored bearded drag queen in a bad wig and floppy hat, looking not unlike a tacky version of Austria’s Eurovision contender Conchita Wurst).  Jackie and Pat were acutely aware of the risks of taking ourselves too seriously and thereby missing the point of what we are really seeking to achieve.

Here’s Pat talking about some of their early activity inspired by their concerns about the way the Women’s Movement was developing; it made me laugh, and realise how just much they influenced my outlook on life, for which I am forever grateful.

We Should Fear The “New Normal”

Whether or not it’s what you want for you and your partner, there’s a compelling reason for campaigning for gay marriage and same-sex adoption rights. These two demands confront hidden prejudices and homophobia head-on and force law-makers and wider society to face the reality of our existence on equal terms and deal with it. There’s no place for second-class rights.

I was lucky enough to be living in Spain in 2005 when gay marriage and adoption were legalised. Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero later said it was one of his proudest achievements.

“We were told that we were killing the family in Spain and yet the Spanish family is in rude health and a lot more people are happy. We’ve managed to recognise the right of people who have been discriminated against and harassed for many years because of their sexual orientation – and I hope that is an unstoppable trend in advanced societies.” (Financial Times).

At the time the law was passed, surveys suggested that around 70% of the population supported gay marriage. And there’s little doubt that it has had a wider impact on Spanish society over time. The “normalisation” of gay relationships does make a difference.

But there are hidden dangers in what journalists have increasingly dubbed the “New Normal“.  There’s an immediate assumption that everything’s fine now, which of course it isn’t.  There’s still homophobia and members of the LGBTQ community still face physical violence and subtle humiliations or blatant discrimination. Education systems are still wrestling with what to tell classes about the LGBTQ community, and there are a thousand petty ways in which aggrieved people – who somehow feel disenfranchised by our rights  – will try and disrupt our lives.

And there’s also the notion that now we have rights like anyone else, we should start to “behave”. Getting gays on (how shall I put this?) “the straight and narrow” is often used by those on the Right as a means of justifying their support for equality, a position neatly summed up by US Republicans in a document submitted to a federal appeals court in support of allowing gay marriage in Utah and Oklahoma.

“It is precisely because marriage is so important in producing and protecting strong and stable family structures that (we) do not agree that the government can rationally promote the goal of strengthening families by denying civil marriage to same-sex couples”

At this point, as a greyed-out former (or maybe not) Gay Liberation Front activist, I shiver. Our thinking was that we should resist aping the nuclear family and reinforcing traditional patriarchal structures at any cost. Some of this might have been about allowing a lot of horny guys in their 20s to have a lot of guilt-free sex with a lot of others, but there was also a serious political, social and economic rationale behind it. And for me and many others, it took a long time to see the subversive potential of demanding the right to marry on equal terms, and to recognise the empowerment and emotional fulfilment that gay marriage can (but not always) offer on a personal level. Which is not to say that I’m unconcerned about a rise in numbers of affluent A-Gay male couples with children unwittingly spawning a new moral conservatism (on many levels) in our community, senses dulled by the prime directive to “belong” and “fit in” to a an image of wider heterosexual society and becoming a new model of patriarchy on steroids (both figuratively and in the gym).

Because the truth is that gay men are as likely to fall into the traps of the “New Normal” as anyone else. This week there was a good example as James Wharton, a former British soldier who wrote a book about his experiences as a gay man in the forces, got wide press coverage for an article he’s written for a new “luxury lifestyle guide for gay men” (go figure) in which he called for gay saunas to be shut down.

His justification is that they are “thorns in our side that mark our community as different for the wrong reasons..For me as a gay man, the notion that there exist within our communities a series of places that actively promote the convening of gay men for participation in sex of shades various and in groups of all sizes rather revolts me – and I’ve been round the block a few times, believe me…I’m no prude, not even close, but the days when we gathered in clandestine fashion for the want of a network or a sexual outlet are surely long gone.”

This is claptrap for so many reasons. The assumption that meeting others in groups for casual sex – whether or not it’s something you want to do – is unique to gay men is somewhat undermined by the large number of happy heterosexuals who visit clubs for swingers or sit in a steamed-up car in a lonely parking spot in the hope of an evening’s “dogging”.  At least one web community for swingers in the UK has more than a million members.

The unspoken self-oppressive desperation for “respectability” which underlies his comments has afflicted gay men forever, was eloquently dissected by Andrew Hodges and David Hutter in “With Downcast Gays” in 1974 and is still relevant.  And it’s naive to imagine that closing down gay saunas and sex clubs will have any positive impact on the sexual health of gay men or wider HIV infection rates; most offer free condoms and an increasing number of these venues actively seek to educate their clients with support from local organisations, some going as far as offering wellness clinics and free testing for HIV and other STDs.  In cities like London, support groups will tell you that one of their biggest concerns is private, unofficial sex parties fuelled by crystal meth.

I agree with Peter Tatchell (I don’t always) when he says “it would be very wrong if the gay community became proscriptive and moralistic over consenting adult behaviour”. And while we should demand, celebrate and enjoy gay marriage, we shouldn’t be seduced by notions of  the “New Normal” into uncritically embracing heteronormative assumptions about family structures, patriarchy and relationships.