7th December, 2008

IN MANY ways, challenging the majority’s view of sexuality is mankind’s most difficult task since trying to work out how to venture into outer space with only the technology to make a rudimentary steam engine. Since (at least) the dawn of monotheism in the West, the dominant view of sexuality has been that only unions ordained by God are legitimate, a view that has been propped up by the Catholic Church with some pretty firm and long-life scaffolding.

Even for British families who do not consider themselves religious, this doctrine has had a lasting impact on the upbringing of those now at University. “Traditional” upbringing and education does not cater for the alternative sexualities, and for many British teenagers, first contact with homosexuality was probably within the context of a derogatory remark or joke. Certainly, sex education lessons do not cover the subject at all, or if they do, they do it with all the enthusiasm of a man condemned to spend the rest of his life sat staring at a blank wall. Only at university, or perhaps college, will most students have had significant contact with, for example, same-sex couples. Essentially, LGBT societies have the modern version of the task of convincing everyone that the world is not, in fact, flat.

None of the above is meant to in anyway condone homophobia, transphobia, or any other phobia or hatred of a different sexuality. What it is trying to express, is that the idea that all sexualities are acceptable is, historically, a very new one for the general public. Ideas change over time, and, given that the world of the 21st century is markedly different to that of, say, the fifteenth, it is illogical to condemn the values of the past based on the values of the present. The fifteenth century bishop was wrong in relation to our ideas, not outright wrong.

So, the situation of the uninitiated university student whose heterosexual upbringing did not cross paths with the concept of alternative sexualities is one of confusion, and depending on the level of knowledge, misunderstanding. It is therefore unfair to expect the student to immediately adjust to the presence of a group which, historically, has been marginalised, legislated against, and even violently persecuted. The student may not have grown up in a society where same-sex couples were significantly numerous; perhaps a slightly less serious equivalent would be a student who has spent his or her entire life in the country, coming to Manchester to live on their own, their first time in a city.

Clearly, there will for many be a difficulty in accepting this new reality. This is a difficulty made worse by the militant sections of LGBT societies. Acceptance involves not only the understanding and willingness of the majority group, but also that the two groups interact in social and educational contexts, and that the minority group persevere (that is not to say that those of alternate sexualities should simply forget the modern injustices perpetrated against them – they shouldn’t). This is what a vast proportion of the LGBT society’s members do.

At times though, to the heterosexual student, it can feel as though the LGBT society has put up impenetrable barriers. For one, the society can seem exclusive, not inclusive. It is little known that heterosexual students can join the LGBT society, but this is not advertised, and would be a fantastic way to further interaction.

The society must also recognise that people’s knowledge of alternative sexualities is, on the whole, somewhat low. There are probably many terms in this article that have caused offence, either being inappropriate in tone or usage. For that I apologise; I mean no disrespect and welcome friendly corrections, but in some ways it illustrates one of my points – that there are many who are doing their best to understand this new reality, and yes, need a helping hand. There are some members of the LGBT society who, when a term is misused, or a view that is deemed to be somehow blatantly homophobic, for example, is aired, immediately man the guns and protest. Of course, it is tricky to know who has made a comment with the intention of offending and who hasn’t. However, a “one-size fits all” approach to this is not going to work, and will probably make the problem worse. Why should anyone feel inclined to continue to try to get to grips with something if all it does is yell at them when they get something wrong?

Of course, the vast majority of LGBT societies are not like this at all. You could argue that people should be going out of their way to learn and to understand, but the reality is that this new concept will take time to vanquish thousand year old values and find its place in society’s mainstream. Until that time triumphantly and deservedly arrives, there is going to have to be a little less suspicion and a little more pragmatism from both sides. Don’t forget past atrocities, but put up the barriers and assume that everyone is out to get you. It isn’t helping.