Saturday, February 09, 2008

What would Beth Ditto be doing?

The Guardian is continuing to keep faith with the What would Beth Ditto do column. This week, the person calling for help was gay:

Even if I am gay, I'm not normal gay. For starters, I don't like Kylie or macho men. What should I do?

Now, the obvious answer - how can you be living in 21st century Britain and think that the love of Kylie is mandatory for homosexuality? - is passed over; Beth does offer the obvious response:
There is no one way to be gay.

But in attempting to stretch out that screamingly obvious for two columns she wobbles into some lazy stereotyping of her own.
The reason the rainbow was chosen as our universal symbol wasn't because of its cute, bright, colourful, quirky, "gay" image. Rather, those stripes represent all humans, and the arch of the rainbow encompassing the Earth offers a comforting reminder that we come in all styles and colours - buzzcuts, long hair, lispy, butch, flaming.

Actually, the colours on the rainbow flag don't represent "all humans", Beth - the original design had them stand for sexuality; life; healing; sunlight; nature; magic; serenity and spirit, while more modern iterations of the flag have dropped (ironically) the sexuality and the magic. The 'rainbow'-ness, far from having arching meaning, actually was just a neater description of the flag than "multicoloured stripey flag". It's not, of course, the first time that Ditto has started from where she is and attempted to reverse out a convincing meaning, and - ultimately - symbols mean what you want them to.

But it's not just that Beth is twisting history, she's also going to have a quick tweak of science to make her point, too:
Rainbows hang over the Earth encompassing it with warmth and, no matter what, no human can take the rainbow from the sky. It sounds cheeseball, but that's why we adopted it.

Eh? Rainbows don't hang over the earth, do they? And they certainly don't encompass it. Or give warmth to anything. And while it's true that no person can take a rainbow out the sky, the nature of a rainbow - shimmering, impossible to touch, unobtainable, barely there and rarely seen. If you want to make too much of the rainbow symbolism, it starts to look a bit of a weak idea.

But the real problem is this line:
It doesn't make you less gay if you aren't effeminate.

Because, presumably, most gay men are effeminate, then Beth? Why would someone who is supposedly pro-queer even frame a sentence that implies a link between effeminacy and homosexuality?

Imagine if that sentence was recast with one of the other stereotypical slurs gay and bi people have thrown at them - "it doesn't make you any less gay if you aren't promiscuous", for example.

In attempting to licence the right for gay people to not be constrained by stereotypes, Ditto has implicitly reinforced the stereotyping.

Of course, she's well meaning, and this is probably lazy writing rather than meaningful cussedness, but it underlines the problems of inviting a person to offer advice to those in pain or fear based on their performances as house band on The Friday Night Project: you need to be careful and think through what you're saying. Ditto as agony aunt is like getting Desperate Dan in to look after your preschool class: however well meant their actions, their very enthusiasm is going to generate more problems than they can solve.

1 comment:

Olive said...

Does anybody believe that people actually write to Ditto for advice?

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