Rod Liddle

How Pete Burns helped to create our fatuous modern world

The 1980s popstar who paved the way for our current obsession with gender fluidity

How Pete Burns helped to create our fatuous modern world
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So RIP Pete Burns, transgendered Scouse popstar. His indescribably awful song ‘You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)’ — clever allusion, no? — reached number one in 1985 and, as part of the band Dead Or Alive, he had a couple of minor follow-up hits.

When David Bowie died in January of this year, a lot was made of his supposed pioneering androgyny. I said here at the time that Bowie was deservedly famous for having written many melodically clever songs, rather than being at the forefront of the LGBT liberation movement, which he emphatically was not. Bowie may have been fashionably androgynous — so were Mick Jagger and even Marc Bolan before him. But one always knew that Bowie was a man and he did not pretend otherwise.

Burns, who possessed much chutzpah but not a single discernible shred of talent, might have a greater claim to the old ‘breaking down barriers’ stuff. He looked like, and kind of became, a parody of a woman, resembling in his later years the New York socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein, horribly disfigured by plastic surgery, the skin on his face stretched taut and with a giant cod nailed to his mouth to resemble luscious lips.

The mid-1980s were really the first time we had seen this kind of thing and the still popular Top of the Pops was full of it — Pete Burns, the equally untalented Marilyn, a partially dreadlocked Boy George caterwauling his facile, syrupy hits and the marginally talented but charmless Grace Jones looking cross and very mannish. They had all probably been emboldened by Bowie but this was unquestionably a large step further.

I remember a review of a Boy George concert in the Evening Standard at the time — ‘Loved him, hated her’, the critic joked, without being prosecuted for a hate crime. The word ‘transgender’ was not, at that time, part of the popular lexicon — if the populace had a word, it would have been transvestite, or just tranny — and nor were there dire imprecations if you sniggered or made coarse and cruel jokes whenever Marilyn or Burns hove into view. Still less the insistence that their recent manifestation as women was more authentic than the gender they had been ‘assigned’ at birth. Cissexism, or the fatuous notion of it, did not exist. Even the singers themselves did not make such claims, even if they wanted to, which they did not.

But we move onwards and ever upwards towards a new age of enlightenment and I suppose we should thank Pete Burns for playing his minor role. So last week it was reported that a ‘Christian family’ — can you imagine having used that description in 1985? Isn’t that what we all were? — are at war with its local council and, more specifically, the social services department over the gender of their daughter. Next month the family will be hauled before a panel of these ideologically committed busybodies to decide whether the girl should be known at school by her given name, a girl’s name, or a boy’s name, which she says she would prefer.

The decision will not be made by the parents. The decision will be made by the social services. They will tell the parents that the scientific fact of their daughter’s gender is wrong and insist, contrary to the chromosomal evidence, that she is a he. And if the parents kick up a fuss, or carp or suggest that maybe we wait a few years, she’s very young and early adolescents are often confused about gender issues, then the parents may have their daughter taken away from them. The council has already begun addressing letters to the girl as if she were a boy and using the name she wishes to take — so that gives you some indication of which decision they’re likely to arrive at. And a psychiatrist has demanded that the child be referred to the Tavistock Centre in London so that, after a brief assessment, she can be injected with drugs to prepare her for a full sex change.

I should point out at this juncture that the child is 14 years old. Fourteen. The parents have suggested that their child has depression and that perhaps she should wait until she is 16, or preferably 18, before the authorities drug her. Until that point, they say, surely there must be an acceptance of parental control and the assumption that the mother and father know best for their child. But nope, not set against this weight of fervent and, to my mind, fascistic right-on ideology — and especially not, I would guess, when the parents have made the crucial mistake of describing themselves as ‘Christian’. Red rag to a bull, I would respectfully suggest to Ma and Pa. The redoubtable Christian Legal Centre is looking after the case for the parents and obviously any sane person would wish them luck.

This story came about in the same week as it was revealed that a seven-year-old boy, who was a boy, and looked like a boy, and wanted to be a boy, was being raised as a girl by his transgender-obsessed mother. On this occasion the social services were fully behind Mum — yep, put him in a nice frock, shove some ribbons in his hair, we’re right behind you. Luckily, when the case came to court, a judge lambasted the social workers for having encouraged the mother to cause real distress to the child. The judge placed the little boy under the care of his father who is, one assumes, less markedly deranged than the mother. He said he could not understand why so many concerns were ‘disregarded so summarily’ by social services staff. He added that social workers had ‘moved into wholesale acceptance that (the boy) should be regarded as a girl’.

But I suppose we cannot blame Pete Burns for all of this lunacy. Social services departments are in thrall to a more malevolent agenda than Pete ever envisaged.