I grew up in 1980s County Durham; it felt at the time like a People’s Democratic Republic. When the miners went on strike in 1984, Labour held 53 of the 72 seats on the county council. But whatever impression southerners might get from watching Billy Elliot, boys like me did not engage in ballet. Labour may have been in charge, but attitudes were socially conservative. We played football and supported the Toon, or Newcastle United to give them their official name. Allegiance to Sunderland raised eyebrows — in my town at least — while Manchester United was beyond the pale.
If boys were ostracised for supporting the wrong football teams, teenagers struggling with sexuality or gender learnt to keep those things very close to their chests. In a society where ‘poof’ and ‘queer’ were insults of choice — terms of abuse hurled at victims to soften them up for a beating — coming out would have required courage beyond comprehension. My own transsexualism, for example, I shared with nobody.
Youngsters today may find it difficult to understand, but to many Generation X-ers, the q-word resonates in a similar way to the n-word. Reclaim it, if you must, but please respect our right to eschew it. Yesterday, Kurtis Lemaster, an American musician known as Kurtis Tripp, said what he thought:
Provocative? certainly; incendiary? Perhaps. But this is Twitter, the public square of the internet. Tripp is only 30 but as a gay man he has suffered the same abuse we knew a generation before. He told me that: ‘I have had that word spat in my face by police officers, people at school, and even my father.’ But in a world where anybody can claim whatever identity floats their boat, Tripp added:
We should be having a larger discussion about its reclamation being taken too far.