Been seeing quite a lot of pieces cropping up on social media of late about harassment of female runners following a piece in Huffingtonpost titled ’Women Are Routinely Sexually Harassed While Running Alone’. The image that popped up on Facebook and Twitter all week was of an Asian woman running through some empty back street, a double whammy, the story spurning a huge out-pouring of ‘me too’ from women, and not just women who ran, an invitation for a long list of examples of how shit the world is (but mostly how shit and beastly men are). I know that sounds harsh, but I irked me, but also irked me that I was irked. Then a few days later I read this great piece by the poet Helen Mort which followed along the same lines, called Chicked, only told with more skill (I tend to find Huffington post trades in click bate stories of pity and victimhood). Reading Helen’s words again I felt my feathers ruffled and so, Helen being a friend, a beat out a comment with my thumb (it kind of makes sense reading it back), leading the following conversation.
“Why are you being a dick about this?” I asked myself when I read her reply, why do I find this kind of thing troubling, after all, it cannot be denied, even less so when seen through the trusted poet’s eyes of Helen Mort. Yet it did, my perception I knew was maybe off, that to change this view as one of victimhood was maybe unfair, that this was a narrative about other people’s realities. I’m not a woman, what do I know, but I am a man, and I am a human being, so maybe I do have a right to an opinion, that this is a rejection of something that should not be rejected.
But how to express it? Then I remembered that I already had, in the words below, that like much I write, I’d binned long ago - but it made some kind of sense, so here it is:
I nearly got into a fight last night, around midnight in a kabab shop in Brecon, a bit of a tough town I always think - after dark. I’d just done my gig and was looking for food, missing the famous Gurkha curry house by only ten minutes, so went down to a kebab place I’d spotted as I’d driven through the wet streets looking for my hotel.
I always avoid such kebab shops and late-night pizza joints, as late-night takeaways - like taxi ranks - tends to attract the violent: pissed blokes, unhinged by god knows what, women too, ready for one last scrap before bed, no night complete without beating up a student or some hapless victim.
Have you ever heard that story by Paul Calf, Steve Coogan’s townie character, where he says he wants to beat up a student because he’s paying for his chips in the chip shop with a cheque? “I will not raise my fists in anger,” says the student. “That’s fighting talk where I come from,” says the pissed Calf, then add’s “he beast the shit out of me, he was a bloody kickboxer!”.
Back to the kabab shop. Two pissed blokes did come in as I stood there, big blokes who looked like they moved hay bails for a living, one of them on his mobile. As he put the phone down on the counter the small Arab guy behind the counter said flatly “Were you speaking to your boyfriend?”, which made me laugh, not what he said, but that he said it just like that, made me chuckle, his joke something that felt as if it was meant to be shared. The big guy turned to me and said in a pretty menacing voice ‘have you got a fucking problem or what’, the fun instantly switched to violence, his posture of some school bully who’d haunt your dreams as a kid. “Yes,” I said, trying to sound uninterested in a scrap, which I could tell would be me getting my head kicked in by both of them “I thought it was funny the way he said it. You don’t look like the kind of bloke someone would say that too”. The bloke blinked a bit, looking pissed, and confused, the words, that small compliment about him ‘not being the kind of bloke’ (not that it is a compliment unless you are that bloke) enough to let his claws retract. I did think off adding “Also I didn’t think you actually had a boyfriend”, but decided I’d done enough to leave the shop without fear of fighting in the rain gutter (that’s where all fights end up, on the floor), so grabbed my kebab from the counter and walked back to my hotel.
I was talking in Sheffield the previous night, at the university, which seems to get bigger and bigger every time I go there, and equally more confusing, like some kid high on Minecraft was let loose on the plans. While trying to get my bearings I wandered past a room labelled ‘LBGT Lounge’. ‘That’s odd?’ I thought, that you’d actually need a special room for gay people? I thought I’d pop in to say hello, but luckily for me the door was locked, as I now realise If I’d popped my head around the door and said ‘what the fuck guys, why are you hiding in here?’ I’d have committed a microaggression and been chucked out by security. When I found the theatre I asked a few of the students down there ‘what’s up with this LBGT lounge?’ to which the reply was ‘it’s for gay people who need a “safe space’ to hang out”.
Now I’m not a fucking moron - really - I have a lot of gay friends, I know about LBGT politics (they missed the ‘Q’ off the end BTW, which stands for ‘curious’), in fact, I’d say I have a worrying number of gay friends, so perhaps I’m compensating for my homophobia in some way. I was born in the 70’s so maybe being a bit homophobic is in my DNA, and even now when someone says “Oh I thought you’d be a tea drinker” when I ask for a latte, I can’t help doing that fucking stupid limp gay wrist thing and say ‘La-di-da’ (I imagine an Englishman, wrapped up with self-hatred and anglophobia is the worlds greatest apologist for simply being himself). Actually, I think maybe taking the piss out of gay people is no different from taking the piss out of anyone, it’s the equality of piss-taking (when you take the piss that means you are truly comfortable with another human being). Now I know full well that being gay in your teens and early twenties is not easy, but neither is it easy being straight, although looking at my kid’s friends it seems if you’re not gay, bi or pansexual (that’s right oldies, kids call themselves pansexual, which I think means you have sex with boys who never grow up) you’re a loser, meaning there’s never been a better time to be gay (well not since Alexander the Great’s army were demobbed).
Now I once had a gay stalker (I said I’d go for a drink with him, which was probably not a good idea, and I still see him now and again, like in the street, but he was nice with it, told me my ‘wife was a lucky woman’, even though she wasn’t), I’ve held a man’s penis in my hand that did not belong to me, and are prettily ambivalent about my own and anyone else’s sexuality (what goes on between you and your privates it private). I guess I also understand violence and the gay community a bit better than some, actually having known a serial killer known as the gay slayer (he killed 5 men) while living in London (I didn’t know at the time). But I find gay right politics odd, that you see ‘stop trans phobia’ stickers around universities, but no sign of any push back on faith-based homophobia (why do social justice warriors pick off the weak but don’t tackle actual faith-based repossession of gays by illiberal faiths? - how come you never get student’s picketing mosques or the Saudi embassy, only B&B’s and flower shops?). I think really most people don’t care if you’re gay or your straight, and probably by and large never have beyond those at the shallow end (that’s where all the noise always is), those enthralled to their Gods, or cynically using oppression to demonstrate their stable value during unstable times. Yes, old people can be a problem, but stick a gay man or woman in front of your mum or dad and they’ll soon see they’re not an ‘other’ at all, no different to their son or daughter (actually my mum told me of a friend who came out after about 40 years and was surprised to hear everyone assumed she knew everyone already knew she was gay).
In my lifetime gay rights have gone from Larry Grayson, Stonewall, Section 28, Joe Haines piece about after Freddie Mercury’s death in the Mirror that read ‘’ In fact, he was sheer poison, a man bent - the apt word in the circumstances-on abnormal sexual pleasures, corrupt, corrupting and a drug taker’, homophobia and even fear of gay people commonplace. Now my daughter knows more about transgender politics than she does about actual politics, and being gay is really not a reason to celebrate or decry it’s just the way you are, and when the media make a circus out of anyone who “comes out”, like Tom Daley, that he’s ‘so brave’, the rest of just says ‘who gives a fuck?’, and again, instead of making being gay no big deal, the drama is drawn out to the detriment of everyone when really the big deal is telling your grandma.
Basically, if you’re gay in the UK in the 21st century this pretty much one of the best places to live, the same if you’re a man or woman, abled or disabled, young or old… let’s just call you a human being shall we? Is it perfect? No, but then that’s the unavoidable burden you always carry if you’re in a minority or simply born different to the rest, the burden of being a human being, like having a fat arse and short legs (the same applies to the disabled, those that have mental health issues, even a woman who wants to have kids, they are the breaks and cannot be ironed out). You have to deal with it. Deal with the reality of the now, not put life on hold for the promise of tomorrow.
But back to safe spaces.
What I felt strange was the idea that gay people need a ‘safe space’ within a university, the kind of simple language that seems nothing at all, but is actually dangerous, divisive and far from empowering. Having professional services is vital, yes, but to create an LBGT space felt wrong to me, created a division, a wall that did not seem to need to be there, that word ‘safe space’ much more troubling than four walls.
I suspect the reason for this culture of looking for victims and victimisers is not because things are so bad, but that things are so good. Gender equality in work is actually down to gender freedom to choose, something not available in more brutal and patriarchal societies, inequality down to the nature of how men and women are wired, as well that women give birth to children. “Yes, we’re penalised because we have babies!” people may shout, but I’d ask how they judge their self-worth, on their own terms, of creating life, of nurturing it, or the balance of their pay packet?
When there is no threat of imminent death or starvation then it’s a natural reaction for people to look elsewhere to find meaning for their lives, we need to struggle, that’s how we evolve. In the ‘Wild Thing,’ Marlon Brando’s character is asked “What are you rebelling at” to which he replies “What have you got”, as perfect an answer for a post-war America and a 21st-century western world. The truth that there are imperfections everywhere, the world is unfair and cruel and unkind, but don’t be brat, that’s the life you’ve been gifted and to even complain and bitch is a privilege in itself (even Helen, full-time poet, running through the woods of Sheffield must know her life is one no past self could ever have enjoyed). I’d argue that there is a good balance of inequality, that yes few women become engineers, a fact that feeds a narrative of hateful patriarchy, but what about more women going to university than men, the outcomes for boys leaving school, or telling stat that only 27% of newly qualified vets are men. What some see as inequality could be viewed as people’s freedom to choose and celebrated not condemned.
Labels are the most base way to judge who anyone is, especially their character. Everyone is an individual, full of good and bad, not to be defined by having a cock or frizzy hair or wearing size eleven high heels, don’t divide people and make war on them.
When you look at a forest do you just see a forest or ten thousand trees? If one day an oak tree fell on your car would you reject them all?
Maybe one day we’ll have our genetics rearranged, become bronzed hermaphrodites, all living on an equal wage, our IQ’s adjusted and balanced, hormones and animal thoughts and passions corrected by the cloud. Imagine that, imagine such a space as safe as that.
So back to my point. How many times have I been attacked in the street, in pizza takeaways, in night clubs, punched in the back of the head, kicked in the balls, threatened? More times than I can count, but then I’m a man, that’s the weight I carry, that other men are out there who are unhinged on drink or drugs or some twisted life shit who want to take it out on me. I don’t have a safe space because no such place exists, after all just because you lock yourself up behind a door with those labelled as you are do not mean they may be more dangerous than anything beyond the door. The world can be a dangerous place, to try and ignore or deny the fact is to invite terrible things, to be brattish or militant in the face of harsh reality to invite it into your life. There are dangerous people out there, there always has been and always will, but that’s no reason to live in fear of them. What you need are the skills to stay out of their clutches.
So these olds words, what do they have to do with women running through the park? Well, this is the world we live in, we are trapped in it until it’s time to check out, and no one can change who and why we are. I see a woman walking in the street with athletic legs and I cannot look away, my monkey brain in control, but am I a beast? That same woman passes a man pushing a child on a swing in the park and she sees his strong hands pushing his son and feels some desire, is she base like me? This is who we are, what we are. We can try and control the worst parts of our nature but should not make war on ourselves or each other, filter every negative event or even feeling as an attack. What irked me was that we slander the very nature of what we are as humans. I’ll give a woman the last line.
“How do you feel when you’re out running?” I ask my partner Vanessa, who runs up Sugar Loaf mountain every day of the week, “Do you feel that men harass you?”
She thinks for a second then says “No, but they often shout things, like ‘good one ya’ or ‘fair play’”.
“Do you find that threatening or offensive?”
“No, but they’d not say it to a man would they?”
“No, but I guarantee if they saw a fit guy running up a mountain that they’d think it”.
“Who gives a fuck”.