Friday, 30 April 2010

Independent: Stay out of the pigeonhole, Karl [Gouder]

29.4.10 by Daphne Caruana Galizia

“The logical conclusion of everything gay rights activists are supposed to be fighting for is to be treated no differently to anyone else. If the sexuality of heterosexuals is completelyignored as a non-issue, then the sexuality of homosexuals should be ignored too.”

I’ve just been reminded of one of the reasons why I prefer the Nationalist Party to the Labour Party (the other reason is that the Labour Party is rubbish and getting worse by the day). It’s not all mouth and no trousers, which is precisely the phrase that springs to mind when I see the comic Labour trio – Joseph, Anglu and Toni – performing on some Sunday meeting stage.

The Labour Party blathers away, telling us that it is progressive while the Nationalist Party is conservative, while tackling homosexuality with all the tact of a blunderbuss in the hands of Colonel Blink, and corralling the queers, pufti, homos, lezzies, nisa-rgiel and trannies (I use those words deliberately as they reflect the thinking of Labour’s core vote) into a special cage in its party HQ zoo. Meanwhile, the Nationalist Party doesn’t mention the word ‘gay’ and ignores people’s sexuality as it promotes them through the party ranks. Whether you’re homosexual or heterosexual, all that matters is that you’re trustworthy and can do the job you’re paid to do.

This is the way it should be. The logical conclusion of everything gay rights activists are supposed to be fighting for is to be treated no differently to anyone else. If the sexuality of heterosexuals is completely ignored as a non-issue, then the sexuality of homosexuals should be ignored too. It’s just not relevant. This attitude was summed up by another Nationalist politician, Sliema councillor Cyrus Engerer, who is also homosexual, who told the press: “The Prime Minister said he has no problem with his candidates being gay, as long as they have no problem with it.”

To make an issue of ‘gay rights’ in 2010, as the Labour Party’s official line has it now, is atavistic – but not anywhere near as atavistic as the homophobia and contempt for ‘pufti’ and ‘nisa-rgiel’ manifested everywhere else in the Labour Party, which accurately reflects how their very non-progressive, ultra-conservative electors feel about shameful freaks and sexual deviants, as they see it.

So while the Labour Party blusters on about the Nationalist Party being anti-gay – something it is able to do because its audience doesn’t know just how many gay people are promoted through and by the Nationalist Party without any trumpets being blown because their sexuality is a non-issue, the Nationalist Party takes one of its promising information office people and co-opts him to Parliament to replace Michael Frendo. The man happens to be homosexual. The Nationalist Party says nothing about it, for the very same reason that it wouldn’t issue a press statement announcing the co-option of a ‘heterosexual MP’. Malta Today trumpets a front-page headline: ‘PN chooses Gouder, first openly gay MP’, setting the stage for the young politician to be defined by his sexuality. Meanwhile, a cheesed-off Labour Party says nothing, having had the rug smoothly whipped from beneath its feet on this one.

The newsroom irritants have begun to circle Karl Gouder already with their questions about gay rights, gay issues and gay votes, revealing that they cannot see beyond his sexuality and that, to them, he is the token homosexual in our All Sorts parliament. If I might offer some advice to Gouder by means of this column, it would be this: be emphatic in your refusal to allow yourself to be classified as a homosexual politician. Do not lend yourself to anything that begs your participation primarily as a homosexual. Politely refuse to be pigeonholed as the politician to whom journalists resort when they need an opinion about gay rights. Stand your ground on this or you will in the end be undermined and moved out of the mainstream.

Women have been through this already and many have defeated their own aims by allowing themselves to be defined primarily as women: women politicians, women columnists, women artists, women bankers, women lawyers, women this and women that. Get on the minority treadmill and you’re stuck there for good, spinning in circles.

If you’re going to join the race at all, join the main race – the one in which the (straight) men are running. I learned this lesson a long time ago, when I was just starting out, from Ena Cremona who went on to become a judge at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. I rang her sometime in the late 1980s and asked whether I could interview her for an article about women and work, and she said no. “I never pigeonhole myself as a woman lawyer,” she told me, “and I avoid participating in seminars, interviews and articles that pigeonhole women as special cases. It implies that men are the mainstream and women are not, and it is self-defeating.”

I didn’t abandon the feature article – I had been commissioned to write it, so write it I did as there were other women to interview – but I certainly changed my outlook. From then on, I decided I was going to run with the men, and if that meant I was going to be seen as a token man, then so be it. I can tell you that it’s a hell of a lot better than being a token woman or the habitué of some perceived minority ghetto. I believe I read somewhere that Dolores Cristina, too, avoids specific ‘women’ questions and nobody has ever suspected Giovanna Debono of being a token woman.

It is in the Labour Party that this obsession with tokenism and quotas and special treatment manifests itself so utterly. Labour politicians play up the fact that they are women as though they are stuck in the early 1970s. Marlene Mizzi made use of a really silly motto recently – I forget where, but it was probably on Facebook: ‘Whatever men do, women can do backwards and in high heels.’ Such rubbish – what sort of mind would divide the abilities of the human race according to gender rather than, say, intelligence quotient and aptitude? There are legions of incompetent women and legions of incompetent men, and it just so happens that I know far more incompetent women than I know incompetent men, but that’s almost certainly because most Maltese women have been out of the workforce since the age of 25. They’re not incompetent because they’re women, but because they have little or no training and experience.

Karl Gouder starts off with an inestimable advantage. He is a man and doesn’t have to elbow his way into the men’s race while the women cling to his ankles and try to drag him down into their self-consoling ghetto. But he’s got to avoid being given the ‘women’ treatment. He will be besieged by pests asking him for his views on gay rights, just as back in the early to mid-1990s when a woman in the forum was a novelty, I was endlessly harassed by requests for participation in women’s seminars and women’s talk-shows and interviews about women and juggling work and family and all the rest of that annoying tosh.

I said ‘yes’ to some requests just to help out and invariably regretted it. Five years in an all-girls convent school have given me a lifelong horror of large groups of women, but mainly it’s because I don’t like ghettos of any sort. Homosexuals of both genders shouldn’t make the mistake that many heterosexual women made: they should stay in the mainstream and refuse to countenance any attempt at pigeonholing. Nobody can pigeonhole you without your compliance.

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  1. austin55May 01, 2010

    This is another positive step in the right direction. I agree with the columnist on this issue. The P.N. candidate should not be trophied by particular interest groups.
    He is visible and should serve as a good role model to younger people who are trying to define their sexual orientation. The demonisation of gay people is slowly disappearing as we see gay people being placed everywhere, in all professions and in all institutions.

  2. The article demonstrates precisely why the PN is conservative. Homosexuality should be ignored just like heterosexuality is? How convenient. But is homosexuality igonered when it comes to enjoying the rights heterosexuals have? Are gay and lesbian relatoinships allowed? No they are ignored - that is, no legislation exists to recognise them. Are gay men and lesbians ignored in the workplace? When they are lucky they are - otherwise they are often harassed and bullied. If they are not discriminated against in the first place and not given a job. Can gay men and lesbians adopt, or are they - that is, their rights - ignored as well? And it goes on. What bigotry!

  3. I should ad that many heterosexuals are also speaking outagainst the reactionary catholic Chuirch and it slackey, the Government. It's about time there was a half-decent campaign for both divorce and abortion.