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By James Rothwell
Alex Bramham, who just cancelled his campaign to be president of LGBTQsoc, complained in this paper that liberationist ‘equality militants’ control the group. I have to tell him: it’s news to us.
Having come up to Wadham a year after me, he describes a society where ‘language is policed to a[n] Orwellian level’. (This means that on saying things like ‘I’ve had a lot of guys in me, but not a tranny’ and ridiculing ‘words like [.] genderqueer’, he gets called out.) The society, according to him, is in the grip of queer ideologues – and, especially, trans* advocates – like me. Our tyrannical, militant presence overpowers other voices, and he therefore wants to form an ‘LGB soc’ by ousting trans* members. Reader, do you sense a theme?
I haven’t, admittedly, been part of the society since before he joined. But did radicals and safe spaces drive me out? Don’t be absurd. Our LGBTQsoc is a social club; calling it militant is like calling S Club threatening. If activist types like me had the influence he suggests, I wouldn’t read what Alex Bramham writes. I’d be busy, cartwheeling for joy.
Why did I join LGBTsoc, so named back in ’09? To help improve the world for other queer people. In leafy, liberal Oxford during that year, seven homophobic attacks got reported. The next year it was 19, two of them falling within a week. It angered me that this happened in my new city, as it angers me now to know queer students here who’ll face homelessness and violence if they’re outed to their parents.
It angers me that when this newspaper last reported on LGBTQsoc, it misgendered a prominent member, and that students’ tutors here address them with the wrong pronouns, even when asked not to. It angers me as an access volunteer that we lose potential students whose chances have been wrecked by years of straight bullying. It angers me that I’m typing this on a device which doesn’t recognise the word ‘genderqueer’, and it bugs me knowing many readers won’t.
I could spend my day listing things that make me angry as a queer Oxon. I could fill this entire paper, several times, and so could most of my queer friends – yes, even the ones who aren’t ‘militants’. Why is it, then, that our LGBTQsoc isn’t rallying on the High Street? That’s what I hoped to find when I first came here, but instead I found a weekly cocktail club where gay, cismale undergrads filled the room enthusing about Ladytrying and trying to pull. I’m told this hasn’t changed, and given that two of the four initiatives in Alex Bramham’s manifesto were ‘Cheap drinks’ and ‘Launch rival club night’, I’m not optimistic.
When I or anyone else said that a queersoc shouldn’t just be for drinking and fucking, we were told it had to be apolitical to be welcoming – ironically, the safe space language Alex Bramham finds so ‘militant’ was used by people with very similar outlooks to his, who prioritised vodka prices over fighting transphobia. A society privately monitoring the welfare of queer students couldn’t also, according to them, campaign for it publicly. (Simone Webb, Alex’s opponent for the presidency until he dropped out and now the sole candidate, gets my support, but her own manifesto states ‘the society [.] will continue not to be political’.)
To take no visible action against queerphobia – including, specifically, bashings in the streets of Oxford and transphobia on campus – doesn’t seem to me like good welfare provision. Would I feel welcomed by my LGBTQsoc if I feared my straight parents would kill me, and saw it had never campaigned against this? Would I feel welcome, if I were a (trans)woman, and saw no representation at a gay men’s cocktail party of the issues I faced? As a non-drinker – my dad was an alcoholic – looking for more than someone else’s bodily fluids, I didn’t personally feel welcome, and that’s hardly the worst marginalisation within the society.
Candidates for president don’t evolve in a vacuum who want to ban transfolk, ridicule their terminology and use cissexist slurs, or who’d rather drink cheap booze than ‘associate with a liberation movement’. This happens when fear of seeming ‘political’ clouds societies’ vision, and they care more for brightly coloured drinks than a fight against gender policing or real social change. For goodness’ sake, it’s LGBTQsoc. Let’s be militant about equality – for everyone – and proud of it.
Follow Alex at alexgabriel.co.uk and @mralexgabriel