Friday, May 25, 2007

Paradise is...

...on the clinging, humid heat of days like these, a haircut like yesterday's where I feel like by body temperature has dropped by about ten degrees. A proper haircut done in in a barber shop, not at some poncy hairdressers. I'm from a part of the country where men don't really do hairdressers; boys do, but only when they are forced to go with their mothers and sisters for reasons of practicality, and even then very rarely and under sufferance. I always preferred the quick trip to the barbers with dad, if only because there was compensation of a bag of monkey nuts as compensation for the trauma the trip caused.

It doesn’t change much in adult life. For the ninety percent of men who stick to variants of the usual half dozen basic themes it’s just simpler. All you have to do is quote a number, rather than deliver an hour long verbal design brief, it only takes twenty minutes, there will be change from a tenner and you don’t even need to tip.

To be fair the occasional trip to my mother’s rather upmarket salon did have benefits. These extended beyond the ranks of rather pretty girls who worked there, maybe saving me from some of the more negative stereotypical northern attitudes.

I always had my hair cut there by a guy called Paul, who was rather cool other than being a bit of a Goth albeit in an understated way. He'd always talk about the then undulating, rather than nose-diving, fortunes of Leeds United and when he saw he was getting no traction on that he would segue effortlessly into the Leeds (now Rhinos) rugby league season.

It was only when he started commenting on how much nicer my hair was than my infinitely more attractive sister's that I realised that behind most stereotypes there is an element of truth, but also that the first openly gay person I'd encountered was still pretty cool. To anyone who might want to criticise this reinforcement of a stereotype I'd simply have to say sorry, I've never met a male hairdresser, outside an old style gents barbers, who isn't very entertaining, but nor have I met a straight one.

I think a lot of prejudices are rooted in early encounters. If the first gay man I had met was one of the more outré than out guys, who formed the backbone of the amateur dramatics groups that one on my former girlfriends was involved with, then I could too have been a typical northern homophobe.

Cock Ring
An Anniversary Present
These guys made Little Britain’s Daffyd seem straight as a die, having little conversation outside theatre matters apart from just how gay they were. Even so I could get on fine with them, even if did sometimes need me to thrust (non-literally) my heterosexuality in their face in a mocking, ironic way to get them to move on to another topic. I had a bit of a spew at one who grabbed me somewhere I really would rather he hadn't, which he deserved - it was out of order in any context, but genuinely laughed when another bought me back a cock ring from a gay pride rally to celebrate my then girlfriend and I’s first anniversary.

I think the same principles work on a broader stage too. I’ve always had my doubts about some of the many pressure groups claiming to represent one minority group or another, regardless of the fact than in many cases their ultimate goals are laudable and their grievances against bigotry and ignorance are fair and reasonable. Too often though their approach is too focussed on the faults of those whose minds they wish to change, too obsessed with whipping up indignation within their own communities and those whose instinct is to support them, and all too often loses sight of the boundary between equal and preferential treatment.

A number of well-loved actors and even MPs who are at ease with their sexuality have done more for gay rights than Outrage ever will. Successful Muslim business men do more to offset any negative images of Islam than the MCB has ever done. Monty Panesar does more to promote a positive image of multiculturalism in the celebration of a single wicket than any sermon of the part of the CRE.

These organisations claim that they were needed to allow these positive role models to prosper, but I think they overstate their own importance. I think most people with some of these prejudices actually know they are wrong, but their attitudes become entrenched when lectured by the pressure groups. What they need is to want to change, not to be battered into it. There are honourable exceptions of course, but too many such groups seek to constrain behaviour through the law and if that doesn’t work they will seek to limit speech or even thought. It’s not to say that there are not certain egregious examples where the law needs to intervene, but when it does is should only do so after the greatest consideration, as it can actually make the battle for hearts and minds harder to win.

Anyway, time to go and face more abuse over my new supposedly neo-Nazi skinhead (it isn’t), and to look forward to the bank holiday chill which will doubtlessly have me missing my thatch.

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