Tuesday, 29 March 2011

On the Gandhi drama - and famous GBLT people in history

Ok, there's a drama llama flying around because an author has declared that they believe Gandhi to have been bisexual or gay. Cue massive explosions and meltdowns. So I thought I'd put my thinking hat on – I put this hat on without expressing an opinion on whether Gandhi was gay/bi or not. I don't know and don't have enough information to make a decision.

So, first of all I'm going to maybe surprise people and say, yes this actually matters. I know, I know, it's very tempting to say, especially to the people having screaming meemies, that “gay, bi, or straight, the man was a great man and did great things – why does it matter?”

But it does matter – to GBLT people methinks. The closet has existed for the vast majority of history – and even times where the closet was not quite so stifling have been edited in our history books by subsequent silencing closets – for example, I am still amazed at the number of people who are bewilderingly ignorant of the fact that same-sex loving wasn't uncommon in Greece and Rome (witness the utter meltdown from certain Greek circles over the idea that Alexander may have had sex with a man). Good gods, I've even met people who fight tooth and nail against the idea that Oscar Wilde and a double handful of Renaissance painters were GBLT.

We are erased from much of history. Many of our greatest individuals are presented as straight because they either were forced to hide during life or the great wave of homophobic historic editing has erased the fact or them entirely. Our people and our people's accomplishments, are stolen from us, hidden from us and pulled away from us. And that matters.

More, people who were openly GBLT and maintained that through history have been thrown to the winds of obscurity by homophobia. Before the GBLT community in Britain screamed blue murder about the complete omission of Alan Turing from the history books hardly anyone knew who he was. He was an obscure figure at best – one of the fathers of modern computing and a great war hero and brilliant scientist was relegated to a footnote because he was gay. In the US civil rights movement it's still amazing how many people do not know who Bayard Rustin was or what he did or how vital and important he was. For that matter I've seen no small numbers of feminists quoting Audre Lorde who are completely and utterly unaware that she was a lesbian (and had one straight woman angrily criticise GBLT people for “co-opting” her).

Is it any wonder, with this systematic erasure of us from history, that so many ignorant fools claim homosexuality pinged into being maybe 40 years ago?

So, no, I'm not now or ever going to say that it's “not important” whether a famous person or great person – present or past – is GBLT or not. It matters, in a world that erases us and makes us hide, the dismissing of our presence is wrong and indefensible.

But I will say to those who are having the rabid shitfits about the suggestion that Gandhi may be gay or bi – does it make him one bit less great? I can see why it matters to GBLT people – because of our constant erasure – but why does it matter to straight people? Do Gandhi's accomplishments become less great, less laudable, less powerful if he were gay or bi? Does his life become less remarkable? Do his words become less wise? Is this man reduced in any way by being gay or bi?

(Oh, and can I have an extra “fuck you and the heteronormative horse you rode in on” to all those people who are outraged that a book claims Gandhi was gay or bi and how much that demeans Gandhi and is utter blasphemy – but are apparently ok with the idea that Gandhi was a racist? So, him being a racist? Totally ok. Him being GBLT? OH HELL NO!)