A Tribute to Thatcher
"Children who need to be taught traditional moral values are being taught they have an inalienable right to be gay." -- Margaret Thatcher, 9th October, 1987.
At the age of fifteen, two weeks from my sixteenth birthday, I was one of those children.
Let me tell you what it was like... or try to, at least.
I don't think it's possible for me to conjure the darkness of that period, the bleak fatalism of mass unemployment, the miners' strikes, Mutual Assured Destruction, HIV. It was ten years since Johnny Rotten sang "no future," and by then even that defiant punk rage against the dying of the light was snuffed out. That fierce and glorious nihilism which had stared into the abyss of meaning, which had grinned madly as it lit its passions like molotov cocktails and hurled them into the void, shouting, "Why the fuck not?" rather than, "Why even bother?"... by then even that aggressive stance in the face of hopelessness had been warped, teen rebellion recuperated by the mechanisms of corporate media, co-opted into the cosy pseudo-darkness of Goth (about as subversive as a Hammer horror movie) or worse, into the neo-nazi fascism of Skrewdriver and their ilk. I had a friend whose big brother played guitar, used to listen to The Clash, Billy Bragg; I still remember listening to his scratchy vinyl copy of the Stiff Little Fingers "78 Revolutions Per Minute"--or "Going Underground" by The Jam. I was too young to quite get the former, but the latter I loved. But that friend's brother was gone by 87, stolen away in skinhead seduction to fucking National Front bullshit.
Graffiti of the era: "HELL" in red paint on a road sign on the way into town, the truth splattered over the facile "Welcome to Kilwinning"; "WELCOME TO SIAGON" (sic) on the wall of the high street Presto supermarket; "PAKIS" on the little concrete bunker commercial block in the heart of my New Town housing scheme, said block consisting of a fish-and-chip shop, a bookies, a pub, a newsagent, and the Asian-run grocery store that attracted that racist daubing.
I was fifteen in this paragon of Thatcher's Britain, in working-class Pennyburn, Scottish analogue of the American projects, maze and prison of pebbledashed council houses, a community devastated by her demolition job on industry and on the actual traditional moral values attendant upon it--the communitarian ethos of mutual support that was evidenced, for all the internal politicking, no more so than in the unions she'd smashed or in my teacher dad's long-suffering service to the local council. I answered the phone calls from residents with problems and peeves, took messages when he was out, and so I heard the sort of trials and tribulations these people were dealing with, petty or profound. I was fifteen and old before my years... old and tired and ground down to despair.
I was fifteen and a faggot--or a poof, to use the parlance of that place and time--fifteen and gay and watching the AIDS iceberg and tombstone ads that aired that very year. 1984 had been and gone, and the three years since were for me that eternity envisaged by Orwell--a jackboot stomping on a face forever. That iceberg was my doom, as foregone a fate for me as its figurative source was for The Titanic. That tombstone was my death, my grave already dug, my corpse in its closet coffin already lowered down, the earth already heaped upon that locked wooden box, shovel-load by shovel-load by shovel-load, soil slowly closing over me, compressing with weight to six foot of smothering earth, endless rain of drizzle or downpour soaking that soil to a seal of clay, and I in my heart a rotting cadaver, fingernails bloody at the last desperate scrabble for air. I was fifteen, and dead already.
"Children who need to be taught traditional moral values are being taught they have an inalienable right to be gay."
I was fifteen, and what I needed was fucking hope.
I was fifteen and what I needed was to be able to turn to someone. Not a parent, because that was way too fucking scary a thought. Not an older brother, because I was fifteen and he was eighteen and we were still caught in the idiot enmities of infant siblings, the bookworm and footballer still worlds apart, not yet outgrown the squabbling and slapfighting, not yet mature enough--secure enough in adult modes of interaction--to confess a crushing secret. A friend? Well, I could talk with my best mate about the polyamorous aspects of the SF novels we both loved, make approaches to a revelation of sexuality via Heinlein, Pohl, Delany, but what assurance could he offer that wasn't just part of our mutual despair at the world we were trapped in? He was fifteen too, and with barely more hope than me, even without the dread doom of the Gay Plague hanging over his head. So I say again...
I was fifteen, and what I needed was fucking hope.
So who then? Who could I turn to? Maybe it could have been my English teacher, Mr Olafson, who'd been so encouraging with my writing. I still remember the thrill roaring secretly in my heart, when after an assignment to compose a story in the style of James Thurber, he started class one day by announcing that he'd found another Thurber story we ought to hear, and as he started reading it out loud, I realised that he was reading my composition, faking out the class to reveal at the end that it wasn't Thurber at all. I still remember him taking me aside after another composition, how I worried whether I was in some sort of trouble, but all he wanted was to make me understand just how much he thought of my work. I'm sure it was really not all that, bless him, but he saw the potential--and I suspect he saw the hollowness in my eyes, saw that I needed something--and reached out to open my eyes to it. I think he was the first person I ever actually came out to in that other aspect of my life, the first person to whom I ever truly articulated a dream--or pipe-dream, as I thought of it--of one day being a writer. I will honour Mr Olafson till the day I die, cherish what he did for me. So could I have--did I--turn to him?
I sort of tried.
I was fifteen and Mr Olafson had decided to set up a debating society. I've told this story before, many times, and I will tell it again, as many times as is required, in whatever circumstances it is required. It is here. In truth, my memory may be fudging the dates, setting this at the time Thatcher uttered her words, but in truth it doesn't really matter, does it, a few months this way or that? What matters is only that Mr Olafson had set up a debating society, and I had joined, along with a few other kids, mostly of the smart and slightly awkward kind. Smart and slightly awkward and just stubborn enough to engage in the sort of after-school activity that would make you an instant target in the inverted snobbery and anti-intellectualism of my peers at Kilwinning Academy. I was fifteen and wearing a trenchcoat that actively attracted abuse because I would not be fucking broken by them, because I fucking would not break.
No, scratch that. I could not break. For all the world, as much as I wanted to just, just... break already, to lose control forever and fatally, as much as I wanted all my frustration to simply ignite in an apotheosis of righteous wrath, for all that the one thing I really had left to hold on to was a dream of massacre and suicide-by-bullet--in that year of Hungerford, with Columbine still 12 years down the road--as much as my heart yearned and reached and clawed to break free of its restraints, the restraints held. It was fatalism upon fatalism, bitter despairing resignation to the reality that I simply did not have the fucking guns to do what I would have done without a moment's hesitation. There might have been a little last bit of strength in defiantly clinging to that glorious nightmare, in refusing to go without taking as many down with me as I possibly could. There might even have been some inner manacles of empathy under the narcissistic rage, an ounce of care meaning I wasn't truly as capable of executing my fancies of vengeance as I imagined. Does it matter? The point of this digression is only that some iron part of me I could not overcome refused to let me buckle under the pressure.
So I would not slash my wrists and be saved, and sob and have it all come out. I would not finally lose the rag and throw myself in a frenzied assault upon some teen tormenter, intent on smashing his brains out on the steps of a door into A Block. I would not simply cast aside everything I was and become an indistinguishable drone to spare myself the shit meted out to anyone a little different. What good would it do? I was essentially different. I was deviant to the core and incapable of quelling my denials of the fact. I was a pervert, a poof, a thing I had no inalienable right to be.
No one--I repeat, no one--was teaching me I had a right to be gay, inalienable or otherwise. Not one "loony left" teacher was offering me such assurance. The nearest I came to it would be in the assurances offered by Mr Olafson as regards my writing. In the story he took me aside over, you see, I'm sure all manner of homoerotic undercurrents were visible. The SF setting was a cityscape of Graecian exoticism. Androids I imagined neuter but coded thoroughly as male were models of Classical perfection, idealised and as I recall naked. Imagine something between Roy Batty in Blade Runner and Mouse from Nova. They were figments of desire and I'm sure blatantly so to an English teacher. So his silence on that point while lauding the story's skill was... an assurance of sorts. It was all he could give, really, with Clause 28 on the horizon.
So I joined Mr Olafson's debate club, in part because I was one of those smart and awkward kids who thought it would be neat, in part because I wanted to reciprocate his support. And in part, perhaps, because it might--just might--be a way to begin the opening of my heart. If I couldn't confide in family, if it did little good to half-confide in a friend, perhaps I could talk in theoreticals and hypotheticals, send out desperate clues via arguments on principle, take a stance that might invite questions. I would surely deny my sexuality if confronted over it--I was still denying it to myself--but it would surely bring me one step closer to the admission. So I joined Mr Olafson's debate club, and together with another member, a girl called Alanna, suggested Clause 28 as a topic for us to discuss.
For the benefit of those unfamiliar with it, Clause 28, formulated in 1986 and passed into law in 1988 as Section 28, was a law prohibiting the "promotion of homosexuality" via any activity funded by local government. This is what Thatcher was and will always be to me. This is the platform she's arguing in that speech above. I was fifteen and as far as she was concerned, God forbid some teacher tell me even that I was allowed to be gay. Her words in that speech put the lie, the damnable lie, to the pretext that it was about encouraging children to be gay.
The bigoted fuckers will always cast it as encouraging children to be gay when what they really mean is admission of the right to be such, because any affirmation of that right is always already encouraging the child to be what they are. Any acknowledgement that the desire is ethically neutral, no one's business but the child's own, is automatically a validation of the emotional imperative that desire always already is. To say, "You have every right to feel that way," is to say, "Your impulse is legitimate, that imperative holds, is valid, for there is nothing to inherently override it." Thatcher's words strip bare the sentiment that's shrouded in the word "promotion," reveal the true stance: it's not that no one must be allowed to sway children towards homosexuality; it's that no one must be allowed to defend their right to desire as they can't not desire. It's that no one must be allowed to defend that right against "traditional moral values." It's that no one must be allowed to even oppose on principle the homophobe's agenda of imposing their own prejudice on the next generation.
If you think this is an extreme articulation, the truth is proven. It was demonstrated to me that year, back in 1987, when we asked if we could discuss this legislation in the debating society. Mr Olafson, bless him, thought hard on this for a number of days. He was clearly unhappy with the outcome when he came back and told us he could not allow that. With Clause 28 looking almost certain to pass, there was a risk that to allow a discussion of the law could be construed as a breach of the law. His job would be on the line the moment any parent complained about this English teacher not just teaching children that they had a right to be gay but encouraging them to actively argue for that right.
"Children who need to be taught traditional moral values are being taught they have an inalienable right to be gay."
I was fifteen, and Margaret Thatcher stood on a platform and preached that I had no right to be gay, that no public servant must be allowed to tell me I had that right--not on the government's dime. She preached that I must be denied the shelter of a supportive teacher, that I must be refused even the chance to question this, that no responsible adult in the environment that was the vast bulk of my daily life was allowed to offer refuge from the relentless fucking lesson that was to be drummed into me, these fucking traditional fucking moral fucking values that I was inherently iniquitous in my desires, that I was not just abnormal but abhorrent.
She preached for pious prejudice to have almighty power over that part of my life, for that power to be absolute--unopposed, unmitigated, unquestioned. As surely as her good friend Saville was a child-rapist and her good friend Pinochet a murderer of all ages, I can tell you that the only reason that fucking monstrous creature did not drive me to my death is that Death came to me with my brother's body in his arms the next year, abolishing all illusions of meaning to the world, smashing the entire facade of moral values, traditional or otherwise, and leaving only the certainty that I could not put my parents through such grief.
I am sure I was far from alone in the despair she wrought upon me as a child. I have no doubt that long before such things were brought to the public awareness, jackboot stamped into our faces by the news stories over and over and over again until, in this century, in these last few years, we've had to acknowledge the horror and combat it in campaigns such as Dan Savage's It Gets Better outreach--I have no doubt that children died and parents grieved for them as a direct result of the pitiless and relentless inculcation of prejudice she imposed upon us by law. I hold Thatcher responsible for any and every suicide by any fifteen year old faggot whose fate was sealed by those words. Or fourteen, Or thirteen. Pick a number.
I was fifteen years old, and if there's anything I needed--anything--it was to be taught that I had an inalienable right to be gay. I think of all those who needed that as I did, all those who were not spared by a bitter twist of fortune, all those whose names are forgotten by all but those who were close to them, whose secrets may be as unknown to their loved ones, to this very day, as the fates of her fuckbuddy Pinochet's victims.
There is no fucking forgiveness for that murderous monster, not for me. I can think of no other human being for whom I have such hate, for whom I could have such hate. There are other monsters of history whose actions were on another scale entirely, but these will always be spared by their distance in time and space. I can be abhorred by the greater crimes of these others, but with Thatcher it is personal. As much as I cannot imagine wishing such ill on any other human being, alive or dead, there is a part of me that hopes fervently that in her descent into senility, her loss of comprehension, that confusion terrified her. There is a part of me that wants her to have died in mortal terror at the chaos of her memories, that iron will the spineless sycophants are now praising broken, her whole personality smashed to the incomprehension of a frightened child.
Another part of me appreciates that this is ruthless beyond mercy, that it crosses into an outright cruelty and viciousness that no one truly deserves. But that fire burning in my heart when I watch that YouTube clip above... that part of me does not give a fuck. That part of me meets her on her own terms, in her own spirit of murderous pitiless disapprobation, and it cries out in me with every fibre of my fifteen year old self's heart, in the name of that fifteen year old, and for his sake, let her reap the fucking whirlwind that she sowed.
I would spit and piss and dance on her grave. If any would find that sentiment objectionable, I tell you, be satisfied that it is only sentiment, that I will drink this very night to her demise but draw the line at actual desecration of her resting place. If any would find that sentiment objectionable even in a verbal expression such as this, baulk at my publically speaking ill of the dead, I tell you, if I was silenced at the age of fifteen in my school by her unconscionable misdeeds, I will not be fucking silent now. I will not be silenced by your fucking traditional fucking moral fucking values, writing here now at the age of forty-one, bearing witness for those who did not make it, those who died under her iron hand, whose graves got a fraction of the tributes bestowed upon their murderer.
This is my tribute to Thatcher: this fury. This is my elegy for her: every word I have used since 1987, use today, and will use until the day I join her in oblivion, to stand against everything she stood for.
May she rot in Hell? No. No, I don't believe in Hell, so that won't work. May she be wiped from the face of the earth. May she be obliviated from history as it marches on--as it strolls on, throwing the jackboots aside as the ugly and malicious and absurd folly that they are. May her "traditional moral values" be forgotten as the ugly and malicious and absurd folly that they are too. And may she herself be forgotten with them, Margaret Thatcher, Milk-Snatcher, murderer of children's hope from the start of her career to its very pinnacle--Margaret Thatcher, the ugliest and most malicious and absurd folly of them all.
Rest In Peace? No, may we one day have rest, respite from dealing with any such as her. May we have a moment's rest right now, in fact, before soldiering on towards that ever-distant goal, sit back for a moment and savour the fact that she is gone. And while we rest, and drink our beers to the godless universe that thankfully, blessedly took her from us... those of you who want to laud her to the heavens... you'll have to forgive us if we've little time for your arse-licking of her rotten corpse. If we turn to you with a hardened heart, tell you to fuck off and, as we say here in Scotland, gie us peace.
Good fucking riddance, Maggie. Good fucking riddance.
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