“Arthur’s ‘fucking queer’ was shouted across a playground of over 3million pupils on Twitter and Facebook combined. There’s no reason why our community shouldn’t be calling for a metaphorical lynching. But maybe this is a time to exercise that compassion and forgiveness I mentioned earlier”.
In short, I stated that the general tide of ‘I knew it’, ‘I told you so’ and ‘in other news, water is wet’ type responses denigrated his experience and had the potential to push other emerging role models back into the closet. A bold statement from someone who’s done it himself in the past, and indeed someone who just 10 years ago thought there was no need for gay pride parades – or equal marriage.
We’re a complex bunch, us ‘uniques’.
We’re as different from each other as we are similar. There’s no real reason we should form a community based on the simplistic common denominator of not being ‘straight’ (a word which incidentally I hate though use often) or because we don’t identify as the gender we were born into; or as any gender at all.
But there is a need for community. We know that. We know that collectively we are a stronger and louder voice; a voice that can be heard.
Harvey Milk didn’t get elected on his own.
When the guys and gals at Act Up needed to turn to civil disobedience to get Ed Koch’s attention during his inaction over AIDS in the 80’s, it was the gay community that eventually stood shoulder to shoulder.
There have been great advances in LGBT equality these past few decades. We’re also fortunate to be joined by millions of ‘straight’ allies – all with their own special brand of uniqueness. All have the potential for compassion. All have the potential for forgiveness. As do we.
The Tom Daley experience got me thinking about some of my more visceral reactions lately. My snap judgements and loud criticisms of those deemed not to meet my standards of behaviour towards my community; sometimes, from my own community.
It got me thinking about how lucky I was to grow up in a world without social media. I imagine how awful my life would have been at 14 if after leaving school, the taunts continued in 140 characters or less through the night. It got me thinking about how heartbreaking it must be to have every single thing you do scrutinized and amplified online while you are growing into the person you hope to be. It got me thinking if those things are happening to Jimmy and Jane at high school right now, how must it feel if you have any level of fame.
It got me thinking about James Arthur.
For those of you living under a rock, James Arthur is a pop star made from the X Factor formula in the UK. During the show, like most acts, his back story reads as that of a Dickensian character. Broken home, moving about, sleeping rough. The audience fell in love. He won. You get the picture.
Now here’s where it all went wrong.
In November 2013 Arthur generated much controversy over the use of homophobic lyrics in a ‘song’.
Directed at rap singer Mickey Worthless, the lyrics included several slurs including the term “you fucking queer”. This understandably sparked outrage and led to online spats between him and comedians Frankie Boyle, Matt Lucas and singer Lucy Spraggan on Twitter. All have fairly loyal and supportive followers. Many shared, retweeted and responded, amplifying the scenario as only social media can. The LGBT community also waded in. I did. And quite violently too.
Whether under duress from management or on his own accord, Arthur immediately apologized for his comments and affirmed that he was not homophobic.
“I’m extremely disappointed in myself for being so naïve with the diss-track I made. I assure you homophobia is something I do not believe in.”
The backlash continued however with a Facebook campaign to see his upcoming appearance on last weeks X Factor cancelled. Online music store iTunes also offered refunds for his album due to complaints from customers.
After switching on the Christmas lights on 8 November in Manchester, Manchester City Council said that if the controversy had happened earlier he would have been replaced.
On 22 November, Arthur’s management announced that the singer would be cancelling all his public engagements for the next seven days due to exhaustion.
Like many kids of my generation I was raised on the mantra ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’. Naïve I know, but it’s how we were taught to thicken our skins against hatred and bullying.
Nowadays, as a society acclimatised to social media’s mitosis effect, words have much more power. They may not be able to break bones, but they can break spirit. Words on social media can stick. And you can delete them, but you can’t ever take them back.
Personally, I regret my diatribe against him. I’ve removed my rather cruel knee jerk reaction from Facebook and Twitter though not before it too was shared and re-shared.
Arthur’s ‘fucking queer’ was shouted across a playground of over 3million pupils on Twitter and Facebook combined. There’s no reason why our community shouldn’t be calling for a metaphorical lynching. But maybe this is now the time to exercise that compassion and forgiveness I mentioned earlier.
I don’t know that much about James Arthur, but here’s what I have managed to find out:
- He’s 25 years old
- He became famous across the UK over a period of 16 weeks in 2012
- During this time, he was publicly mocked by various comics (including Frankie Boyle) on Twitter based entirely on how he looks.
- He won the X Factor and his debut single shifted 1.2million copies and was nominated for a Brit Award.
- He used the word ‘queer’ in a song.
- He apologized almost immediately after and then again on live TV in front of an audience of 7.7million viewers.
It seems to me that he made a very stupid mistake. One he’ll be remembered for. And though we may not like the language he used, maybe it’s time to forgive and move on.
After all, sticks and stones don’t discriminate, but we’ve all said things we wish we could take back.