After reading Max Wallis’s recent pieces on ‘millennial sexuality’ and three-way relationships, you’d be forgiven for thinking our generation can fuck who we want, when we want, kiss on the street, tell our neighbours and friends and colleagues without fear. It must be true – it even happens on TV too.
For sure, the current position of society and culture for LGBT youth is a dream world compared to even twenty years ago. But the question that kept coming back to me was whether this dream world is actually just that, a world that’s the exclusive preserve of the privileged?
With the rapid digitalisation of our world, we have unprecedented ways to connect with like-minded people that were not possible before. Whether this is through an app or going to a gay club that won’t lead in arrest, it’s certainly given the impression that our generation is laden with sexual excess and societal acceptance. Since the Sexual Offences Act was passed in 1967, in the UK we no longer face being imprisoned, or worse, just for being gay. The millennial generation is in a position that was not afforded to our elders, some of whom resorted to a secret language to communicate with each other, were imprisoned, chemically castrated or forced to hide who they are.
There’s no denying that we millennials are blessed with being able to access films, television, and other mass media that portrays a range of sexualities, gender identities and relationships that deviate from the heterosexual norm. These different depictions are essential to combat stereotypes, portraying peoples from across the gender and sexuality spectrums, and normalising so-called non-traditional relationships. Whether it is Transparent, You Me Her, or Cucumber, you don’t have to look too far for LGBT+ representation and non-monogamous portrayals, albeit white, middle-class versions. Thank you to then Moonlight, which has recently shown the continued reality of life for many gay people who are not white or middle-upper class.
On the surface, society is more liberal in thought and action. We enjoy greater freedoms and fewer barriers to be publicly open about who we are. But let’s dig a little deeper with some stats.
In 2016, Galop reports that 4 in 5 LGBT people had experienced hate crime, and that there was 147% increase in hate crimes against LGBT people in the three months after the Brexit vote. Stonewall reports that a quarter of LGB people alter their behaviour to hide their sexuality, and a quarter hide their sexual orientation at work.
Legally, the picture isn’t rosy for LGBT people everywhere. There is no federal legislation in the USA that provides explicit protections for LGBT workers, and in the UK trans people continue to be subject to legal structures that do not allow them to be themselves. In 2017, Donald Trump revoked protections put in places to allow trans students to use a bathroom of their choice. 40% of LGBT people live in countries where anything but straight-up heterosexuality is illegal. Back to the UK: even though Sexual Offences Act passed in 1967, Section 28 was only repealed in 2003, and the government has just this year pardoned men who were slapped with criminal records just for loving other men. Pardoned. A word that conjures forgiveness rather than a declaration that the law was wrong.
Not everyone, then, gets to live the exciting, open life that Max describes living as part of a ‘throuple’. In many places being open about one’s sexuality still results in prejudice, discrimination or abuse. There are still people who will never tell their friends, family or colleagues. Kids across the world grow up being told their sexuality is ‘against nature’, ‘a choice’, or ‘sinful’. Intersections of class, race, and religion can make life more complicated.
There are many people, even in the US and UK, who still do not have the liberty to live freely. Wentworth Miller aptly described the “survival mode” that many LGBT people inhabit. Being “normal” is a matter of survival, “being who they are” is simply not an option let alone deciding whether they “switch” sexualities at a whim.
The dynamics of adding a third person to a relationship, while fun to write about, revelling in the sexy glamorousness of it all, is sadly not a reality for the average person. We need more realistic representations of what LGBT people away from white and rich safe spaces, away from the dandy-inspired lives of the beautiful.
These are not the prerequisites to be out, happy and accepted. Not at all. However, what is important is to not glamorise or show one version of events and so minimising the daily discrimination, prejudice and struggle many LGBT folks still face, even those of us who belong to the apparent free and easy millennial generation. Those of us lucky enough to just be who we want to be cannot be impervious to the violence and discrimination against people just like us, affected by laws, politics and people that sit outside of our bubble.
From marriage equality to greater representation in film and TV, to the Equality Act 2010, I don’t want to deny that we are making progress. But, there are still many battles to fight. We should never forget how previous generations were treated and regarded, and the fight they undertook to get us to the place we are now. What is essential is that we are not lulled into a false sense of security by what we see or read, or how the millennial generation is portrayed. We have it tough for a whole host of reasons. A life of free love is still not the standard, nor should it be how our generation is viewed.
In a world where other people or governments do not see us as equal, we cannot afford to paint our generation as one obsessed with social media, hook-ups, or basking in the apparent glow of complete equality and tolerance. We must continue to fight, to protect and support each other. There are still bigger fish to fry.
Words by Michael Elijah