A storm in a D-quip

According to some people, over the weekend Ruth Davidson was the victim of an outrageous homophobic attack which puts a lie to the claim that the independence movement is tolerant and civic. She was cruelly subjected to being referred to as Dykey-D, a word so evil and horrible that you’re not allowed to say it even if you are in fact a D-word yourself. This will come as news to my lesbian friends and acquaintances, all of whom use the word all the time. They also have been known to refer to me as a queen, a big baldy poof, or a queer, and I’ve been distinctly uninsulted when they did so.

I’d put money on the likelihood that Ruth has used the D-word to describe herself or her friends too, because that’s the kind of thing that us gay folk do. In the exact same way I will cheerfully refer to myself or to other gay men by words which if they came out of the mouths of straight people might be interpreted as vicious attacks. But generally I’ll restrict my use of those words to when I’m in LGBTI company. When around other gay people, the meaning and import of my words is clear. In other contexts, things can be more problematic.

Language is contextual. Meaning depends upon the context in which a word is used and an inescapable part of the context of a word is the person who utters it, what their intention is at the time, and what they’re doing while they do so. A word used by a gay man to refer to another gay man in a friendly conversation can very easily be an insult when used by a straight person under otherwise similar circumstances. And it’s certainly going to be interpreted as an insult when the straight person in question is wielding a bottle as a weapon at the time. Context is everything. When you yourself can potentially be victimised by a particular word, the power play involved in uttering it is very different than if you are not potentially victimised by it. That’s why a gay man can call other gay men queens, but straight men don’t have the same right to do so.

Over the weekend Ruth Davidson figured in a comedic rap performed by a group of women during a show for the Scottish Independence Convention. The rap was written by a lesbian, and at least some of its performers were lesbians. If a group of African American rappers had performed a rap during which they referred to Barrack Obama by the N-word, would that be racist? As a white man, I don’t think it’s for me to say. It’s certainly not a word that I have the right to use myself, and it’s not for me to judge people who are themselves potentially victimised by that word but who choose to use it. Equally I don’t think it’s for straight right wing journalists to tell me that what a lesbian rapper said was homophobic. I’ll be the judge of that, thank you very much.

I came out as gay in the 1980s, when the AIDS crisis was killing gay men in our thousands. I’ve been gaybashed twice, been subjected to more homophobic verbal attacks than I can possibly remember, been subject to sexual harrassment at work, and have been campaigning for LGBTI rights for decades. I know what homophobia really is, I’ve been on the receiving end of it. And I will not be lectured on gay rights by people who write for homophobic rags like the Daily Mail. So if you’re a right wing heterosexual journalist who thinks they can tell me what is or is not homophobic, I’ll be telling you to fuck off you cynical opportunist. Your concern here is not for the equal rights of the LGBTI community, you’re just seeking any excuse you can find in order to launch an attack on the Scottish independence movement, and your transparent opportunism is sickening. People who give a platform to bigots who oppose equal marriage have no moral ground to stand on when it comes to berating anyone about supposed homophobia, least of all a lesbian performer.

My own feeling is that the use of the word wasn’t homophobic because of who was using it. It was being used by a lesbian performer. Lesbians have the right to use the D-word without being judged for it by straight people. Effectively what the straight Unionist media is telling us is that as LGBTI people we have no right to use the words which are used to attack us and to reclaim them for ourselves. Because it’s only by reclaiming these words that we can divest them of their power to hurt us.

I interpreted the performance as a way of pointing out that the sexuality of the Conservative leader is being used to mask her reactionary politics. It’s as though we fought the campaign for LGBTI rights just so that some of our number could be as reactionary as those we once campaigned against. Ruth once famously said that she couldn’t remember the Thatcher era, and we should get over it. But I remember it. I remember how Thatcher and her allies demonised the LGBTI community in the exact same way that the modern Conservatives seek to demonise supporters of Scottish independence. And I remember the sacrifices that LGBTI people had to make so that Ruth can enjoy the power and privilege that she enjoys today. Ruth’s sexuality is used by the modern Conservative party as a tool to help it maintain power and privilege for a few at the expense of the many. It masks the party’s reactionary nature with a veneer of progressiveness.

Unfortunately the use of the word in the context in which it was used left it easily open to misinterpretation. If the same rap had been performed at an LGBTI event in front of an LGBTI audience, there would have been no accusations of homophobia, however it was used before a predominantly heterosexual audience who are unfamiliar with the nuances of Queer Theory, or indeed gay humour. Moreover it was an audience containing a number of hostile journalists who were on the lookout for things to be offended by. It was easy for them to portray its use as a justification of homophobic name calling. And if they can possibly show the indy movement in a negative light, that’s exactly what they’ll do.

The use of the word in the context of a performance at an event about Scottish independence was misjudged because we’re now discussing the use of that one word instead of all the other thousands of words in support of Scottish independence that were uttered at the same event. As supporters of Scottish independence we must, sadly, always be conscious that anything we say or do will be leapt upon by the Unionists if there is any possibility of twisting it into an attack against us.

We can see that in how the story has morphed. A lesbian SNP MP who was in the audience said on social media that she was not offended by another lesbian using the word to refer to a third lesbian. Now the story is that the SNP MP has to apologise for the use of a word that she herself didn’t say, yet the headlines are worded to imply that she did. It seems that the arbiters of what lesbians and gay men must find offensive are heterosexual journalists. I find that pretty offensive.

LGBTI rights, anti-racism, and opposition to misogyny and discrimination against disabled people are integral and vital parts of the Scottish indy movement, and always will be, because those struggles inform the modern independence movement about how to build a fair and just Scotland. The truth that the Unionist establishment can’t accept is that the struggles for LGBTI rights and for Scottish national rights are both grassroots movements which strive to empower ordinary people, and to teach them their own strengths. That’s why right wing Unionists demonise the independence movement now just like they demonised lesbian and gay people back in the 80s. We challenge their power.  We scare them.  And we’re going to defeat them.

Audio version of this blog article, courtesy of Sarah Mackie @lumi_1984 https://soundcloud.com/occamshaver/a-storm-in-a-d-quip-wee-ginger-dug-19th-september-2016

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39 comments on “A storm in a D-quip

  1. OccamSHaver says:

    Spot on, Paul. I call myself and other lesbians dykes on a regular basis – the misdirection here from journos is breathtaking. With the Scottish Queer International Film Festival coming up, I’m sure I’ll be hearing it more than once while volunteering – it’ll be interesting to hear festival goers’ opinions on this charade.

  2. Bill Bryan says:

    Very well said Paul.I have friends that belong to your community and I know why they talk like that.Where’as I don’t have the right to.

  3. Saor Alba says:

    “Ruth’s sexuality is used by the modern Conservative party as a tool to help it maintain power and privilege for a few at the expense of the many. It masks the party’s reactionary nature with a veneer of progressiveness.”

    Absolutely Paul. This quote from your post is the crux of the whole thing.
    The Tories (all the different colours) are good at masking what they really are.
    Ruth has a mask all of her own. Shameful!

  4. David says:

    Thanks for this very coherent and comprehensive response to yet another msm attempt to discredit our varied rainbow coalition of all the different people that have brought our independence movement to a state of critical mass.

  5. They will use any means at their disposal to attempt to shatter the unity of the Self Determination Movement Up Here, Paul.
    I echo Saor’s comment on your excellent piece.

    ‘It masks the party’s reactionary nature with a veneer of progressiveness.’

    Pretty much sums up the Tories.

    They would crush us all underfoot to hold on to their last colony.

    I recall a US stand up comedian, his name escapes me, who was doing a routine where he was playing god in the first seven days of Creation.

    ‘I know what I’ll do. I’ll create humans, with seven sexes, but tell them that there are only two.’
    (or words to that effect.)

    There is no sewer in which these base creatures will not wallow in their efforts to smear pro Independence supporters.

    I’ll shut up now, because I have never experienced any of the vindictiveness and actual violence encountered by you and others.

    I have had my head used as a football in my teens in a dance hall for ‘lookin’ at ma burd’.

    But that is another primordial tale entirely.

    I have no right to comment further.

    Joanne Cherry’s problem is that she is a tremendous asset to the Independence Movement, who drew widespread applause from an English audience on QT last week, where a member of the audience asked:- were the SNP was the real Opposition Down There in WM?
    They are hurting and hurting badly.
    Violence is the last resort of an exhausted mind.( I think that was Gore Vidal, but don’t quote me.)

  6. Scotty375 says:

    An excellent example of how stories are twisted to suit.

    A bit off track but for those of you who may have missed it, The Grousebeater’s latest blog on how the Act of Union is misinterpreted is well worth a read.


  7. Guga says:

    “Ruth once famously said that she couldn’t remember the Thatcher era, and we should get over it.”

    If that’s the case, she’s obviously even thicker than she looks. Also, there is that old saying to the effect that whoever forgets the lessons of history is doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

    In any event, the more she rants and raves and maligns the Scottish people, the better, as that will remind the Scots about the way Thatcher acted towards us; and the Scots will show the same attitude towards Ruth the Tank as they did towards Mad Dog Thatcher.

  8. punklin says:

    Agree with all you say, Paul, except for implication that Whitsherface shouldn’t have used the word.

    It was funny, ffs!

  9. diabloandco says:

    You are the best debunker ever !

  10. Macart says:

    Well said Paul.

    Just so long as we’re clear though. Ms Davidson is still a ‘mis-stating’, empathy free hypocrite. Or in common parlance, a Tory.🙂

  11. iain taylor says:

    Understood. I’m caucasian and I’ve been in a mixed race family for 25 years. I can (and do) say things about race which would seem racist coming from folks with a whiter-than-white background.

  12. Iain says:

    Davidson’s in the public eye a lot these days, getting publicity whenever it comes a-knocking, but let’s not despair. It’s not that long ago since Anthea Turner was media darling and never out of the news. Davidson’s 15 minutes will soon be up and then it’ll be the turn of whoever is the wackiest on X Factor.

  13. kevinparafinlamp says:

    Brilliantly broken-down, Paul. You’re a wonderful representative for change, a natural voice and a good guy. I enjoyed that read.

    In my naivety, I was surprised to read about ‘an audience containing a number of hostile journalists who were on the lookout for things to be offended by’, but of course there will be people like this at an Indy/Yes event. You know, I was engaged by a steward at this event (Glw Green, Sat) who had nothing but ill to say for Alex Salmond and equally ill about Scotland being part of the EU. I didn’t offer a ranting indignation as that’s not what I do, however I’m annoyed with myself that I allowed him to get his ‘message’ over so readily. Yes, I know debate is healthy, but having read John Steinbeck, I should be aware that it’s not only hostile journalists who’ll be milling with the crowds. Ah-well, independence was never meant to be a breeze.

  14. Tinto Chiel says:

    “My own feeling is that the use of the word wasn’t homophobic because of who was using it. It was being used by a lesbian performer. Lesbians have the right to use the D-word without being judged for it by straight people.”

    In a nutshell, Paul. As you sat, context is everything but we all know this is really an attack on one of Indy’s highly articulate performers, Joanna Cherry, QC as well as a general smear on all people who want independence.

    Now JC is having to “defend” her position: Jeezo!

    No wonder Ruth pretends she doesn’t remember the Thatcher era. that’s simply a cowardly fingers-in-the-ears position to pretend Section 28, the political crushing of the miners and unions generally and the poll tax never existed.

    Her hypocrisy is staggering. She becomes more odious by the month and she still hasn’t taken up her baton as the face of Bitter Together 2.


  15. […] Source: A storm in a D-quip […]

  16. Absolutely agree Paul… Amongst other ‘ginger’ folk, I refer to myself unashamedly as ‘ginger’, ‘solarly challenged’ or even ‘pale skinned’ but outside that subset… Don’t call me anything but ‘strawberry-blonde’ or there’ll be trouble!

  17. keaton says:

    It’s a pity. Joanna Cherry always seemed like a good ‘un, but she’s made a right tit of herself over this.

  18. Colin Morrison says:

    I’d take exception to the baldy bit.

  19. Tartan Marvel says:

    If anyone wants to insult little Ruth just call her a Tory she chose to be that

    Love the Blog Paul I’m a long time reader first time commenter (said this so no one thinks I’m a Tory Unionist)

  20. brianmchugheng says:

    This hits at something I have believed for as long as I can remember. Language is complex… but it is also very simple. We all understand and take in more from words than just the words themselves. Words in themselves are in fact meaningless, it is the intent with which they are used which is important.

    I call my mates bawbags all the time, but there is no need to state the obvious if I just went up to a stranger in the street and did the same.

    For a supposedly intelligent? politician to cynically play that game is probably the lowest they are able to go in my estimation.

    • Anne Dolman says:

      I think you might be underestimating Ruthie’s gall.

      • brianmchugheng says:

        People trying to twist meaning, does nothing but show them up. It’s a real hate of mine… absolutely the primary reason (even long before the times of the Ref) that I despise the MSM so much… they live by that mantra.

        I was more offering Ruth D the benefit of doubt… and then contrasting it with her actions.

        There is little respect for the wee Tory from me… and i’m sure that comment gives her the in?


  21. Yoony D says:

    Black people say the N word with affection, and usually with a smart line. Friendly or not, I’ve never seen a black person describe another as ‘ni**ery’.

    Indeed, context is everything and there wouldn’t be a problem if Witsherface were talking about Ruth affectionately, but it’s pretty clear from the rest of the rap that they weren’t.

    A serious error of judgment under the circumstances and a complete gift of a stick to beat Nats with, but not something I got overly excited about to be honest. Just another day in the wonderful world of Scottish politics.


    Yoony D

  22. richardcain2 says:

    Just like how I & other Aberdeen fans can refer to each other as Sheep Shaggers, but God help anyone else who tries it! 😉

    • brianmchugheng says:

      I was a Weegie Don in my younger days (don’t bother with footy now)… it was always funny singing ‘In yer Glasgow slums’… always had a smile as I gave it laldy. LOL

  23. Will Easton says:

    Another great blog Paul. It’s not so much what’s been said, it’s the context of what’s been said to whom, by whom. If “the love of my life” is pissed off with me for example, she might (half jokingly) call me a Prick, but… as I always say. “As long as it’s only you who calls me that love, then that’s fine by me”

  24. Jan Cowan says:

    Good job you’re here, Paul, to disentangle their crazy web. I only hope RD reads your work. She and her “helpers” would certainly benefit.

  25. A lot of me is very lesbian inclined is it OK if I use the word – would help if I knew where it came from and if also, everyone got over using words that are parts of what makes us beautiful as swear words.

  26. orri says:

    Thing is those of the public who bothered to watch the Last Leg during the Paralympics would have seen the kind of banter that goes on within a group. Assume Josh is either the equivalent of a fag hag or being short, ginger and having that accent/voice count as a disability.

  27. […] Unlike some who have pontificated on this issue despite being ignorant of the complexities of it, I’m in no position to say who should or shouldn’t be offended by the word ‘dyke’.  I bow to the judgement of author and commentator Paul Kavanagh, himself gay, on this subject. […]

  28. Marconatrix says:

    Definitely food for thought. But I can´t follow your logic. If as you say (and not for the first time) that you´re ´queer´ than that is what you are, so to say so is simply stating a matter of fact, something that stands as true or false regardless of the status of the caller.

    If I called you a thief, and you were not, then that would be a insult and an apology would be in order, at the very least. If you did happen to be a thief then no offense would be warranted. Whether or not the name caller were themselves a thief would be beside the point, apart from the issue of hypocrisy, which in fact would work opposite to your claim. That is only if the name caller were themselves free from the condition in question would the accusation be seen as valid.

    Now let me be totally honest and make a personal confession, which I sincerely hope will not be used against me (some hope that!) I am an English bastard. There´s nothing I can ever do to change that. The defining event occurred rather longer ago than I care to think about and I was, to say the least, somewhat young at the time and had no control over the circumstances.

    But fact is fact. If you call me a bastard I have no defense, none whatsoever, for that is what I am. Somewhere I have a certificate to prove it. When Scotland is free I may be able to change my nationality, but I´m stuck with my bastardy just as the Dug is stuck with his homosexuality.

    Now by WGD´s logic it would somehow be OK for you to call me a bastard if you happened to also share that condition, but not otherwise. How does that change anything? Forgive my puzzlement ~

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