Scottish PEN marks the end of LGBT History Month 2022 by sharing a blog by poet, Jay Whittaker. The theme of ‘Blurring Borders: A World in Motion’ has been set by LGBT Youth Scotland for this year’s activities. You can learn more on the LGBT History Month website. Blurring borders – we’ve been here before […]March 2, 2022
Scottish PEN marks the end of LGBT History Month 2022 by sharing a blog by poet, Jay Whittaker. The theme of ‘Blurring Borders: A World in Motion’ has been set by LGBT Youth Scotland for this year’s activities. You can learn more on the LGBT History Month website.
The state of the world woke me at 3am last night. I knew there was no point in trying to sleep, my mind churning. I headed into the kitchen and emptied out the drawer where all the odds and ends collect. Amid the screwdrivers, dried out pens, obsolete keys, chargers for who-knows-what, was a single cufflink, with a Saltire motif. I had thought it lost. I’d kept its pair as a keepsake. It belonged to my late partner Morag, who died in 2012.
Morag was a proud Scot, and a proudly butch lesbian. She wore that cufflink with a crisp white shirt. I’ve written many poems about her loss, and the Morag-shaped space her untimely death left in the world. They were published in my first poetry collection, Wristwatch [link], which won the Saltire Scottish Poetry Book of the Year in 2018. I lived in a country where I had the freedom to write about my dead, queer partner. What I wrote was published. And my writing was recognised in a national literary award.
But that’s not a given. When Morag and I got together in the early 1990s, we had no rights. Section 28 / Clause 2A was still very much in force, forbidding “promotion of homosexualilty,” labelling us a “pretend family relationship.” There was more casual homophobia around then, and more overt prejudice. I knew that my parents, from whom I was estranged for several years after I came out, could have cut Morag out completely if I was critically ill or died. We made elaborate mitigating legal arrangements (at least that was a possibility).
And I remember very well how it feels to have your “right” to exist being debated on the radio, on Good Morning Scotland, during the campaign against the repeal of Clause 28/2A. How it feels as you lie in bed, as you carry yourself through the day with a knot of rage and terror, wondering, who thinks like that… My neighbours? My colleagues? My mother? Knowing they have law and public opinion on their side.
Waking, I recognise
(tinny, through a bedside speaker),
voices I quelled,
voices I put aside —
fruity establishment tones
worried, workaday voices,
condemning us, debating us
as though we are abstract
not cowering in our beds.
(Originally published in Sweet Anaesthetist. [Link]. Reproduced with kind permission from Cinnamon Press)
By the time Morag died in 2012, Scotland had changed, and because we were civil partnered, I didn’t have to deal with all the things we had feared. I could register her death, and the officials and funeral staff were kind, sad for us. It was how it should be when the worst happens.
Scotland has come a long way in my lifetime. But we can’t be complacent – rights can be rescinded quickly. I think of Weimar Germany. There is still much to do, and still people who would like to rewind the advances we have made.
So, from my current privilege and apparent security, I say to LGBTQ+ people living in harder places and tougher times than I ever have, I see you. I’ve experienced some of the things you have – the laws intended to drive us underground, to shame us, to frighten us, to encourage the rest of society to police us. To police ourselves through fear. To worry about writing certain things down, and certainly to wonder about sending that writing anywhere. Remember, things do improve. And in turn, those of us currently enjoying marginally safer and tolerant places must be vigilant. We must speak out for those who are not safe to do so. And we must remember our hard-won gains can also be taken from us.