The issues affecting LGBT kids are also rather different. Yes, some of the students had had those age-old, somewhat traumatising experiences of trying to discuss issues of “otherness” with their parents, but the debate on Thursday was much more focussed around gender and the use of personal pronouns. Each of the young people we met had a badge with their name on it, followed by the pronoun they wanted everyone to use when talking about them. Some were he. Some were she. Some were they. I was slightly confused by the person whose pronoun was written down as “she” followed by a question mark. I wondered whether I needed to make sure all of my conversations with her had upward inflections!
It made me realise that the concept of gender fluidity is one of the ways that the young generation are presently rebelling against old duffers. It’s their equivalent of “oh my God, you don’t know who Duran Duran are!” Of course, it is everyone’s absolute right to be as fluid as they like with the way they feel or present themselves, but it remains to be seen what percentage of these youngsters are still demanding they’re referred to as “they” whilst breastfeeding at the age of 35. It’s therefore their generation’s task to teach people like me that being gender fluid is more than just a transient, young person’s indulgence. I am certainly open minded about the subject because I’d love to think we could live in a world where there was far less difference between men and women, both in the way that we dress and the way that we feel the need to behave. I’m just not sure we’re quite in the space yet where young people can angrily tell the older generation that they’re “wrong” for simply having more binary views on gender.
We watched a film which showed clips of LGBT and gender queer people throughout the twentieth century, and something which really stuck out was a rather elderly, very charming psychiatrist in the 1970s who specialised in gender dysphoria. She summed everything up for me by saying “to be a transsexual, you need to have courage, integrity... and a sense of humour.”
It suddenly struck me that the sense of humour has been the missing ingredient in much of the noise which has been radiating from social networking sites of late on all issues of gender and sexuality. And it’s this lack of humour which is actually having the effect of making me disengage from the plight of those who yell the loudest and angriest - particularly when they do so anonymously. If we can bring a bit of humour back into the debate, then I think we’re golden.
On Friday, I visited a Jewish community centre for old people in Stepney where I met some delightful women whom I could have talked to for years. It turned out that one of them knew my old mate Joan Rose, who had provided me with an ever-lasting supply of wonderful East End memories when I made Oranges and Lemons. Joan, and my new bezzie, Miriam, had been best friends and next-door-neighbours in Arnold Circus in the 1920s and 30s, despite one being Jewish and one being Huguenot. Miriam, it seemed, had just as many memories of that somewhat golden interwar period. She’s also the sister of the man who wrote Save All Your Kisses for Me, so she was Eurovision royalty to boot!
In the afternoon, I bought myself some beigels from Brick Lane and went to Philippa’s house to work, which is a stone’s throw away from the area I’d been talking to Miriam about. We were joined by Julie Clare and ended up sitting out on Jesus Green with a whole group of their neighbours. The area where Philippa, Dylan and the kids live is a sort of glorious, peaceful oasis within the aggression and fumes of Hackney. There are very few cars, so the kids play out on the streets, chalking hopscotch pitches on the pavements. There are lots of areas of green, and lots of initiatives for the kids, including a city farm within a ten minute walk and places where you can go scrumping for plums and have all sorts of wonderful childhood adventures. The whole area feels like it’s been suspended in time. The streets are cobbled, and the houses are all beautifully kept Victorian terraces which regularly end up being used for filming. All of that community’s children will surely look back on their childhoods as particularly golden.
Yesterday found me in Finsbury Park attending the shul there, which was quite the experience. I’m rather interested in that particular shul’s community because of its unbelievable diversity. However, as soon as I arrived, I realised how I’ve become incredibly used to the formal ways of the New West End synagogue, so found the Finsbury Park service bewildering, fascinating and wonderful in equal measure. I also had my first experience of being “called up” during the Torah reading, which was heart-stopping. Feel free to call me Benyamin Ben Ro’i from now on!!
I spent the afternoon yomping across Hampstead Heath with Michael. Everything in nature has suddenly burst to life and the whole of London has started dressing in shorts and skimpy tops in a desperate attempt to enjoy the sunshine. The place was rammed with little clusters of people having picnics. We took a walk around the less-popular West Heath and stumbled upon a large number of people in red T-shirts and bright orange hi-vis jackets standing in long a row. Assuming they were stewards for some sort of sporting event, I approached one of them and said “is there a race?” He looked at me sternly: “no. We’re searching for a missing person.” And, despite the glorious sunshine, a chill descended. Plainly this person was missing, presumed dead. How awful for their family.
Nathan returned from Holland last night just in time for a whopping thunderstorm. The curtains billowed like something from a Meat Loaf video and there were all manner of flashes in the sky above Ali Pali. I hope the hot weather stays a little longer.