The Hate That Has No Name - Homophobia in 21st Century Ireland
I finally got around to reading this piece in the Gay Community News (pages 36-37 - h/t CLR) on the Radiators’ song ‘Under Clery’s Clock’, written by the sadly recently departed Philip Chevron. The department store clock on Dublin’s main O’Connell Street was a traditional meeting place for courting couples, but in the song Chevron makes it clear that he (or at least the narrator) is meeting a man. As the article notes, the song “was first performed at a reunion of the band for an Aids benefit gig in September 1987, and was released as a single in January 1989” - while homosexuality was not decriminalised in Ireland until the following decade. That said, I had no idea that Chevron was gay until his recent death, even though I’m a big fan of their Ghostown album - and hearing ‘Under Clery’s Clock’, without being informed of its historical context, I don’t think the gender pronouns struck me as particularly significant (or maybe I just wasn’t listening very carefully).
The GCN article also praises “Chevron’s genius as a songwriter […] by adapting a notorious line of poetry that had been used to help convict Oscar Wilde for homosexuality, ‘The love that dares not speak its name.’ In Chevron’s hands it became ‘The love that does not have a name.’” Ghostown is full of references to Irish literary history, and in particular in critiquing establishment cultural narratives, so the connection is not that surprising. It’s just a shame that I didn’t pick up on it earlier, or that the song - which Graham Linehan (the Father Ted writer?) described in Hot Press as “brazenly Irish, brazenly homosexual” (although he also criticised it as sounding like “an out-take from Oliver, the Musical" - the NME called it a “beautiful and haunting love ballad” and made it single of the week) - perhaps is not as well known today as it should be.
In the contemporary context, a referendum on the introduction of gay marriage is expected by 2015; and in the run-up to that campaign a group of high-profile members of right-wing Catholic think-tank recently wrote legal letters to the national broadcaster alleging defamation after a guest on a chat show described them as ‘homophobic’ - and received an apology and reportedly up to €85,000 in ‘damages’. As with the abortion debate, there is a worryingly successful attempt to define the terms of discourse and claim victimization by anyone who vocally opposes their extreme and socially offensive views on basic individual freedoms. Rather than try to convince an audience why their perspective on homosexuality is not homophobic, they claim that because homophobia is in essence associated with violent bigotry, their attempts at rational debate - however much they may be considered in bad faith, however disrespectful and malign they may be felt as by those with first-hand experience of ‘actual’ homophobia, however much the philosophical and legal denial of rights may be connected to everyday abuse - cannot be described using that word. Homophobia, therefore, is the hate that does not have a name in Ireland.
Thankfully, there are many who dare speak its name, as they rightly should. I’m not wholly unsympathetic to the idea that the strongest terms be used sparingly in debate, but I’m also not someone who is exposed to homophobic abuse - even though I don’t personally consider myself to be entirely straight, I certainly ‘pass’ - or homophobic legal institutions. The clearest comparison I’ve seen is with race: we do not accept a right (at least here) not to be called ‘racist’ while criticising basic societal conceptions of equality between people of all colours; theoretically, such views are part of freedom of speech, but such freedom does not entail either an automatic platform nor a defence from criticism in the strongest possible terms. I’m not wholly sold on the idea that marriage equality is simply an inarguable issue of rights, although I support it on the basis that I see no reason or justification for the state to discriminate in favour of a ‘traditional’ definition of marriage. In other words, I’ll allow that there may be sincere objections to marriage equality, but the onus must be on the objectors to explain why they do not constitute homophobia; why they’re not based in the distrust of and unwillingness to accept alternative sexualities as full expressions of individual identity.