FOLLOWING last week’s piece, I’ve got to thank Kirsty Blackman MP and Alison Thewliss MP, among others, who kindly sent me the invitation to the UK Gout Association’s Parliamentary Reception. Talking of MPs, I overheard two of them talking about the TIE campaign in the canteen the other day. One seemed to think it was something to do with bondage – which I’m quite certain is a reflection of his own sordid obsessions – while the other was insistent that it was something to do with compulsory school uniforms. (I’m all for that, by the way. It’s smart.) However, they were both suffering from that affliction endemic among politicians of talking about things of which they know nothing; that, or they were trying to cover up that they were sleeping off a hangover during the briefing. In actual fact, the TIE campaign stands for Time for Inclusive Education and it’s aim is to combat homophobia, biphobia and transphobia through inclusive education in Scotland’s schools.
Over 90 per cent of young people in Scotland who identify as LGBTI report that they were subjected to homophobic bullying at school. Even more grim, 27 per cent say they have attempted to kill themselves. Every year some of them succeed. That can’t be OK, and we owe it to all our young people to equip them with the life-skills they need to navigate the challenges of adulthood successfully, and ensure that our schools provide a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.
I know that anything to do with sex education can easily become a political hot potato. Nearly everybody has a strong opinion about it, usually based on their own sexual preferences, life experiences and ingrained prejudices.
Loading article content
When I was at school, a lack of consensus on what should be taught, when, and to whom, not to mention an overwhelming and chronic air of embarrassment, meant that too many kids of my generation learned about reproduction from old biology text books, and from watching re-runs of Living and Growing on late night TV, which left us with the erroneous impression that coitus is some arcane ritual invented by hippies in 1970s Aberdeenshire.
I’m sure it only got made there because the locals wanted to dispel the rumours about sheep once and for all. I’ve never liked Aberdeen since I got a life ban from the Granite City’s only gay bar, but I don’t hold a grudge. Some of my favourite people in the world are from the north-east.
I’m sure sex education is much better nowadays. But the desperate experiences of young LGBTI people suggests that we still have some way to go to make sure everyone feels included at school, and the educational needs of all pupils are met as far as sex and relationships education is concerned. The problem is, if we don’t step up, we’re abandoning the education of the next generation to low-grade pornographers and snake-oil salesmen. Now, I’m no prude. I’ve seen some sights, let me tell you – and when I publish my memoirs, “The Ms-education of Ms Nancy Clench” will be one of the most scintillating chapters. However, even I am shocked by the extremes of violent, misogynistic and homophobic imagery that saturate the interweb nowadays. I’m not ashamed to say that some of it even makes me blush. But in the absence of more realistic portrayals, people will start to think that abuse of women and LGBTI people is an acceptable norm in relationships, and it’s really not.
I’m no hypocrite either. My live shows are intended to provide entertainment for open-minded adults, and when I get my own TV show, I definitely won’t be on before the watershed. All the same, I do insist on certain standards of decorum. Anyone who asks me to sing anything by James Blunt at this year’s SNP Youth Conference Karaoke will be told in no uncertain terms that it’s not happening on the grounds of taste and decency.
Although I think I’ve made a good fist of educating my audiences about safe sex, I’ve realised I have a civic duty to do more, and I’m now on a one-woman mission. As a mentor and role-model to many young men and women at my place of work – not to mention a trade union rep – I’m thinking of initiating a series of informal lunchtime seminars for those who feel that the sex education they got at school failed to prepare them for life in the fleshpots of London. The sessions will be based on hard empirical evidence, extensive field research (the field in question being Clapham Common behind my house), and bitter personal experience. I’ve already started working on them, and themes I’ve come up with so far include, 1. Air-kissing and other forms of social networking: avoiding herpes and other nasty viruses 2. Condoms and how to use them: stopping the spread of gonorrhoea in the office environment 3. Preventing unplanned pregnancy: how to say “no” at the end of the night when you’ve spent your taxi money on tequila. Depending on feedback, I may extend the programme to meet popular demand.
I was really lucky that I didn’t face much homophobic bullying at school. I recognise now I was probably an exception. Back then, Nancy’s magnificent feminine physique was hidden under a blazer, regulation footwear, and a strict ‘no sequins’ rule. I complained loudly about that at the time, because undoubtedly it cramped my style, but it did mean that I could just about pass as straight. I don’t suppose I was really fooling anyone, least of all myself, but even the thickest of homophobic bullies thinks twice before pressing the point with a 6ft 5in top. Many other youngsters are not so fortunate. Homophobia is real and it’s deadly. Everyone has the right the live free from violence, and abuse – unless such abuse comes from my tongue when I’m on stage. That’d be light-hearted, at least.