Are identity politics making us too intolerant?

A friend recently brought my attention to Karl Popper’s “Paradox of Tolerance”. Briefly, it states that defending tolerance requires us not to tolerate the intolerant. This is essentially the argument used by many of today’s liberals and champions of minority interests – in order that their ideas and reforms be allowed to flourish, any arguments against those ideas must be shut down and not allowed to be heard, on the basis that they are “intolerant”.

And so in the same week that Jacob Rees-Mogg faced outrage at his “intolerant” views on gay marriage and abortion, with many declaring that his views render him unfit for public office, even greater outrage ensued when Mike Davidson, of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministry (yes, really) was invited onto ‘Good Morning Britain’ to talk about how his church seeks to ‘cure’ gay men of their sexual confusion.

Sadly, Piers Morgan being the horrendous, bullying interviewer that he lately has become, we didn’t actually get to hear a great deal of what Dr Davidson had to say – we mostly heard Morgan shouting at him, denouncing him for views that he hadn’t yet had a chance to express and calling him a bigot.

And then Owen Jones, who lately seems to be able to work himself up into a lather about just about anything, but who, as a gay man, on this occasion had good cause to be offended, wrote a long article in the Guardian denouncing ‘Good Morning Britain’ for allowing Mr Davidson onto the show in the first place. Bigots such as Mr Davidson, according to Jones, should not be given a platform to express their hateful views at all.

But just how hateful are his views? As mentioned already, he was barely able to get a word in edgeways around Piers Morgan’s hectoring, but what he did manage to say was that he personally had been uncomfortable with his own sexuality as a young man, had not wanted to embrace life as a gay man and had sought a ‘cure’ for his feelings – which he claims to have found. What he now claims to be offering, is counseling to young men in a similar situation, who may not be comfortable with living their lives as gay men and may wish to explore the possibility of changing their sexuality.

I have a number of friends that I know to be gay, all of whom I believe are perfectly comfortable with their sexuality. And I am trying to tread very carefully here because I don’t wish this post to in any way sound as though I am questioning their lifestyle.  But I do think there is an element of truth in the doctor’s statement that some young people are not comfortable with “homosexual expression”.

No matter how much progress we have made as a society in terms of tolerance of homosexuality, and much progress has indeed been made, we are simply not yet at the stage where life is as easy for a gay person as it is for a straight person. Wishing it were so, and working hard to make it so, does not change the fact that at present it simply is not. And so it is understandable that not every young person who finds themselves attracted to the same sex, would be comfortable with that feeling.

Much though I highly doubt the efficacy of Dr Davidson’s approach, the interview itself points to an interesting dilemma.   Which is more harmful – encouraging somebody who may be struggling with homosexual urges, to fully embrace them and ‘come out’ as openly gay, or discussing their feelings with them, trying to establish whether what they are feeling is genuine or a passing teenage phase?

In recent years it has become almost forbidden to acknowledge that teenagers quite commonly find themselves attracted to their own sex at some stage during puberty, and that in many cases this attraction passes as they discover the delights of the opposite sex. To those who have only ever been attracted to the same sex, this may sound ridiculous, but many straight people would admit to having felt an attraction, at some stage, to a friend of the same sex, and potentially to have agonised over what it could mean.  In our desperation to accommodate gay rights, are we in danger of pushing people to come out as gay when they may still be exploring their sexuality?   Or, as in the recent case of the National Trust unilaterally deciding to “out” a gay benefactor, against the wishes of his family, forcing people to become flagbearers for a cause they are not willing to openly embrace?

Piers Morgan, in the process of bullying his interviewee, insisted that sexuality is something you are born with, but in my view that’s nonsense. No child comes out of the womb attracted to either sex – sexuality is something that develops as part of puberty.   It seems astounding to me that the same people who argue that gender is fluid, will also argue that sexuality is set in stone.   If we are to allow children and adults the freedom to decide their own gender, why not allow them the same freedom to decide – and explore alternatives for – their own sexuality?

The notion of “curing” homosexuality is obviously nonsense – and the term “cure” is insulting and deserving of contempt – but that’s all the more reason why people such as Dr Davidson should be invited onto chat shows, and should be allowed to properly express their views, so that they can be properly challenged on exactly what it is they are proposing. Simply denouncing him as “intolerant” when it’s clear he has struggled – and possibly still does struggle – with his own sexuality – is actually pretty intolerant.

And what of the school that we learned this week has banned girls from wearing skirts, and insisted that all pupils must wear trousers, in a bid to make its small number of transgender pupils feel more comfortable? Trousers are okay for boys and for relatively straight-legged, relatively flat-bottomed girls, but a fair number of teenage girls find themselves cursed with large thighs, hips or bottoms which the average trousers simply do not flatter, not to mention being incredibly uncomfortable when sitting down. Where is the tolerance for these girls, and the concern for their emotional and physical well-being?   And what are we teaching girls about their place in the world, when we teach them that wearing women’s clothes is no longer allowed?

In our desperation to show tolerance for every minority issue, not only are we showing intolerance towards those who do not deserve it, but we are even beginning to reverse much of the progress that has been made in recent years.   We absolutely should not tolerate that.






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