CW: coming out, discussion of societal queer- & transphobia, conservative politics
I begin my interview with eminent economist and journalist Evan Davis by asking about his experiences of coming out. He describes the process as a gradual one with three stages: beginning with self-acceptance, before proceeding to tell parents and family members, before finally feeling comfortable in coming out more widely. He says he was ‘about fifteen years old’ when he started to question his sexuality, but wasn’t open with his parents until a couple of years later – even during his early career at the BBC his identity was not public knowledge. He claims that now it ‘comes up a lot’ in discussion, and rather awkwardly added that it ‘still remains one of the most interesting things about me’. Yet I was struck by his appraisal of the media and the BBC specifically as a ‘benevolent environment’ where an LGBT identity simply does not incite hostility (despite still being an area of fascination for some). In fact, Davis underlined the need for casualization regarding the coming out process, inferring that the more uptight and sensitive one appears, the more likely others are to see one’s identity as an issue deserving of scrutiny and unwanted attention.
I proceeded to gauge his opinions on the direction of the LGBT movement and some of the tensions within it. Alluding to the Trans Awareness Campaign taking place this month in Cambridge, I asked what he saw as some of the barriers to trans liberation and inclusivity within the wider LGBT movement. Despite recognising the ‘big difference between gender and sexuality issues’, he is inclined to the view that the two are linked, and optimistically sees ‘room for a coalition’ on tackling the issues, citing the progress made within the LGB community as cause for a positive outlook regarding the liberation of trans and non-binary people. Davis spoke enthusiastically on the shift in attitudes even between his and my generation, claiming that ‘the world doesn’t fall in on itself’ when we accept people’s sexual preferences, and as such he sees no reason why this cannot be extended to gender identity in all its forms. With continued unity, he argues, increased transgender representation and acceptance is inevitable.
Davis appeared unsurprisingly positive when asked about people’s experiences of growing up LGBT today, in contrast with when he was young. Young people, he says, are undeniably growing up in a much more tolerant environment these days, stating that during his youth one could be made to feel ashamed of their sexuality, intensified by the lack of LGBT role models for young people. However, he was keen to stress that whilst negative attitudes toward homosexuality were widely held in society, these were ‘primarily in the abstract’ and that on a more personal level attitudes were more accepting than we give credit for.
The interview rounded off with perhaps a more controversial question: does Davis think his economic and political positions complement, or contradict, his desire for LGBT liberation? He claims not to see himself as a ‘right-wing economist in the strictest sense’; that his views are more subtle, and that such subtlety needs to be appreciated within the LGBT community. He ‘wouldn’t categorize the LGBT movement as staunchly left-wing’ and argues that sweeping generalizations do more harm than good. Whilst accepting that many members of the community adhere to a more socially liberal position, Davis believes that there is a ‘strange paradox’ within party politics – questioning why, for example, the right-wing Conservative party has such a high proportion of gay members – and as such, he sees it as dangerous to try and ‘pin down’ LGBT politics onto a particular side of the political spectrum.
Hayden Banks, Get Real. contributor