Gender identity can be a matter of life and death
If you want to make jokes at the expense of others, it's more important to be funny than to be inoffensive
Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30
Let's talk about sex. It's the most talked-about subject anyway. And it's also the subject about which most jokes are made.
So when the RTE broadcaster Jonathan Clynch came out last week and announced he was 'gender fluid' and would henceforth be known as Jonathan Rachel Clynch, it led to some hilarity. (He didn't plan to come out the way he did - on the front page of the Star newspaper - but he did intend to do it on Marion Finucane's radio programme the same day, so same difference).
There is only one rule where humour is concerned and no, it is not to avoid giving offence. In fact, giving offence is often a good thing. Some people need to be offended and there are those who will travel far to be offended. But most people will laugh at a good joke, even if it is at their own expense.
The only rule of comedy is that you must be funny. And you will find that if you apply that rule rigorously, you will exclude the kind of nasty, cruel 'jokes' that give offence needlessly. Because for the most part, that sort of stuff just isn't funny.
For a long time, just being gay was enough to make you the butt of these so-called jokes and even if the joke fell flat, the joker would always seek refuge in the excuse that they were "only joking."
Some things are funny, like the suggestion that an Irish homosexual is one who would step over a woman to get to his pint. Or Jimmy Drumm's unintentionally hilarious claim that Brendan Behan couldn't be gay - "Sure he's not even interested in women."
Now we have gay marriage and we know about the spectrum which indicates none of us is 100pc heterosexual or 100pc homosexual. We are all somewhere in between. We are familiar too with the plight of those who find themselves born in the wrong bodies, those who are under the 'transgender' banner, and we have heard too many tragic tales from this quarter, to laugh too often.
Even so, coming out, for many gay men and women, and transgenders, young and old, is still painful and difficult. But human beings were not meant to live in closets.
If you were in the intelligence business and had thoughts of becoming a spy, you would go through intense psychological testing to see if you were mentally strong enough to endure spending every day pretending to be someone you are not.
You would also have the knowledge that you had a large and powerful organisation at your back and that you were doing important work for your country, and that you only had to do this for a time before getting back to your normal life.
As a gay man or woman who has not come out, you have to do this every day of your life, often having to lie to family and friends, without any support or any good reason for living the way you do except fear, and no exit in sight.
And that's just for people whose sexual orientation is now practically as acceptable socially as heterosexuality.
So how much more difficult must it have been for Jonathan Clynch, living with the knowledge that inside of him were two opposing sexual identities, each coming to the surface on different days of the week?
To the world he had only one sexual identity, so the other one had to be kept hidden away, repressed, lest friends and colleagues should think him odd or weird or even deviant.
Of course when somebody "comes out", there is almost certainly a tremendous sense of relief at not having to live a lie any more. But that doesn't make it is easy.
There is still the fear that now you have exposed yourself to potential ridicule and cruel jibes, and just as it took a lot of mental energy to live a lie, it will take a lot of strength to live the truth.
So you can see why there is only limited scope for humour in this matter and even at that, it better be funny.
On the other hand, a quick flick onto the internet to research the whole question of gender identity will give you pause, because if gender fluidity set you back on our heels, you ain't seen nothing yet.
Take the Demisexuals, for example. They only want to have sex with people they've formed a meaningful emotional attachment to. Time was they'd have been called healthy mature adults - or good Catholics.
Then there are the Biromantics. They love doing date-like things with anyone of either sex but draw the line at actual kissing and definitely at sex; and the Heteromantics who are into the romance aspect of relationships but not the physical ones. They sound a bit like weirdos, but to each his or her own.
There is another group called Aromantic: for them, sex is fine but they just say no to relationships. I think they're actually players and it's not such a new concept.
The term Pansexuals has become popular of late, mostly because if you are in this category, you are supposed to be open to sex with men or women, transexuals or bisexuals, or, to put it another way, you'd shag anything with a pulse.
But the creepiest one for me is the Lithromantic. This type of person is totally cool with being in a relationship with someone who doesn't reciprocate their feelings. In fact, they prefer it. Well, that sound like a classic definition of a stalker.
Then there is a bunch who could easily all be lumped together - the Semisexual, the Akoiromantic, the Grayromantic and the Graysexuals. (These latter two have nothing to do with geriatrics).
They are all pretty close to a group most of us have heard of before - the Asexual, because they either don't ever want to have sex or just don't ever have sex. The reasons probably vary from low libido to just being lazy bastards.
There are too many of these sub groups in the field of gender identity. The loaf has been sliced too thin and new categories keep springing up like quangos.
You know the kind of thing - if you only like sex when there is an R in the month or on a Tuesday or when there is a full moon, there is probably some other eejit out there who will agree with you and you can go off and form a support group.
But really you are only trivialising something which is serious.
For some people it is more than serious. It can be a matter of life and death.