As we tread hot off the heels of the self-proclaimed ‘most wonderful time of the year’ and into a whole new decade, I find myself wondering how we manage to continually traipse in metaphorical pop-cultural circles. Every Christmas feels like the last in some respects - we put up the same trees, re-stress about what to buy our loved ones and, of course, dust off our favourite familial arguments to then update them with a brand-new 2019 rendition.
I don’t know how applicable my experiences are but personally, I’ve just had my yearly spin on the splendid carousel of distant high school acquaintances and weird relatives sharing the same angry Facebook content. The usual memes about how the evil Grinch-esque gays are here to steal Christmas from you by dancing on the grave of our dear Father Christmas, with tales of a new yuletide icon - a gender neutral Santa Claus.
Droves of tweets following the rhetoric of “I support you gays! Live your life! But this is where I draw the line. Stop shoving it down our throats!” and other knee-slappingly witty remarks parroting this sentiment. And this makes me mad. Not because I’m a particularly avid supporter of a gender-neutral Santa; in fact, I don’t really care (although, why shouldn’t the magic being who gives us our gifts be non-binary? It would hardly be breaking the illusion of plausibility). But more so because the (non-replicated, mind you) study which found that this purported ‘17.8%’ of people who wanted a gender-neutral Santa knew exactly what it was doing - creating a stir for attention’s sake.
Conducted by ‘GraphicSprings’ - a graphic design service, one has to question their motives for dipping their toes into the harsh waters of statistics at all. If studying Psychology has taught me anything, it’s that statistics aren’t easy, and that a clean, unbiased result is something many of us take for granted. To put it simply, GraphicSprings knew exactly how to generate a buzz over their modest site. And generate they did. Pink-News.co.uk naturally reported on this figure, and the mainstream media ate it up. BBC, The Sun, The Mirror, CBS, The Telegraph, Daily Mail - trashy or not - were posting articles and opinion pieces on the matter and adding their two cents until the pot of gold was overflowing. This opulence of coverage started a domino-like chain reaction of news which, of course, ended up where most internet controversies do: Twitter. And this was where the source of this veiled transphobia from the usual crowd came in. The poor souls, baffled by the emergence of all these new-fangled things such as ‘non-binary people wanting to exist’ and ‘the LGBT+ community wanting to be visible’. Ridiculous, right? The big problem here is that all this study accomplished was giving straight people an outlet to express this discomfort, except with quote-unquote ‘evidence’ this time. “See? This time the LGBT+’s really are shoving it down our throats! So, it’s okay to complain about them now!”. First of all, participants of GraphicSprings’ study (titled ‘Modernizing Santa’) were actually asked a series of multiple-choice questions regarding how one would (as the title suggests) modernise Santa; one of which specifically addressed Santa’s gender, and offered the options of ‘male’, ‘female’ or ‘gender-neutral’ (known as Santx) as possible responses. Spoiler alert: this skews results. How many people wouldn’t have even considered changing Santa’s gender, if not asked about it and presented with the option?
GraphicSprings’ clear search for a snappy, clickbait-y statement to bring traffic to their website aside, the reality of it is that gender-neutral Santa is so far down on the list of the LGBT+ community’s priorities, it’s underground. Sorry, Santx. But what this did was continue the tired and false narrative that to be LGBT+ is to be something radical. That we don’t simply want to exist like everybody else, but that we’re determined to tear down these existing institutions in superficial ways. Homophobes and transphobes were given an excuse to demonise us and reinvigorate their narrative that we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re going to defile all of your favourite childhood centrepieces by rubbing our rainbow-smeared hands on them. And quite frankly, I’m tired of being made out to be the villain.
We see this happen again and again - more recently with the news of ‘rainbow poppies’ sweeping through our news feeds last November. The introduction of an alternative symbol to the standard red is nothing new - many variations already exist: purple poppies for service animals; black poppies for African, black and Caribbean communities’ contributions; white poppies for people who died... the list goes on. What I found interesting was that when the rainbow news broke, I found myself struck with déja vu. The same narratives came crawling out of the woodwork that I’d already seen who-knows-how-many times at this point RE: gender-neutral Santa, except this time targeted at rainbow poppies. While they had no statistics to back them up this time, it was somehow decided upon that rainbow poppies are an act of gross disrespect against our troops, so, naturally, they were just fighting the good fight in defending veterans’ honour against the gay agenda to defile these memories.
In all seriousness, in cases such as both gender-neutral Santa and the rainbow poppy, I just find it peculiar how the general public and mainstream media seem to simply adore picking up these stories which give people an excuse to jump down the LGBT+ community’s throat (whether we even knowingly campaigned for something or not) with the same ideas, simply paraphrased. The world is filled with a virtually infinite number of potential news stories and trends to report on, yet these shockwaves of hearsay about what the LGBT+ community is up to more often than not dominates the news cycle. Nobody is going to yell at you for misgendering Santa Claus, nobody is going to scoff at you for wearing a red poppy rather than a rainbow one, yet as far as the news is concerned, this is worth talking about because putting ‘LGBT+’ and ‘controversy’ in a headline will draw in uncomfortable straight people’s clicks like moths to a lamp.
Of course, the internet is wont to get angry at anything and everything (it’s simply a law of nature), but I can’t help but feel there’s a dangerous attitude being cultivated by this outrage marketing. Very slowly, spaces are being created where individuals can feel empowered in their bigotry on this second-hand information being passed around about what the LGBT+ community says, wants, or does, and as long as this blasé attitude regarding what we do and don’t believe continues online, I’m not too sure how we can stop it. At the end of the day, by perpetuating this back-and-forth we’re completing our role as cogs in the media machine feeding their bloated websites with likes and revenue. And the worst part is that by talking about this right now, I’m continuing the cycle. I don’t know if it can be avoided, but I think we could definitely afford to put our pitchforks down to rest more often. Much like new Santa’s gender, we could afford to be more neutral sometimes.