Gender and Sexuality have, for most of my life, been the simplest of things. There are men, and there are women. Men had sex with women.

While I worshipped and admired several gay men, it never occurred to me that they were gay. Freddie Mercury? Surely not! Looking back, I laugh at myself. I mean…but the fact was that I never considered anyone’s sexuality. I attended an all-boys boarding school. Was there “experimentation” going on? Of course, there was. Hormones are hormones. But if anyone considered themselves gay, they certainly didn't say so. Working in Paris, I met Todd. A tall black guy from Texas. Witty, urbane, alarmingly handsome and as camp as Christmas. I remember being told that he was gay. I replied, “Of course he is”, and thought no more about it.

My first friend at University came out to me at the end of Fresher’s week. He told me hesitantly. I thought for a second and said, “OK.” It never crossed my mind that this was a big moment for him. Later, he thanked me, relieved and delighted that I appeared entirely unmoved. He gave me too much credit; I was just too self-involved to be bothered.

While I have never felt fear or discomfort with homosexuality or believed myself to be prejudiced - I was steeped in pejorative language.

“Don't be a pouff!”

For me, just a thoughtless turn of phrase. For others, deeply offensive. Ultimately, I’m not in the business of heedlessly offending people, so I removed that type of language from my lexicon.

In my younger years, I was vaguely aware of “Trannies”, which I took to be Transvestites. Men who dressed as women, or vice versa. Then, the brother of a friend of mine became her sister.

A group of us talked about it and settled on “Is he happy?” to which we received the reply “Yes, SHE is…” We all nodded sagely and had another beer.

In recent years, I’ve watched from the sidelines as debates about gender identity and fluidity have erupted.

Wow. Let me first say - “I don’t know.”

People have explained to me how, although biologically, they were born one sex, they categorically feel the other. My initial reaction to that is, “Huh?”. However, if that is their experience of the world and they feel that to be their authentic self, they must live as the other gender, I fall on the side of - “Good luck.” Some people undertake medical procedures, some don’t. Again - my instinct is that these are personal decisions, upon which I don't need to have an opinion.

Other people have then expressed to me that, actually, those individual choices do have a wider impact, whether in sporting competition or pragmatic things like gendered spaces. Some have concerns that safe spaces risk becoming no longer safe. Are those legitimate concerns? Yes, I think they are. While I accept that biology need not determine gender or identity, it does have an impact, meaning that in some sports, competition between men and women is not even. I pose absolutely no threat to anybody, but I imagine most of my friends would rather I didn’t share a changing room with their daughters.

Ultimately, everybody I know sees the nuance and depth of the issues raised around identity. In comparison to where we were 40 years ago, I’d say we’ve made great progress. On social media? Not so much. The usual polemic nonsense persists there.

Must these things provoke so much bile?

What am I missing? Send me a note to hello at stuartlennon dot com. Tell me your view, your experience.

People like you support my writing. You can become a member of the site here. Members can access the serialisation of my first novel draft and comment on it in a member's Slack. They also get a free electronic copy of anything I publish during their membership. Sign up—help me move writing from a side project to a main project.