I try to check the headlines in the UK's Guardian, if not on a daily basis, at least every few days. On Saturday, I came across a tragic story of two young, British, working-class men in love with each other, neither of whom seems to have been gay -- although it's impossible to be absolutely sure from the story as reported.
As you can see from the photo, though, showing Barry Delaney, 25, collapsed and weeping, it is a story with a heartbreaking ending. Delaney promised his best friend, Kevin Elliott, 22 at the time, to wear a dress -- "the brighter, the better" -- to Elliott's funeral in the terrible event Elliott was killed in action in one of the two wars of occupation in which Britain has joined America in the Middle East.
And, yes, in the photo Delaney is at Elliot's funeral, wearing a tight green mini-dress and pink leg-warmers. Had he donned this outfit under different circumstances in his blue-collar community, it likely would have resulted in a tragedy of a different kind, with himself the victim. In this case, however, his cross-dressing was accepted as a sign of respect, even by Elliott's comrades from Britain's Black Watch infantry who attended the ceremony in their regimental uniforms.
The two men entered into their pact three years ago -- maybe as a lark? Or perhaps in the hope or superstition that the mere absurdity of the stipulation would somehow stave off bad luck. And stave it off it did, for a time, as Elliott survived some of the heaviest and most brutal fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
But his luck ran out last month when, at age 24, he was cut down in an ambush in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
The photo is powerful, with its juxtaposition of anguish with a bright, frivolous dress; maleness, unexpectedly in feminine attire; that feminine attire in contrast to the traditional masculine attire -- and a red rose -- of the unidentified men; and youth, aged suddenly by abject desolation.
Not to mention, the gravestones, freshly turned sod, and flowers.
Why do we do this to our young (mostly) men? It wasn't a natural disaster that killed Elliott before he really had a chance to live, and left his loved ones out of their minds with grief. Every generation, we fill young men's minds with lies, brainwashing them into believing that the highest calling is to kill and be killed "for your country." Surf the Net for comments on this story and you find ample samples of this noxious, patriotic BS. To make sure the message sticks, we often impoverish communities, thus eliminating economic alternatives to military service -- the Guardian talks of no jobs in the boys' hometown.
Somehow, even though the realization gradually seeps into the minds of at least a portion of each generation that patriotism is a cynical con, it doesn't make it to the vast majority, and never to the subsequent generation in time to prevent the next war. Instead, we fabricate a new pretense and send the current crop of young men off to die, over and over and over. Endlessly, it seems.
In this story, I'm also struck by the fact that the men picked wearing a dress as the terms of their pact. A man in a dress seems the polar opposite of a man dressed for combat. Did that figure into their decision? Or was it as I imagined when I first read the story, two men jocularly entering into a pact mocking, "men in dresses?" I don't know.
I wonder if Delaney would have gone through with the promise if it had been made in the latter frame of mind. Even a transphobic person would feel it in his gut that to follow through on a promise made in such an unkind spirit would be disrespectful to his slain friend, wouldn't he?
As well, there's the fact that their community readily accepted what, as a rule, would have been met with severe disapproval, possibly even violence. Why can't the same acceptance be extended under less extreme circumstances?
Then again, maybe this is just one of those situations I don't understand.
As a trans person, I'm sensitive to gender nuances that go right over the heads of most cis folks, but the flip-side is that there's a world of experience I simply never went through with the "uncomplicated" (if there is such a thing!) perspective of one or the other gender. Maybe this situation falls into the latter category. Maybe the whole thing makes perfect sense to cis folks.
In the end, what I'm mostly left feeling by this story is puzzled, sad for Delaney, and angry at the tragic waste of Elliott's life.