Thursday, 7 February 2013
The recent weeks have made me aware, not only of homophobia in the media, but also, amongst gay people themselves.
A few days ago I was having a conversation with an acquaintance in the sauna at the gym. Gay and a UKIP supporter, which to me, like gay Republican, is something of an oxymoron, I asked him if he had changed his views since the recent sacking of Olly Neville over his pro-gay marriage stance. Not only had he not changed his opinion of UKIP, but he actually agreed with the party on the issue. After a heated debate, in which I asked him why he didn’t believe in same sex marriage, all I really got from his incoherent arguments was a deep seated and internalised hatred of gay men (I didn’t manage to ask him about his views on lesbians, or trans people), and therefore, presumably, of himself.
For me the marriage debate is very simple. It is about equality. Either we are equal to straight people or we are not, and at the moment we are not, for until I feel I can walk down any street in any city in the world without fear, then we will not be equal, and, though we are luckier here in the UK than in many countries, there are still many parts of even London, where it would be considered foolhardy to be too obviously gay. There are those who will say we are our own worst enemies, that if we go round in tight disco pants or dress up in drag, or even just act flamboyantly then it’s hardly surprising that straight people don’t like us. Their message to us is to play down our sexuality, try and blend in, and, most importantly, not to confess to having sex. For some reason gay men who have happy, successful sexual relationships are deemed scarier than those camp, unthreatening gay men, who have graced our TV screens since the days of Larry Grayson. My God, what has happened to us since Russell T Davies’s seminal Channel 4 series Queer As Folk burst onto the screens back in 1999? This was unapologetic, showing it just how it is, and the straight world lapped it up. Today the only positive depictions of gay people on TV are Graham Norton and Alan Carr. Is this because we have yet again become too scared of upsetting the straight world? But I’m digressing.
Now I may not want to dress up in drag myself, and my days of tight disco pants may be over, but I will wholeheartedly defend the right of every person, of whatever sexuality, to dress as they will and be who they are, without fear of recrimination. I do not think that to achieve equality we should be forced to adopt the mores and manners of middle Englanders, just as I wouldn’t expect them to step out of their safe little world if they don’t want to. But equality should be available to all, regardless of sexuality or gender, not just to those narrow minded souls who choose to live a safe little life in Surbiton.
A couple of years ago, Patrick Strudwick of GT wrote about prominent gay homophobes in the media; gay men who ally themselves with those who seek to discriminate against us; David Starkey, who defended the right of the Christian B&B owners to turn away a gay couple, Iain Dale, who disagrees with gay parenting, Andrew Pierce who agreed with the Pope when he stated Harriet Harman’s Equality Bill “violates the natural law” and Alan Duncan, who opposes equal marriage. The problem with these people, and so many more like them, is that, having been treated as second class citizens for most of their lives, they have come to believe that they are indeed second class citizens. Hardly surprising really, when you consider that, from the day we realise we are different, we start to have to deal with the tirade of negativity spewing out from the mouths of the enemies of equality, those poor benighted people, who believe that life is a husband, a wife, a small house in suburbia and 2.4 children, not that there is anything wrong with that of course. But it is not the only way.
Alan Downs, in his book The Velvet Rage, argues that “the inevitable by-product of growing up gay in a straight world continues to be the internalisation of shame”. This is a shame we live with from the day we are told that our feelings are wrong. I would like to believe that more enlightened parents now might consider the possibility that their child might turn out to be gay, but however enlightened they are, the expectation is still that that child will be straight.
We deal with it in different ways of course. Some will ally themselves with the straight world, distancing themselves from the more outrageous manifestations of gay life, and frowning upon it, as their straight friends do. Others embrace more readily the gay scene, which can initially seem a haven, where they can be accepted and loved for what they are, but where they often end up turning to drugs and alcohol, and meaningless sex. Whichever way we go, we are seeking validation, a validation that the straight world does not bestow on us.
Downs details three distinct stages of emotional well-being for gay men. First we are overwhelmed by shame, then we compensate for it and finally, if we are lucky, we cultivate authenticity. I myself tried to distance myself from other gay men when in Downs’s first stage. I lived a life as straight as I could. Most of my friends were straight. I had a couple of relationships, but still mixed mostly with my straight friends. I rarely went to gay venues. Although I was out to my friends, I was at pains to point out that I was not like the majority of gay men. In my own way I was seeking validation from my straight friends. If that wasn’t internalised homophobia, what was it? The likes of David Starkey still seem to me to be stuck at stage one. They may have come out, but they take no joy in it. It is still a burden for them to bear, the shame of being gay.
The next stage of my development saw me embracing the gay scene with enthusiasm, and it was very seductive. I had a pretty good body and I was new on the scene so I was getting more validation than I’d have ever thought possible. I started taking drugs, having more and more casual sex, often unsafe, and, I have to admit, for quite a few years I had a lot of fun. I don’t regret it, but eventually I realised it wasn’t real. I realised that seeking validation from outside sources eventually counts for nothing. The only true validation comes from within. My anti-gay marriage acquaintance at the gym pointed his finger at the scene, the gay ghetto as he called it, giving that as an example of why we are not deserving of equality. It’s the only scene he knows, and a scene he himself enjoyed once. I tried to point out that the only reason these “gay ghettos”, as he calls them, exist, is because society rejects us, but he was having none of it. As far as he was concerned, we are not worthy of equality.
As for myself, now older and wiser, I find myself entering Downs’s stage three, cultivating authenticity. I am no longer ashamed about who I am or what I am. Nor am I ashamed of my past. And I am becoming less and less tolerant of a world that seeks to discriminate against people merely for being different. In a civilised society we should embrace difference.
I am prepared to admit and indeed hope that growing up gay is becoming easier, and, talking to some of my younger friends, this does seem to be the case. But we still have to deal with negative media attention almost on a day to day basis, whether it be Jan Moir attributing Steven Gates’s death to his gay lifestyle or the Pope banging on about people manipulating their sexual orientation to manipulate God-given sexuality; and negativity has a habit of seeping into our sub-conscious. Is it any wonder we find homophobia within our own ranks? Equal marriage will not change that overnight, but it is another step in the right direction. I would love to see a world where we didn’t have to suffer the shame of who we are. Get rid of the shame and you will also get rid of the gay homophobes.