To celebrate IDAHO 2012, Polari Magazine is publishing stories from its writers about their experiences of homophobia and transphobia. Some tales are funny, some are shocking and some are sad.
In this story, Polari‘s superb maestro of all things music, Little Bastard, writes about telling a friend the truth and having that friendship betrayed.
When I was 14, I had a best friend. Like most people when they’re at school, that best friend went everywhere with me, put me down on a regular basis, stole all the girls I fancied (yes, it did once happen) and obviously, as sometimes happens, was my first homosexual experience. In fact, we spent at least a year dry humping each other on almost a daily basis when he was single (as I always was) and even progressed to kissing. All the while, he was vocally the most homophobic person I had ever encountered, telling me that all gays should be sent to live on an island away from normal people – whilst playing the Pet Shop Boys and Erasure on his stereo and dancing around his room pretending to be Andy Bell or Neil Tennant. When my 3 year infatuation (which was clearly love when I was a teenager) for a girl in my year had subsided, and I had found myself increasing attracted to her boyfriend (who had become inaugurated into our circle of friends), I decided to confide in my best friend … as, that’s what best friends are for, right? We were out walking his dog, and talking about my obvious feelings for Sharon (God, I was classy), and as the conversation went on, I found myself admitting, “I’ve started having feelings for Richard”.
After a pause my best friend told me he knew, and we dropped the subject, with me feeling great to have such an understanding friend.
The next day he wouldn’t return my calls – then our mutual friends stopped returning them as well, and actively hanging up on me if I called them. Then names were screamed at me as I walked from one school building to another, or while I was walking through the centre of town with other friends that didn’t care whether I liked boys or not. Of all the bullying I received at school, of which there was a lot, his hurt the most. The majority of my bullying was not directly related to my sexuality – yes, my flamboyancy was an issue for most people, as was my training to be a dancer and my love of Madonna (wow, I was a camp 14 year old!!), but the focus of it was rarely on my sexuality, even though that was something I was always quite open about. I have always put this down to my generation – yes, there have been some very hurtful, isolated instances of homophobia in my life, but I have always been grateful to have grown up in the generation I did, which I think for the most part is quite liberal. The surprise for me was that the person who disliked my sexuality the most was the person that claimed to know me the best – but I suppose as homophobia is drawn more out of fear than anything else, it makes sense that his fear of becoming something he couldn’t stand would have made him turn on me.
I could just be ignorant to a lot of homophobia, which I think is the best way, but as I try every second of every day to make sure my life is not ruled by my sexuality, I often assume that people’s contempt towards me actually comes from their dislike of how I look, the music I listen to, and the fact they find me difficult to understand, rather than just being about who I fall in love with. Queer is a very misused word – and in the evolution of language means many things. It can mean out of the ordinary, strange, unusual – all of which is true about me. So if someone screams “queer” at me in the street (which was the fashionable insult when I was at school) invariably this is probably true. And there’s also a chance that in their fear, the word “queer” springs to their minds as a stock insult for something they don’t understand, and has nothing to do with the fact I fancy boys. Or it could be homophobia.
There are other instances too painful and personal for me to want to share – but this is the one that shaped me the most as a person. Matching his sexual experimentation with his outward homophobia gave me a way of making it less about my homosexuality, and more about his fear and ignorance. It helped me realise that there was nothing wrong with having feelings towards men, as he had obviously had them too. I was just the more adult of the two of us in being able to admit it. It’s also made me realise that, when searching for a homophobic experience in my life to drag up – one that has shaped who I am and that still continues to do that to this day, this story was the only one I could think of. I don’t remember the majority of my homophobic bullying – I think because to me it was no different to people calling me ugly or strange (both of which happened just as often as being called a “poof” or a “queer”). But I do remember his taunts, and losing his friendship.
Ten years ago, I was a dancer and had been living in Japan for most of the year, and on returning home went back to live with my parents for a “rest”. One day, on a bus to my parent’s neighbouring town, someone tapped me on the shoulder, and low and behold my ex best friend from school and his new girlfriend suddenly wanted my attention. We talked (mostly me and her, as she was the more pleasant of the two in general) and as he gave me his number and told me to call him to arrange a catch up drink, I realised – my life was good. I was happy, I’d been in employment in another country that he had probably never dreamed of going to, and he was still living with his parents and was now dating the fat girl from our friend circle as kids. Not only had I moved on from my teenage self more than he probably ever would, but it had got better. And as the recent campaign is trying to tell the generations of kids growing up being bullied, it does get better.
I never called him – I “lost” his number, and have never even considered contacting him on Facebook. He’s a part of my life I never want to revisit. But I’m glad I saw him, and I’m glad he fawned over me – it made me see my homophobic experiences for what they are – nothing.