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 Paul Baker writes about chasing a man who shouted homophobic abuse and giving him a piece of his mind.
Three years ago, I was walking back home with a couple of friends after we’d met for coffee in town. As we got to my doorstep, a youth of about 20, dressed in Primark, hissed “faggots” at us and walked on. It was the first time it had happened to me, and I experienced a brief moment of internalised homophobia, “blaming” my friends for drawing attention to us by talking in a flamboyant “obvious” way.
But this was quickly overlaid by pure rage. How dare someone old enough to be my son talk like this? Acting on instinct, I chased him down the street and gave him a mouthful, right outside Waterstones. Nice old ladies stopped and watched in shock. I did not try to be reasonable, I simply went down to his level and shouted louder and used even more objectionable language. I was bigger and angrier than him, and he was not expecting retaliation. Finally, he ran away while I stood my ground.
And here’s the twist. Twenty minutes later he knocked on my door and apologised. I apologised for the names I had called him. He seemed quite cheerful about it. We parted on good terms, but afterwards I struggled with liberal guilt and shame at my public spectacle. Sadly, homophobia, racism and sexism are some of the few ways that those at the bottom of our society have of making themselves feel superior. It had transpired that he was having a very bad day and we’d just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“He could have had a knife,” my partner said. “You’re an idiot.”
“He was probably in the closet and wanted to have sex with you,” said my friend.
“That showed considerable bravery in both of you,” said a female work colleague.
“That same thing happened in an episode of Six Feet Under,” said my sister.
Like a game of chess, I have played through the situation over and over, and I don’t think there is a way that I can “win”. If I ignore such comments, then I condone the homophobia – I become the weak “faggot”. If I try a middle-class “I challenge your homophobic remark!” then I’ll be laughed at. If I confront in the blunt abusive language that they understand, then I risk my safety and end up feeling shaken and compromised. There was no friendly community police worker to step in of course. Nobody else to step in and put things right.
I feel relieved that when I am on my own I “pass” for straight, so I do not have to deal with situations like this on a daily basis. And you know what, that’s what makes me most ashamed of all.