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.
Uli Lenart from Gay’s the Word bookshop writes about hiding in the open for fear of being called different.
The odd thing about recalling early memories of homophobia is that they tend to still have a sting to them. Like a time capsule, they still feel fresh when you re-open them – sharp wounds still lingering deep-down in your heart – even years later. I can think of one memorable incident when Mr Walker, my stereotypically and self-assuredly straight P.E. teacher, decided to call me out in front of another rather embarrassed teacher asked me point-blank if I ‘was a poof or not’ when I was fourteen (I said ‘no, sir’ and the fact that I did still reverberates inside me and pisses me off).
Apart from that confrontation, I can’t remember any real overt homophobic confrontation during my adolescence. Maybe that’s because I was so timid I tended to keep my head down. Maybe it’s because – out of fear of exposure – I got pretty good at hiding my difference most of the time; burying my true nature like it was something to be ashamed of. (This is one of the most subtle yet damaging effects of heteronormative culture on the LGBTQ community, in my opinion.) And maybe people around me did see my queerness and either chose not to (parents) or decided it was best not to say anything. Either way you grow up feeling like you are hiding exposed in the open – and we really shouldn’t have to go through that. Why do the most sensitive people end up taking the brunt of the aggression of the most oppressive? It’s not right.
After school I chose to study at Sussex University, just outside Brighton, because the course was good, and for other obvious reasons. In my first year I met and fell instantly in love with a mesmerizing exchange student from Manhattan called Josh. One late night, after some drinks and disco, we were walking home hand-in-hand through town. We walked past three strident local girls swaggering along the pavement with attitude.
‘Erghh, that’s disgusting’ the big lead girl shouted.
After a night out I was more than drunk enough to swing round and say:
‘You two poofy bum boys: it’s disgusting’
‘Dirty little faggots’ her mate added.
Josh started to pull my arm, trying to lead me away.
‘You know what girl’s?…I’d have a bit more sensitivity if I were you.’
‘Oh, yeah, why’s that gay boy?’
‘Because, let’s be honest, with faces like yours no bloke’s gonna want to shag you from the front, are they?’
I think it was the first decent come-back I ever had. As they slinked off I can’t remember what they tried to say back but it was really lame and my point was more than made.
‘I can’t believe you just said that’ said Josh, looking at me with a mixture of surprise and pride.
‘Neither can I’ I said. And I can remember us laughing.
We went home. Josh made us some food. I remember we fell asleep on the sofa in each other’s arms. It was a good night.
When you can – and it’s safe to – and you’re ready – answer back. They need to hear it.