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, activist David Watters writes about his experience of homophobia at work and in his personal life.
Bullying of all flavours can range from subtle to malicious, and often homophobic and transphobic bullying can be presented by the perpetrator in such a cloaked manner that we are uncertain of how to define or act upon it.
School life, for me, was miserable; but isn’t that true for many of us who feel different for whatever reason?
I had the stereotypical experience that many gay youths have and being a half-blind, uncoordinated, introverted gay outsider, I didn’t really excel at sports; the mockery I faced came from both staff and students.
This was thankfully balanced, or perhaps outweighed, by praise, encouragement and support from other staff who nurtured my self-worth in music, creative writing and art.
It is entirely possible that I have been sidelined for promotion or that I have missed out on employment opportunities in education because of my sexuality.
Although employers are required to publish Equality and Diversity policies, there is no promise that any company is culturally evolved enough to encourage and nurture a truly inclusive environment. Similarly, there is no guarantee that all employees are fully versed in these policies enough to act respectfully towards colleagues regardless of their own personal beliefs or feelings towards an individual based upon whatever limiting label they have attached to that person.
I have had veiled concerns from a “superior” that the content of my personal facebook page was “too gay” and that it may offend many parents of the learners that I taught. Had I been less self-assured, I may have felt victimised but, rather than respond with negativity, I saw this as an opportunity to enlighten.
Although not entirely successful, I did leave that situation with a sense that I had responded positively, respectfully and with dignity.
As inspirational motivational speaker Keith Harrell often said, “Attitude is EVERYTHING” and I refuse to be defined as a weak, vulnerable victim who has no response to the cruel words or actions of another.
My partner and I were subjected to 4 years of hostility from a neighbour which involved name-calling, theft, criminal damage and constant intimidation.
To make matters worse, we were completely unsupported by our Housing Association, and subtle hints of homophobia were evident in how we were spoken to and in the lack of seriousness with which our complaint was treated.
It wasn’t until the local police and our MP became involved that any action was taken but perhaps, on reflection, the situation may have been the same regardless of our sexuality; sadly there exist service providers who disregard the needs of those for whom they provide a service.
Of course these negative experiences have an impact and it is often easier to hold on to the limiting judgements of others rather than reinforce the positive experiences in life, but time has taught me to be thankful for the criticism and to see it for what it truly was; not a judgement upon myself or my value as a human being but as a symptom of the oppressor’s (or aggressor’s) limited wisdom or understanding or of their own terror of facing themselves – as John Amaechi told me a few years ago, self-acceptance is about, “recognising your soul in the dark”.
We all have our stories of bullying and, in sharing these, I hope that one message resounds – YOU have as much right to live and love as anyone else, YOU have unending potential and this must not be stifled by the narrow expectations of another.
Living authentically is your greatest gift to both yourself and those with whom you interact.
You or I may not be Buddha, Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, but we can all have a positive and significant impact upon this world. You and I can only achieve anything of value for ourselves and others by letting go of limiting labels, by refusing to absorb the judgements of others as true definitions of ourselves and by knowing that someone is only a victor if we choose to be their victim.
Support, encouragement and positive validation is out there; it does get better and there is hope.
Above all this, remember that when you realise that positive validation begins with yourself then not only does it get better, it IS better.
Joy and self-acceptance must never be influenced by external circumstances and a poisonous or toxic attitude towards you is never right.
Learn more about David’s work: