Homophobia doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it’s a whisper, only noticeable to the ears that are particularly attuned to it. Sometimes it’s being handed a single stone, but people forget that if you give them too many stones then they will build a wall, a wall that’s hard to knock down and a wall that should never have had to be built in the first place.
I’m lucky in that I have a very progressive group of friends at the minute, many of them also being in the LGBTQ+ community themselves, and to be honest I think I’ve taken that for granted lately. It’s easy to pretend, when you don’t leave your house very often and speak only to people with whom you want to speak, that the world is an accepting place. It’s only when you leave your bubble that you realise that most of the time that is not the case. I haven’t yet been the victim of ‘loud’ homophobia – I identify as bisexual not gay and so I can still relate to straight females, still join in conversations about their attractions, and I am also straight passing – no one would look at me in the street and go ‘that girl likes women’ because I don’t fit in with any of the stereotypes (the stereotypes that are a discussion for another day). I think it’s this, along with carefully curating a safe and accepting space for myself on social media, that has meant that I’ve slipped under the radar and avoided, for the most part, explicit homophobes. I have never been called names to my face, I have never missed out on any opportunities as of yet or been a victim of a hate crime because of my sexuality. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been a victim of homophobia.
When there was talk about getting married or having children all my life it was always assumed that that would be with a man. No one ever said to me, or any one else my age, at any age ‘or a woman’. That was never a possibility. Heteronormativity is so ingrained in society that it’s literally teaching children that there are no other options. Now I’m sure this is getting slightly better with time but through my entire primary school and secondary school career we were never taught about anything LGBTQIA+ – PSHE lessons always focused on heterosexual relationships. There wasn’t a single ‘out’ person in my year at high school. Not one. But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t exist, I know of at least five people from high school who have since come out as being bisexual or gay, in fact it should have been even more important for us to receive that side of our education because not giving us anything, not a single lesson, meant that it was probably harder for people to come out and feel accepted amongst their peers. Pretending that a whole high school’s worth of kids are straight is incredibly damaging and can’t have done anything for people’s mental health. I have been on a lot of psychiatric wards and the proportion of LGBTQ+ patients is far higher than it should be, LGBTQ+ youth are at a much greater risk of developing mental health conditions that their cisgender, heterosexual peers and that’s not okay.
Now it could still be the case that one day I will end up with a man but it’s also equally possible that I will end up with a woman. And yes, people assuming that girls will end up with boys and boys will end up with girls may not seem like homophobia as such but it helps contribute to the heteronormativity that makes this world so difficult for people like me. It makes any child, teenager, or even adult, feel like they’re different in a bad way, a way that won’t be accepted, all because the way they potentially imagine their future isn’t talked about. Every time they’re told or they even just overhear someone talking about heterosexual relationships as if that’s the only kind to exist, it tells that person that they are not normal. It’s that kind of talk, that while it may not appear excluding, it definitely chips away at a person and makes them feel like an outcast. It doesn’t matter whether the person that’s saying those things is accepting of LGBTQ+ people because we don’t know that. We don’t know that if we came out to them, they’d accept it no questions asked because they haven’t considered the possibility of our existence (or if they have, they haven’t verbalised it which is the basically the same thing – if we can’t hear you then it’s irrelevant what goes on inside.)
I didn’t know that bisexuality was a thing, I didn’t know that people could like both women and men until I was about 15. I spent at least four or five years constantly battling myself in my mind convincing myself one moment that ‘I couldn’t possibly be gay because I knew for sure I liked boys’ (trust me, I have the incredibly cringey diary entries of my 12 year old self to refer back to…) and then the next that ‘but I think I like girls and so I must be gay.’ I spent years going between those two and to be honest it was confusing and absolutely terrifying. I remember being sat in the living room with my parents watching an episode of Glee (I think I was about 12 at this point) where a gay teenager was kicked out of her house for her sexuality. And that terrified me. It didn’t matter that I knew my family loved me or would most likely be supportive because I knew things like this were real, they didn’t just take place on TV. There was always a doubt in my mind, not that I’d be kicked out of my house necessarily but that I’d be treated differently because of something that I couldn’t help being. Being gay was the scariest thing 11 year old me could imagine being, so much so that my brain actually used that as a weapon against me in the form of OCD, although I didn’t know at the time that it was OCD because I didn’t know what that was either – I still thought it was all about cleanliness and order because, like with sexualities, mental health issues were never talked about enough when I was growing up. It was only when I was about 13 that I read more about it but even then I managed to convince myself that the intrusive thoughts were just intrusive thoughts, there was no truth behind them, not realising at the time that a) both of those things could be true at the same time and b) that I wasn’t actually gay but I did like girls and that both of those things could also be true at the same time.
I don’t know exactly why being LGBTQ+ seemed like the scariest thing in the entire world, so scary that I would cry myself to sleep night after night in fear of even the possibility of any of those labels applying to myself, but I know lots of things that definitely contributed to that fear. The way that people would mouth or whisper the word ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’, the way people would include their sexual orientations in sentences where they didn’t belong e.g. ‘the lesbian’ or ‘that gay couple’ or ‘that transgender man/woman’ when if those people had been straight they wouldn’t be there. No one says ‘oh I saw a straight couple and we talked about this’ because the word straight in that context is viewed as irrelevant (as other sexualities should be but unfortunately aren’t). The way it was always mentioned like it was something that was up for discussion by the whole world, that their sexual orientation or gender identity needed mentioning, that people had the right to discuss it where they wouldn’t with cis-het people. No one’s sexuality should be up for discussion by anyone, just because someone chooses to divulge their orientation to you then doesn’t mean that you’ve been given you the right discuss it with anyone else as you please.
And then there’s the more obvious homophobia. All through high school the word ‘gay’ was thrown around as an insult, with phrases like ‘that’s so gay’ not even just applied to things that appeared ‘homosexual’ but to anything that anyone disliked. I could rant for hours about how damaging that was to me and doubt to the other closeted members of the LGBTQ community in during those years – I’m not saying that that alone was the reason I chose to hide my orientation through high school but it definitely contributed to it.
I first started questioning my sexuality when I was only 11 years old and I came out to the world (I’d been ‘out’ to friends for a while beforehand however) when I was 17, last October on National Coming Out Day (I always love a good holiday or national day; did you know that today is ‘National Fear of Speaking Day’, ‘I Forgot Day’ and ‘World UFO Day… I’m not exactly sure how to celebrate that one though…) That’s at least six years of being scared of how people would react and even being afraid of myself at times, especially when I was younger. But the thing is there are thousands upon thousands of young people out there in the same position as I was right now, terrified of how the world will react to something that no one should have to feel ashamed of, that’s no more ‘unnatural’ than being straight. Coming out shouldn’t have to be a big deal to anyone, it shouldn’t even be a thing. Just because we’re in the minority statistically doesn’t mean that we should have to repeatedly come to people. But we do, time and time again, to people who assume our orientations, to friends, family, colleagues… basically the entire world.
And I know that, while it’s been tough for me, it has been and will continue to be, a lot more difficult for a lot of people who have less accepting family and friends or even governments – in 72 countries in the world gay relationships are still criminalized and many more are much less accepting than the UK in general (obviously I don’t mean to generalise, parts of every place will differ in all manners, including how they treat people – even in some countries where gay marriage is legal and LGBTQ people have supposedly ‘equal rights’ there are areas or even just people who are still homophobic)
If you take only one thing from this post please let it be this; please try your absolute hardest to make your presence a safe place for anyone in the LGBTQ community – don’t isolate them intentionally or unintentionally, don’t ever use the word ‘gay’ or ‘homo’ as an insult and never add in someone’s sexuality where it doesn’t belong. You don’t have to festoon your house with rainbow flags to make people feel accepted, small gestures and the way you word things are enough. No one should be made to feel like an outcast for anything, but especially things that they are born with; no one chooses to be LGBTQ+ and they shouldn’t be made to feel like they need to change either.
Thank you for reading lovely humans,