I’ve been on this Earth for almost 57 years and I am still occasionally judged for being who I am, not what I do, but who I am. Or actually maybe it’s the other way round. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a whinge about that ‘huge homophobic World out there’, I’m used to homophobia and deal with it usually assertively, brush it off and start again. I just feel that some, or maybe quite a lot of people are confused between the kind of sexual activity I am assumed to engage in as a gay man and my actual sexual identity; the huge bit that helps make me, me. They then create for me what they think I should or shouldn’t be doing, and the way I should be living that is less ‘dangerous’ for society and far more appealing for everyone else and of course me.
It’s not really the ignorant homophobic person in the street that bothers me, in the great scheme of things it’s more those people who apparently have an education and can be eloquently homophobic and influence culture through education, religion, creating workplace environments etc. You know, the types of folk that sometimes sit on programmes like The Big Questions on BBC 1 on Sunday mornings and talk about how damaging homosexuality is for societies, usually basing their views on culture or religion. For example, believing that marriage should only be for heterosexuals for the purpose of bringing children into the World.
They never have any facts other than statements from religious books written a very long time ago to back up their views but they can be totally convinced that they are right. They say things like ‘it’s fine to identify as gay but engaging in homosexual sex is a sin’. Well I am gay and actually I do engage in homosexual sex (lucky me) and it certainly isn’t sinful, it’s just as natural and right to me as straight sex is to a straight person, and anyway what harm are we doing and to whom? This question has never been answered with factual evidence because there isn’t any, yet still we are vilified for engaging in sin. A man quite recently said to me ‘oh it’s not just homosexuality that’s to blame for the floods you know’, (referring to the floods in South England in 2013/14). Quite rightly I used my emotional intelligence and just laughed in his face because that’s all he deserved, sadly though he wasn’t joking.
For most of us the kind of sex we have and with whom is based on our a natural sexual urges and our own business, but in certain circumstances it can be a choice. For example straight men in prison may choose, for a period of time, to have sex with other men in a prison environment but still identify as straight. They wouldn’t dream of entering into a ‘gay’ relationship as it’s not who they are. I assume that it’s quite obvious why they engage in these sexual relationships but recently an American psychologist used this sexual behaviour in prison environments as proof that being gay is a choice and therefore can be steered away from through heterosexual nurture and life choices.
This ‘educated’ psychologist is getting confused between sexual activity and sexual identity. What is innate within all of us is which sex we are attracted to, whether that be the opposite, the same, both or neither. For me this innate sense of sexual attraction defines my sense of self, as a gay man but it doesn’t define me as a whole, rounded character.
It’s 2015 and I still hear comments I heard back in the 1970’s and 80’s, for example; some straight women say things like ‘gay men are fine but ooh lesbians’ (whilst screwing up their face). My usual response to this is ‘oh get over yourself, what makes you think they would fancy you?’ A crass response to a crass statement I guess but it’s so disappointing when it’s someone I know. Mind you I’ve also heard gay men say that they don’t like lesbians, or that they couldn’t have a relationship with a bisexual man because they wouldn’t feel able to trust him.
When I was younger and a little more attractive I used to get some straight women occasionally saying to me ‘oh what a waste’ like in some way they thought I was doing an injustice to straight women and myself by being gay. I thought that line had died out until I heard it said just last week about my infinitely younger and much more attractive gay friend. What they don’t realise is that these are such homophobic things to say and most of the time they don’t realise that it’s ignorant heterosexism. They are in the dominant majority so why bother thinking about and understanding the construct of their own sexuality and sense of self and the impact their language can have on others.
It’s no wonder that so many people find sexual orientation and identity so confusing when there are so many people trying their level best to make people fit a stereotype in a heterosexist World for their own and everyone else’s good. A grim example of this is the punishment for homosexuality by IS in Syria and Iraq who throw those believed to be guilty of homosexuality from high buildings due to a literal translation from the Quran.
I believe that when we think about diversity in its broadest sense, quite often issue of sexual orientation and gender identity are the ones that are seen to be about what you do and not who you are. I’m convinced, after years of working with large employers and diverse communities, delivering training and writing policies and strategies, that this is the reason why so many institutions find LGBT issues difficult to address effectively and continue to call them ‘hard to reach’. Hello I’m here, come and talk to me, I’m not hard to reach but I do sometimes feel like I’m just not being reached.
If being LGB or T is seen as something that you do or choose to engage in and not a huge part of who you are then it’s assumed you can change it or pick a time to ‘do’ it. An example of this is schools that don’t address sexuality or gender identity issues. A head teacher once said to me ‘well it’s not our problem because the age of consent is 16 so if we suspect anyone of being gay and we talk to them about it, we always advise them not to ’come out’ and wait until they’re old enough’. What, old enough to be themselves, be who they are?, but of course young people of school age don’t always have the understanding of themselves in terms of their sexuality or the support mechanisms to challenge the mind set of this headmaster and people like him.
I’m lucky enough that most of my family and social circle (note I didn’t say all) accept and understand me as Clive, as a gay man but not everyone who identifies as LGB or T is so lucky. If we are to see LGBT people live equitable lives and thrive, all organisations and leaders, including heterosexual, religious and culturally diverse ones, have a responsibility to ensure they stop seeing LGBT people and communities as ‘hard to reach’ or seeing our lifestyles as a choice that we would do better if we turned our backs on. I for one would like to stop being the topic of heterosexist conversation on Sunday morning TV and for my identity just to be seen as a normal and natural part of diverse human sexuality, to be embraced and celebrated.