I have an admirer on campus.
I do not know his name, but I can tell he is in love with me.
For the purposes of convenience, I have called him Craig. Craig is just like any other man; tall (about 6ft), brown hair, slim build. Craig is a ‘grafter’, a man’s man – obviously. He drives a large, white van. I can imagine he boasts about how big it is to the lads down the pub: his large, impressive, manly white van. I did not catch the registration plate as he drove past which is upsetting because I would have liked to have got to know Craig. From the way he interacts with me as he drives past in his large, white van, I can tell he is missing something important in his life and wants me to fill that void. How charming! Craig, my knight in shining armour.
Today he spoke to me again. I say spoke, but he had to shout in order for me to hear; after all, he is a very hard-working man and has no time for prolonged flirting and conversation. My stomach swelled in reaction to his passing words. Just to think he took the time and the effort to roll down the gleaming driver’s window of his large, white van just to make me aware of his presence is delightful.
How sweet it was to feel the moving words of ‘faggot’ and ‘bender’ grace my ears. Such poetry, eloquence, and sophistication that even Wordsworth could not have conceived. Despite me hoping that it is only Craig that admires me, I cannot be completely sure that the other times I have heard ‘gay’, ‘faggot’, ‘bender’ and ‘queer’ shouted at me from passing large, white vans were him also. You never know, I may be as lucky as to have multiple admirers from around the city! Excellent.
But there is something about Craig that I am keen to address. I do not believe I am the only person he admires…
Despite the fact Craig was shouting a perfectly true statement out of his window – I am gay, he is right – targeted abuse in the street is intimidating, upsetting and frequent. Minority groups often experience a sense of isolation from their own towns and cities due to the social attitudes of the many and brutal actions of the few. As Britain’s more extreme right-wing opinion leaders are given a bigger platform (Nigel Farage was on ‘Loose Women’ the other day), hatred masquerading as “free speech” is often viewed as acceptable. It is key to understand that hatred of any form is passed down from the elite: we are not born to fear the “gay agenda”; we are not born Islamophobic or xenophobic and we are not born to feel racist inclinations. Instead, it is passed on like the clap to the “common, decent, hardworking people” from the narrowmindedness of politicians, the lies of the media and the selective preaching from religious groups.
In a way, I sympathize with Craig.
It would be a miracle to grow up in a society that force feeds hatred so readily and come out untainted by prejudice. Unfortunately, and rather ironically, maturing into an adult has become a reductive process of unlearning nurtured opinions. For some, it merely comes too late. Theresa May’s vows of encouraging social justice contradict with her votes against gay rights legislation during Iain Duncan Smith’s conservative leadership. Similarly, Hilary Clinton (or the lesser of two evils) and her “down-with-the-kidz” approach to equality seems disingenuous, seeing as she was vehemently against marriage equality until 2013. This world is led by indecisiveness about what is considered socially acceptable. As society gets sucked deeper into this uncomfortable void of uncertainty, it is frankly more convenient to choose the easier option, which is to close your mind to the issue and fear it.
“But it could be worse though, why are you complaining, you could live in South sodding Sudan where it is illegal to be a homosexual!” I can hear someone resembling a soggy slice of bread exclaim. And the bottom line is, yes it could be a lot, lot worse. However, this “get over it” sentiment stems from the same “west is best” attitudes which blind many to the inequalities that exist on their own doorstep. It is impossible to praise ourselves as equal, free and superior when we suppress and avoid our own failings as a society in addressing social justice.
A prime example of this is the embarrassing interview Sky News conducted with Guardian writer and LGBTQ+ activist Owen Jones, in which they unapologetically persisted that the Orlando terrorist attack was targeted at “all people”, not just the LGBTQ+ community. Western societies find it uncomfortable to admit their own failings, so the issue is changed and made to recognize everyone as a victim. I have labeled this “nothing-to-see-here” approach as an insidious brand of social masking. This phenomenon was explored by the great Panti Bliss in her call at the Abbey Theatre. The Irish drag queen and LGBTQ+ activist argues that “the word homophobia is no longer available to gay people”, society’s “betters” (the straight, white, men and women who dominate every institution in modern life) dictate who are the victims of homophobia when they see it as convenient. Panti remarks that this act of avoidance and table-turning is “a spectacular and neat Orwellian trick, because now it turns out gay people are not the victims of homophobia, homophobes are the victims of homophobia.”
I am sure if Craig had spent a day with me he would realize that our lives are not that different. Even if I went to lectures in drag, I am sure we both sleep, eat, have ambitions, talk to loved ones and go out with friends. However, something tells me that Craig would not be willing to spend a day with me any time soon. Men often feel they cannot even ‘come out’ in support for the LGBTQ+ community regardless of how straight they are for fear their masculinity will be compromised; guilty by association. The unhealthy social construct of masculinity is a double-edged sword. Not only does it motivate homophobic attitudes, but it prevents particularly men from finding a mutual understanding with the LGBTQ+ community. Luckily most straight people are allies of the gay community, it’s only a minority who still fear homosexuality. However, to an LGBTQ+ person, a seemingly significant action, like being shouted at from a large, white van, can feel like the entire world is against you. I pledge to Craig and to the apparently untouchable elite to roll down the windows of their large, white vans, not to shout at an innocent pedestrian, but to listen. As it is only through care and understanding that we can improve as a wider community.