When confronted with homophobia, it can be hard to know how to react. Turn the other cheek, run away and hide, or fight back?
Twenty10 youth counsellor Ross Jacobs shares his advice…
What’s the hardest thing about living in Sydney as an openly queer person? Or what about living about in the bush, or in another country altogether? Something that we can all of us identity in about two seconds, that in one shape or another we all live with, but that none of us can ever get used to?
Of course, I’m talking about homophobia, in all its guises (transphobia, biphobia, sexism, ad infinitum). That’s the funny thing about having such a diverse community – both love and hate unite us above all else. There has been plenty of public talk about the love bit recently, but how about the hate? What can we actually do when we’re leading our lives and homophobia comes along and pops our love bubble?
The answer, of course, is almost infinitely complicated, ‘cos sadly there is a whole infinity of hate too. Any response has got to do with who you are as a person, how old you are, the level and intensity of the homophobia, and of course the context in which it takes place. And that’s just the stuff on the surface – but I’ll get to the internal quagmire in a minute…
Ok, should we directly confront homophobia when it happens?
Well, maybe. I know lots of the fiercer type of queer who is happy to take the homophobia face on, turn it around and return it to the person who’s doing the hating. This takes an incredible amount of fortitude and can sometimes put you in a more dangerous place then you began in. It’s absolutely a personal choice, but at least the nice thing about it is that you’re not taking the negative energy that’s coming your way and making it part of you. It means that on some level you’ve accepted that what’s going on is violence, and unjust, and not at about you as much as it is about your bigoted attacker. But perhaps fighting fire with fire isn’t your thing – it’s certainly not mine.
Maybe, then, we should be silent about it?
Silent can be a deceptive word. There is silent – pretend like the homophobia isn’t happening, and silent – give your attackers the old ‘blue steel’ and freeze their hearts with your quiet defiance. Both can be effective. Both, on some level, acknowledge that open retaliation could make the situation far more difficult and perhaps even escalate to an unsafe situation. It’s saying perhaps brains are more relevant than brawn. Don’t ever feel like your instinct is wrong if you’d prefer to avoid a conflict by turning the other cheek. (Jesus, I’m quoting Jesus now.)
I’ll never forget the time on Oxford St in the bad old days when from a car waiting at the lights came a thrown can of Bundy and a hurled insult. I calmly sidestepped the (nearly full!) can, and froze out the jerkwads with a look – the tension was palpable, but they just drove off and at least I felt better about having done just one little thing to defend myself, wobbly knees and all.
But the danger here is that that niggling little part of ourselves most of us carry around, the critic, starts to believe that our attackers have a point. Maybe we DO deserve to be laughed, yelled or spat at, maybe just a little.
So how do we make sure we don’t internalize it?
Dear queers, this is the hardest bit of all. Growing up other-than-hetero means that for a long time, we’re the holders of secret knowledge – that we are ourselves the ‘lezzo/fag/tranny/freak’ that gets talked about. We learn to hide in plain sight. A big part of my development has been giving myself the credit that coming out was no easy thing, and that living in a straight world means part of me is always on my guard. It sucks, I know, but I think we forget that to keep doing so, and doing so every second of the day, takes incredible strength. We’re all pretty amazing when you stop to think about it.
The most tragic thing we can do with homophobia is turn it outwards, towards other people.
I work with young queers – of all sorts of labels or identities – and so, so often I hear words that break my heart, generally something along the lines of ‘I really hate it when people act all gay’.
We adult members of the community have a responsibility, at the very least, to do what we can to make sure that we’re not enforcing the bullshit that goes on in the wider community. The very least thing we can do is make sure we’re not perpetrating violence against our sisters and brothers who, of course, have already struggled with homophobia as part of their journey. They have turned to community settings as a place free of that crap.
So, the next time you curl your lip at someone else’s ‘shock horror’ gayness, keep it curling up into a smile and be thankful that someone else’s expression of sexuality looks different to yours – ‘cos without difference we have nothing.