I know it’s hardly a manly thing to admit, but I felt genuinely frightened, not only because a bunch of blokes aggressively calling you out isn’t exactly the most sedate way to start your day of rest, but because in these sorts of situations you never know how they’re going to play out. By their very nature, they are scarily volatile and a spot of verbal abuse can quite easily turn physically ugly in a split-second, so understandably I was anxious I might get the shit kicked out of me.
This time, I was lucky – although it depends on your definition of luck – and it stopped at the name-calling, but there have been more than enough times in the past when it has escalated to spitting, punching, kicking and, my own personal favourite, headbutting. Once, I was beaten up so badly The Boyfriend actually didn’t recognise me. I’m not sure how many times throughout my life I’ve been queer bashed because why would you keep a tally of something so traumatic? The fact it’s up to tally levels, though, means bigots sticking the homophobic boot in has happened way too much.
That’s why I’m so vocal about homophobia and the effect it has because I live it, up close and personal and let me tell you it ain’t pretty. Actually all the abuse I’ve been getting lately is starting to get me down. I’ve noticed I’m becoming much more wary about going out and when I am out I’m obsessively vigilant, which is a bit sad really, but it’s how it’s made me feel. If I’m feeling like that as a hardened middle-ager, imagine how badly you’d feel if you were a teenager on the cusp of coming out. I’m betting pretty apprehensive and vulnerable.
So why the rise in queer antipathy? Partly, I think it never really went away. It simply went underground, which is even more dangerous because out of sight makes hate even harder to fight. Largely, though, in times of social uncertainty, and what with the economic apocalypse and all times certainly are uncertain, it’s the minorities who get a kicking because it makes the shaky powers-that-be feel more secure. In other words, we become convenient whipping boys and girls to make the big boys and girls feel all strong and dominant again.
Yet mainstream media is very keen at the moment to tell us that everyone is now happily homo-tolerant. No, scrap that. Everyone during these poofter-progressive days accepts gayness as part ‘n’ parcel of our collective life. The clear implication being that we’re still banging the drum about anti-gayness when the battle for equality has already been won. So I’m guessing the teenage girl who screamed abuse at me a couple of weeks ago – I wrote about it here – the gang of lads who shouted “Die faggot!” a few days later as they passed me on the street and Mark’s stag do mates are all figments of my fertile imagination, then?
Whether we want to face it or not - and a lot of people unbelievably still don’t - homophobia is on the rise. Recently in New York there’s been a rash of sadistically violent attacks on gay men with one even taking place in the famous Stonewall Inn, where the modern queer rights movement began. This at a time when the Republican candidate in the state’s Governor race, Carl Paladino, has publicly stated that he doesn’t want children to be “brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option” as well as condemning Gay Pride parades as “a terrible thing”.
Meanwhile, stickers have been circulating London’s East End declaring it a “GAY FREE ZONE” before chillingly adding “… AND KNOW THAT YOUR LORD IS ALLAH. VERILY HE IS SEVERE IN HIS PUNISHMENT”.
Most worryingly of all, these incidents aren’t happening in rural redneck backwaters but in cities that have traditionally been the metropolitan Meccas all minorities have flocked to, so we wouldn’t feel so alienated, so alone. If the supposedly liberal-minded corners of the world are shunning us, then how virulent has homophobia become? Doesn’t the fact that this is going on amid the diversity of the world’s major cities mean that anti-gay feeling is running deeper than even we realise?
Ultimately, to the people who moan that I bang on about homophobia too much – and there are more of them than you’d expect – I say this: homophobia kills. Be it through suicide or at the hands of a hater, gay people are dying. This is a war and the casualties are racking up. That’s why I bang on about it. Because if prejudice isn’t flagged up and fought, then haven’t we all become dehumanised?