Come on out
In 2003, the final episode of the brilliant, funny, smart and excellently subversive Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired on US television. It took a bit longer for ‘Chosen’ to reach us Buffy obsessives in the UK, but I’d be willing to bet that the speech Buffy gives to her army of would-be fellow Slayers has stayed with us all. Thanks to a brilliant plan, an ancient artefact and the magical kick-ass best friend that is Willow Rosenberg, any girl in the world who might have been a Slayer is given that power. ‘Can stand up,’ as Buffy memorably puts it, on behalf of girls all over the world, ‘will stand up.’
So in light of the horrific events that have unfolded over the past few days in Charlottesville, the laughable political situation in Australia around the vote for gay marriage, the abominable ‘concentration camps’ for gay Chechnyans, and the absurd complaints levelled at the National Trust for its totally unremarkable policy on volunteers wearing badges, consider this me standing up. As someone helpfully reminded me on Twitter yesterday, ‘Remember sitting in History class and thinking “if I were alive then I would’ve said something”? Well you’re alive now.’
I’m gay. This will not come as news to pretty much anyone who has met me, or perhaps noticed a trend in the kind of things I share on social media, or hell, looked at a photo of me in a tie and a sharp suit. It has never affected my career prospects (a favoured expression in the early twentieth century to suggest that someone might not be entirely heterosexual was to refer to them as ‘a little bit musical’, so no real surprise there). My friends have never had a problem with this. There have been some difficult family conversations, but otherwise, it would be possible to write here that I’ve been incredibly lucky with the reactions of those closest to me.
However, language like this is part of a much more insidious problem than that of bare-faced homophobia. The fact that something about me that is biologically determined should be accepted by my friends, and that this counts as ‘lucky’, is ridiculous. It would be like writing, ‘I realised when I was five that I was left-handed, but everyone’s been so good about it and aside from the odd nutter shouting at me on the street, I really feel like I’ve been accepted for who I am.’ Oddly, despite the fact that I am also left-handed, this is not something that has ever been a problem.
Actually, I think there’s a lot to be gained by being, in some area of one’s life, in a minority. Being in a minority – whether that’s to do with your religious convictions, sexuality, skin colour, or even being left-handed (just ask a left-hander about spiral bind notebooks) – forces you to consider viewpoints and attitudes that those within the status quo can so often overlook. You have to puzzle things out rather than just accept them. You are more likely to look under the bonnet, so to speak, of certain arguments, behaviours and positions. That’s all to the good.
The fact that more and more countries are sorting out the legal tangles they had previously instigated around homosexuality is also good. (Take note, Australia – Tim Minchin is watching you.) But something becoming legal, for all that it represents a huge and positive cultural milestone, can also force certain attitudes underground. Which can be nasty in a different way, and extremely damaging. As we’re seeing, as a series of alarming retrogressive steps, in the US at the moment.
Recently I’ve realised that the more innocuous it looks, the angrier it tends to make me. Like not talking about the existence of anything other than heterosexuality in case somebody ‘gets offended’. Or writing gaybaiting plotlines and then having everyone neatly pair off into boy-girl couples at the end of a film (see, for example, Wonderwoman and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). Or being prepared to talk about something that’s gay interest for about three minutes and then blushing and saying, ‘Gosh, this has all got a bit gay, hasn’t it?!’ like you’ve been publicly discussing your mother’s bra collection and have just realised how horrifying a social faux pas that actually is. If your friends are bigoted enough that a brief discussion about Brokeback Mountain immediately requires forty-five minutes of manly back-pedalling, you probably ought to get some new friends. But not a Gay Best Friend. They’re a person, not a bumper sticker. Their sexuality is not actually relevant to their ability to be your mate.
So the next time something like this comes up in conversation, don’t minimise it. Don’t apologise for being ‘political’. Don’t talk about ‘accusing’ someone of homosexuality, or try to change the subject because there are some retired people in the corner looking awkward. If they’ve made it through the invention of the internet and learned how to work a mobile phone, chances are they’ve got the intellectual capacity to get their brains around the fact that the nice chap standing next to you has a boyfriend. This is not a question of belief. It is not a choice. It is a matter of fact. And whether you personally are gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, queer, or even left-handed, is irrelevant. All that matters is this: can stand up, will stand up. Say something. People’s lives really do depend upon it.