By Craig Murray
Co-author of Sexpectations
I used to be a homophobe but now I’m alright
Homophobia, what a f**ker of a thing, turning beauty into hate. This story is very man focused as it relates to my experiences of homophobia. I identify as a het boy so I don’t pretend in any way to know the full impact of homophobia… this is the sense I’ve made of it so far…
The first memory – the word ‘poof’ was banned from our house. Was it queer friendliness from my folks or just, “not in my household, it might influence the kids?”
The complete irrationality of homophobia: when I was a kid, to my mind I had thin wrists and at the time a limp wrist was current homo-hate-lingo. It had me questioning my sexuality, not thinking about who I’d like to lick all over but focusing on the circumference of an appendage… umm yeah, my wrists.
At roughly the same time… ever experienced the joys of a Golden Gaytime ice cream? This was a time in my life where I wouldn’t eat one just in case someone took it as a reason to persecute me – not knowing it by name, but soaking in homophobia. It’s scary how common this ice cream experience was, ask around…
And that wasn’t just the ice cream, it applied to everything else; clothes, music, running, sitting, standing, hair. Gay was to be avoided…hanging out with girls was gay – or so me and all my male friends convinced ourselves – weird.
…insert years of unacknowledged, background homophobia AKA heterosexual privilege and…
Skip to TAFE… I met a real live gay man and he had the cheek to not comply to the stereotype sh*t in my head, he even had thick hairy wrists. This guy looked more like a biker. Ever meet a kindred spirit? This guy was just like me, well except for the size of our Madonna collections and the objects of our lust.
Then later on in TAFE… some educators from the AIDS Council of SA delivered a workshop and some questions that still sit with me today… “Who did you know was gay when you were growing up?” – No one. “What would have happened if someone came out at your school?” – no one in the group thought it would be particularly easy going, just a little harassment… and a touch of violence… and a whole heap of targeting and abuse, but, you know – some rare bright spots of support… but mostly not so…
…the facilitators took us through some of the heavy stats for some of the hell folks go through
…then we talked about the power of language, inclusion and exclusion, het privilege, erasure, heterocentricsm… finding the words
…then we were asked if we’d ever used a homophobic put down – most of the folks in the room owned up, I owned up.
We were given the opportunity to change the way we were in the world – we could continue on in prejudice – or not. We couldn’t blame ignorance anymore.
So my head was convinced but my heart still had questions – hearts can be slow on the uptake.
What was driving my particular strain of homophobia? Apart from the subtle threats of mandatory heterosexuality, what had I taken on? The church-sponsored stuff, threat to civilisation blah and the equally damaging and hateful line of all gay folks being paedophiles. These I’d heard of but didn’t really take to heart as it was so obviously wrong. Experience of same-sex explorations as a kid then applying shame, fear & guilt, I could see how that could drive some stuff but it still wasn’t at the guts of it.
While idly drilling my head, I started playing devil’s advocate and my mind churned up the thought “Well they just get to have the relationships and sex they want,” whoa, ok…STOP! – so I harboured hate in my heart, however deep down, because people are living the life they want…and I’m not. Ok, so jealousy can drive homophobia. This is insidious stuff but having seen it I could expose it for the waste of head & heart space that it was, it was limiting my life and in turn limiting those around me.
Turns out I could have the relationships and the sex that I wanted…and nobody had to suffer – quite the opposite! I fully acknowledge that it’s my het privilege that I could do those things without threat to my safety, job or family. This is one of the core reasons I challenge homophobia whenever I can – apart from the human rights angle, or making the world a safer, more relaxed place. I owe a great debt to the folks that had shared this information. They had taught me how to be proud of my sexuality…more than that, the queer men around me taught me so much about what it means to be a ‘man’.
So much of ‘traditional masculinity’ was about denouncing femininity. It wasn’t about what man was, it was all about what man wasn’t – not women and not queer, yet I was mixing with a bunch of queer men that were strong in their masculinity. They were powerful in themselves and didn’t need to take power from those around them, which had been my model for ‘man’ up until that point in my life.
Big turning point – even though it hadn’t been intentional I had taken part in something that had the potential to make folks hurt or hate themselves or those around them… but I could have a role in changing the story!
Ah the benefits of education – the joy of passing on the tools to expose homophobia for the hate that it is.
Some edited highlights:
- My first time as a sexual minority
- Being the first person someone comes out to
- Helping keep families together
- Helping folks create new families
- Being a part of those families
- The collective sigh of relief when a bunch of folks under the unspoken tyranny of homophobia realise they don’t have to play that game. When homophobia turns from being the norm or default setting into something people do when they’re feeling insecure
- My 80 year old Pa – naming and shaming homophobia in his church hierarchy
Learn learn learn – just read some of Daniel Whitthaus’ stuff on not expecting homophobia in rural Australia. It can be hard not to expect the worst of people, and its delicious when the least likely of allies steps up, like my Gran – a 96 year old, hardcore “Fishwifey” (her words) from the east coast of Scotland – when I told her I was working in the gay community I was expecting some outrage, instead she dropped some wisdom: “It doesn’t matter who you love – love is love”. For all the language of sexuality those words say it all… okay I’d add lust is lust, sex is sex, good is good, dodgy is dodgy, dead set wrong is dead set wrong regardless of who or how ya love and/or f**k… and… smiley face.