Homophobia: You’re Soaking in It

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.

Love!

Queensland Coming Out

By Roxanne

Dear all,

My name is Roxanne and I am a 25-year-old lesbian from South Australia. I came out in a small Queensland town named Gladstone, 6 hours north of Brisbane. I was age 15 when I discovered my sexuality and also made the choice to come out to my family and peers at this time. My parents were very supportive and I was quite comfortable with the feelings I was having even before I made them public. When I came out my friends were supportive and most of my high school year level felt unaffected by my recent revelation. However, I did receive a backlash from my ex-boyfriends and their mates. On one occasion I awoke to my mother crying on our front patio. I asked my mother what was wrong and she would not face me but told me to go and see my father. He was cleaning off black spray paint off our driveway and family cars. The word ‘dyke’ had been spray painted around the outside of my home. In addition, dog poo was put in my letterbox and eggs had been thrown onto the front of my house. This incident also occurred a second time. My mother said she contacted the school but they refused to see it as a serious bullying issue.

In addition, I was chased home on a number of occasions and water-filled balloons were thrown at me. One day one boy chased me into suburban bush land, punched me repeatedly in the face and urinated on me. However, it was not only the students that I received harassment from during my teenage years. One female teacher asked me, during a sex education lesson with a number of year 8 classes present if I would stand before them and explain what sex with a girl was like. I refused and did not tell my parents of this incident. In addition, the same female staff member also pulled me aside during a lesson and wanted to know again graphic details of my sex life. I had been dating a girl two years older than me who also attended the school and this was common knowledge amongst the students and staff. Teachers also circled the school during lunch times to ensure my girlfriend and I did not hold hands. We were both threatened on a number of occasions that if we did hold hands we would both be suspended. My mother did complain to the school principal about this incident but again fell on deaf ears. The scary fact is this was at a public school!

Please don’t worry if you are young and just coming out as the above was some years ago and one of the worst case scenarios! The best time of my life was during my first year at university as I was able to be my true self without fear. I became very active in gay rights at university and had a blast! The thing that inspired me to become a high school teacher was that I never wanted students to feel unsafe or threatened the way that I did when I was a teenager. I am now a teacher and have a wonderful partner who I am marrying in January 2012. I believe being gay makes a person a strong-willed, compassionate individual that has a unique in-depth understanding of the need for sensitivity towards all types of minority groups. One point I want to stress to people coming out is that you are not alone. You deserve to be yourself and be loved. We are all waiting to be your friend and one of us will be your future partner. You can lead a happy and fulfilling life and be gay!

Best wishes,

Roxanne

Sexuality Q&A

By Darren
1. How would you describe your sexuality?
Complicated. I don’t believe in labelling sexuality but realise there is a need to know what ‘category’ you fall into when it comes to sex. For the sake of the argument, I am attracted to both sexes – both physical forms of the body please me in different ways. Though I don’t think I could ever fall in love with another guy – it is purely a sexual attraction.

2. How has societal pressures influenced you when it has come to being with partners and sharing with others details about who you have been with?
I grew up in an age where being ‘gay’ or ‘bi’ was simply not talked about. It was however, largely joked about. A homosexual/bi guy in the late 80’s and early 90’s was often labelled as weak, made fun of, seen as anything but a man, too flamboyant and widely ostracised. In the last decade or so, society has become far more accepting of same-sex relationships. Who knows what this can attributed too? Maybe more celebrities are coming out (sport stars/actors etc.), more resources for people to seek information and counseling, the computer age making it easier to chat to others in similar situations and share information/experiences, governments funding specialised support services to stem the number of suicides in young people and acknowledging depression is an illness, the list goes on…

I have a strong core group of friends I see regularly for drinks, barbecues, etc. I am the only single guy in the group (although I had had relationships in the past with women). My friends have tried hooking me up on blind dates with women and while I appreciate they have good intentions, I’m simply over the whole dating thing. I am quite happy being single. The subject of sex rarely comes up and they have given up on trying to hook me up.

I honestly don’t know how they would react if I came out and told them I had been engaging in sex with guys. You have to remember they all grew up in the same era as me and it’s because of this uncertainty I doubt I will ever tell them. I value their friendship deeply and it shouldn’t matter who I have sex with – but I’m scared of losing some of them. Am I lying to my friends? Maybe. But how many people can honestly say they don’t lie to their friend’s, family or partners. Sex is a private thing with me. I would never boast about it to others. And I would rather regret something I did than something I never tried.

3. What is your approach to dealing with people of different sexualities, in particular younger people?
I find speaking to younger gay guys (via a net dating site) incredibly interesting. Through them I am trying to work myself out. I would often have long conversations with them and try to relate their feelings and experiences to what I had experienced at their age. Most just want sex – it’s what their friends are doing and they think they’re being left out. A lot of them are confused about what they’re feeling and hormones have taken over. This uncertainty makes them very vulnerable to others. Given my professional role in society I have to identify this and offer them some precautions and make them aware of services such as Second Story.

4. What is your approach with online social networks, such as dating sites, and do you have issues with the potential dangers or over-sharing your information?
You know, if it wasn’t for the net, I’d probably still be wondering why I’m having these ‘guy crush’ moments. I set up a profile on a gay dating site about four years ago. One of the reasons I did this was to see if there was anyone I knew on it – well, Adelaide is a small place. The other was to actually meet a guy and experiment – to finally find out what it would be like to fool around with another guy discreetly. And there it is – discreet. This one word means a lot. To me it means a lot. Adelaide is a small place and I didn’t want any of my friends to know what I was doing. I would only provide a small amount of information on the profile until I was confident enough as too how much information would get me the most responses. I never provided my occupation in a profile (hate to think how many responses I would attract if I did!) and never uploaded a face picture unless it could be locked/unlocked by me to be shown only to members of my choice.

It’s no secret that some profiles are simply fabricated from start to finish. These are usually the profiles of people with dishonest intentions and are fairly easy to identify.

I would only engage in conversation on another medium such as MSN if I wanted to know more about the other guy I was interested in. I like to character assassinate through questioning and can generally gauge when a guy is being honest through his conversation. I would never meet someone I know or have met before on the street or in general day-to-day life. Having the other guy cam for you is a positive step to ensuring you meet the guy you’re actually chatting to. I would limit the amount of information about me to him until I actually met him face to face. As I said earlier, Adelaide is a small place and you’ll find that someone knows someone that knows you! So limiting the amount of personal information is of some importance to me.

5. What has your experience been with your own sexuality and decisions?
I always had some kind of feelings towards a couple of guys at high school – but always just put it down to a ‘guy crush’ and that I’d get over it. I never did. I had plenty of sexual experiences with women and that generally satisfied me. Growing up through school and in my friend’s social circle, it was simply not cool to like guys sexually. And there was simply no place to seek any help or guidance – it was a difficult time trying to bury these strange feelings. They wouldn’t be strong feelings though. I may be at the beach and see a good looking, toned guy and appreciate his looks, could be a guy walking down the street or a fellow competitor on the sports field. But sometimes the hormones would take over and I would get an erection looking at these guys and get confused because I wasn’t in love with these people. I didn’t recognise that I was actually sexually attracted to them and didn’t know how to handle it.

It would never occur to me that other guys would be in the same predicament but there was simply no way of communicating this to others in a discreet manner. For many frustrating years I would put up with this. I never had the courage to ask a guy if he was interested in me or not – I didn’t really have the confidence to know if I was attractive or not. Then there was the possibility of being knocked out if I asked the wrong guy. And it was too dangerous to go to any of the known gay beats – after all, I wasn’t gay (was I?). Growing up with this hidden feeling about guys was frustrating but it never got the better of me. I was never depressed or felt any less of a man for having these feelings/urges. But keeping them secret couldn’t have been too healthy.

It wasn’t until four years ago when I started using the net to chat to other guys that I realised there are many, many men in the same position as me. I guess I was relieved to hear that other guys had the same sexual feelings towards other men but didn’t know what to do. Some of the guys were even married!?! I have met with a few guys of differing ages for discreet meetings and loved every minute of it. I have even forged a friendship or two out of it. The only regret I’ll ever have is that I wish I had done something about it earlier.

6. Is there anything else you have experienced that you think others would benefit in knowing?
It is very clear that in today’s society that most of us have grown up to accept sexual differences. But there will always be a part of society that will shun same-sex marriages and sexual encounters – whether it be through the way they were brought up, religion or peer group pressures. But today there is no excuse for keeping these feelings to yourself – there are so many resources today it’s not funny. Many schools/universities have support groups, the internet can be a huge source of information and maybe even your own friends can support you.

If your keen on meeting a guy for a hook-up then be cautious at all times. Most dating sites have a list of Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to hooking up but it all comes down to common sense – always go with your gut feeling – it’s generally the right one.

LGBTIQ and the Church

By Greg

I grew up within the Methodist and then Uniting church in Brisbane, and was involved in Uniting Church life through to 1994, when I returned to live in Brisbane from a country town following the breakdown of my marriage.

At that time, for no apparent reason, I couldn’t settle within the Uniting parish where I lived, and decided to try another church. The nearest one was a little Anglican church, and I was warmly welcomed by the people there, along with my two young sons when they had weekends with me. So, I stayed, felt at home within the liturgy, and five years later, found myself responding to a sense of call to ordination. Following acceptance as an ordinand and three years of study and formation, I was ordained an Anglican deacon in 2003.

All seemed right in my life and role as an honorary deacon in my parish. Except – during that period since the 90s I’d had frightening stirrings about my sexual orientation – so terrifying that I pushed these doubts out of sight within myself. In 2005 came the adventure of a trip to the UK to attend a worldwide ecumenical deacons’ conference.

When I returned home, I was disoriented and ill-at-ease, realising that it was time to face my inner stirrings head-on, once and for all. Following some long-term counselling, my confusion distilled into clarity, and I “came out”, acknowledging to myself that I am gay.

That was the beginning of a totally new sense of identity, like finding I came from another planet! I began taking the slow steps of disclosing to family and friends, and to the Anglican hierarchy. To me, opening to who I am and facing the fears, was at the centre of my journey of faith; I remember praying at that time, that if I were to be true to my deacon’s ordination vows, this was a journey I needed to face; if I ran away from it, I sensed that I could not stand up, call myself a deacon, and be genuine.

Sadly, the archbishop didn’t see things in the same way, especially about being a gay clergy person who wanted to be open, and in a relationship. Having moved here to be with my then partner in 2007, by the time I approached the archbishop of Adelaide about a formal deacon’s role, the church’s position had hardened further.

Isn’t it strange that I moved across from Uniting to Anglican in 1994 because I experienced welcome, and here I am because, at a time of great need, I have been welcomed back again!

My standing with the Anglican church is full of uncertainty, and grief at my loss of identity as a deacon – my robe and stoles haven’t seen the light of day for over three years now. This journey is a work in progress, and I ask for your prayers and support as I take it.

An Ex-Homophobic

By Geoff

In high school a male in my peer group chose to “come out” as a homosexual. I felt negative toward this person as my (Christian) upbringing taught me this is wrong. I also didn’t like the way it changed his personality – it appeared to me he was trying to live up to some “gay” stereotypes.

I was taught growing up that homosexuality was a sin. Also, being from a rural area, people around me had very negative views towards homosexuality and people are not very tolerant. I would like to add though, that they are not very tolerant of any minority groups!!

It stopped around the time a close mate of mine came out to me. I will tell you the story – I hadn’t seen this bloke for quite some time but we got on like a house on fire and always did – since grade one, and we lived around the corner from each other. We were on a normal camping/hiking trip and we were sharing a tent together and one night during the laughter and chit chat he felt comfortable enough to tell me he is bi. My initial reaction was “gross”, but then I had a quick think about all the really great times we’ve shared and how I really liked his personality and how this hadn’t changed since he’d come out. I also thought about the struggle he had obviously been through, “hiding” this and waiting for the right moment to tell people. This really made me consider other homosexual people and changed my views as a whole.

Moving away from home to the city and living at university also changed my views. I was exposed to people who were not intolerant and would not tolerate my intolerance. I met some really great people (who just so happened to be homosexual) which made me realise they are not so different to myself.

When I was in high school I engaged in homosexual bullying. It was easy to call someone a “fag” or “poofter” or whatever without thinking of the consequences. There was another example where a homosexual bloke (whom I didn’t particularly get on with) was hitting on me – saying he liked my arse, thought I had nice lips… it went on. I asked him politely to stop, which he didnt seem to take notice of. As it continued I threatened him and even approached a teacher and told her about it, however she didn’t take much notice, or at least he didn’t listen to her. He said it to me once when I was in a foul mood so I turned around and punched him in the face, guts and kicked him to the ground. Looking back, I probably took out a bit of my frustration of the day as well. He got the message and backed off and eventually we made up and are Facebook friends to this day.

I still reflect on this (with shame) and my actions and how much high school must have been a struggle for him, as well as growing up with intolerant parents and peers. I tell this story to other homophobic people I meet, but I will admit I still tell homophobic jokes from time to time.

What would I say to someone who is homophobic? Be tolerant. Think of others. You might miss out on making some really great friends.

What would I say to a homosexual wanting to come out to a straight person? Pick your moment, make sure it is someone you trust, don’t let being a homosexual change the way you are.

Country Mother

By Sue

When my son told me he was gay, I had a lot of questions for him, but acceptance was instant. Not that it has been easy in a small country town – my first reaction was thank God he has moved to the city. Country towns can be very narrow-minded about what is right and what is wrong; you have to be a man’s man to make it. My son should have been allowed to be himself and not have to hide it until he moved.

For me, I was first concerned about how the people here would now view him, would they treat him the same, as he hadn’t changed, or would the nastiest come out? Would they shun him, in other words? The mother’s claws came out to protect my son from things that might never occur. Then of course it was what people would think of me, will they treat me differently, shun me just because my son is gay. It has taken time to get to the point that I don’t care if they do shun me – I love my son and if they are too narrow-minded that is their problem, not mine. I still don’t come straight out and say that he is gay in this community, but now if I am asked how he is going and does he have a girlfriend, I don’t avoid it and state he has a lovely boyfriend and they are very happy together.

In a small town you still avoid asking questions that might embarrass you, or get a response that you really don’t want to know, so not many people have been game to ask me. Which does surprise me, especially seeing he and I worked together for years plus people are always interested in others people’s business: I find this point very amusing!

Out of town when asked I state straight away that I have a gay son. The reactions you get are varied and usually not what you expect. This has allowed me to practice and prepare myself for the reactions of this town. I know that I am strong enough to handle anything people in this town can throw at me. I have adjusted and am very proud of my children in every way. I am also very thankful that it is now 2011 and the acceptance of gay people is more readily done. I feel for those from years ago that were in the generation when it was taboo to even think about being gay. To all the families that have gay children in small towns: be proud, they haven’t changed in any way, allow yourself adjustment time but love your child instantly, they need all the support you can supply.