“If you had the choice”, they say, “would you choose a life of oppression, discrimination, harassment, inequality, abandonment, and vastly increased risk of developing mental health issues, over a comfortable picture-perfect life of opening car doors on cringe-and-swoon first dates, big white weddings and gorgeous biological children?”
Don’t get me wrong – this is a great way to kick back at all the nasties of the world, but it is a completely negative rhetoric, and one we need to ditch.
What on earth are we doing trumpeting the idea of gay ‘pride’ if this is how we respond to our critics?
In our society, everyone whose experience of sexuality is anything other than “wow that person of the opposite sex who conforms to their socially prescribed gender role is super hot'” has a tough time of it, and in spite of my ultra-privileged position as a middle-class, white, cisgendered man living in a liberal bubble, I know that being gay can be really, horribly, outrageously, disgustingly tough.
I was bullied at school. I was hit, teased, taunted, ostracised, and made to feel pretty small almost all the time for a good many years. I had a relationship with a guy who couldn’t be seen ‘with’ me in public, called me a ‘faggot’ and later said I was one of the biggest mistakes of his life.
The first time I moved away from home, I was faced with a whole barrage of new people who decided it was their business to know as much as they could about my sexuality as soon as they could – people who “just wanted to know”, without any inkling of what that pressure felt like, and then had malicious rumours spread about me on a petty internet gossip website, mercifully long since taken down.
Even at University, there are people I know it’s in my best interests to avoid speaking to for fear of some kind of homophobic tirade erupting if I catch them at the wrong moment. I sing in a choir that involves being in a chapel five times a week, and in spite of all rational reassurances to the contrary, and in spite of my own Christian upbringing, I still can’t shake the fact that every time I walk into a church, chapel, or cathedral, something about it makes me feel distinctly unwelcome – like some awkward quirk they haven’t quite got their heads around just yet.
If that’s my experience, I can only imagine what it’s like to live in a place like Northern Ireland, where gay marriage is still illegal, and MSM (men who have sex with men) are still not allowed to give blood. From my perspective, I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to live in Uganda, or Saudi Arabia, where even the suggestion of homosexual activity can land you in prison and get you killed.
And yet, even in the face of all that, if I were taken back through my fertilisation, gestation, birth, and childhood, I would make the choice again and again. I would choose to be gay, and we must all have the space to be ‘proud’ of our identity.
I relish the fact that we have a completely different view of the world courtesy of our sexuality. We have been given a unique perspective on the heterosexual relationships that surround us. I’ve found that I can be closer to women without being clouded by the awkwardness of potential encounters, relationships, and tensions. I can get along with men both as friends and as the people I involve myself with romantically. The ‘gay community’ is blessed with the chance to start its own society, almost from scratch, free from so many of the ills of the sexist patriarchal norms espoused by so much of the heterosexual world.
If you are gay, you’ve been built up by the bullies, the ‘h8ers’, and the casual slurs. You’ve grown up into human beings who actually have to wake up and work out who they are without just casually simmering blandly into a ready-made, pre-fabricated adulthood. You know that every freedom you have, you’ve had to fought for. Every marriage, every hand held in public, every photo uploaded on Facebook is a small personal victory over every single one of those kids at school.
Rather than getting drawn into the misogynistic game of gender role-play in relationships, it can be much easier for gay men to build relationships based on mutual respect for each other. I’ve enjoyed laughing at the baffled and slightly terrified look of waiters on dates in old-fashioned restaurants when they have absolutely no idea who to give the bill to, and have loved the look of absolute glee from a waiter in a more modern place when they’ve caught us holding hands.
We can get married if we want, but there’s no pressure or expectation to do so – if you don’t need a piece of paper to confirm that you like each other rather a lot, you don’t have to get one. I used to desperately crave a Disney film with a gay prince, but then realised that I can live my life without constantly stacking myself up against the barrage of Hollywood rom-coms and Disney romances. We don’t have to worry if our prince-charming-style gestures are grand enough, or if our quirky-girl-in-rom-com quirks are quirky enough.
If I want, I can sit on the train in the suit-and-tie uniform of the patriarchy and blend in with every other Joe Bloggs on their way to every other pen-pushing job in a tired office. Or I can camp myself for every gathering of girls who think being gay means I care about your shoes and drink pink sugar-rimmed cocktails with umbrellas.
Being gay is a free ticket to be different – it’s a chance to try something new, create your own world, and get out of the rut in which so much of the world is stuck.
I didn’t choose it, but if I could – I would. Every time.
This article was published on Huffington Post UK (12/01/2015)