When we think of homophobia, we are quick to think of the extreme, and for very good reason. Yet, regardless of class, it is important that we don't lose sight of the day to day realities of being LGBTQ+ amidst these extremes. This article explores the varied experiences of the LGBTQ+ community and the myriad of uncomfortable situations that they encounter every day.
Wherever someone falls on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, they are first and foremost an individual with a variety of experiences. ‘Being gay’ isn’t some homogenous experience that can be simply described. If it were that straightforward, tackling homophobia would be a hell of a lot easier. The reality, however, is that experiences are diverse - both positive and negative.
To take an obvious example, the experience of ‘coming out’ is incredibly different for individuals within the LGBTQ+ community. The response can range anywhere from lack of surprise to horror, and an open mind to physical violence. ‘Coming out’ is not something that happens once and then neatly concludes, but an event that happens over and over with each new person you meet.
The day to day reality of living as someone not-heteronormative can be tiring, or at worst, incredibly dangerous. I write this as someone in a remarkably privileged position. I come from a middle-class background with parents, family and friends, who were understanding of my bisexuality. However, it would be naïve to think that the experience is ever entirely positive.
When we think of homophobia, we are quick to think of the extreme. Whether it’s the events at Pulse or the experiences of those in Chechnya (to take two of many examples), it’s the worst cases that hit the headlines. Thank goodness they do; we need to know, and people need to be confronted with the reality. However, it’s important that we don’t lose the day to day realities amidst these extremes.
To take an example that speaks volumes for my middle-class background: the dinner party. I am in no way threatened by this experience, but the uncertainty of knowing whether it will be considered socially acceptable to admit to dating women is deeply uncomfortable. It’s the ‘not knowing’ that I have come up against time and again. In all likelihood, nine out of ten times people will be totally fine with it; but it’s the fear of the one time that keeps me silent. I don’t want my bisexuality to become the focus of the dinner party so I stay silent and the LGBTQ+ community stays hidden.
If I mention having a partner, even if I use gender-neutral pronouns, people will automatically assume I mean a boyfriend and start echoing male pronouns back at me. Most people don’t mean any offence, and if I corrected them would be horrified (and very apologetic) about their assumption. But it doesn’t alter the fact that heteronormativity continues to be the assumption made.
Clearly, the fact I am made uncomfortable about the gay pride flag fluttering in my room while I eat my avocado starter, is a far less serious issue than people being killed for their identity. The whole point though, is that these experiences are not to be equated, but viewed within a framework of homophobia. We need to address these small, everyday examples to address the root cause: people are uncomfortable with individuals being in relationships/ having sex with same sex partners.
That discomfort is never acceptable, no matter what your class, country or background is. We need to tackle homophobia at every level to make progress. I may be super middle class, but believe me, navigating the dinner party is no picnic.