Being the victim of homophobia – It couldn’t happen to a better person than Sarah Drummond of service design firm Snook.
Well now I have your attention, let me rephrase. If someone had to be the victim of homophobia on a train to Alloa, then that it was Sarah Drummond at least ensured a degree of attention for the thoughtful and honest reflection someone like Sarah would bring to it. Her painful to read account of her experience, and her reaction, has shone a light into our dirty little secret. The secret we all (L, G, B, T, I and straight) harbour about what has changed in society.
Like most dykes* of my age I have long felt torn between a sense that younger LGBTI folks have benefitted from the efforts of my generation and those before to drag us out of a world in which getting your head kicked in of a Saturday night was an accepted part of life for us queers and the unsettling feeling of a sure and certain knowledge that ‘no it hasn’t, not that much, not reliably’.
Of course we all know it hasn’t changed at all for the queers thrown from rooftops, the dykes subject to ‘corrective gang rape’, the lovers hung from lamp-posts and the gay men forced into a sex change to confirm to the mores of a society that cannot conceive of man who willingly could love another man.
We know that bad stuff – really bad stuff – happens to those like us elsewhere. And sometimes some of us older ones shake our heads a little sadly at how many younger LGBTIs happily holiday in places where just outside their resorts or hotels our brothers and sisters suffer some of the above. For they are my family, however unfashionable the idea of a queer community or a gay ghetto now seems to some, at least if we define family as the place where one is supported to become your best and truest self. In my day the list of places lots of us queers did not go in solidarity with the family was very long.
But my earnest desire to ‘believe the change’ in my world is daily compromised by my sense of worry. The worry that those ‘gains’ are not so well embedded as to be counted on. I was not allowed to be officially in love with the woman I loved, and then I was. What is given can be taken away. Thirty years ago I had several shades of terrified kicked out me by a gang of young men who saw the queer flaunting it in the street as an easy target. Irony of the fact that they thought I was a ‘poof’ and not a ‘lezzie’ aside, I felt no shock at this. I had grown up not just aware that my ‘lifestyle’ was not normal, but that discrimination, harassment and violence were part of the deal. Within the family we bemoaned, raged, sometimes fought back – chasing the men who’d just chucked yet another brick through our café windows, campaigning, Larking in the Park. But mainly, we understood. We were ready. My bruises and cuts didn’t hurt any less because I knew that could, probably would, happen. But the damage to psyche, to sense of self and safety, was protected at least a bit by my knowledge and by my family.
Sarah isn’t the first younger person I have known in recent years who has been subject to the kind of homophobia we once expected as a matter of routine. But she’s someone whose energy and perception can tap into and give voice to the kind of protection that I think lack of familiarity with everyday homophobia has killed. Though now, unlike in my day, it’s not the family of queers that are gathering around her. It’s the family of human beings who get that loving someone of the same sex is about as worthy of comment as whether or not you part your hair to the left.
Young LGBTIs in our community are less likely to experience routine outright homophobia. Less likely, not unlikely. And how much less likely varies from community to community. Sarah’s instinct to be afraid, to drop the hand of her lover, was not the instinct of someone fearful but someone smart. I last did exactly the same thing on a train home from the Edinburgh Festival last year. What has changed is that the family that cares for them is now the true rainbow we always dreamed of: L, G, B, T, I and straight. Now that is a change I can believe in.
* Yes. Dyke. A word I fought hard to own and use back then but which I have shamefully let slip from my vocabulary to collude in the illusion that ‘it got a lot better’ while excusing myself on the grounds I let it slip to spare the blushes of the welcoming, evolved, pro-LGBTI straight world.