The world is filled with trials and tribulations. It’s a natural part of life that there are dark times for us all to go through. Some are terrible and have a lasting impact while others last mere moments. Everyone’s journey through life is different and filled with various experiences that shape our lives. As queer folk, we have problems to deal with on top of all the other crap life is already throwing at us. Even those of us who are fortunate enough to live in more accepting environments aren’t totally safe from the menace of homophobia. It may be diluted and easier to shrug off but that does not excuse it.
Fairly recently, one of my best friends had to deal with two incidents of homophobic behaviour. While no physical harm came to him - and he was more irritated than anything else - it’s still unacceptable. Hearing the stories, I felt fury welling up inside me. A hundred thoughts raced in the front of my mind, vying for my attention but ultimately falling prey to the inevitable “What is there to do?” thought that is often accompanied with a shrug and grim acceptance. There really wasn’t much he could do about it and despite how angry I was that my friend was treated with disrespect, there wasn’t much that I could do either.
The first incident took place in a food establishment. He and his boyfriend were trying to decide what to order for take-aways when they heard derogatory comments about them from some of the staff. The comments were clearly aimed at them and accompanied by snickering between the members of staff involved. My friend posted a review of the establishment the following day and cited the homophobic remarks as well as stating that they will no longer be customers. In the review he also mentioned that he would be urging his friends and family to avoid the place too. He received a reply from higher-ups apologizing for the incident but there wasn’t much satisfaction to be had. Sure, it’s not like he was met with violence or anything like that but that’s a cold comfort. Why did the staff feel so emboldened that they thought they could degrade two people who were trying to get dinner?
The second occurred after he had dyed his hair. It was almost white in colour and shoulder-length. He had very recently changed his hair and I’m sure he was still riding that high after a cosmetic change like that. But that wave was tempered when he encountered a group of construction workers while walking home. They stared and laughed at him as he walked by. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t do anything, and he most certainly didn’t give them a reason to behave in such an unsavoury manner. Yet they felt so at ease making him so uncomfortable. Their cavalier disregard for him as a human being shocked me and left me reflecting on the casual homophobia that queer folk have to endure.
In accepting environments like the one my friend and I live in, some of us feel safe to be ourselves outside of the privacy and safety of our homes. We dress how we want, we paint our nails if we feel so inclined, we walk and talk in ways that are natural to us and we live our best lives around each other. But no amount of courage and determination will protect us from homophobia. We may ignore subtle varieties of it as best we can but it’s still there. We may try to make it clear by being ourselves that we don’t care if some people find us off-putting. And for the most part, we get away with it. But not always. Sometimes we can’t ignore the hushed insults. Sometimes we can’t ignore the stares. Sometimes we can’t ignore the negative attitude we get.
I’ve lost count of how many times someone has looked at me, done a double take and then made a face. I can’t tell you how many times I can feel the bad energy from someone when they realize I’m queer. I’ve been complimented on my painted nails as many times as I’ve seen people stare at them and frown. I once used one of my ear piercings to open the sim card tray of my aunt’s phone in a bank and when I was putting the stud back in, I noticed an older man sitting nearby and watching with a sneer on his face. I’ve made eye contact with people who then looked me up and down like I was an alien. Instead of being at the very least, neutral, they chose to size me up and label me as something unappealing.
It’s astonishing how much casual homophobia runs rampant. Great strides have been made for our community and people have fought for our rights and our inclusion in society. There are many places in the world where queer folk are literally begging for their rights, for their lives, and being ignored. Bitching about casual homophobia in areas that are generally accepting may seem trivial in comparison, but this is one of many different battles we have to face; one that seeks to constantly remind us that despite the victories we have attained, there are still so many that view us as lesser or worse.
The shadow of casual homophobia is just that. A Shadow. Some of us have less to fear; after all, how much harm can shadows really do, especially compared to the very real monsters that prey on members of our community. Our fear is still there though because one day, without warning, a shadow can become a force and we can get hurt. So, we live our lives, but we live them carefully. Some days are more care-free than others and some days we look around for that shadow that could be haunting our steps. One day though, our victories will generate enough light to banish the shadow of homophobia.
I’m looking forward to that day.