Homophobia has not gone away, it's only become harder to identify

By Harry Dobson

"Homophobia is becoming harder to identify amongst predominantly heterosexual social circles because what it means to be homophobic gets tangled into banter and lad culture."

I came out as bisexual at a fairly young age. I remember using my school’s internal emails to message my friend during a lesson to declare my new-found sexuality to her. From that point on, I endured years of hell, instigated by the majority of young men that I shared a learning environment with. It was verbal abuse one day, torment and rumour the next; growing up LGBTQ+ in school was one of the hardest things I have ever done, however, the grotesque abuse and homophobia that I experienced has shaped me to be who I am today.

Whilst it is in no way justifiable that I was subject to this, you have to look for the silver linings in these dark experiences. Growing up experiencing such blatant homophobia armed me with the knowledge to identify homophobia when I saw it or experienced it, and also gave me the resilience and iron will to confront it. With this in mind though, I could spend this article talking about all the verbal and physical abuse I received in school but I don’t want to, because that is easily identifiable with the naked eye and a slight bit of human decency; what I do want to talk about, however, is how I feel homophobia has evolved to be more sinister and covert.

Upon enrolling at the University of Reading, I really got a taste of adult homophobia in action. You see, as I had gone to an extremely liberal college in Brighton & Hove, a notoriously socially free area of England and the gay capital of the UK, I had not really experienced any sort of discrimination for the two years I was enrolled there, so I when I got to university, I was almost shocked at the level of casual and micro-aggressive homophobia I experienced.

Brighton Pier
Brighton, the 'gay capital of the UK'

One of my first run-ins with homophobia was during freshers week, at a tiny club called Matchbox’ (ironically named, most likely to reflect the size of the venue), I was in the smoking area with friends ‘enjoying’ the smell of second-hand smoke mixed with body odour, spilt VK’s and vodka diet cokes. My friend prompted me to ask someone for a Rizla, so I turned to a 6ft 3 guy who was smoking a rollie cigarette behind me and simply asked if he had one, to which he turned to his female friend and said: “Wow, he seems like a faggot!”

From this moment on I knew that my journey through university was to be riddled with similar experiences. Fast forward to pre-drinks, in what I believe was first or second year, and I was in the midst of a conversation with a small group of people and one turned to his friend and remarked, ‘Is this guy gay? My immediate response consisted of two thoughts: Why is it relevant and if you were that intrigued, why could you not just ask me yourself? It was interactions like this that plagued my social life, to a point where I just had to take it on the chin because fighting back was an exhausting process.

The next biggest frontier of homophobia I faced was from the university lacrosse club I was a part of. One member of the team thought it was hilarious to constantly make homophobic jokes, to which I literally had to pull him aside and ask to stop making these jokes which was a very mentally exhausting task. Another instance was my first-ever away match - my helmet strap had come undone, so one of the players on the opposing team offered to fix it for me, to which my coach at the time shouted from the side-lines, ‘Harry! Stop trying to get off with him!’ Again, what is the point of saying things like that? They would most definitely not say that to a straight person. From a heterosexual person’s perspective, it is an easy and relatively cheap joke, with little direct homophobia attached to it that could most simply be played off as ‘lad banter’.

I can also recall another night with some of the lacrosse boys; we all went to McDonald’s to get some post-night-out food, with my only option being a veggie burger due to the fact that (as you can probably already tell) I’m a vegetarian. I went to order it, invoking one guy’s disgust, who replied: ‘Don’t do that, that’s gay’. Ding ding ding, another unnecessary homophobic comment!

My latest experience in regards to homophobia within this sport was late last year on the way back from an away game. Everyone was elated due to the fact that, even though we lost, we still did very well against a tier-one opponent that had been relegated into our tier. Unprompted, I hear from the back of the bus, ‘Matthew, stop being a gay’ (Matthew is an alias to protect the identities of those involved in this scenario). When I called it out, I was promptly met with not one, not two, but three people rebuking the fact that had I called it out for being homophobic.

Apparently, he was “speaking objectively”, whatever that means. Not an apology for making such a misplaced comment, no, a rebuttal of the fact that it was even homophobic in the first place. Situations like this are the most exhausting because they make you feel insane. It makes you feel as though you are unreasonable for calling it out, and that in some way you’re overreacting. It is completely mentally draining.

One of the most painful things to experience in my final year of university was watching everyone commending and participating in a training idea that I had suggested the previous year. At the time, I had been accosted by senior members on the committee and could not help but think there was a degree of homophobia within that action.

These very socially complex experiences are what homophobia is today, and it is incredibly rampant. As the title suggests, homophobia has become less convenient and much more difficult to identify. In this generation, if you don’t know what to look for, you will never find it. As a bisexual man, I have had to go through various situations where stuff was said, whether it was to me or not, and I just had to stay silent and take it on the chin because, god forbid, I upset the social situation by merely pointing out homophobic language and tendencies.

"It makes you feel as though you are unreasonable for calling it out, and that in some way you’re overreacting. It is completely mentally draining."

Homophobia is becoming harder to identify amongst predominantly heterosexual social circles because what it means to be homophobic gets tangled into banter and lad culture. It’s becoming difficult to call out, because if you do you’re labelled a ‘bore’ and told to ‘take a joke’. There is an increasing arrogance amongst certain groups of people that believe they can justify saying what they’ve said because they once spent time with an LGBTQ+ person who made a joke themselves.

We have to do better, otherwise, we will end up with more situations like professional football’s, where LGBTQ+ players have to hide their sexualities in fear of reprimand from their very fanbase.

So, in spite of all this, I will offer you, a set of parameters to either ask yourself or another person to help identify whether what you have heard or are about to say is homophobic.

  1. Would you say that to a heterosexual person?

  2. Does the statement avoid negative connotations about non-heterosexual sexualities?

  3. Is the statement at the expense of an LGBTQ+ person, but wouldn’t be the case for a heterosexual person?

  4. Is the person’s sexuality relevant to what you’re about to say?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of those questions, you are most likely saying something homophobic, even if it doesn’t appear to be. But that’s the crux of the issue, if we are going to completely tackle homophobia, we are going to have to call out uncomfortable assumptions and needless mentions of sexuality, because even though it can come from a place of ignorance, it usually comes from a place of internalised homophobia. Once we can fully identify these covert homophobic tendencies, we will be better equipped to tackle it within social situations and sporting environments.


Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.

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