Excuse me but can I be you for a while
My dog won’t bite if you sit real still…
Tori Amos – Silent all these years
As far as labels go, the last thing I want to be is yet another angry and gay man.
I used to believe that my sexuality is something private and intimate (like it is for every other human being)… something that is fundamental to my identity and yet not all of who I am. Being gay is how I’ve always known myself to be and I am comfortable with being a man who loves other men. That was all there is to it.
However, over the past few years, I’ve learned that since homosexuality still is such a contentious topic for many, the intimate details of my personal life (and of gay people in general) often find itself in the spotlight in the most crass and tasteless manner. I’d prefer it not to be this way, but it seems to come with the territory.
The bit (and it’s big thorn) that infuriates me most, is that unsympathetic (and unintelligent) public references to what gay people do (or don’t do) behind closed doors, still trigger me to feel ashamed of who I am… As if my entire nature is compounded into the sexual act alone.
The harsh reality is that day-in and day-out gay people are confronted with the hurtful things people say, insensitive newspaper headlines, television and political debates, and religious vitriol pointing finger at us and scrutinising something that is a part of our essence.
Avoiding these negatives, is almost a full-time job and it fills me with anger and sometimes, yes, outrage…
A case in point, back in 2011 I was sitting on a train passing through central London having a conversation with Lenny Bloom — one of the most prolific gay rights activists of the past 40 years. Lenny played a pivotal role in setting up one of the first HIV/Aids charities, AIDS Project Los Angeles. With the help of Elizabeth Taylor, he organized the charity’s inaugural “Commitment to Life” event in 1985, which galvanized the entertainment industry, public, and sympathetic politicians in the fight against HIV AIDS… at a time when the world was wrapped in fear of ‘the gay plague’ and help was few and far between.
During the 80s, Lenny saw many friends and acquaintances die from HIV-related causes. He witnessed the Stonewall Riot and entertained Harvey Milk as a house guest… he even convinced Barbara Streisand to perform live at an Aids fundraiser after an absence from the stage for nearly a decade. These are not small achievements by any standards. From one gay man to another, Lenny has all my respect and as human being he certainly deserves some reverence.
However, during our conversation, a male passenger who sat next to him, jumped up with a huff and a puff to find himself a different seat further down the coach. I caught myself thinking: Did we say something wrong? Or did we sit in the “straights only” section of the train? Lenny on the other hand brushed it off like it didn’t matter. Perhaps years of experience in dealing with people like that made it easier for him to think nothing of it. Me? Well, I struggled to let it go.
In hindsight, the incident on the train was nothing. I should’ve had a thicker skin. Yet I cannot ignore the fact that if anyone really looks at the bigger picture, then even a blind man will be able to see how homophobia affects countless people all across the world in much more terrible ways, every day. Herein lies the root of the thorn in my flesh.
One example (among the countless many) is the teenagers, especially in the US, who are committing suicide in their droves because of homophobic bullying — young lives wasted because of ignorance and fanaticism fuelled by the rants of Christian fundamentalists. Not to mention the ridiculous laws imposed on homosexuals in countries like Russia and Uganda.
The murder of David Kato — a Ugandan gay rights campaigner, springs to mind. He was clubbed to death shortly after he sued a local newspaper (in Uganda) which outed him as a homosexual. At the time, the Ugandan Government, on the verge of passing a law that will criminalize homosexuality making it punishable with a death sentence, said the murder had nothing to do with David Kato being gay.
I know I live in a country where I enjoy a lot more equality than many of my gay brothers and sisters do in other parts of the world. Surely that should be enough to make me happy, right? But how can it be, when equality is nothing more than a dream for many gay people across the world?
It’s shortsighted not to look at the bigger impact of homophobia (no matter how well-disguised). Lately, the issue of Equal Marriage is a hot and very sensitive topic. Personally, I may not be inclined to get married in the traditional sense of the word, but the issue still affects me because fundamentally it is about not about getting married but about being equal. For the global gay community, winning this struggle will be a pivotal moment in our history. Perhaps more importantly, granting us this simple human right will be a watershed in the evolution of humanity in its entirety.
Debating equality demands from all of us to think of each other as equal beings in all aspects of our lives.
Sadly, so far, I am not convinced that this debate has brought much equanimity among gay and straight people. In fact, it may even have caused a backlash by making our opponents more vocal… and judged by the inflammatory comments I often read on article threads and seeing what is happening in countries like Russia, those against us have also become more aggressive.
Of course, focussing on these negatives is like standing on a sinking ship, refusing to jump and swim. Like I said before, it brings up unwanted feelings of anger and shame. But where to?
Homophobia seems to be a modern affliction. Henry VIII noted down the Buggery Act in 1533 — one of the first of its kind in history as far as I know. Soon after, homosexuality became something the church frowned upon and as time went by, gay people became the subjects of relentless persecution. So really, on the issue of equality, we’ve not moved forward but backward… all with the help of kings and clergymen… and now we sit with dilemma of undoing nearly five centuries of legal and religious homophobia. Understandably, this is will be a slow and very painful process. But it is a necessary one.
In essence, if one strips away all the rhetoric and approach the subject on a purely human level, it boils down to one simple question: Is it morally and ethically right to deny another human being a peaceful existence, denying him or her the right (I have to bite my tongue not say ‘privilege’) to love who they choose to love?
No matter which way I look at it, I end up with the same conclusion: History has shown us time-and-again that what’s ‘right’ and ‘good’ have very little to do with so-called morality, and neither do concepts of what is ‘fair’ and ‘equal’ influence the decisions made by men. In terms of the religious arguments against us, I know with my entire being that God has no presence in the words used to condemn us. Yes, it might be written in the bible, but it is not from God. The only power at play is the wicked will of man.
So for those wicked men — the morally, finger-pointing self-righteous — I you ask to take a walk in our shoes. Learn about our gay history. Look into the matter with open, human eyes and forget about what we do in the privacy of our bedrooms. Try to be us for a while (if only in your head). Once you are truly informed, ask yourself: Would I want to be treated like this?
** This post was revised, updated and republished on 01.11.13 **
Images: Francois Lubbe, except for images 2 & 3 for which I don’t own the rights.
Text: Francois Lubbe