This was originally meant to be for my uni newspaper, but because I am a wasteman, I didn’t get it finished before the deadline. It was meant to be a piece about ‘kicking homophobia out of sport’, an initiative Warwick Sport runs every year. However, my experiences of homophobia at uni haven’t really been much more than the occasional ignorant comment, and I’ve certainly not experienced it within my sports team. So, I wrote this instead.
I’ve always faced derogatory comments regarding my sexuality because of the way I look. I am an androgynous person who doesn’t adhere to feminine conceptions of beauty. Roughly until the age of 17, I was consistently misgendered and derided as the school ‘dyke’, the epitome of uncool. However, these remarks were based purely off of my masculine appearance and the presumption that I was therefore gay. Admittedly, they weren’t wrong (nor were they right), but it did shine a light on the assumptions people place on the performativity of queerness, and how negative these assumptions are. I was an object of intense scrutiny and intense revulsion because I embodied something that went against the norms of small-town suburbia.
When I was openly out, however, the verbal attacks were a lot less frequent. This is no doubt because I was in sixth form, in the oldest year group and largely isolated from the rest of the school because we had a private common room. The incident that angered me the most came from a fellow sixth former, and occurred the day after I first had sex. The girl derided became the girl desired; for the first time in my life, I felt attractive. Confidence made my head swell and my little chest puff up with self-importance. That day was spent in a glorious bubble of bacon sandwiches and stolen kisses in the kitchen, but it was not to last; we had to journey into town to watch the National Theatre Live’s screening of Frankenstein for school. We rolled up after a perilously long bus journey, and mate was I smirking. I’d just gotten my new glasses and was feeling particularly snazzy. We took our seats; I ended up next to our teacher, who had kindly bought snacks for everyone. Giddy over the prospect of free chocolate, I failed to notice the conversation behind me.
Three of our classmates were engaged in an intense debate that had my relationship as its focal point. The most vocal critic was a newcomer to our sixth form: he was an attractive young man who had charmed the ‘cool kids’ in our year with his confident swagger. He was also a born-again Christian, who objected greatly to the “sin” of the two girls sat in front of him. Our relationship was simply an “abomination.”
I stared slack-jawed at him. Abomination? People had been rude to me before, but never had I faced such absolute judgement. I felt the blood rush to my temple and wondered how much trouble I’d be in if I rammed my fist against his teeth. My friends encouraged me to move away from him while I sat seething. I told them “no, no, he’s not worth it.” We settled back to watch the show.
The NT’s production of Frankenstein features a sequence in which the forces of modernity collide with religious rhetoric and traditional modes of living. A steam-train cuts through the mist while voices cry out fire and brimstone Bible verses. As this segment played out, I felt a strange pressure in the small of my back; someone’s foot was pushing against my chair. At first, I thought nothing of it, until I began to hear a murmuring. Every time a character screamed out a religious epithet, I heard an “amen” and felt the foot dig into my back.
What bothered me about this incident is that my teacher remained absolutely silent throughout the ordeal. Perhaps it was because he was using religion to justify his bigotry, and she didn’t want to get tangled up in that; regardless, what he was saying was homophobic, plain and simple. It was also a direct attack, he was not simply stating his opinion in broad terms. I understand that it was not our teacher’s place to defend us – we were 18, after all – but letting such insidious hatred hang in the air unchecked, perturbed me.
I’ve since learnt that the lad in question is a full-on druggie. Isn’t life wonderful.