This morning I woke and heard about a piece of online activism regarding gay acceptance. It looks at the small things people say and do that reinforce the homophobia in the world. I must confess it is a fairly strange one for me, partly because I have been known to comment on those around me who are making what are best described as micro-racist comments.
The reality is that although I've not grown up around the extremes, or even much that is blatant, I have been aware for a long time that there is a lot of racism around me. I believe a lot of it is racism through thoughtless ignorance rather than real hate. There may be a little fear in there, but basically I believe the racism around me is fixable. I believe that a lot of the small sleights are people using the language they grew up around, and I believe that challenging that language will mean the next generation will see less of it and we will see such racism fading away. This is the racism of those who fear political correctness. They probably aren't really racists, they quite likely do have black friends, maybe even Chinese or Indian too, but they will complain about illegal immigrants and gypsies. They'll be upset at some spurious headline saying Christmas is cancelled. They'll object to mosques in their town because they've never seen a Catholic church in the Middle East (despite probably never having been to the Middle East). It is thoughtless racism. Of course real racists will say the same things too, but they know what they're saying is racist.
And for all my awareness of this situation with race, I'll admit I've not really noticed it much with homophobia. I'd say more of my friends are gay than non-white, so why haven't I noticed it more?
Weirdly the answer comes in a number of forms. And I'll admit I'm not proud of the truth, but basically... I wouldn't really mix my gay friends with my homophobic friends. A lot of it is geographical - probably my nearest gay friend would be in London and really... Londoners don't want to visit small towns in Essex very often whereas people in small towns in Essex are often quite eager to visit their friends in London. But there is more to it. I know I pick my words carefully when talking to certain people about things one of my gay friends has done.
One of the comments that leapt out at me was very simple,
When someone makes gay jokes, I have to choose: shut up (sacrifice integrity) or speak up (sourpuss who "can't take a joke"). I'm guilty of sacrificing my integrity.
I wish I could pretend otherwise, but the truth is I know there are only a few people I would feel comfortable enough to challenge over making an offensive gay joke. I'm cautious about how far I push the micro-racism stuff with people (I believe they will respond more to a gentle message as opposed to lectures about what they see as "political correctness gone mad") but when it comes to micro-homophobia I am a coward.
I think strangely my reluctance comes from the fact that it is fairly infrequent in my social circles, but I can accept that infrequency comes from the fact that homophobia is so strong in the UK that homosexuality is still fairly quiet here. Only last week Amal Fashanu presented a documentary on her uncle Justin - Britain's only openly gay professional footballer, ever. Of the thousands of footballers there have been in this country over the years, only one has ever been openly gay. It goes against all statistical data. Even if we assume the overly heterosexual environment of professional sports has scared others away from even trying to make the team it still doesn't add up, although the frequent stories that there are footballers who would like to be out but scared for their careers does suggest Justin was only alone in telling other people about his sexuality.
There's just less gay exposure in the country than is believable. On some level we can argue it's good because the only time race tends to really become a story is when something fairly serious is at stake, and maybe the gay community avoid anything too serious. Maybe we can even argue that because the story doesn't involve their sexuality there is no need to mention that part of their life. But as most stories include the subject's age and a mini-biography of the subject that's probably not true. It's more likely that the subjects of the story themselves keep it quiet.
Something that did strike me during this thought process is that perhaps I also have another reason why I am quiet. Perhaps I am scared of having to deal with homophobia myself. If I comment on racism no-one will assume I'm black, but if I comment on homophobia I know some would assume I was gay. And the thing is, the people who would wouldn't act any differently if they thought I was gay are the ones who wouldn't assume I was. It's the people who do make the comments who would assume only another gay person would defend a gay person, and they are also the ones who would become a personal problem too. They are the ones who intimidate me into silence.
I should not ignore the micro-homophobia. Those thousand cuts hurt, even if there isn't a gay person around they hurt society, they hurt my friends who have to live in a world where micro-homophobia goes without mention. Because these small cuts build up and hurt, small cuts make bigger cuts more acceptable. Ignorance is curable, and so is my silence.