To the man on the tram, giving me dirty looks. The woman who sheltered her kid so he couldn’t see me. To the driver who stopped in the middle of the road, just to roll down the window and call me a faggot. And especially to the group of drunk guys who triggered this post, by calling me and a friend ‘those gays’, just loud enough so we could hear us, and who, when we left, happily exclaimed “THEY’RE GONE!”. I hate how you made me feel okay with it.
Okay with the looks, okay with the comments, okay with the insults. Okay with the dehumanization, because that’s what it is.
Used to harrasment
Context: me and a good friend of mine were at a bar, in Ghent. Minding our own business, having a conversation. That’s where the group of drunk guys came in, and the things I mentioned were said. When we walked away, my friend was baffled, disgusted, mad. And I don’t know what enraged me more: the fact that he was feeling those emotions, or the fact that I wasn’t. At all.
Talking to my friend about how he was feeling kinda opened my eyes: how is it possible that we, although we both are openly proud gay guys, experience such different reactions to hateful comments? The answer is simple: I got used to it. You see, I’ve been out of the closet for about six years now. Stijn, my friend, came out a little over a year ago. Simplistically sketched: I have had more time to get used to it. Used to the dirty looks, the nasty comments, the hateful laughs. It is only as I am writing this down that I realise how absolutely fucked up that is. Those aren’t things one should get used to. Never. And still, that’s what happens.
You learn to brush it off, to ignore it, in order to stay somewhat positive. And it’s true, carrying every little piece of hate you get on your shoulders would make Atlas look weak, and sweeping things under the rug is a fairly easy coping mechanism. Still, that does not mean we should be okay with it.
Of course it affects me
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me to ‘just ignore it’, I would be laying on a tropical beach right now, on my own private island. Don’t get me wrong, I see where they’re coming from, I get it. Lord, do I get it. That’s what they used to tell me when I got bullied in school: don’t give the bullies the attention they want. Make them think it doesn’t affect you. So that’s what I did. That’s what I have been doing, for as long as I can remember. But the truth is, it does affect me.
While I won’t let you see it, I notice every single look I get on the streets. from the moment I walk out the door. How could I not? The only thing I have learned, is that it is not about whether you notice them or not. It is about what you do with them. I have decided a long time ago that I won’t let those things keep me from doing what I want. And I mean, it works.
Some days are harder than others, but most of the time, I’m fine. It is only until very recently that I understood how I took that attitude too far. I got so used to the constant stream of negative attitudes towards me that somewhere along the way, I lost sight of how toxic those small stings of homophobia are. I got used to it, and even worse, I was okay with it. Damn. God fucking damn.
No ready-to-go solution
Now, I could say the solution is to not be okay with it, to act when random people on the streets call you out, to go into dialogue. But I just read the story of the gay couple in the Netherlands that was beaten up because they were holding hands in public, and because they did not keep quiet when six random dudes made hateful comments. Result: the couple’s fun night out turned into a nightmare. To the people that tell me homophobia doesn’t exists in our region, and that we shouldn’t complain: you can exit stage left, thank you very much. This post has no solution built into it, no happy ending, I don’t even know if half of it made sense. Writing all this out felt like the only thing to do.
I hate that I needed to write this. I hate the hate that goes around. But most of all, I hate how you made me feel okay with it.