I was a little late to the party where Pride is concerned. This time last year, I was still contemplating the prospect of emerging from the closet in which I had spent the previous 37 years.
My secondary school was an unforgiving sort of place, a hulking, miserable pile of concrete in which anyone uttering the phrase, “I’m attracted to other guys,” would have spent a disproportionate amount of time with their head forcibly inserted into a toilet bowl. I found life there unpleasant enough without the added bonus of daily beatings, so pretending to be someone I wasn’t seemed like the path of least resistance.
By the time I reached adulthood, I didn’t know anything else. I got married, had a son, did what was expected of me. But it was there. It was always there, no matter how hard I tried to push it away. And I did try. I tried really hard.
Up until I turned thirty, I was pretty good at it, though I can see now that this level of self-denial was anything other than ‘good’. I don’t know what happened in my early thirties, but the feelings I had tried so long to suppress began to re-emerge, growing in strength as time progressed. I recall the surreptitious glances at handsome guys in the street, or the times when my wife and I would be in a restaurant and I would find myself gazing a little too intently at the attractive waiter. I remember trying to rationalise such incidents to myself after they had occurred, performing mental gymnastics to convince myself that there was some explanation other than the one I dared not articulate.
When I did eventually get to the stage where I could admit to myself that I was attracted to other men, it took a further three or four months for me to mobilise the courage required to be able to tell my wife. Those weeks were comfortably the most difficult part of the whole process, wanting desperately to be honest with the person who meant the most to me, and being terrified that doing so would cause everything to blow up in my face.
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. She cried when I told her, but not for herself. Her first thought was for me, for the suffering I had endured in all those years leading up to that point. With her acceptance, her love, her support and encouragement, I was able to let go of any residual guilt and begin to be my true self. Or nearly my true self.
When I first came out, I identified as bisexual, and I think that was the last lie I told myself. ‘Bisexual’ felt like a much less destructive bomb to drop than ‘gay’, and besides, I couldn’t be gay if I was still in love with my wife, right?
Maybe that is the case, and maybe it isn’t, but, with one exception, I have no romantic interest in women whatsoever. I guess it can be difficult for some people to understand how I can identify as gay and still be in love with a woman, but when someone has been a central figure - the central figure - in your life for sixteen years, it’s pretty difficult to just flick a switch and turn those feelings off. If I’d been honest with myself before we met, we probably wouldn’t have ended up together, but I can’t regret a single minute of it, in that sense, at least. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend the majority of my adult life with my best friend, and we’ve somehow managed to produce a beautiful, caring, accepting and open-minded son together. My coming out served only to bring us closer together, and I really can’t imagine my life without her in it. So maybe I’m gay, maybe I’m bi, or maybe I just don’t fit neatly into a particular box. Either way, I’m not particularly precious about labels.
So why am I telling you this, and what on Earth does it have to do with Pride? Why does my particular story matter in the context of this global celebration of the LGBT+ community?
I think the answer to that question is that my story is your story, and your story is mine. Our community is the sum of those tales, each one unique, and each as important as the last. Every triumph and every tragedy we experience helps to shape who we are, to inform where we’re heading. Which is why, to me, Pride is as much about celebrating the diversity within our community as it is promoting tolerance and acceptance from without.
When I first came out, I had this (somewhat naive, as it turns out) vision of the LGBT+ community as a safe, supportive and loving place, where everyone looked out for each other and no one was left behind. And whilst this is undoubtedly the case in a large proportion of instances, there’s an ugly underbelly to our community that it’s incumbent on every single one of us to help eradicate.
In a little under a year, I’ve witnessed and, in some cases, been on the receiving end of, countless instances of intolerance and bigotry towards LGBT people from the very individuals who ought to be acutely aware of the painful, destructive consequences of such actions. Even a cursory perusal of gay dating apps will pull up a worryingly large number of profiles saying such charming things as, “No blacks, no Asians, no fems.” Then you have the ‘straight-acting’ gays who say camp or effeminate gays ‘give the rest of us a bad name’, the lesbians who hate gay men altogether, and the gays and lesbians who say, “Bisexuals don’t really exist, they’re just confused.”
Seeing these ‘friendly fire’ incidents unfold with such unsettling regularity has left me baffled, disillusioned, and often angry. I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around what causes a person who has almost certainly been on the receiving end of judgement and prejudice at some point in their life to visit that same intolerance on others.
And whilst all of this LGB infighting is undoubtedly concerning, I think the biggest issue facing us right now is the tendency for the ’T’ to be figuratively erased from the LGBT+ acronym, as though trans people are somehow a lesser part of our community. Of all the incidents of ‘internal’ LGBT intolerance I have witnessed, transphobic attacks have been by far the most abundant.
The struggle for trans equality in general is probably a decade or two behind where we are with LGB rights, with this lack of acceptance being fuelled by the many shocking instances of transphobia in the right wing media. For the rest of us to be anything less than 100% behind our trans friends at this time is a gross dereliction of duty.
Now more than ever, this part of our community needs us. They need us to stand up and state, unequivocally, that we are with them, that we won’t tolerate any attempts to diminish them, or to erase them. They are us, and we are them. The only difference is time.
So, this Pride month, I ask you to reflect on how you can play your part in making the LGBT+ community more open, more accepting and more inclusive than at any time before. As we continue our inexorable march towards equality, consider the fact that there’s no way we’ll ever have true acceptance from those outside of our community if we don’t make more of an effort to support each other, and to raise up those who so many would seek to knock down.
The comparatively benign atmosphere we currently enjoy in this country is built on foundations laid down by those who have gone before, many of whom paid the ultimate price in our fight against intolerance. It’s our collective responsibility to honour their sacrifice by opposing bigotry in all its forms, by speaking up for those who don’t have a voice, by accepting those who aren’t the same as us and those who are, by being proud of who we are, and by celebrating both the diversity and the commonality that binds us together.