When I experienced my first confrontation with homophobia, I was in late middle school, sitting in my social sciences class with a group of my peers. A kid must have been frustrated with me for some reason, and in all honesty, I wouldn’t have been particularly surprised if I was being annoying. He sat across from me, and I asked him: “Can I borrow one of your pens?”. “No, faggot” was the response.
I was shocked, and instantly angered – even though I was young, and much less confident at that time, I still confronted him about it and asked why he had called me a faggot. “Because you are one”. This response was something my younger self couldn’t really understand. Sure, I was gay, but why does he think I am a faggot? It didn’t make sense to me. I told my teacher about the incident, and 10 minutes later I was out of the classroom listening to his schoolyard apology and that was that.
Surprisingly, that was the first and only time I have experienced targeted homophobia or bigotry. I have had a pleasant, though somewhat unexpected, overall experience as a young gay person. When I was 12 years old, I came out to my family and friends. I am now 17, and have yet to be confronted again with the homophobic pejoratives from my middle school years, or become the victim of the horrifying stories of abuse that a young gay person is ‘bound to face’. This has left me feeling strangely disconnected from the history of a minority group of which I am inherently a part.
My parents have always been supportive of my sexuality. My schools were private, both with strict anti-bullying policies and strong anti-bullying cultures amongst the students. I have now begun my first year in university at ANU, surrounded by peers that I would generally classify as accepting of the LGBT community. Perhaps it is due to these circumstances that I have (luckily) not been confronted with the harshness of homophobia that many people my age, older, and younger do face. Nevertheless, I am part of a minority within my own minority. If I was to be self-deprecating about it, I might call myself part of the privileged minority – the “bourgeoisie of the gays”.
Consequently, with a lack of these negative experiences, I feel that I am distanced from a part of the gay community – specifically, the part that has struggled to gain its freedoms and has faced torture, abandonment and rejection from society. I am not Stonewall, or Harvey Milk, or any other LGBT rights icon. On a personal level, this is something for which I must be grateful. I am living in relative peace because of the fighting of my predecessors. I am safe now due to the fight against heteronormative dominance. However, my identity is, therefore, different to that of a gay person from barely decades before me. I have never had to hide my sexuality, but I have never needed to flaunt it. There is no political statement for me to make about my sexuality to my peers around me. I don’t see myself as someone who is struggling against anything because of my orientation. Rather, I see myself as just another person with the same struggles as those around me, generally unrelated to oppression or abuse because I am gay.
On a societal level, my experiences also bring into question the future of the “gay identity”. With the increasing likelihood of gay kids being raised like I was, comes a growing lack of any struggle attached to gay sexuality. Mardi Gras in Sydney for people like me will not be about rebelling against straight authority or proving a point to society. If every gay person was like me, being ‘gay’ would be very different from all of the history and culture attached to it. This is somewhat concerning. If the gay identity has lost its history and culture of struggle against heteronormativity, a large part of the fight has been lost. A unique identity, both in sexual and cultural terms has been created, and my easy upbringing poses a threat to that.
To assimilate perfectly into straight culture is not what gay movements fought for. Pride in deviance and rebellion were iconic parts of these movements, which could be lost if there is nothing to rebel against. The culture that has been created has value, and should be respected and preserved by the gay community. The few but growing number of people like me who live without real fear of bigotry must make an effort to learn about those people and movements who have made our lives possible. To ignore that, and allow gay culture to become a new edition of heteronormativity with a rainbow paintjob, is to insult the battlers who made this future possible in the first place.