One of the cruelest ironies of growing up gay is when others work out your sexuality before you do, and use it against you.
When I started secondary school I was a moderately effeminate 11-year-old with an all-encompassing love of the Spice Girls and the kind of nasally voice that revealed my gayness to anyone who came within 50 yards of me. Or so it felt.
By 15, I was so sick of the taunts, the name-calling and the inappropriate questions that I decided to own it and come out.
The speed with which my admission spread around the school was astounding. I actually gained the respect of people in my year, but everyone younger than me went in for the kill, and with renewed enthusiasm.
I had rocks thrown at me. I had teachers make nasty remarks. I had first years come up to me and ask if it was true I’d come out in assembly. (That rumour I actually played up to, because it was so hilarious.)
The bullies that really stand out in my memory, though, were two neighbours of mine who made me feel rubbish day-in, day-out, for acting like a sissy, for sucking at football, for being less tough than they were.
Two homophobic girls who, surprise, surprise, grew up to be lesbians.
The honest truth is, I didn’t even care that much at the time. Thanks to a clunky dial-up Internet connection, I was in touch with other gay teenagers, and was jumping through hoops to meet them. Suffice to say, I was a little distracted…
In fact, I look back on those days with great fondness. I know how lucky I was. Yes, I was bullied, but not as badly as some people. And while I came out and started exploring my sexuality early, friends of mine today tell me how they remained stuck in the closet late into adulthood.
All in all, I’m pretty pleased with how things unfolded. But there’s something about those two girls that still bothers me.
Nothing stirs the emotions like a spot of Facebook stalking. I came across one of them recently, and pictures of her annoying, grinning face posing with her same-sex partner sent me into a vicious rage.
The cherry on top was the likes – from other ghosts from my past; straight people who used to be horrid little homophobes but are now, apparently, reformed.
I’m not proud of the resentment I feel. Especially after all this time. I’m really quite embarrassed by it, and I know I should rise above it, or let it go completely.
I know I should feel sympathetic, vindicated, even glad – after all, their coming out means there are a few less homophobes in the world. And I doubt they had an easy ride of it themselves. I know how this narrative is meant to go.
But I don’t feel those things. I feel angry. Angry that we still live in a world where people commit suicide because of homophobic bullying. Perhaps some irrational part of me holds them responsible.
That’s because I’m not a perfect human being, or a model gay man. I’m flawed, as I guess they are. They certainly haven’t been forthcoming about their remorse, haven’t issued any apologies.
If you’re reading this and identify with any of what I’m saying, I guess my message is this: it’s OK if you can’t forgive the homophobic bullies from your past. You’re really not obliged to. What if they’re still at it? And if they grew up to be LGBTI themselves? That doesn’t automatically mean they get a free pass.
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