Fifteen years ago, performance artist Tommy was attacked and beaten up for being himself – for being a gay man. Bruised and scarred, he spent the next ten years trying to make sense and deal with the trauma.
He now brings his debut show, Homophobe, to London’s King’s Head Theatre – using his personal experience to explore what homophobia is all about.
We spoke with Tommy ahead of opening night:
What were the details of the homophobic attack that led to the creation of this work?
It was 15 years ago – I was 15 and it was the night before Christmas Eve. I was out with a group of friends from school who were mainly all girls. This night was different than other nights as they brought their boyfriends with them. I was called away from the group, around the corner, and the boys pushed me straight to the ground. They all continually kicked me for 5 minutes (or it felt that way at least) leaving me black and blue, and to be honest with you, I think they only stopped because they got bored. One of the guys then spat in my face and said ‘Merry fucking Christmas.’ They’d attacked me because of who I was. It was the first time ever I’d experienced anything homophobic to be honest and it fundamentally affected me. From that point on my whole life changed.
Has our understanding of homophobia changed over the years?
Over the almost 50 years since homosexuality has been legalised, things obviously have improved. Society is far more open to differences and the live-and-let live attitude is strong. However, this doesn’t mean homophobia isn’t a thing. It’s really worrying and shocking to read of attacks in places where, in general, you feel safe as an LGBTI person. There’s certainly still a long way to go. I think educated society generally understand that it’s not a phobia, you aren’t phobic of someone’s sexuality, you’re just a bigot.
Is there a danger that you’ll be preaching to the choir in terms of exploring the concept of homophobia?
Yeah, for sure, but this is a personal story of my journey through a homophobic attack that totally changed my world. If anything, I hope that some of the audience will find solace in my story.
I’ve made this piece as almost a form of therapy for me to deal with everything that happened 15 years ago that I’ve pushed down inside and hidden from the world. I hope, if anything, that audiences will feel empowered to speak up about those things that eat them up inside, and face those demons that are hiding under their beds. It’s doing me good to stand up tall.
How do you now respond to acts of homophobia that you experience or witness?
Running away from my homophobic attack taught me to never run away from anything again.
It’s important, as a community, to not sit around and accept homophobia as the norm. I’m not afraid to tell anyone that I’m a gay man and certainly will not hide who I am. If they can’t deal with that, it’s their problem and they need to educate themselves.