Given it's National Coming Out Day, I figured I'd offer up an unfortunate little story from last night, when myself and fellow Lost Boys blogger Matthew Knott were walking home from the opening night party of the London Film Festival.
On the streets of East London (which is generally a pretty gay-friendly area), two twentysomething drunks looked at us and shouted as they walked by: "Look at the gays! Which one of you fucks who?"
I mean, it was a pretty tame call out. They could used way worse words than "gays" and/or expanded on their question in a more vulgar, invasive way or, worse, been physically violent. But I was still taken aback, as it — thankfully — had been a good, long while since I'd experienced anything remotely homophobic in such a public way (I'm lucky). Neither of us said anything, and just kept walking.
It's so easy in that situation to walk away from it without defending yourself under the guise that it's safer to simply say nothing and walk away. That those men (or, I suppose occasionally, women, but let's be honest here) aren't worth attempting some sort of counter-attack. Who knows how drunk they are or what they're capable of. They're clearly assholes, and assholes tend to have low standards for moral behavior. And that's often a good call. What is some smart remark really going to do to change their mind? Maybe nothing. And it could result in a trip to the hospital.
But the fact remains that in that instance one of my first thoughts was: 'How do they even know that we're gay?' Matt and I aren't romantically involved, and were not doing anything to each other than suggested we were, so they simply thought we looked gay. And that — deep down — brought a little bit of shame. Which is horrifying to consider. Because who the fuck cares if they think we're gay. This sort of internalized homophobia… This shame of thinking someone might think my simple aesthetic appearance is suggestive of my queerness, is very wrong. I clearly, queerly should have responded: 'We don't fuck each other. We're just friends. But our boyfriends gladly fuck us and we like it very much.' But I didn't. And Matt didn't. We just continued on our way, and discussed the very fact that both of us had chickened out, and more over that both of us had felt at least slightly ashamed that they had smelt it on us.
Yes, this may have prevented us from being beaten up. But it also prevented us from standing up for what was right. Both of us are remarkably privileged queer men. Privileged in the sense that we live in social bubbles where being queer is hardly an issue whatsoever. In fact, it's part of our professional, social and emotional identities in a very positive way across the board. We've been so quick to state our queerness in articles and/or blog posts and/or in creative works we've put out into the world. But on the street, in front of two strangers, we back down in cowardess. And more over, we were offended — at least somewhere inside — that they knew we were queer in the first place.
I probably wouldn't have expressed this in a blog post if it weren't National Coming Out Day. But it is, so why not. Because generally National Coming Out Day just makes me think, yeah, I came out a decade ago, so what. But we're always coming out. And there's always more ways to be confident and open and healthy about our sexual identities. I'm not suggesting that means telling off potential gay bashers. Take that on a case by case basis and always keep your own safety in mind. But it does mean never feeling ashamed when someone can easily tell your sexual identity based on the way you talk or walk or dress or whatever. It means not conforming to some sort of gender ideal that a lot of us queer people — even the very out ones, including myself — struggle with. So even if you've been open about your sexuality for a year or a decade or half a century (and kudos, if the latter), think about a new way you can come out today. I'm going to. And it will make us both feel good, I promise.