I never realised – what it feels like to be gay.

I’ve been speaking a great deal with gay friends recently, partly as a result of the cascade conversations which our churches have been putting on, and partly in the last few days following the deeply disappointing Guidence to clergy email which our Bishops put out.

I thought, as a straightish man, that having no hang ups about people being gay was enough. I thought that judiciously supporting gay marriage, as I would anything I thoguht was scripturally and morally right, was enough.

But it’s only recently that I’ve realised just a little more what it’s like to be gay in a world and in a church, where you’re just not the norm.

The world has come a long way in the last fifty years – and gosh, doesn’t the world love to point that out. We rejoice in our liberality, in our acceptance, in our progress. And in a way, rightly so. We have indeed made progress.

But as part of our Cascade conversations, one of the gay folk who was brave enough to speak, suggested we watch this YouTube clip. It has some swearing in it. It’s a drag artiste who was asked to speak at a musical (I don’t know which) on the subject of oppression. For those of you who don’t like clicking on links, here’s an excerpt:

Hello. My name is Panti and for the benefit of the visually impaired or the incredibly naïve, I am a drag queen, a performer, and an accidental and occasional gay rights activist.And as you may have already gathered, I am also painfully middle-class. My father was a country vet, I went to a nice school, and afterwards to that most middle-class of institutions – art college.  

Have you ever been standing at a pedestrian crossing when a car drives by and in it are a bunch of lads, and they lean out the window and they shout “Fag!” and throw a milk carton at you?  Now it doesn’t really hurt. It’s just a wet carton and anyway they’re right – I am a fag. But it feels oppressive. 

When it really does hurt, is afterwards. Afterwards I wonder and worry and obsess over what was it about me, what was it they saw in me? What was it that gave me away? And I hate myself for wondering that. It feels oppressive and the next time I’m at a pedestrian crossing I check myself to see what is it about me that “gives the gay away” and I check myself to make sure I’m not doing it this time.

Have you ever been on a crowded train with your gay friend and a small part of you is cringing because he is being SO gay and you find yourself trying to compensate by butching up or nudging the conversation onto “straighter” territory? This is you who have spent 35 years trying to be the best gay possible and yet still a small part of you is embarrassed by his gayness.  And I hate myself for that. And that feels oppressive. And when I’m standing at the pedestrian lights I am checking myself.

Have you ever turned on the computer and seen videos of people just like you in far away countries, and countries not far away at all, being beaten and imprisoned and tortured and murdered because they are just like you?  And that feels oppressive.

And for the last three weeks I have been denounced from the floor of parliament to newspaper columns to the seething morass of internet commentary for “hate speech” because I dared to use the word “homophobia”. And a jumped-up queer like me should know that the word “homophobia” is no longer available to gay people. Which is a spectacular and neat Orwellian trick because now it turns out that gay people are not the victims of homophobia – homophobes are.

But I want to say that it is not true. Because I don’t hate you.

I do, it is true, believe that almost all of you are probably homophobes. But I’m a homophobe. It would be incredible if we weren’t. To grow up in a society that is overwhelmingly homophobic and to escape unscathed would be miraculous. So I don’t hate you because you are homophobic. I actually admire you. I admire you because most of you are only a bit homophobic. Which all things considered is pretty good going.

But I do sometimes hate myself. I hate myself because I fucking check myself while standing at pedestrian crossings. And sometimes I hate you for doing that to me.  But not right now. Right now, I like you all very much for giving me a few moments of your time. And I thank you for it.

I wept when I heard that. I didn’t realise how deep it goes for gay people. I didn’t realise the aching loneliness, even within a community, of how it feels to be different, always at risk of attack or ridicule; having to be strong, simply in order to be; how hard, how wearying it is to lead a life of integrity.

The Cascade conversations I have been a part of I’ve found helpful – sometimes dizzying in the difference not only of opinion but of language, confusing in the number of different perspectives. But the main thing I have learnt was that I can’t know what it’s like. I cannot walk in the shoes of those who have to strive just to be. I wish I could, but there’s no way for me to truly understand. But now at least I know two things:

Firstly, that I was wrong to think I could know, or I did know how it felt to be gay. I can’t.

But the other thing I learned was that I could trust my gay friends to let me know. I could trust that they weren’t over-reacting, or being pushy in the way sometimes I and others are when we don’t get exactly what we want. They are generally the opposite of that – disliking conflict, because the conflict they engage with makes them feel isolated and rejected.

So I’m sorry, my gay friends, for taking so long to even get to the stage where I realised I don’t understand.  I’m sorry so many of us don’t get it, can’t get it, and don’t realise it.

I’m sorry for all the times when “reasonable” liberal folk like me, who share your beliefs and aims, still made you feel isolated and alone.

I’m sorry, so sorry, for assuming my judgement was better than yours.

And I’m so very sorry that the letter from the Bishops has made you feel as though you don’t belong.

You do.

About frpip

Priest, Dad, A long way away. You can call me Father Father Father.
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11 Responses to I never realised – what it feels like to be gay.

  1. Cal says:

    Thanks Pip. I cried at your apology for the bishops’ letter, and it means a lot to hear those words said. It would mean even more if thecame from the bishops themselves too.

    Until that day, I’ll have to keep checking myself.

    • frpip says:

      I’m glad I said them Cal, and sorry I had to. But if there’s one thing those Bishops’ guidelines have done it’s for people like me to realise how hard it is to be gay. As I say, I can’t walk in your shoes, and sometimes I don’t feel worthy to untie them either, but I can walk with you.

  2. Thanks Pip this is a brilliant piece and I’m sure it will be widely read.
    The Cascade Process itself has been a place where many of us have been checking ourselves of course.
    Beth said better than I could what the Cascade Process has felt like for some of us: https://wanderingmedic.wordpress.com/2014/11/15/reflecting-on-the-cascade-conversations-in-glasgow-galloway/

    I know it has gone better in some parts of the church and has felt better for some than for others even in Glasgow, but her piece resonates strongly with me and it came to mind when I read what you wrote.

    • frpip says:

      Hi Kelvin – ha – I had to approve you for this comment!

      I know the Cascade conversations have been very mixed. Ours certainly was – I found the dialogue from those who had been to Pitlochry very moving, but the table I was at was horrible, brutal and undignified. I do think on principle the idea of finding a way we can talk to one another is the best way of trying to understand one another – I just with we’d been doing it on every subject for the last thirty years or so – so we’re not testing out a new idea on something which bites so deep.

  3. I can’t see the video link, would you be able to add it again please?


  4. Always moved by your posts, Pip, and this is no exception, Like you, I can only apologise for the idea that I ‘could’ understand: empathise, deeply sympathise, but there is not a way into understanding from where we ‘straightish’ people are however we reach our hands out. It is a severe shock to see [from down south] what a hash the SEC Bishops have made of this: how it would have been if R Holloway had still been Primus.
    Has the Cascade brought a down flow of understanding that there are different ways of being, or has it perpetrated the horrible, hard, biased views of so many?

  5. Margaret says:

    As someone who has been on both sides so to speak I have to say that it is a huge shock when you experience life from the ‘other side’. Having been married to a man and treated consistently with respect I found suddenly that people could be rude and dismissive. The only thing that had changed was my domestic situation. I don’t think I was any more ‘gay’ than I’d been before, just out and living with a woman. When I mentioned this once or twice to work colleagues or in church it was dismissed again as me being over sensitive. Prejudice is subtle and often hidden behind other explanations. The establishment will often choose to protect the feelings of those who are prejudiced more than the feelings of the ones who are prejudiced against. Let’s not rock the boat or frighten the horses. Let’s keep everything ‘nice’. But it isn’t nice folks. It makes us feel as though we are going a little bit crazy. I am amazed that the Church’s ability to accept and protect these attitudes hasn’t driven more people out. If God was in the business of judging the human race for its lifestyle choices we would all be stuffed. This isn’t about what God wants it’s about what the Church wants. Right now the Bishops are making that choice very clear. How sad.

  6. Damian says:

    This article is even more bizarre than the previous one!

  7. Pingback: Further responses to the Bishops' December 2014 Statement - Changing Attitude Scotland

  8. suzy says:

    The excerpt about people in far away countries counts for us women too. We can understand about phobias and oppression.

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