Love took me completely by surprise. I wasn’t looking for it, but it seems the universe knew I was ready for it because it burst into my life and heart with so much force that there was nothing I could do but let it in.
I’d always thought love songs were a little hyperbolic. But here I was, infatuated, with my heart rate constantly elevated by 10bmp for more than two weeks, my brain rendered incapable of normal thought, feeling like I was physically touching the soul of another human. The synchronicities were abounding and showing up with such frequency it was making me LOL—our entire realities were rejoicing at our union. It was as though our two higher selves had grasped one another by the hands and declared, ‘let’s be one now!’.
Now that initial commotion has calmed itself (mostly), I’m left with an enduring home in the heart of this other human, and my own heart has become a reciprocal home.
Somewhere in the midst of this euphoric emotional eruption was a little bit of space enough for me to occasionally ponder on the fact that the soul responsible for bursting open my heart is housed in a female body.
When, at 30 years old, I fell in love with and started a relationship with a woman for the first time in my life, I suddenly found myself in the middle of an identity conundrum. Now that I am, for all intents and purposes, gay—I’ve found myself meandering on the periphery of LGB paradigms; I’m in love with a woman but I don’t necessarily think (or have to think) I’m ‘a lesbian’. I really don’t know and it doesn’t much matter to me, either.
(For the sake of brevity ill use the word 'gay' here, but know that I when I use it I am using it to encompass LGBTQ, and much of what I say can be applied to any of those identifications.)
I was able to tell my family and friends about my relationship and have my new love celebrated, embraced and accepted without prejudice. I didn’t grow up as gay, I didn’t have to hide my sexuality in the playground or agonise over my identity. I've never felt different. I've never felt like I've been 'in the closet', I've never felt scared or unsafe or like I've had to hide a part of what makes me me, or hide my love for another person because of my sexual orientation.
But I am increasingly and uncomfortably aware, that despite my ease with fitting into/not fitting into this new-to-me paradigm that begs to be labelled, this ease still isn't the reality for many gay people today.
For millions of people, how they identify matters a whole lot. While I have a freedom—a freedom I almost take for granted—to be in a relationship with a person because of something other than their physical body, their chemical makeup, and gendered norms, this is a freedom many aren't afforded.
And that makes me privileged.
And because I'm privileged in this situation, I feel an overwhelming responsibility to speak up and use the voice that I am free to use (within my own culture, environment, family and circle of friends, and online) where others are silenced. And I often wonder if I should tighten up my nonchalance around identifying with a specific LGBTQ label and identify more strongly as an act of solidarity.
When I first 'came out', I thought it was amusing and ironic to claim the term 'gay', because I now could. I was now part of the group, not an 'other'—and I could use the term in dialogue for comedic value in reference to the fact I was suddenly in a gay relationship.
I quite quickly realised that this was a sign of a privileged person. Throwing the term about in such context devalues a person's orientation and reinforces heterosexual hegemony.
The word ‘gay’ as a noun, and as an adjective to describe anything other than a gay person or relationship is a perjorative social construction developed over hundreds of years and which functions to disempower. No inanimate thing, characteristic, fashion style, or culture is 'gay', except a person who personally identifies as such.
Until then, I had never had to think about or experience the implications of calling something inanimate, with no sexual orientation ‘gay’. I had no reason to consider the fact that the term ‘gay’ is still being used every day as an adjective to shame, hurt, punish, bully, and even as justification for killing. Still.
By lightheartedly dropping the word into conversation, especially as someone who doesn’t even know where they fit in with the term, I was a part of perpetuating the narrative that renders the word shameful and allows it to be used to stereotype, shame, divide and incite the derogatory 'us vs them' attitude that is so deeply ingrained in our culture. I wasn’t intending to cause harm, but I hadn’t stopped to consider the implications of my lexicon.
I was ignorant. And ignorance is a privilege.
It's not my place to make jokes about being gay, because for so many, it couldn't be further from banter worthy. However you look at it, whether you have gay friends, whether you claim to love and respect gay people, it's derogatory and it's damaging.
It’s not up to straight people to point out that ‘gay people use the word ‘gay’ ironically all the time!’. This smacks of the old 'why can't we have a white music awards?', 'why isn't there an International Men's Day?', and the new and bizarre 'straight pride' mentality. Because those groups have enjoyed hundreds of years of phenomenal privilege as a direct result of others’ oppression. They don't have an inherent need to reclaim power and overthrow an identity that was assigned to them (or taken from them) by the subjugation of another group for the purpose of disempowerment and control. Gay people use the term themselves to reclaim their own identity, and should thus be allowed to do so however they like.
Now imagine using the term gay, in whichever derogatory way you use or have used it before. Does it still feel okay?
Homophobia, Heteronormativity, & The Pronoun Game
Despite the safety of my family and friends, I am still exposed to homophobia and heteronormative behaviour. I have to explain myself, consider if, within specific situations, I should share the gender of my partner or if it’s easier to just let a male partner be assumed. I've had many people ask if I'm in a relationship and then refer to my partner as 'he', and I've had to brace myself for their reaction when I tell them that my partner is, in fact, a 'she'.
I have learnt that ‘playing the pronoun game’ is a thing, and it’s a thing that millions of people have to avoid using gendered pronouns to keep themselves safe. When I’m looking for a place to live, I have to make it known to landlords and housemates that I have a female partner, just in case her coming over would make them uncomfortable, or make her and me the subject of harassment.
I had to think about coming out to my best friend and even though I knew in my heart she would be our biggest supporter, I couldn't help but wonder if it would change our relationship (it didn't). But it’s a story we hear so often.
My girlfriend and I can’t be affectionate in public without having to accept the threat of comment, looks, and judgement. Although, we live in London and so far have been incredibly lucky to have only had one mildly negative comment directed at us when we’ve been out together (strangely, by somebody of a minority group himself, I wanted to say, 'Dude, what are you doing?! We're in this together!' The hierarchy of privilege is apparently rampant even within minority groups). In fact, we’re usually met with genuine and accepting smiles and support from people who just see love.
Even in writing that, though, I have to acknowledge that only a few weeks ago, a lesbian couple was beaten up on a London bus, with their homosexual relationship objectified and used as justification and considered as bait for the violence.
My girlfriend is affected even more so. The religious culture of the American deep south in which she grew up and in which her family is still entwined silences her, judges her, shames her, and misunderstands her. And in that way, I also endure second hand homophobia.
I’m not welcome or accepted by some members of her family. One family member made it clear I’m not welcome at all, another said I can visit as long as we don’t hold hands or show love for one another in front of her children.
I don’t blame them, I want to make that clear—I blame (in short, this subject will probably be another post entirely) the absence of creative and autonomous belief within the religion they have handed their entire identities over to. Where religion once served a purpose of propogation for development of obedient societies and creating structure within expanding settlements, in modern scoiety it now encourages division.
Even these reactions, though, are harmless in comparison to some. I had a layover in Brunei on my way back from Bali during the week it was announced the stoning of gay people had been legalised by the sultan. It made me overwhelmingly aware of the reality that still exists for millions of people who still identify as gay, or who simply exhibit 'gay' characteristics and are judged and treated with violence because of that.
I may be privileged inside my own circle and environment, but the narrative trickles down and entwines itself so deeply within our culture that privilege within one group still remains a hindrance within another. And my experience of and how I navigate my reality has altered as a result.
This is Why I am Out and Proud
Because despite being gay myself, I have a certain level of privilige and safety to be open about my sexual orientation where others can’t.
In the same way that white privilege means white women need to stand up on behalf of the marginalised black women who are tired of having to fight their own corners, and men need to speak up for and with women as part of the #metoo movement, it isn't up to gay people who are closeted, scared, embarrassed or unsafe to speak up. That responsibility lies with people like me, and privileged straight people. It’s up to us to speak up and normalise on behalf of the oppressed and silenced, so that one day it’s not an issue anymore.
If we privileged ones all do our bit to speak up, love, attraction and loving relationships of all kinds will eventually, one day, become normalised and unquestioned. You can either be a part of the creation of that reality or part of the prevention of it, there's no neutral ground.
This might sometimes take courage, but if standing up makes you even a little nervous to go against the grain, you know it’s something you have to do.
Ironically, I'm at once confined (as current norm would have it) within a minority group yet at the same time have never felt more liberated, supported, seen, valued and loved than I do with my friends and family and in my relationship with my girlfriend, as an indirect result of being gay and as a direct result of unconditional love. I don't want to live within this dichotomy forever.
So, on behalf of those who can’t yet do the same, & in honour of the love I’m lucky enough to be experiencing—I will celebrate my gay, lesbian, relationship unashamedly, unapologetically, without hesitation, and with total, loving, colourful pride.
LGBTQ+ Charities to Support
The best, most direct way you can help normalise homosexulaity and change the narrative is by speaking up, speaking out and supporting LGBTQ individuals.
You can also help via charitable donations to causes helping drive change. Awesome LGBTQ charities include:
The Stonewall Community Foundation The Stonewall Community Foundation funds more than 100 non-profits a year as foundation run by and for the LGBTQ+ community. The foundation is one of the top funders of LGBTQ+ housing, homelessness and youth programs.
GLAAD GLAAD is a forerunner of cultural change and accelerating acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community within the media. GLAAD helps to reimagine LGBTQ+ narrative and provokes the discussion to create an accepting and non-judgemental world.
The Trevor Project The Trevor Project is the largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organisation for young LGBTQ+ people.
The mental health charity has a section dedicated to mental health support for LGBTQ people.
Mind’s page on mental health and being LGBTQ+ reads: “Those of us who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to experience a mental health problem than the wider population.
“This is because LGBTQ+ people experience bullying, rejection, stigma and discrimination which too often lead to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and isolation.”