PRIDE…

28 Jun

prideflag

I was 13 when I first told my best friend Sophie that I wasn’t straight.

We used to spend hours on the phone – back in the days where you had to hang up every hour and call back to keep it free – but I decided I wanted to tell her in person. And just as I was plucking up the courage, she beat me to it by coming out of the closet first. Girls, eh?

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One thousand, two hundred and fifty three days ago I wrote a blog post titled “Luck, Love, and Dinner”. It was really the first time I had blogged about sexuality and life as a ‘gay geek’ – I talked about why I never attend Pride, my fear of stereotypes, and meeting someone special at a Gay Geek Dinner.

In the 1.8 million minutes since then I went on to get a civil partnership, change jobs a couple of times, and deepen my love of food (and subsequently my waist size). I moved house, got cats, and inherited a wonderful family. I even passed my driving test.

Just because it’s been three-and-a-half years since I last put stylus to screen on this topic, doesn’t mean there haven’t been things I’ve wanted to say. And, if anything, the past three-and-a-half years have given me more pause for thought on equality than I’ve had before.

As I said in my original blog post, I don’t feel the need to ‘come out’ to people. Who I love isn’t something I should have to announce – less so now that I’m ‘off the market’ so to speak. Yet when people work it out I frequently get comments like “You don’t act like you’re gay” and “I’d never have guessed”. One former colleague in particular would constantly refer to my “wife”, for whatever reason. Things like the defeat of DOMA and the UK’s Marriage Equality act will be a huge step forward – but social equality?

The day people don’t automatically assume that, because I’m married, I have a wife.

It’s funny what spurs us into action. A few months ago I sat on a packed tube train with friend and former colleague Paul Lo, and we got to chatting about LGBT rights. Paul is involved in organising events for GLEAM, an employee LGBT group within Microsoft, and wondered why I didn’t want to get more involved.

“I hate stereotypes”, I replied. “Joining an LGBT group, waving a flag at pride, it’s what people expect us to do, isn’t it? Surely I’m doing a better thing for demonstrating equality if I just get on with my life, my civil partnership, and prove that it’s all just ‘normal’ and fine?”

What Paul said next stuck a chord with 13-year-old me, and made me kick myself. “It’s our responsibility”, he stated matter-of-factly. “Our generation are the people who can change things – make noise, show the world that we are just regular people who deserve the rights that others do. You’ve just got too comfortable.”

In the hustle and bustle of changing jobs I had let Paul’s words float to the back of my mind, until I read a blog post by colleague Rob Spectre last night in which he talks about campaigning for marriage equality in Nebraska and how the DOMA rulings mean that “every American is more free than when they awoke.”

“We know today our work is not done”, Rob goes on to write. “…we know that work takes far longer and is far harder than we ever imagined. But we also finally know that work will effect real change in our time.”

And so it struck me. My fear of using the word ‘gay’ in case I face negative stereotypes? Distancing myself from ‘pride’ and the movement that embodies it? Using gender-neutral terminology when referring to my husband? All things I felt I needed to do to lead a ‘normal’ life.

I was wrong.

It’s taken me a long time to realise that, feeling like I need to obfuscate parts of my life is exactly why the campaign for equality needs all the support it can get. If a once-proud ‘gay geek’ like me can lose my faith in equality to the point of losing my ‘voice’, so to speak, then what hope is there for the next generation, and the generation after that?

I’m inspired by people like Daniel Hart who, aside from being a 16-year-old supergeek, finds the time to write about equality. “I often get asked why I always seem to talk about my sexuality” writes Dan. “I haven’t a clue really. It’s not celebrating the fact that I’m gay, it’s celebrating the fact that I can be gay without facing prosecution.”

I caught the end of a documentary last night called ‘Gay Champions‘ in which two Dutch journalists went to Ukraine to cover the planned Pride parade there in 2012. The padade never took place. Just as it was about to start, anti-gay groups chased LGBT Ukrainians who were on their way there. Two of the organizers were hospitalized in the process. It made for harrowing viewing.

I often talk about being proud to be British – but I feel like in my pride in our great, diverse country I have become, in Paul’s words, “too comfortable”. Just because my sexuality isn’t obviously visible, I’ve let myself believe that the struggle for equality that we all still face is somehow less important than it used to be.

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It’s been around 135,000 hours since Sophie and I ‘came out’ to each other, and she’s still beating me to it when it comes to knowing what to say:

“I hate to state that I’m gay purely because I don’t think that I be should defined by who I sleep with”, she said. “In the same instance I know that if people don’t know that I’m gay then I’m contributing to the idea that everyone is assumed ‘straight’.”

Until we move away from a world of heteronormativity – where everyone is assumed to be heterosexual from birth – there will always be a need for people who stand up and talk openly about who they are, who they love, and why equality is important.

As Dan quotes in his blog post: “Gay Pride was not born out of a need to celebrate being gay, but instead out right to exist without prosecution. So maybe instead of wondering why there isn’t a Straight Pride month or movement, straight people should be thankful they don’t need one”.

I’m a bit of a geek. I’ve got a house, a car, a job, an obsession with retro technology and an unhealthy reluctance to cut down on carbs. I’m also a man who loves men – although, for the sake of my civil partnership, I should probably say “I’m a man who loves man”.

And you know what? I’m really, really proud of that.

  • http://missdirt.net MissDirt

    Ben! This post is wonderful, and I want to share it with a lot of people.

  • http://victoriazagar.com Vicky Z

    Responsibility is a tricky word.

    I think whether people come out or not, in different places and at different times, has to be dependent on safety first. Of course there will be the brave ones, who put life and limb at risk to fight for equality in states where they could be imprisoned or killed. Those people are my fucking heroes.

    But I’m not so brave. I’m out on the Internet, where I can live in relative anonymity, but NOT at work. I have my depression to think about. I live in a very conservative area, that place which Obama referred to as “clinging to God and guns”. The people here were only offended because he was right. I hear lots of negative comments about others who are out and sometimes suffer in silence.

    But the truth is I’m not brave or well enough to sit alone in the break room. I can’t take the risk that something someone will say to my face upon coming out will spiral the suicidal feelings that sometimes live inside of me. I’m a big ‘ol coward, and you know that. I’m not sure I’m ready to be the spokesperson for bisexuality to a group of people to think it’s still okay to refer to people as “colored” in hushed tones while they talk about the crime rate and how they’re afraid to go out at night.

  • http://serialseb.com Sebastien Lambla

    I won’t sacrilege an excellent piece of writing with anymore commenting than necessary.

    Absolutely +1.