Casual Homophobia

Try it. Go on, I dare you. Express your determination to achieve equal rights for the LGBT community. In a group. In a social setting or otherwise. A group of different kinds of people. Different backgrounds, genders and opinions. Try doing this in the Republic of Ireland. Speak about the topic of gay rights. Go on, do it. Bring it up in conversation.

As an opinionated person, I’ve done this many times. And after expressing my views, I have instantly wished I hadn’t straight afterwards. Because the reception I have been greeted with has been so harmful, dismissive and close-minded that I instantly saw the people around me differently.

It’s a sad day when you see kind, nice, normal people of all ages and backgrounds, reacting so dismissively and carelessly to an issue as vital as LGBT rights.

These same people make big claims like I’m not homophobic, but… *insert homophobic comment here*

In my time, I have genuinely felt a stab to the heart at some of the reactions to LGBT-fuelled conversations. The height of ignorance has truly both shocked and greatly upset me.

Here are just a few phrases I have heard…

1. I don’t have a problem with people being gay, but why do they have to talk about it all the time? I don’t talk about being straight all the time…

Facepalm. Straight people don’t need to talk about “being straight”. The world is already geared towards straight people. It is already the automatic assumption in society that people are straight. You don’t have to “come out” as straight. As a man, you don’t have to worry about your parents or friends rejecting or ridiculing you for simply having a female partner, and vice versa. Being straight is a breeze. Straight people aren’t oppressed, stereotyped, ridiculed, abused or disowned for simply being attracted to the opposite sex.

Therefore, if a straight person began protesting for heterosexual rights, everyone would roll their eyes or laugh (and rightly so!) Straight people are not deprived of rights or opportunities. Straight people do not have to deal with work discrimination based on their sexual orientation. Straight people don’t have to deal with social stereotyping, potential social exclusion etc as a result of being straight.

I really do find this comment to be extremely dismissive. Maybe the reason the LGBT community and straight LGBT allies speak about gay rights and equality is to spread awareness.

In case you haven’t noticed, gay people still do get discriminated against daily. In the Republic of Ireland, they still can’t get married. This is perhaps why the LGBT community speak about “being gay” more than you speak about “being straight”. Because there is absolutely no reason to speak about “being straight” to raise awareness and acceptance, whereas there is huge reason and validity in speaking about “being gay” to raise awareness and acceptance.

I find that straight people can often be very oblivious to the oppression of the LGBT community. Like when you’re in any position of privilege, you often fail to understand the position of the oppressed. Of course, straight people can be oppressed in numerous different ways (by being in a minority race, by being in a minority class, etc) but that’s a topic for another blog.

I find that in addition to the social and legal oppression faced by the LGBT community, there is also the added oppression of the Catholic Church in the Republic of Ireland. The Church tells us that being gay is “unnatural” and “a sin”, and for a gay child to grow up in a school system dictated by the Catholic Church, as well as a traditional Irish culture further dictated by the Church, can be hugely problematic. The child is both directly and indirectly taught that there’s something “wrong with them” for being gay.

When have you, as a straight person, felt guilty for being attracted to someone of the opposite sex?

You most likely haven’t!

2. I don’t have a problem with people being gay, but marriage is for a man and a woman to have children… Why aren’t gay people happy with civil partnerships?

Sigh… Gay people “aren’t happy” with civil partnerships because of many reasons, the main ones being…

* Civil partnerships don’t always protect guardianship rights for both parents if the couple have children.
* If a member of a civil partnership couple is on their deathbed, some hospitals don’t recognize the civil partnership as a valid partnership and can deny or limit visitor access on the basis that “only family members” are allowed in.

Ultimately…

* Gay people want the celebration of their love to be referred to as the same act. And treated as the same thing both legally and socially. Why should they “have to be” in a civil partnership instead of a marriage?

3. Why do gay guys have to be so in your face about it? Can they not just act normal instead of turning into girls?

Probably the most offensive statement of all. It ties in with the whole notion of the gaydar. I’m not really a fan of people saying they have “a gaydar”… Because it plays into the notion that all gay men and all gay women look and behave a certain way.

Like with any stereotypes, there are only that… stereotypes. There’s also a stereotype that Irish people are drunk all the time, but we don’t constantly have a can of beer in our hands, yet this is one of the international perceptions of us.

Some gay men have flamboyant personalities. Some are camp, some aren’t. To make the claim they “all” possess these qualities is downright ignorance and close-mindedness.

And what, exactly, does it mean to say they are “in your face”? Is a flamboyant or camp personality something that bothers you? Would you rather anyone loud simply keep quiet and remain understated in social situations to avoid making you uncomfortable?

I think it goes back to the pressure we put on boys and men to behave manly… (whatever that means) Man up, boys don’t cry, be strong…¬†When any man challenges these gender norms, regardless of whether he is straight, gay or bisexual, he is immediately prone to ridicule…¬†Words like faggot, pussy, bitchIt is an outright disservice to our men that we still have such narrow expectations placed on them.

The same gender expectations exist for women. Women are expected to be behave feminine… (whatever that means) Girls don’t swear, don’t be bossy, act more ladylike… Equally, when women challenge these norms, they too are open to ridicule for behaving “masculine”… dyke, manly, butch…

These labels are downright offensive and the height of homophobia. But what I have found is that prejudice and/or intolerance towards a particular group often comes from a person or people who are completely in denial about their prejudice.

Have you ever heard of phrases like this?

I’m not homophobic but… why is everything so “gay” nowadays?

I’m not sexist but… women are too emotional to deal with political issues.

I’m not racist but… why are black people so rude and ignorant?

COMPLETE AND UTTER DENIAL ABOUT YOUR PREJUDICE!

I actually think it would be better if we as a human race could openly admit to our prejudices. I would respect someone an awful lot more for saying to me “Well, to be honest, I don’t understand gay people. But I’d be willing to learn more about them”.

If you live your life in denial about being prejudiced, how do you ever expect our civilization to move forward and progress?

Aisling Kelleher

Finding Myself

I don’t know about you, but I have found it very difficult finding myself in this world. I’ve always wanted to share my opinions, but I feel that obstacles have always presented themselves…

I was born to very liberal, modern parents. They always encouraged me as a child, saying I could do anything I wanted to do. Early on in my childhood, I really believed it too. I had such confidence in myself. I was loud, boisterous and outspoken. My parents never hushed me, but other grownups found me irritating and poorly behaved. This instantly led me to believe that children should be seen and not heard. And slowly, as I grew older, I began silencing and shrinking myself more and more.

My childhood friends knew me as being crazy. I naturally have a pretty excitable personality and it was more intense during my childhood. I am not in contact with my childhood friends to this day, but I can only assume they would recall me as being crazy or eccentric and most definitely not opinionated or passionate.

That’s not to say I wasn’t. Even as a child, I was passionate and opinionated… in my mind. I became so extremely closeted in own beliefs that I felt embarrassed even trying to debate with someone or even go against a popular opinion.

I began to shrink more and more throughout my primary education. My perception throughout primary school was that being opinionated was a very negative trait to possess. My teachers rewarded classroom obedience, not talkativeness.

At 12, the free spirit I once was had more or less vanished into thin air. I remained quiet, cripplingly under-confident and entirely obedient to social and gender norms throughout secondary school.

But inside, I wanted to scream. I experienced examples of daily prejudice and regular instances of discrimination throughout secondary school, both by fellow students and occasionally, from teachers.

I will always remember the anger I felt towards teenage boys who would use gay as a way to insult their friends. I will always remember the pretentious, macho exterior presented by teenage boys, the pompous and sexist attitudes expressed by them. I will always remember how atheism was forbidden and even punishable in secondary school; how Catholicism was integrated into all aspects of our school activities and subjects.

Ultimately, and here’s the part that broke my teenage heart, I will always remember how each and every one of us in secondary school were assigned the same narrow box to live in, and the same narrow rules to live by.

At 17, I thankfully graduated secondary school and respectfully kissed goodbye to a damaging, restrictive and confidence-crippling institution.

I soon began to learn that who I had been taught to be in secondary school would get me virtually nowhere in the real world. A path of self discovery lay before me. I would have to learn eventually how to be a civilized, respectable member of society. But how could I do this? What was my life purpose? At 17, I was filled with so many questions but I had yet to find any answers.

I first began to gradually reject social and gender norms. I didn’t want to be seen as weak because I was a girl. So I tried to be seen as strong. I began helping more people and showing compassion. I also finally learned how to stand up for myself, approaching 18 years old. I didn’t want to be seen as stupid, so I decided to go to college but this time study something I wanted to study. My secondary school academic performance was, overall, rather bleak.

I felt like there was something wrong with my brain in secondary school. A lack of interest combined with sheer boredom resulted in quite poor performance; particularly in my junior cycle. I was treated like there was something wrong with my brain, too. School encourages a system of putting people into boxes. I was horrendous at Maths, so I was deemed to have a learning difficulty. I was then treated differently by teachers and members of staff as a consequence.

I’ve come to realize that the term “learning difficulty” can cause irreversible harm to a young person. When a student struggles, they are examined and labeled a word and thus identified by that word. How can we expect the youths of Ireland to become confident, well-spoken, functioning members of society if we segregate them as being smart or stupid in school?

I had to unlearn the labels assigned to me after I graduated. Nearly five years later, I have completed my self healing process. I now reject the term “learning difficulty”. Instead, I choose to openly tell others (if brought up in conversation) that I struggle with the concept of numbers and spacial awareness. Additionally, I have extreme issues with organization and am prone to anxiety as a result to stress brought on by poor organization.

This is me. These are my shortcomings, but they do not make me “unable”. They do not cause me to suffer from a “learning difficulty”. They do not cause me unmanageable difficulty in day-to-day tasks. At 21, I can say that I am an active, functioning member of society. I will not be a label. I will not fit into a box of gender or social expectation. I will not be defined by what people call me, or what people see when they look at me. I will not be defined by the way I laugh. I will not be determined by who I used to be in the past, I will be determined by how I show myself in the present.

At 21, I am also aware that I still have a lot to learn. And I openly embrace my future experiences and lifelong lessons.

I have only begun to truly regain confidence in my opinions in recent months. In school, I was always shut down. But now, I can express myself freely without being segregated or labeled as a result.

I’m still finding myself, more and more every single day. But every day I notice something new. I notice a different form of inequality. I become aware of our failed education system, when I witness the intolerance and ignorance of young people regarding social issues. Homophobia, trans-phobia, racism, racist stereotypes, casual sexism, rape, victim blaming, etc.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see the point in sending our children to public school at all from age 5-17 or 18; if we release them into the world as ignorant, intolerant or simply dismissive. What’s the point? I’d rather my child understands and rejects inequality and oppression instead of know how to do Algebra or cite a Yeats poem.

But maybe that’s just me. And who knows? Maybe that opinion will change. Because I am always progressing, changing and developing my mind. I’ve come a long way, but I’m still finding myself after all… I think we all are, ’till the day we die…

Aisling Kelleher