A gay student’s perspective on internalised homophobia and reponses from the gay community at large.
CW: This article uses several uses and words that have been demeaning to LGBTQ people, however we have left it uncensored as a way to show the full emotion and intent of the author.
My love life is about as thorny, complicated, and unhappy as they come (and more often than not they don’t). I discovered something in the midst of childhood trauma… viz. that I’m gay… and what an unhappy realisation with far-reaching and profound implications for one’s dating life that was going to have.
Since time immemorial – or roughly about the age of ten – I have internalised my homophobia to a visceral degree. As soon as I discovered what I often refer to incessantly as my “aberrant proclivities”, I began to repress them aggressively. I would speak out vituperatively against gayness, gay culture, and LGBT issues to shore up my own straightness. A reluctant laddish veneer underpinned by a Kenneth Williams-esque self-hating gay; homosexuality is, to me, an aberration. What a performance that was and still is.
I’ve viscerally recoiled from almost every homosexual experience, deliberately distanced myself from mainstream LGBT societies – not that there were many at my school anyway – and otherwise took a profound level of hatred out on both myself and those who seem well acquainted or even comfortable in their expressions of queerness; something, I suspect, I shall never be.
Indeed, throughout my entire school career (and well beyond), I have carried a sort of 1960s level guilt about my own homosexuality whithersoever I’ve gone in the world. Yet this, unsurprisingly, by and large does not match the paradigmatic shift in attitudes that has since occurred and continues to. What to me has hitherto been unspoken is, for most, hardly unspeakable. They should never have let me near Edward II.
When you stick something like myself through a West of Scotland school that breeds negativity, low self-worth, and poor mental health, then rear it in a culture desirous of masculinity geared towards the procurement of the true model of heterosexual ontological security, suddenly you’ve got a bit of a problem. Yet, to accept it would pose other difficulties. Grandfather would brand me a “poof”. Father might disown me. I’ve already disowned myself. It is customary for a “West-of-Scotland-man-Victorian-Prig-Mental-Health-Doesnae-Exist Granda” never to countenance the seeking of help. This would be to admit weakness, and that simply won’t do. I am made of stronger stuff: like marshmallow flumps and halva. The solution e’er shall be: powerfully disavow homosexuality. Reject your humanity at every turn and hiss at the rest of those growing in the comfort of human relationships till it wears you down. Privately, however, listen exclusively to Hi-NRG records such as Tapp’s Forbidden Lover and Jimmy Somerville’s shrill, falsetto vocal tones in Smalltown Boy, and let that simmer underneath all that you are.
Welcome to the University of Glasgow and with it all the problematic psychological holdovers. I soldiered on alone through my degree, it wearing me down little by little, as that other aspect of myself continued to be denied. My social energies waned; my friends continued to live as I regressed. I began to conceive of myself as something between Elizabeth I in her final appearance before the English parliament with a lead-based face paint eroding her skin and Queen Anne being trundled about in a wheelchair. Eventually, all that was left was – I hope you’ll excuse me – a poof.
After cruising through the British system, getting whacked back and forth by the institutions of higher learning, I was in no mood to accept anything or so much as address it. My big gay awakening – not that it will ever be truly awake- was slaving for Sainsbury’s and being approached by some punter in a hat who asked on the date that my cold “blackened-south-side-of-Glasgow-roll-and-sausage-heart” had been awaiting and abhorring for the whole time. Of course, a person deep-fried in anxiety, repression, and unhappiness isn’t bound to get very far in a fast-moving dating culture.
Many homosexual men have long since welcomed what I call “aberrant sexual proclivities”. They have actualised themselves and profligately embraced the new culture of commodification that seems to accompany university campuses and sexual liaisons these days. Well-funded, globe-trotting, and global in outlook, as well as personages worked through. For someone who has craved affirmation on monogamous terms and has been unable for social and personal reasons to claim them, in an age of laissez-faire promiscuity there are bound to be some difficulties. Reticent, lacking self-confidence, pale, and self-hating one-night stands. Grindr hookups and sexual profligacy repel my soul.
Now the juice, the goss – enough allusion and set dressing. What my love life has actually looked like in practice is quite a shameful business. I’ve not really had the resources to facilitate one till now. I’ve lived at home and the idea of bringing what I’d call a “graft” back for any amorous activities seemed unlikely.
In the first instance, it was a sad little episode in the student accommodation block to which I’d unwittingly been invited. 20 odd years of hyper suppressed urges and a sad explosion is what follows – I finally brought a suitor back. After some ridiculous level of alcohol required to disinhibit and put aside a lifetime of sadness and internalised homophobia, I, in the words of Blanche DuBois “got my hole”. But the song that comes to mind is Dee Dee Jackson’s Meteor Man, for after but one encounter, matters ended quite abruptly. Hook-up culture when I desire stability is enough to destabilise what’s left of me.
The only thing I’ve ever had close to a love was a Frenchman with a little double-barrelled surname. Before the virus, we had – I think for the first time in my life – stumbled upon something with mileage. I was well and truly loved up. In highly romantic diction we each wrote to one another and I briefly felt the validation I craved in life. Then… Covid Dix-Neuf: Separation of the Poofs. Back to square one unfortunately.
The damage, both self-inflicted and institutional, is great to one’s love life as you can see. But I’m still here. Powering on and addressing it on my own terms. For me, it is still immensely cathartic to dress as I do now – away from my southside home – in my frilly shirt, zebra print brogues and Queen Anne pendant on full display. With Divine’s You Think You’re a Man constantly blaring in the recesses of my mind and every derogatory term for homosexual since the tenth century bombinating in my head. Nevertheless, despite tapping into some form of queerness, I am not always the most natural ally of the Queer community, or indeed, of LGBT societies.
I have been taken to task before by them, hauled over the coals. Accused of homophobia, accused of being offensive or crass towards other members of the community. How dare they or anyone for that matter attempt to minimise my experience. Something as ingrained and as personal to me such as this is not a political matter in the slightest. It is one that should be understood rather than censured. I will not be hectored by some middle class twit who hasn’t had to face any of the institutional, familial, or general societal objections all their lives and borne it out like the sensitive soul they are.
For societies seemingly dedicated to understanding queerness, its permutations and how being LGBT can affect mental health, they are often a trifle lacking in empathy or toleration. Internalising self-hatred for so many years has a profound effect on someone’s psychology. The language I use to describe myself – and strictly myself – need not diminish the experience of others who may have had it easier in this department. For me the use of the terms “gay”, “poofter”, “wully-woofter”, is cathartic and freeing, and respectfully, through trying lived experience I fully believe I’ve earned the right. I won’t kowtow to some monochromatic culture of “drag-race-yass-queen-make-up” pish. For some people, such as me, it isn’t and cannot ever be normal. I’ve often felt a greater sense of identification with the Catholic Society than them.
It’s been tough for me. I will not have my entire personal story denigrated and undermined by those more concerned to generate social kudos by lynching the surface level. What they imagine is homophobia of the highest order rather than asking “why this is?” Why don’t you buy a social conscience whilst you’re browsing a list of your sex toys? For some, sex is disorienting, abnormal, and distressing. What is truly a more complex expression and stilted first expression of self and a chapter of personal healing than being flagrantly smacked down as it was in the schools which raised it here.
This is performativity that I have been denied for many years finally surfacing, and all part of actualisation that many of them will have achieved years prior. If I want to address my homophobia in this way, this is a matter for me. I mean no genuine harm. Anyone with a slither of sense surely grasps this. I get on with it now after all these years. Hypersensitivity to terms that are “problematic” contradictorily leads to a prosecution of members of the community, further estranging them. I can chant on about poofs ad infinitum… I’ve bloody earnt that right.