Content warning: mentions homophobia, homophobic violence
Anyone with a basic understanding of society will know that queer people encounter instances of homophobia on a daily basis. Seemingly removed from what many view as ‘real oppressions’, everyday instances of homophobia can be intensely draining, but ultimately the form they take is rarely an aggressive one. So why, then, does an act so apparently harmless as a prolonged stare or quiet whisper in the street, have the power to provoke so much fear? The answer is something I failed to realise until three days ago when I witnessed homophobic violence in my own city.
Imagine that being queer is a game of Russian-Roulette. Every time you choose to be visible, another bullet is loaded into the gun. Every seemingly insignificant incident of homophobia is another pull on the trigger.
For those queer people who choose to be more visible, either through their expression or by being ‘out’ with a partner, these day-to-day oppressions occur with alarming frequency. Imagine that being queer is a game of Russian-Roulette. Every time you choose to be visible, another bullet is loaded into the gun. Every seemingly insignificant incident of homophobia is another pull on the trigger.
On Saturday night I walked out of a Wetherspoons in the centre of Norwich. I saw a gay man attacked until he was lying on the floor surrounded by broken glass.
There is a reason that the gawping homophobe in the street is more terrifying than a stranger staring at you for your mismatched outfit or bad dye-job. That difference is the threat of violence. Almost every day you will be fine, and almost every day you won’t get bottled, but there is always the chance that one day that quiet whisper will turn into a shout, or a fist, and you will have done nothing to influence that outcome other than live your life as you do every other day.
Even in queer spaces where we thought we could perhaps have it all, fear has once again become mainstream.
Every day, queer people are forced to make a choice between safety and visibility. To evade oppression as best we can, we must internally oppress ourselves by hiding. Even in queer spaces where we thought we could perhaps have it all, fear has once again become mainstream. For many, the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando was a reminder that the very need for queer spaces to exist, reinforces their inherent link to violence.
So do we, as queer people, compromise our own identities in the name of self-preservation, or do we risk violence in the knowledge that being visible is a political statement that challenges homophobia both within ourselves and in society?
Of course, as is the case with all queer discourse, this binary choice is not sufficient.
The choice between visibility and safety relies on romanticised perceptions of being ‘out’. There’s a cliché that queer people ‘have to come out every day’, but until we live in a society free from oppression, no one can be truly ‘out’. For the most part, queer people are assumed straight unless we put our safety at risk in the name of visibility.
Until recently, I have struggled with a deep sense of guilt when choosing to ‘act straight’ to avoid apparently minor discrimination. This feeling becomes particularly keen when considering the immense privilege that comes with being a position to make that choice. As much as I disagree with the statement ‘self-care is a political act’ in itself, no one should feel obliged to put themselves at risk in the name of pride, and failing to deck yourself in metaphorical rainbows every day of the week does not make you a bad activist.
Although each stifled affectation carries with it a brief feeling of guilt, with the rise of fascism and the populist hard-right in Europe and across the Atlantic, queer people should feel no shame in acts of self-preservation. Feel no shame in looking after yourself. Be proud and stay safe.
Header image via thedailybeast.com