Maybe I’m just feeling out of my element or maybe I’m thinking about it because of all the suicides last month, but it feels like I’ve encountered more homophobia in the past month than ever before.
Being here — in Spain, on a study abroad program with a bunch of other students from America and the UK — is like being 17 and having to come out to everyone all over again. When I’m at home, I’m surrounded by like-minded people who don’t say stupid things and who have my back if somebody else does. I took care of that problem ages ago by coming out. This time around I’m a lot more comfortable with myself, so it doesn’t feel like such a big deal, but I still worry that I might be stepping on someone’s toes. If I comment on how a girl looks, will someone think I’m being too aggressive or obnoxious? Is it too much to be political too?
So far there have been three times that I’ve said something. Each time, I’ve gone through the same cycle of thoughts and emotions afterward, making me think that someone should create a Kübler-Ross-style model of the stages of confronting ignorance. It would go something like this:
Regret: This stage occurs immediately after something is said. It is often accompanied by thoughts such as “Why can’t I keep my mouth shut?” “I don’t even know this person that well, now they’re going to think I’m crazy.” “They weren’t even being hateful, I should save my anger for when it really matters.” “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.”
Rethinking: This is the stage wherein the person tries to rationalize their initial reaction. Common sentiments include “If no one says anything, it’s never going to change.” “If it made me feel weird enough to have said something, think about how much it might hurt someone who isn’t comfortable with herself.”
Rerethinking: This stage settles in when the person can not get the incident out of their mind and are convinced that they’ve upset the social fabric of the entire world. Thoughts may include “What is wrong with me?” “Shit.” and “I actually am the angry dyke they were talking about.”
Rererethinking: This stage often occurs concurrently with the previous one. It may include feelings of empowerment or understanding such as “You’re only questioning yourself because there was no one there to back you up, you didn’t do anything wrong.” “They’ve probably never thought about that word before; maybe all they needed was someone to point it out.”
Rerererethinking: You get the point.
Being somewhere new is like being a sleeper agent: no one knows you’re gay and so they feel free to say completely idiotic things in front of you. Let’s investigate.
Location: Apartment party
Parties: Boy #1 (let’s call him Patricio), Boy #2 (BobEsponja), me
Patricio to BobEsponja: Dude, I love you. No homo.
Me: Don’t say that, you sound like an asshole.
Patricio: Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod.
Patricio: I just realized…you’re gay. I’m so sorry! I feel like such an idiot.
Me: It’s okay.
Patricio: It’s not okay! Oh noooo!
Me: I mean, yeah, it’s not okay. But I–
BobEsponja: It’s okay, we’ll just remember not to say it in front of you.
Me: What? No. No.
Patricio: Oh noooooooooooo.
Aftermath: I felt awful for calling him an asshole. There are way better ways to fight crime, superheroes. I also had to comfort him for 10 minutes afterward because he had a lot of feelings and was drunk. Actually everyone there was drunk and 10 minutes later, BobEsponja yelled “No homo” and passed out. Does it make sense to talk to people about homophobia when they’re drinking? I don’t know.
Location: Gender Studies classroom
Parties: Wet Lindsay, ADM, me
ADM: This class is going to be so full of annoying feminists.
Wet Lindsay: Yeah and the teacher said we’re just going to talk about women. This is a gender studies class, I came to learn about men too.
ADM: Yeah, our teacher’s a total dyke.
Me: Come on, seriously?
Wet Lindsay: Do you have a problem with us?
Me: Not with you but are you serious? “Our teacher’s a total dyke?”
ADM: I didn’t say that.
Me: Er, I’m sitting right here.
ADM: I didn’t say that.
Wet Lindsay: Yeah you did.
ADM: Okay yeah I did. So what?
Wet Lindsay: Anyway, if you’re going to be mad at anyone, you should be mad at me, I asked if she was a dyke.
Me: (angrily) I’m not angry! I’m just saying if you’re straight, and I’m assuming you are, don’t use that word.
Wet Lindsay: I am but you need to calm down, it doesn’t even mean anything in England.
Me: But we’re not in England.
Aftermath: I was eavesdropping and so felt entirely stupid injecting myself into their conversation. On the other hand, kids are killing themselves because of the homophobic messages they’re hearing and the girls were definitely talking loud enough in the silent classroom for all of us around them to hear. I was irritated that she used the word “dyke” when “lesbian” would have worked fine if all she was trying to do was describe her. And that she tried to defend herself by saying that it didn’t mean anything when she obviously meant it in a derogatory way. All that really matters was her intent, which was to undermine the teacher by commenting on her sexuality. Should you call strangers out when you’re listening in on their conversation? Probably not? I don’t know.
Location: Walking to class
Parties: Sam, me
Me: So what class are you taking?
Sam: History, don’t take it though, our teacher’s awful. She’s this complete dyke.
Me: No, no, no.
Me: I don’t know what you mean by that.
Sam: She’s like really opinionated and asks us lots of questions and is really passionate.
Aftermath: I don’t even know what to think about this one. She meant it in a negative way, but all the reasons she hated her sounded like good things to me. Maybe it just means we don’t have much in common.
Incident #4, Just for fun:
Location: Overheard at the Beach
Parties: Elizabeth, Ilene, Me
Elizabeth: Remember last night we went went to that gay bar?
Ilene: Ohmygod I was so drunk I totally forgot.
Elizabeth: That Italian chick totally wanted to bang you.
Ilene: You idiot, lesbians can’t have sex.
Elizabeth: Yeah but they can pretend, haven’t you ever seen The L Word?
Elizabeth: They use their fingers like this (hold her hands up like she’s holding a tray). The more fingers they use, the more it counts because it’s closer to sex.
Elizabeth: Is she laughing at us?
Ilene: We’re on a beach in Spain, I don’t think she speaks English.
Elizabeth: Oh, yeah.
Anyway, this isn’t Spain I’m talking about, it’s the people I’ve met in Spain who are from America and the U.K. Despite a tradition of machista and a giant Catholic population, gay marriage and adoption are legal here. Women can be topless anywhere men can, the morning-after pill is available without a prescription, and and Zapatero has called himself a feminist. True, they just suspended sex education in Valencia, but my language teacher reassured me that Camps, the President of Valencia who approved the suspension, is infamous for being corrupt and shouldn’t be around much longer since elections are coming up. I don’t know what all this legislation means for day-to-day life yet, though. I need to gather up all my language skills and step out of the bubble I’m in because there’s got to be something out there that’s better.
But before I make my way into the big city that speaks The Spanish Language, I need to get a grip on my English. Here’s what I think works when talking about homophobia:
Be out. The more people realize that they actually know gay people, the more unacceptable it becomes to be homophobic. Being gay is certainly not the most important thing about you, but when you let people know that it’s an important part of who you are and how you see the world, if becomes harder for them to hate the sin, love the sinner or whatevs. Not to mention that stereotypes fall apart when people realize that you’re gay even when you’re wearing a skirt.
Be educated. Read things like this on Autostradde! Read all the books! Talk to people, so that when you find yourself in a situation that makes you think “I should say something,” you don’t sputter around for the right words and give up. Know why “no homo” makes you angry and be able to explain it calmly and reasonably.
Use the right words. Despite what Sam might think, being passionate about something is great. Damn the man but for lawd sakes don’t say that. Nothing is going to turn someone off what you have to say faster than words like “patriarchy.” There was probably a time when you were afraid to call yourself queer or a feminist or whatever identity you claim as your own now, so give the same benefit of the doubt to anyone else who is venturing into unknown territory. They’re not stupid or beneath you, they just don’t know yet that there are great people standing behind these words.
What do you do? How do you balance having friends who don’t think exactly like you? Do you say what’s on your mind or do you pick your battles carefully? How do you think radically without alienating everyone? Do you share any of my feelings or am I alone in my compulsive need to be gaygaygay and in everyone else’s business?
Originally published on Paper Root.