I told my brother I was gay when I bumped into him in a nightclub one random Friday evening. I was very, very drunk and the next day I only had a vague recollection of the previous night. When I finally got out of bed and went downstairs my brother was sitting at the family computer. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Did I see you last night?
Me: Did I say anything?
Brother: You said you were gay.
Brother: Are you?
Brother: Do you remember me telling you I split up with my girlfriend?
Me: UM BACK TO MY ANNOUNCEMENT PLEASE
It’s always stuck with me because of all the initial reactions, it was the most matter-of-fact. My brother wasn’t appalled, he wasn’t upset, he wasn’t thrilled – he simply didn’t care. I was rather taken aback by this – not least because I had built it into such a HUGE THING in my head that I felt it demanded some massive acknowledgement. Yet of all the reactions I could have had, it was the most helpful. In one fell swoop it deflated the bubble I had created around my sexuality, letting out all of the anxiety and worry but also the self-importance and ego. One of the only people I had told before this was a school friend and when I think back now, I feel so sorry for him. I bored him to death about it, banging on and on about being gay and revelling in the difference. Of course I can’t beat myself (or anyone else) up about that – it’s perfectly understandable behaviour and my friend certainly never complained – but I quickly started to realise that we can make an issue of our sexuality just as much as others can, and if I wanted to be treated like everybody else then I would have to approach my sexuality as I would wish it to be approached.
It’s for this reason that I can’t get excited when a celebrity or politician says something ‘nice’ about gay people. Why should I be thrilled that someone has acknowledged my existence? Why should I feel grateful that someone is not a twat? The urge to gratitude is quite revealing of our own approach towards our sexuality, I feel, and it is an urge that countless clever politicians and celebrities have capitalised on. I’m not going to celebrate being seen as a token of someone’s liberalism and I’m not going to be grateful for being a target market which crap pop singers can tap into for some sales. Being gay says absolutely nothing about my politics, my beliefs, my tastes. If anyone thinks I should ‘naturally’ support a certain political party, go easy on a certain politician, buy a certain product because of their stance on ‘gay rights’, they need to have a long hard look at their own approach to the subject.
This is also why I have so little time for those who seek to use their sexuality as a get-out clause for their misdeeds. I’ve gotten into arguments before because I was so unsympathetic to David Laws and Lord Browne, two powerful individuals who were caught up in lies and misdeeds relating to their sexuality. It was expected that I should at least partly excuse them – because society is homophobic, their generation was homophobic, their work environments were homophobic, whatever. My attitude? Big bloody deal. How insulting to the countless people, gay or otherwise, who face hardships, trauma and obstacles and still somehow manage not to swindle the taxpayer or lie under oath to ask that I extend a get-out clause to two people who have had privilege handed to them on a plate. Sexuality does not begin to absolve us of personal responsibility – if anything, we should forcefully refuse to play the victim. Whatever issues they had, Laws and Browne were two adults in positions of power, enjoying all of the benefits that come with those positions. I had no sympathy. This urge to create images of gay victimhood is something I’ve written about before with reference to more extreme cases. It does us all an injustice.
The reason why all of this has occurred to me has been the reaction today to Frank Ocean’s blog about his ‘first love’. It should be noted that Ocean doesn’t actually ‘come out’ in this blog – if saying that your first love was male makes you gay/bisexual, then a hefty % of gay men must be straight/bisexual as many dated women and enjoyed it before coming out. Indeed, this rush to push Ocean into a box, whether ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’, is part of the problem. It’s putting words in his mouth, making him into something which he doesn’t necessarily wish to be – not only in terms of his sexuality but in terms of being a ‘brave’ man. Maybe he just wanted to let us know about a lovely time in his life which has inspired his new album. Nothing more, nothing less. The rush to congratulate him, however well-intentioned, is enormously patronising and makes as much an issue of his sexuality as any homophobe would. Indeed, I did a twitter search for reactions to his blog and the vast, vast majority were supportive. Nonetheless, many of these were supportive while noting that he was ‘brave’ and would face problems from the hip-hop world. I didn’t see any that noted any actual negative response – instead it was an imaginary future persecution which has the added bonus of making the supporter seem extra-liberal. I previously noted the same reaction to the film ‘Weekend’, where I saw countless reviewers/viewers noting that it would make homophobes uncomfortable without ever taking a second to notice that homophobes were never going to watch ‘Weekend’ in the first place. Of course we can and should acknowledge context and recognise that homophobia is a real thing. We should not, however, begin from an automatic assumption of homophobia. If we want a world where being gay, straight, bisexual or whatever is truly no big deal then we should all act like it – and that means smiling at Frank Ocean’s nice story and letting him be whatever he wants to be without instantly trying to bend it to our own ends.