Thursday, 17 May 2012
Hop Against Homophobia
Welcome everyone to the Hop Against Homophobia. This is a massive blog hop supported by nearly 250 blogs (ETA that number has gone up to 275 blogs now!) and I'm pleased to be part of this event which aims to highlight what a huge problem homophobia is in the world. Visit their web page HERE to see all the blogs taking part and do try and get to a few of them, even if you can't manage all 250 :).
Today I'm very pleased that the truly delightful Cole, who as well as being a top bloke also writes guest reviews for Brief Encounters Reviews, has agreed to write a guest post for me about his experiences of homophobia. Over to you, Cole!
I want to thank Jen, first, for inviting me to write a guest post on her blog today, for the Hop Against Homophobia. When she first approached me to write something up, I will admit that I didn't really know what to talk about. I could, of course, talk about anything, but I knew that I wanted to relate some kind of personal story. I've had a lot of people assume that since I grew up and currently live in Oklahoma, a place definitely not known as a bastion of gay rights, that surely I'd have some sort of sordid tale. Well, maybe that's what I assume they think, though I have gotten several remarks over the years when I say where I'm from, mostly in the way of sympathetic glances and "hang-in there" conspiratorial nods. The fact is that I've lived my life relatively free of scorn. I was well-accepted by my family, though many extended family members turn their heads and ignore it, but personally, that's fine by me. Of course, I grew up like everyone else -- there were always going to be little taunts that cut quick, but no debilitating bullying. No, the first time that I realized that the differences I'd championed about myself could cause real damage out in the world was when I moved to New York for college.
Ten years ago I became a first year at Sarah Lawrence College. It's a pretty well known liberal arts college in Bronxville, Westchester County, the first county up the Hudson from NYC. The first draw was NYC! I mean, I'd been lucky enough to win scholarships in high school to study abroad in Japan and Europe, enough to broaden my horizons a bit and give me the confidence to move so far away AND be the first to finish college in my family. Second were the academics, which suited me perfectly. Then I visited and realized why they called it "The Gay School". It was pretty much as opposite from public high school that you could get. I mean, the most popular clique at the time was called The Lesbian Mafia! Even being a small school with 75% women, about half of those tiny number of men were gay! And that was still way more than being the one gay kid in high school (if we leave several salacious rumors out of it). I was really in heaven.
In short time, I had been allowed into the most accepting community I'd ever seen. I had a great group of friends, thankfully from day one. But, like any new experience the shine wears off and you start to see the good and bad in everything. And there was one really big thing I didn't like about SLC: it was one huge bubble, disconnected from the outside world. Being close to the city helped, of course, but there is longstanding enmity between the school and the town of Bronxville. The school had once had been a big draw into their old money community (they hosted Ted Kennedy's wedding, for instance) when it was a debutante school for young society girls looking to receive the education they'd need to marry a diplomat. Over the years, however, the school became a bit of a thorn in it's side.
Apparently the Bronxville High School had in the past had a few run-ins with students at the college, but this year it became particularly bad. Having to cross the one main thoroughfare through the college at night was scary, not because it was usually particularly dangerous, being a small relatively quiet school in a mostly residential area, but because of the joyrides the kids in town would take. At first it was random insults screamed out of a driving car, which yeah, might hurt I suppose. Not really to me, I was pretty full of self-righteous importance then and they were stupid assholes anyway. Then it became eggs and water balloons and people started getting scared to cross the street at night without security. The funny thing, well not funny of course, but ironic, I suppose, was that the gay slurs and taunts were just so easy to use. It wasn't really about that, but that was the most convenient route to slander someone.
One night I was coming home to my dorm from studying at the library around midnight. I was pretty lucky that I heard the car coming and had enough sense to sort of run up ahead. I was hit in the leg with a beer bottle filled with what I was pretty sure was urine. I was lucky to only be hit in my leg when it didn't even break. That scared me, because it could have caused real damage, you know? Plus, being soaked in someone's… well you get the idea, that's demeaning. I was pretty scared after that. It was easy to see the escalation into real violence and I was afraid what they'd do next.
A few days after the bottle incident, another kid in my class was crossing the same spot in the road when he was jumped and beaten by several high school students with baseball bats and put into a coma. I don't even think I expected it to go that far, but it didn't matter that the guy they jumped was actually straight, it just mattered, in the end, that the whole school bundled a little bit closer after that. Until that point, I don't think I'd really seen any kind of cruelty first hand, but I'd also not experienced what it was like to be a part of a real community that I felt I was a part of. But what really hurt was that they got away with it. I don't know that there was every really any heat on the situation, the police in the area didn't seem to do much. The outrage and also fear coming out of Sarah Lawrence at that time did start a bit of a public debate, with the problem getting some airtime in some national papers for a few weeks, but it didn't spark the kind of national debate that I wanted it too. Maybe it was too early… 2002 doesn't seem like that long ago but in terms of US gay rights it's a very significant decade. Hopefully today gay bashings spark more public outrage than they did then. Hopefully.
I think I learned an important lesson from that, which is ultimately an uplifting one -- there's a lot in life that you can't control. I think I was probably a little shell shocked at the time and the school really took it hard, but over time I think I feel a little more free being whoever I want because I know that I can't control all possible outcomes but I can expect that in the end, most people are generally good. I try not to wonder, you know, what ifs. That could have very easily been me and then who knows where I'd be in my life today, but I do occasionally think of that guy whose name I don't even remember anymore and think that of all places for something like that to happen, the violation was of a place that was almost sacred… safe ground. That was probably the worst, the violation of a safe place. But, having that supporting community was what made it feel safe again. And the best part is that when I think back about my college days, I rarely ever think of that when I have so many other happier memories. :)
Thank you Cole for sharing that piece of your life with us. It just goes to show that even in what seems like the most safest environment, hate can find a way to worm its way into it.
Part of this hop involves prizes - yay! Everyone who comments on this post today will be put into a draw to win a book of their choice from All Romance Ebooks. Please leave your email so I can contact you if you win. You have until the end of Saturday 19th May to comment and I'll announce the winner on Sunday. Good Luck :).