Some time ago I was at the receiving end of the unsolicited and unreciprocated attentions of someone I barely knew. At 30, I’ve learnt to deal with such situations, practically on auto-pilot. What made this situation different was that this time, there was a woman at the other end.
The details of the situation are not important. Indeed the matter has been wrapped up and laid to rest. But what struck me was the thoughts and concerns it raised. I agonized and brooded over it far longer than I usually would have. I was apprehensive about my reaction and also more strongly impacted by the other person’s behaviour, than usual.
And at the very base of it, I unearthed something I wasn’t expecting to find and certainly wasn’t pleased to see. I treated that situation differently only because it was a gay person propositioning me and not a straight person. The realisation surprised me because I always thought of myself as liberal and completely open-minded about this.
It’s taken me a good while to hit upon something else though. My response is indicative, not of discrimination or stereotyping. It was an acknowledgment of a situation that was different from what I was used to. I do not understand the norms and the beliefs and the signals of the gay community as instinctively as I understand those of straight people. My extra consideration was coming from the assumption that things could be interpreted differently. If I discovered that at the end of it, they weren’t that different, that’s just, well, learning from experience.
An interesting thought that came my way from a friend was,
A stupid person is a stupid person. It has nothing to do with being gay or straight.
I realized that I had been extraordinarily fortunate in having encountered only insightful, mature gay people prior to this. My attitude so much stems from my experience and it has all been only good thus far.
On the other hand, what if things had been different for me? What if my first ever encounter with a gay person had been someone who was desperate, clingy or immature? Given how little education we get about homosexuality, would it not have been a natural response for me to decide that all gay people were like that?
I’ve taken to asking my straight friends who display homophobia (and they’re mostly men) about why they feel the way they do. A number of them don’t have a clear answer to that and it turns out that they are just going along with what they’ve been conditioned to think, by early influences or popular media. Such people will generally listen to reason and have been even willing to acknowledge that they could be wrong. A sample of the things I’ve heard,
I don’t have a problem with gay people per se. I guess I’m just afraid one of them might hit on me and I wouldn’t know what to do.
There is also another set of responses I’ve received. These are from people who’ve been assaulted, felt up, hit upon (in one case during a job interview) by the first gay person they met. Also considering that this is the average Indian man to whom being the recipient of attention as opposed to the giver is an earth-shatteringly alien experience, you can imagine why this has a diabolical effect on their thinking.
There are no conclusions to draw from this line of thought. Except that my own experience and what I learnt from it, made me understand homophobia a little better. And then again, to tackle something, it’s necessary to understand its origins, isn’t it?