Patrick Strudwick

Patrick Strudwick

On why you don't have to conform to fit in.

A six-year-old boy in Australia has been permanently removed from his foster parents’ home by the authorities. The foster parents, you would imagine, must have done something terrible to this poor child. Abuse of some kind, perhaps. But no. The lesbian parents committed a crime that mainstream society finds far more threatening. They allowed him to wear girl’s clothes.

This case, which came to light in September, might seem like a freakish one-off with no wider implications. But while I’m not aware of other kids being taken away for this reason, the reason for his removal exposes the very essence of homophobic impulse beating in every country in the world.

Those who breathe the fire of such hatred, from Yorkshire to New York, Syria to Sierra Leone, refer, on the surface, to their revulsion at two people of the same sex together. They use words like “unnatural”, “sinful” and “disgusting”. They call it a choice, or a lifestyle - much like golf, but with a swing that flattens family, morality and society. They obsess about the sex act. In certain parts of Africa, they have, in recent years, even showed extreme fetish gay porn at religious rallies to inflame hatred.

But when you peel away this layer, when you read the small print, when you listen to how such people speak about related issues to do with men and women and society, something deeper emerges. Disgust at homosexuality, it becomes clear, is largely not about same-sex sex (love is never mentioned of course). It is about gender.

If you have been bullied at school or in the street, you will have felt this. You will have been taunted for not being good at sport, or not walking “right”, for not speaking deep enough, for not being tough enough, or for wearing bright colours, or just about anything that doesn’t scream, “I’m a man‘s man.”

For homophobia’s root is the same as misogyny’s. It is a hatred of the feminine. It is a fear and loathing of those who do not confirm to gender stereotypes. The polarity of the sexes, lest we forget, is what enables men to stay in charge.

Perez Hilton - perhaps surprisingly - the famous, gay, American, celebrity blogger, understands this. He has just published a book entitled, The Boy with the Pink Hair, about a kid who doesn’t do butch, who doesn’t conform and who therefore gets bullied.

The blogger “Cop’s Wife”, from Missouri, who was discussed across the world’s press last year after she wrote a blog entry about her five-year-old son (whom she calls “Boo”), knows this too. Boo went to school on Halloween, dressed as Daphne from Scooby Do. The other mothers at his school voiced their disgust, telling his mother that she should “never have ‘allowed’ this”.

It is deemed bad enough for a grown man, believed to be capable of making his own choices, to cast off gender’s conventions. But if a boy does it? It must be the parents’ fault. They must have made him. They should never allow him to be a “sissy” as this will surely lead to sodomy. These assumptions are, of course, ludicrous – transvestites are usually straight - but the obvious follow up question is, even if bunging on a skirt leads to bumming, why is that bad?

When I was four my favourite item of clothing was a mustard-yellow skirt with layers of netting that made it splay out from my waist. I danced and twirled in it, deliriously.

But I grew up with feminist parents who never mentioned my lack of gender conformity. And thus, I grew up happy. I came out at 14. My shock at the intolerance beyond the walls of my childhood home made me determined to fight for every little boy like me.

This kind of upbringing was freakishly lucky, but we can all help to make it more common. It’s vital that we do. Recently, I spent a day at Childline, the helpline for kids. I asked the head of the organization, Sue Minto, which issues on the calls they receive from unhappy children, have been on the rise. “We see many more boys contacting us about sexuality,” she said. With all the equality legislation that has passed in the last decade, with the unerring work that organisations such as Stonewall have done to combat homophobic bullying in schools, this should be on a downward not upward trend.

But all gay people can make a difference here. To do this, we must first look in the mirror, because, sadly, we routinely perpetuate such disgust at gender non-conformity. If you describe yourself proudly as “straight acting”, for example, what you really mean is, “I adhere to male gender stereotypes and that is a good thing”. Thus, you are upholding the very attitudes that lead to panic and fear of “pansies”. It helps maintain the men-must-be-men status quo that, when combined with malice and fear, leads to the bullying and beating of gay people. We must start embracing the parts of ourselves and our community that do not adhere to patriarchal models of masculinity if we have any hope of eradicating hate.

Because in the end, we must accept, gay is a feminist issue.

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