Aged 14, when confessing to my Mum that I was attracted to girls, one of the things she was concerned about was any backlash or horrid comments I’d receive at school. Understandably, teenagers can be mean and the slur ‘that’s so gay’ was used more often than I can count. But thankfully , this was never the case. From this, I never thought it would be. It’s the twenty-first century. In 2015, same sex marriage was legalised. Love is Love, right? Wrong. To some, even in 2017, making comments and glaring even when my girlfriend and I are walking in the street is a reaction that they don’t think twice about.
I want to write about one experience in particular because it’s something that made both my girlfriend and I feel unsafe. As a woman, in any context, gay or otherwise, men making derogatory comments is unsettling and would be enough for someone to retaliate. But in the scenario I faced recently, my girlfriend and I stood up and left. There was no one there to say ‘hold up, that’s inappropriate.’ Before your thoughts cross a certain path, no we weren’t being overly affectionate (although I doubt straight couples would even be asked this.) We weren’t talking loudly or making out in the corner. Weren’t drawing attention to ourselves, weren’t even sat near those who verbally attacked us.
Friday night, Birmingham, a cocktail bar. We’d just been out for a romantic meal, like any other couple we thought we’d enjoy a drink in a location presumably open to all. We’re sat on the sofas, enjoying our drinks, chatting away. No kissing. No overt PDA. There’s a group of men in suits around a table sat a distance away from us. We don’t even notice them initially, we’re just enjoying our time together. That is until, and no this isn’t the first time we’ve experienced this, our night out together is cut short.
“This isn’t a lesbian bar.”
The group of men laugh. Staring at us. Laughing. My girlfriend and I have to look at each other, wide-eyed, to check we really did hear them right.
The fact of the matter is, whether we were being affectionate, should not even be a factor in this. What’s worse is, we couldn’t say anything. We were outnumbered, by a group of predatory men, looking at us like we shouldn’t be allowed in that bar. Like my ID is expected to provide a small print stating ‘heterosexual’ before ordering my pina colada. The comments didn’t stop there. At one point, I hear the word ‘strap-on’, followed by stares and laughter.
“We’re leaving.” I say, feeling afraid to take my girlfriend’s hand. We’re shaken up, the night’s ruined.
What horrifies me is that it’s twenty-seventeen and homophobia is still something, I, a twenty year old gay woman has to cope with in society. It’s bad enough being beeped at by a man in a lorry, being told to ‘smile love’ and take it as complimentary, because I’m a woman. It’s worse that I’m a gay woman. I never thought that would be the case. ‘It’s legal now.’ ‘It’s treated the same.’ ‘Why do you even need gay pride anymore?’ are phrases I hear repeatedly.
Now, I’m not asking for sympathy. Not asking for your apologies on behalf of these men, telling us we shouldn’t be allowed in this bar, because we’re two girls on a date, at 8:30pm. What I’m asking is for you to reflect, to question if things really are as liberal as you assume. Because yes, things have drastically improved from the 1970s, but internalised homophobia, and external on occasion, still exists. And under no circumstances should I feel afraid and attacked for my sexual orientation, in a bar in the early evening. A place that to many ‘unsafe’ wouldn’t even come to mind.
“I hate the word homophobia. It’s not a phobia. You’re not scared. You’re an asshole.” – Morgan Freeman