‘YOU’RE VEGETARIAN? ARE YOU GAY?’ someone delightfully bellowed at me one evening. Chuckles all round! Or not. The appropriate response to this is of course ‘fuck off’ however I can’t afford to get fired, which I surely would if I responded appropriately to everything that’s said to me by customers.
This kind of casual homophobia is part of every day life for me and many many others. Unfortunately I happen to work in a traditionally ‘masculine’ business so it’s also impossible to avoid. Of course it’s not exactly a revelation that beer as a thing/culture/business has so much sexism associated with it (if you haven’t read any of Melissa Coles’ blogs then you probably should) but homophobia seems to be rarely discussed despite the fact it is everywhere. From working behind the bar and asking the practical question of ‘Are you guys together?’ and at least once a week receiving answers which essentially amount to ‘NO HOMO. NO HOMO.’, to having a quiet pint and overhearing big groups of middle aged men going ‘EUUUUGH IMAGINE HAVING SEX WITH A MAN’ (again, a very common occurrence), to being interrupted in a private conversation to be asked ‘excuse me are you gay?’. I could carry on but we’d be here forever.
Lets be clear though, the vast majority of this is not perpetrated (or enabled) by the common or garden homophobe – the people that beat us up and shout things like ‘fucking faggots!’ in the street. Nope, it’s you, the straight liberal well meaning majority. But I have gay friends! I’m friends with YOU! How can I be homophobic?! WELL. (I lied about not carrying on)
Lets unpack that initial delightful question and its premise shall we? I am a vegetarian. This revelation sparks the following thought process in our subject: ‘Meat is MAN FOOD. This person does not eat meat… but he’s a man! What possible explanation could there be for a man having this feminine trait? What is a man with feminine traits? GAY! He must be gay because of this feminine decision he has made!’. This quite clearly is a stupid, sexist & homophobic train of thought. This is quite obvious when it’s broken down like this however is it so stupid that you (and from here on in when I say ‘you’ I mean straight you) would intervene to call him out on it?
Let’s say you’re pissing about with friends and you have some sort of in joke that most of us aren’t party to – lets face it we all have our in jokes with people and we all irritate the hell out of everyone else with them. You proceed to fill half the beery twittersphere calling each other ‘ponce’ (true story, bro). But it’s just a joke. Harmless fun!
You’re not a Bad Person, you’re supportive (and a bit curious). You show you’re interested in gay things, talk about relationships and end up categorising which one is ‘the man’ and which is ‘the woman’. You know, relationship chats like with your *other* friends.
The pub (or bar, you swanky city types) is not a friendly place for stuff considered ‘feminine’. Most of my experiences have reinforced this, whether it’s the obviously moronic casual ‘jokes’ of customers, friends who make gay jokes (it’s fine they have gay friends/family!) or people trying to be supportive and in the process completely denying the queer nature of the relationship in front of them. Each of these things and many many many many many many many (many) more (from bottle labels and pump clips to casual questions/comments about girls/girlfriends) create a thick cloud of ‘masculinity’, sexism and both implicit and explicit homophobia. My boyfriend and I visit pubs and bars a lot regardless. If in the right places, pubs and bars fulfill a wonderful social function as well as provide great beer. We’ve learnt to let the majority of these wash over us, although there’s the odd incident here and there which Alex can talk about far more eloquently than I ever could.
It’s funny, I started writing this blog on the 3rd of July 2013, attempted it again on the 6th of February 2014 then June and now in August. To be honest it’s a pretty difficult one to write and it’s probably the reason I neglected this site for so long. I hate returning to stuff I haven’t finished. People hate being called out on this sort of thing and in a perverse way I feel uncomfortable doing the calling out (oh no, I might upset people who have intentionally or unintentionally been homophobic! Quick, bring out the tiniest violin! Not all straight people!)
But it’s fine, you guys have your jokes, your patronising questions and your public displays of affection. We barely touch each other in the pub. It’s just easier.