Defining homophobia February 9, 2014Posted by Tomboktu in Inequality, LGBT.
Last Sunday, in a comment, I posted the video of Panti’s Noble Call made the previous evening at the Abbey Theatre. (See @pantibliss on Twitter.) At the time, WorldbyStorm suggested it should be made a full post in its own right. In that week, it has attracted a lot of attention: Channel 4 News and BBC News reported on it, Madonna sent a message to Panti about it, and Stephen Fry tweeted about it. The attention still grows: today, Labi Siffre commented about it on twitter. It has, as I write, been viewed 418,867 times on Rory O’Neill’s YouTube page*.
As suggested, I post it, on the front page and not buried in a comment, but I also take the opportunity to offer a view on its context.
I watched it again a few times over the last week. As I did that, I was struck with two similarities between what Panti says and the work of feminists in the 1960s and 1970s.
A key element of feminism in the 1970s was consciousness raising. In apartments or in rooms over pubs, women would meet to discuss their experiences of oppression as a woman. “Would everybody please give me an example from their own life on how they experienced oppression as a woman? I need to hear it to raise my own consciousness.” Panti’s speech did that, although not in somebody’s sitting room with a small group of fellow gay people. Like the feminists four decades ago, Panti talks about experiences — as a gay man in his case — and seeks to identify what about them is oppressive. He wasn’t the only one this week to do so. In the Dáil on Thursday evening John Lyons spoke about being verbally abused a few weeks ago when he went to the corner shop, and Jerry Buttimer told the Dáil that he has been beaten, spat on, chased and mocked because he is gay.
But what distinguished Panti’s contribution from those of John Lyons and Jerry Buttimer was that Panti named the small, social, intimate, personal effect of the homophobia that he has lived through.
Have you ever been on a crowded train with your gay friend and a small part of you is cringing because he is being so gay and you find yourself trying to compensate by butching up or nudging the conversation onto “straighter” territory? This is you who have spent 35 years trying to be the best gay possible and yet still a small part of you is embarrassed by his gayness.
And I hate myself for that.
Those two paragraphs combine that consciousness raising with a second key achievement of the feminist movement: redefining our understanding of the world. In feminism, this has been most obvious in the legal field. Rape was re-defined because of the work of feminists. Feminists’ work led to ‘sex discrimination’ being redefined to include sexual harassment.
Similarly to feminists of the 1970s, Rory O’Neill has asserted what homophobia means, based on his lived experience. That does not fit with the Iona Institute’s insistence on using a dictionary. For them, the key question is not the experience of the victim but the mind of the perpetrator: they do not hate gay people; therefore they are not homophobic. But Rory O’Neill’s understanding does fit with the experience of gay people.
The legal concept of sexual harassment has been taken up in EU and Irish law. In Ireland and the rest of the European Union, it is defined as action that “has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person”.** Those words “or effect” are an important principle that need to be claimed and applied to homophobia.
Rory O’Neill claimed them and applied them. If the Iona case or the Waters case go to court, I hope his Rory’s lawyers can use that legal principle to defend Rory.
Let me tell you a story about me. In December, I took my ten-year-old niece Christmas shopping. It’s an annual ritual. After hours of wandering from shop to shop, we went for food. She asked if she could ask me a question, and I said yes. And then she said, nah, it was ok. I said, no, don’t be embarrassed, go ahead and ask. If it’s too nosey, I’ll tell you.
So she asked: When I was in school, had people said bad things to me because I was gay? Here, in this post, you could see that coming, but on that Sunday in December I didn’t — our focus doing the shopping was whether it was Granny or Nana who would like a new scarf. And I fluffed it.
In school, I wasn’t out, so there never was a specific homophobic incident directed at me. That did not occur until later, when I was a postgraduate student and out. But I did feel the homophobia in school — you couldn’t be openly gay then; how it was seen as so weird that any of us who were gay thought we were the only ones. And I didn’t explain that to my niece. Nor did I tell her about the two attacks that did occurr years later after I had left school (like Rory O’Neill’s milk carton, both minor incidents physically).
And I hate myself for that.
[*In the two hours and eighteen minutes I spent typing this and chasing down the links, that has gone up to 420,822.]
[**To prevent any misunderstanding, I am not saying that that law applies to public debate on policy issues. However, it does apply in employment and for students in our schools, among other areas, in relation to sexual orientation and other grounds.]