Sometimes I catch myself wondering if all this LGBT equality is just a fashion statement?
I was lucky enough to be able to go to the Stonewall Workplace Conference recently. It really was a great conference – well organised, lots of great topics, inspirational speakers and well attended with 800 delegates. I sat in the auditorium surrounded by supposedly like minded people all wanting this world to be a better, more equal place for LGBT folk – and I felt out of place. All these amazing people around me, each with their own personal story and all I could think of was ‘I don’t know if I should be here’ – in a place where I should have felt comfortable, amongst ‘friends’, all with the same agenda and desire to be treated equally, but also celebrated for their individuality.
There’s the rub though – can we really have both? It almost seems oxymoronic – wanting to be treated the same but then still wanting to be allowed to be different. Well of course we can have both, but I can see why those without protected characteristics get confused and annoyed by all the rainbow waving (and indeed I think why I’m feeling the way I am today) so I’m going to try and help explain it and by doing so assist my brain with its conundrum.
Celebrating our individuality is hugely important. Being the person we are inside, on the outside helps us live authentically. Basically this means we are being true to ourselves, never having to hide who we really are. It’s why coming out as L,G,B or T is so vital to our own mental welfare. It’s why many of us who are LGBT have mental health issues, because we have tried to hide something which is so innate to our being.
When I was in the closet, I was playing the part of a straight man – acting, pretending, imitating – however you want to put it. And it was mentally exhausting. Always having to keep emotions in check, watching what I said and did, how I behaved just in case someone realised my subterfuge.
I guess I can compare my pre-out life to that of a deep cover agent – obviously without the threat of violence or murder against me should my cover be blown. I’m lucky to live where I do in the UK as there are many LGBT people out there whose lives literally depend on their ability to hide their secret. But still, at the time, it probably felt that life as I knew it would have ended if the real me had been discovered.
Any of you who have ever lived with a secret will know how complex it can be to keep it hidden. You develop an ugly ability to lie, sometimes even to yourself, and that in itself will take a toll on your mental stability.
There has been research into the effects of deep cover agents which demonstrates a rather obvious observation. The longer you pretend to be someone else, the more likely you are to lose your own identity. Continually lying to everyone around you is mentally damaging and that’s all there is to it.
But what has this got to do with me feeling uncomfortable at the conference? I think it’s because I played a role that wasn’t me for such a long time, I don’t really know where I fit in. It’s a version of imposter syndrome. I don’t belong, I’m a fake, a fraud. I don’t belong in the straight world, because I’m gay and I don’t belong in the gay world, because I spent so long trying to be straight and listening to the stigma telling me it was wrong to be gay, that I really struggle to associate with that world too. Don’t even get me started on the ‘Q’ word which is being reclaimed and owned again by many in the gay community, much like the ‘N’ word was reclaimed by the black community. However I look at that word, my brain won’t allow me to see it as anything but an insult.
All this leaves me in a difficult position – never feeling like I fit in either world. Isn’t this the real problem for me and many others like me? The fact that as human beings we build these socially constructed labels and boxes, and if we don’t fit into one, nice and neat, we are considered deviant.
I desperately want us to get past all this need to be proud of being LGBT and move to a post-gay world. I yearn for a future where everyone is just treated as a human – it shouldn’t matter about anything else. We shouldn’t be judged by anything apart from our humanity, our morals and ethics – how we live our lives. It doesn’t make a difference what characteristics you have – white, black, straight, gay, male or female – it’s how you live your life and treat your fellow man which should measure your impact on the world. I don’t want and shouldn’t be proud of being something I can’t help or change even if I wanted to. I want to be proud of what I do, achieve or the effects I have on others.
Unfortunately though, while we have inequality, unconscious bias and residual homophobia we still need to educate, influence and normalise until we move our society into a better world. Not just one that accepts everyone, but one where it isn’t even a discussion point about someone’s differences unless it’s to celebrate the positives they bring.
I’ve called myself an ‘accidental activist’ before – maybe ‘reluctant activist’ is more accurate. I don’t want to have to be a soldier in this battle but there is something in me that needs to be a good citizen and stand up for those less able, to put myself out of my comfort zone and demonstrate there is nothing wrong with me or anyone who just happens to be gay. Perhaps then, that’s where I have to add value. Perhaps that is what I need to be proud of, at least until the battle is won and we can all live together in harmony and equality.