Once in a PE change room I had someone throw their testes in my face, witha massive crowd around them all laughing and pushing me around... It was the most demoralising moment of my life. — Jack*
omophobia haunts our schools: sometimes in change rooms, other times inplaygrounds, and now even in cyberspace. When I hear the kind o experiencerecounted by Jack, I am reminded o how being dierent can easily makeyou an object o derision to others. While my own experiences did not involve thekind o physical humiliation endured by Jack, the pervasive silence around my beingsame-sex attracted meant it was diicult or me to eel completely comortable inembracing who I was.
I l l u s t r a t i o n s b y N a t a s j a v a n V l i m m e r e n
writes about measuresbeing taken to address bullying ofhomosexual students in our schools.
High school is not just about education. It is a place o managing studying withsocialising, while also coming to terms with adolescence. When attraction and emotionare added to the equation, things become a whole lot more conusing. For me, theconusion was that i all the other boys were eyeing the girls, why was I not? I neverelt comortable asking why, because I was unsure o what the consequences would be.So what did I ear? The answer was simple: homophobia.Homophobia is a ear o sexuality-based dierences, resulting in the marking outand stigmatising o any act or expression that does not conorm to our normativeexpectations about heterosexuality, reproduction, masculinity and emininity.Historically, these belies have been given social currency through a range o culturalelds. These include: religious scriptures that condemn homosexuality as immoral;psychology manuals that reerred to it as a mental disorder; and punitive legislationthat made same-sex relationships criminal.Homophobic bullying emerges rom these archaic legacies by recuperating thesedierentials o power. This bullying is made maniest through physical harassment, viliying words or intimidating conduct that attempts to shame young people or theirperceived sexuality. It is oten dicult to identiy the more subtle maniestations o homophobia, particularly in speech. Homophobic speech does not always requiremalicious intent. For example, ‘That’s so gay’ is common vernacular, and oten themotivation behind the statement is not to viliy gay or lesbian people in pejorativeways. However, despite its intent, this kind o rhetoric singles out same-sex attracted
If all the other boys were eyeing the girls,why was I not? I never felt comfortableasking why, because I was unsure of what theconsequences would be. So what did I fear?The answer was simple: homophobia.
people as dierent by making theirsexuality synonymous with a deciency.Heterosexist and homophobic languagecan cause long-term mental harm, asindividuals can internalise the belie thattheir desire or sexuality is somehow odd,or even perverted.Experiences o homophobic bullying in Australian schools refect some o thesecomplexities.
Writing Themselves In 3
,a 2010 national study pioneered by DrLynne Hillier about the sexuality, healthand wellbeing o same-sex attractedand gender-questioning young people,highlighted the systemic problem o homophobia in a disparate range o secondary schools across Australia.Homophobia is oten considered to bea niche problem. The report, however,indicates that same-sex attractedpopulations are not marginal, with about10 per cent o young people identiying asnot solely heterosexual. What is most concerning in the reportis that incidents o homophobic bullyingare on the rise. The original
report, published in 1998,recorded that 46 per cent o participantshad experienced verbal bullying, while13 per cent had experienced some ormo physical abuse. In 2010 this hadincreased, with more than 60 per cento the young people surveyed havingexperienced some orm o verbal abuse,while 18 per cent had suered physicalassault. Approximately 80 per cent o allharassment, discrimination and abusethese young people had endured hadoccurred in school-based contexts.On casual observation, the increaseseems counterintuitive, given the rangeo legislative reorms aimed at promotingequality, and the increasing visibility o sexual and gender minorities in society.Such trends, however, can be explainedwhen considering that a shiting socialclimate encouraging young people to‘come out’ at an earlier age has led to acorresponding need to regulate same-sexattraction or gender nonconormity.Homophobic bullying also operateson a psychological level. Individuals whoare assaulted or allegedly ‘faunting’same-sex aection, or instance, do notsimply have physical scars. As recentschool graduate James* recollects:“I did not want to stand out... I I heldhands with my boyriend, the otherswould give me a look, just a look, butthat was enough.” Young people likeJames are oten coerced into modiyingtheir behaviour in heterosexual socialenvironments, reusing any orm o contact in public spaces or ear o shameor intimidation.In general terms, homophobic bullyingcreates spaces where individuals areorced to manage how they expresstheir sexual identity. As a young Tamilteenager, my sexuality was not an isolatedpart o my identity. But my amily had noopenly gay or lesbian members. In act,the issue was never even mentioned. Ibegan to wonder i the term ‘gay’ evenexisted in Tamil. When ‘coming out’,then, I had to negotiate where my culturaland ethnic background sat in relation to
Heterosexist andhomophobic languagecan cause long-termmental harm, asindividuals can internalisethe belief that their desireor sexuality is somehowodd, or even perverted.
my sexuality, especially as there was noculturally appropriate way (at least thatI was aware o at the time) to expressit. Unlike racially motivated orms o bullying or marginalisation, or example,I could not easily seek support romamily members who could empathise