Silent Homophobia

David Philip Norris As an anglophile, it’s embarrassing to admit that it wasn’t until my late twenties that I discovered the BBC television show “Doctor Who.” A friend was shocked that I wasn’t familiar with it and introduced me to the 2005 reboot of the series. I was instantly hooked. The first time I watched the show, David Tennant was starring as the Tenth Doctor, with his companion Donna Noble, played by Catherine Tate, a one woman comedic tour-de-force who is well-known in Great Britain for taking on a wide range of hilarious personas. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, a “companion” is a character who travels with the Doctor and shares his adventures, acting as an audience surrogate (Wikipedia, 2008). More than the other companions in the series, I’m drawn in particular to Donna. Unlike the others who are fearless in alien battles (e.g., Martha Jones, played by Freema Agyeman) or who use dimension cannons to move between parallel universes (e.g., Rose Tyler, played by Billie Piper), Donna comes armed only with a powerful will, a quick tongue, and a huge heart, all of which make her a force to be reckoned with. She continually insists that she’s “nothing special,” as she does in the episode “Turn Left,” even though other characters notice the universe literally bending around her (2008). But that doesn’t stop her from fighting for the people she loves, and it’s perhaps that quality that makes her so easy to identify with. Prior to her role on “Doctor Who,” Tate portrayed a Northern Irish mother in “The Catherine Tate Show” (Ep. 1, Series 3, 2006), who is a little too accepting of her gay son John, asking him for fashion advice and for his opinion on photographs of men while he watches a football match. “Have you heard about our John?” she glowingly asks her neighbors. “He’s a gay man now.” More than just sketch comedy, here Tate satirizes social perceptions of homosexuality and stereotypes of gay men. We expect the feisty Irish Catholic grandmother to disown her grandson, but instead she gives him money for a rent boy (British slang for a male prostitute). And to make matters worse, three thuggish young men show up at his door for fashion advice, asking whether their “turn-ups [jean cuffs] work with these boots.” John’s nightmare is living with the campy expectations of his friends and family, and their enthusiastic acceptance is almost enough to drive him back into the closet. Not all families are as happy to have a non-heterosexual child, and Tate explores that actuality via comedy. Comedy as social criticism has a long history, starting with the satirist Jonathan Swift, according to French writer, poet and Surrealist André Breton (da Silva, 2005). In Swift’s 1729 essay, A Modest Proposal, he highlights the desperate economic conditions in then-British colonial Ireland by suggesting that impoverished Irish parents could sell their children to the English aristocracy as food. The American television show M*A*S*H, which ran from 1972–1983, was a situation comedy about a mobile army surgical hospital in the Korean War (1950–1953). While the show largely centers on the antics of the medics, the writers, beginning in the eighth season, used their comedic platform to © Copyright 2013, David Philip Norris. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without the express written permission of the author.

In her honor’s thesis (2012). I’m fortunate to live in a relatively tolerant and liberal city where I can hold hands with another man in public without too much fear of being hurt or killed. the burning question on everyone’s lips is “Have you met anyone?” If you’re married. my college friends spoke freely about their spouses. It was almost a fulltime job to ensure that my public life never collided with my private life. and about who just had another baby.” “Oh. Goodbye.” I’ll say.Silent Homophobia / 2 explore serious and even political issues. I’d say that I was too busy. which graduate programs I’ve applied to. a woman smothers her baby to prevent its cries from giving away the position of a group of refugees who are fleeing from enemy soldiers and certain death. Worse is when my female friends want to go boy-watching or take me shopping as their personal fashionista. Negative responses to my coming out have been rare. The trouble with these situations is that I’m usually looking for very different things in men as a man.” Anyone who has come out as non-heterosexual would be fortunate to have a mother who is fiercely proud of her child. and for some time my social circle consisted mainly of Evangelicals. For many of us. I usually end up feeling more singled out and uncomfortable. and so on. there was one topic that wasn’t discussed: my private life. and (much to my boyfriend’s chagrin) if left to my own devices. Now I relish in answering frankly when asked if I’ve “found a nice girl yet. Abigail Jones writes that “comedy is a vehicle for subtly (or not so subtly) addressing [social] injustices by mocking the social norms in the hope of slowly changing the masses’ beliefs about the inequalities. and for the first few years afterwards I found creative ways around that first question . the opposite is sadly the norm. depending on how conservative my audience is.since I wasn’t dating girls. We graduated from a small Christian liberal arts college. In the series finale. I’ll take a moment to enjoy them squirm as they attempt to formulate a response. “He’s over at the bar getting us drinks. They asked about the projects I’m working on. or. as well as teaching piano lessons at a Christian school and attending a conservative Baptist church. where I’m working. At the wedding. For singles. I’m now an atheist and don’t make my being gay a secret either. I will typically dress like a lumberjack. an almost desperate attempt to sound accepting and tolerant. I was recently able to catch up with several friends who I haven’t seen in a while. At the time I was holding down a full-time job. about mutual friends. My boyfriend’s family isn’t quite as extreme as John’s in “The Catherine Tate Show” but they unreservedly accept us as a couple. There are two subjects that are bound to come up at any wedding. their kids. so while we were able to reminisce and talk about what we’ve been up to. and where I’m living. but that may be a Midwestern anomaly – an extension of “Minnesota nice. which was true. several freelance music gigs. Thanks to a wedding and the various people it brought together. and have been lucky to work in places that are open and affirming. there are more discreet forms of discrimination. While well-meant.” Usually I’m met with what feels like over-excitement. But . Farewell and Amen (1983). the question of the day is “When do you plan to have kids?” I came out in 2008. their church. my boyfriend couldn’t make it. However.” Then.

No matter how old the friendship.” If you were male and Christian. So I’m unsure how to feel about my reluctance to talk about my personal life with my friends when they cavalierly volunteer theirs. Crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity are punishable offenses in many places (Wikipedia.until someone uncomfortably changes the subject. twenty states have constitutional amendments limiting marriage to relationships made up of a man and a woman. Only nine states (plus Washington. Unless accompanied by the terms “healing” or “leaving the lifestyle. no one ever talked about “the sin that dare not speak its name. But don’t my friends also deserve to know who I truly am.Silent Homophobia / 3 no one asked whether I’d met anyone. But it’s much harder to live with being the elephant in the room. It was a struggle then. These guys came alone. as of right now. We have a President who openly supports marriage equality. and it will be a struggle for the LGBT community now. So I usually end up quietly leaving those details out. Is it latent internalized homophobia? I can hardly be faulted for wanting to avoid becoming the focus of ire or prejudice. and to meet the special man in my life? As much progress as we’ve made in the United States toward furthering gay rights. I learned from a friend (who attended the same college that I did and who is now also an atheist) that several former classmates who were in attendance at the wedding currently “struggle” with same-sex attraction – Christian code for homosexuality. While I’m not shy about my private life. the conversation will inevitably trail off .” While I and others often wondered about our classmates and their orientation. and. But we can no longer afford to be politely complicit in the brand of silent discrimination that seeks to render us powerless by keeping us invisible. Lawmakers propose bills funded by extremist religious groups to make LGBT Americans second-class citizens. Acceptance of interracial couples didn’t happen right away just because the Supreme Court declared laws against it unconstitutional in 1967. but neither are we at a place where the reaction to coming out is: “So?” It will take time. Some of it is trying to prevent what should be a pleasant reacquaintance from turning into a terse debate. or with girlfriends who believe it’s their God-given mission to help their men be “straight.) have legalized same-sex marriages. A person could learn to live with copious amounts of affirmation.C. 2006). Some of it is habit. There are more gay characters than ever on network television (Oldenburg. survival techniques to avoid questions or judgment. you were presumed to be heterosexual – or working on it. 2012). you can never be sure how a person is going to react to the news that you’re gay. I’ve learned that when it comes to discussing it with this particular group of friends. Yet teenagers are still mercilessly bullied in schools for merely being perceived as gay. .” homosexuality is still a spiky subject in most Christian circles. we still have far to go. Living closeted is no longer the status quo. D.

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