“Not like the other boys”, the parents used to say, as if diplomacy would make me feel better.
It was that difference that drove the bullies towards me in my teenage years, like man-eating moths to a flamboyant flamer. I remember wondering back then if I would ever fit in. I thought I’d be long dead before homosexuals found any kind of equality.
Gay marriage? Almost as likely as Madonna touring Australia.
But in an incredibly short period of time, the rights and acceptance of homosexuality has changed dramatically.
British author and religious extremist Peter Hitchens, who has been a staunch opponent to homosexuality, summed it up on QandA recently when he conceded: “I know that you people have won”.
I can almost taste the freedom.
Yet recently I was reminded of the homophobic demons of my past when I was heckled by a group of strangers in the heart of Sydney’s gay district.
I was alone and waiting to cross at the intersection of College and Oxford St. It was around 3:30 in the afternoon, when a group of young men screamed out “you’re a fucking faggot” from the window of a car as it hooned past the corner.
It was clearly directed at me.
What do you do in that situation? It was an incredibly strange feeling.
In my role for Australia’s number one news website, news.com.au (shameless plug), I’m used to the criticism associated with stories I write about equality, but I hadn’t experienced such a brash display of public finger pointing since high school. My instant reaction was to somehow blend into the background and not react.
Just like I felt when I was an awkward, gangly teen, I wanted to disappear. After a brief pause I eyeballed the vicinity around me to suss out the situation at hand; were there any witnesses to what the hell just happened? There were a number of people. We remained silent.
It was a degrading experience and in that moment it occurred to me that although opinions are changing, Hitchens may not be right.
Unfortunately, the battle has not yet been won.
According to nohomophobes.com, which records the use of ‘casual homophobia’ on social media, the word ‘faggot’ had been sprayed across the World Wide Web almost 35,000 times in less than 24-hours.
In my line of work I hear all sorts of nonsense against equality and I could debate the topic until my mouth and my fingers fall off, but frankly it just baffles me.
We’re not bad people, we’re not a menace to society and we’re certainly not a threat to population control (you’ll be surprised how many times I’ve heard that corker).
A number of high profile Australians have come out against homosexuality in recent months and every argument has been just as absurd as the other.
Surely you’ve heard them too. You know, how gay marriage poses more of a threat to society than smoking, for example. Imagine the horror of a gay man, who smokes!? I’m like a bomb just waiting to explode.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the most recent statements from Anthony Mundine and Newcastle Knights footballer Ryan Stig where the phrases “spiritual disease” and “our ancestors would have their heads” were so carelessly thrown about.
These infantile views are fuelling the kind of verbal abuse that more than a quarter of Australian homosexuals face each year.
They’re fuelling the isolation and discrimination that has led to a drastically high suicide rate in gay teens in comparison to their heterosexual counterparts and they’re fuelling a new breed of homophobia for our next generation.
But by no mean feat our biggest hurdle is overcoming Australia’s most powerful politician, Tony Abbott. The Federal Government should hang their heads in shame for challenging same-sex marriage laws in the ACT.
I’m flabbergasted at the idea my own government is unapologetically fighting to remove a law that was passed legally and fairly. Shame on you Abbott, shame.
It’s a clear indication that while we’re close, we’re not close enough. Now is not the time to be complacent.
It is why I’ll keep writing, why I’ll keep sharing my story, and why I won’t stop until the rights of my community are recognised.
And next time I’m heckled, why I won’t stay silent.
Matt Young is the Reader Issues Reporter at news.com.au who frequently uses his national platform in mainstream media to target homophobia, including against none other than former prime minister Julia Gillard.
Matt is not silent on Twitter where he tweets under @the_mattyoung