On January 1, 2013, a group of guys went to St Kilda beach and had some photos taken for a health and safety initiative. I can’t give away the details of the initiative, but the photos did involve the men hugging each other. (Clothed, of course.) I was there, not as one of the models, but as a supporter. I held hats, I squirted sunscreen, I tried to make people laugh, and looked after backpacks. I may have even plaited my beard to stop the wind from making it go crazy.
As far as I noticed, there wasn’t a single eyebrow raised from any beach-goer around us – exactly as it should be, in this day and age.
After we wrapped up, most of us headed back to our cars, which happened to all be parked on the same level of a nearby carpark, and as we said our goodbyes to each other there were the usual hugs and kisses.
Of course, at that point a car full of early-20s shirtless guys drove past us in the carpark, and as they followed the exit route around our cars, made a few hoots and silly noises.
It really pissed off one of my mates who was there. Years ago it would have really pissed off me, too. It would have left me fuming, embarrassed, and likely a little intimidated. My mate summed up why it annoyed him so much with just a few simple words: “High school bullying”.
Part of me of course still does get angry that people behave so childishly. It makes me angry that they cause others hurt, and it makes me angry that they think they’re being tough by doing it.
These days though it’s equally mitigated by humour. These guys couldn’t even manage a single coherent word. No “faggot”, “poof”, “shirt lifter”, “fudge packer” or any other insult was hurled, just random ululations meant to ridicule.
I didn’t hear the ridicule.
I heard guys confused about their own sexuality trying to mask it by pretending to be big tough heterosexuals. I heard guys doing their best to hide nascent erections at the thought of two men hugging; I heard guys who were likely going to … amuse themselves … before going to bed that night having merely seen two men hugging or kissing.
Research has demonstrated that ‘heterosexual’ men who are blatantly homophobic are very likely to be aroused by gay erotica. That research wasn’t surprising to gay men – many of us before coming out are likely to have behaved or at least thought in a homophobic way; after all, projecting anger at ones own perceived issues is a very human and regular response – particularly for adolescents.
Homophobic behaviour isn’t to be ignored – we shouldn’t just let it slide, and we have every right to be angry about it. Equally though, we have every right to mock and ridicule it, knowing that it’s entirely conceivable it springs from latent homosexuality. Laughter is a powerful defence against bullying and homophobia for one simple reason: it denies satisfaction. Getting a rise out of someone triggers, particularly in bullies, a need or desire to do it again. (It’s the same for trolling, for what it’s worth.) Being laughed at though? It denies any enjoyment they may have had from the experience. It turns the tables on the mockery. It gives them the negative feelings they were hoping to trigger in us, and it means they wasted their time. At best it makes it a boring experience for them – and people don’t keep doing things that are boring.
Don’t be afraid to kiss goodbye in the carpark. And don’t be afraid to laugh at anyone who tries to deride that simple contact. They’re probably just jealous.