London, during this year 2009, four queer men are murdered. All of them are middle aged or elderly. Greenwich, Bromley, Woolwich, Trafalgar Square. One of them hounded till death in his own home. Beaten to death in his sittingroom by ‘youths’.
When I am old, how will I defend myself against homophobic attack? I have done a valiant job so far. But if I am old how will I defend myself? Skinny wrists. Unable to call out for help. My glasses kicked to the curb. Paper skin torn from my old face.
Being old and Queer. There must be a different strategy for survival. One that does not include hiding or suicide. I have always been a big man. People have said on many occasions that I scared them. And so be it. Whilst other, slighter, more effeminate friends have had to deal more regularly with homophobia-I have not. Indeed, if I get a whiff of anything resembling homophobia I will rip your fucking balls off. I am that kind of guy.
I grew up in a working class fishing town on the North Kent coast. When I first acknowledged my desire for men; I told them straight. I told them what I wanted and refused to be shamed. I was genuinely astonished that they found my love of men so distasteful. The very same men who scorned me were the first to show me the way. At night, I kissed them on the lips. A little bit drunk, men shouting above the music inside the pub. The Two Brewers. Boys kissing in the misty guinnels between the red brick terraced houses. Smell the coal burning. Christmas tree lights glittering amongst the tinsel. My cold fingers warmed under his heavy coat.
Of course the locals let me know how much they disapproved of me but I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to let a bunch of thugs get under my skin. I was fucking fearless. Billy Stankovich tried to hit me. Paul Stromberg shielded me. I was less lucky at boarding school with nowhere to run.
Growing up being true to who you are means growing up with violence. Growing up desiring men and flaunting my ‘perversion’ meant learning how to avoid hate in peoples’ eyes or an unsuspected blow. I became adept at the evil bon mot. Words. Watch them shrivel. Words: more violent than a good kicking.
My friend and lover Justin, beaten by men in Camberwell commits suicide. They crushed his soul! He was 23 years old. Most young gay men who kill themselves do it before others can. It is too overwhelming for them. Simple boys who want to be with other boys. I was that simple boy but I chose to live! I wanted to live and faced their sneering, their snickering. Men and women. Women can be worse than men. Why? They have more to lose.
We queers are not alone. Tonight an asian man, a black woman, an aboriginal, a transgender will all die for the same reason. Because they are devalued in the eyes of the murderer.
This weekend there will be vigil in the heart of London for one of the murdered gay men. His name was Ian (56) and he made a critical mistake. He thought he could reason with fools. He was kicked to death amongst the bronze lions of Trafalgar Square.
Tell me what to do next? How do I save myself?
You must be fearless! Shameless!
Try holding your lovers hand in the street. Look into their faces. Kiss him on the cheek. I think, ‘I wish we were invisible now’. My darling, I wish I was not ready at all times to defend us from them. I hold my lovers hand. I hold his hand. I hold another mans hand. Why is that so repulsive to you? Why do you want to kill us?
I give it no thought until I hear that a man is dead. Another man struck down by their hand or his own. And I say:
I will not be shamed by you or your government or your church. I will not be shamed for wearing colour, a splash of make up, a bright smile, a predisposition for Judy Garland, Lady Ga Ga or holding my lovers hand on the street where I live.