I really need to get this off my chest before the man drops dead and I’m accused of pandering to a dead celeb.
Between the ages of roughly 15-17, I was a bonafide homophobe. Coincidentally, this was around the same time I found religion.
My friends & stalkers know that I grew up in the secular winter wonderland known as Russia (1985-1995) raised by parents so far removed from faith that I thought we were Hindu till the age of 9 (the family is muslim-lite). I grew up sans indoctrination, with my only connection to religion being comic books about hindu gods, who were the X-Men before there were X-Men.
All that changed after spending a few years in India and Bangladesh, where my tendency to describe 4-handed gods and illiterate messiahs as “fairy tales” – along with an unhealthy dependence on science and reasoning – was a massive social liability. Day after day, week after week, in mosques, in temples, in schools, at home or in public, the gays and the jews (more on that later) were portrayed as morally corrupt western invaders, ruthless in their single-minded effort to destroy your life and convert you to homosexuality and blood sacrifices to the tune of Boyzone. Homos are bad, unnatural errors of creation, and they must be punished. The system got inside your head early and never went off-message. Slowly but surely, I bought what they were selling. Burn the fags.
Make no mistake, one didn’t need a grand stage to spout such “wisdom”, for these notions were so deeply embedded in society that they were taken as facts that require no emphasis. It simply was, and every so often, you’d hear a reminder from a cleric or your schoolteacher or your girlfriend. Boy did I ever hate the gays.
Then one day, I channel surfed onto a George Michael interview. I was a fan and this was pre-3rd-world-internet, so very few knew that he had already been outed as an Evil Gay Overlord. Plus this was a rerun of a TV special from the 90s and as far as I knew, he was a superstar superstud. A Hetero Hero. You get the idea. I thought he liked pussy.
It was an absolute tear-jerker of an interview. Through heavy pauses, GM spoke of his mother, what her presence at his unplugged show meant to him, and the gut-wrenching pain of losing her to cancer. I learned that he wrote “Jesus To A Child” in memory of a lost love who years ago had succumbed to a brain haemorrhage; a special someone still on his mind every single day. As a hormonal teen in the throes of on-again-off-again puppy love myself, I was glad there wasn’t anyone else around to watch me bawl like a little girl as they played a few verses of that song. This guy GETS ME. Why is love so hard? I got something in my eye DONTLOOKATME. He was going through an unmitigated nightmare in his personal life and the suffering was etched on his face.
Then they displayed a picture of the object of his affection – his deceased lover.
My jaw dropped. It actually, literally, hung suspended in mid-air for a full minute. I did not understand what I was seeing.
As I sat there in stunned silence, it slowly dawned on me. George Michael was no demon. There was nothing inhuman about him at all. His pain was no different than anyone else’s. He was just another guy who lost someone he loved. There was nothing sinister nor devious about it. There was no evil gay agenda, no plan to turn me into a buttlovin’ queer. He just happened to be in love with a man. He was heartbroken, and his mother had recently died. And holy shit, when I thought he was straight, I could actually RELATE. Then what’s so dangerous about him that we must exterminate his kind?
Within a span of 30 minutes, I went from a raging homophobe to a rational human being. Just. Like. That. It made sense now. People are different, and as long as they don’t force their beliefs onto each other, we can live our lives penetrating whatever orifices we fancy. If gays are normal, even talented mother-loving (you know what I mean) humans who can hurt like me, then what else did the system get wrong? Do the Jews really thirst for my blood? Is Jihad necessary? Was vehicular Voltron really the Antichrist?
The game was over. I never quite forgot the disgust I felt towards those who promoted such lies. I understood 3 basic truths – Homophobia is wrong. Religion is a sham. And people really suck at thinking for themselves.
Homophobia is only possible when you systematically strip the humanity from a gay person’s identity, and that’s what “civil” society did and still does in almost every corner of the world. Before my western readers smile a self-congratulatory smile, or eastern readers fire up an angry retort or effigy, remember that this is a problem of SCALE. While homophobia is now unacceptable in the west, it is still alive and well in schools across North America. I can’t recall which comedian tweeted this – and I really want to say Bill Maher – but chew on this paraphrased bit of wisdom – If todays youth are so tolerant, why do they still bully gay kids?