Sticks and stones
What does an article about poofters have to do with "ordinary blokes"?
Nick Sellars spells it out: ending discrimination against gays is one of the most important
things to do in ending sexism.
Men writing for a magazine like XY, marching with men to end sexual assault, hugging
men in the middle of town. Must be gay, right? He shares domestic chores, doesn't compete
at work and doesn't come on to the secretaries. Must be gay, right? The question, when it
comes from men, is often meant to be derogatory, as if it's a threat or punishment. When
it comes from women it's usually their assumption that someone who doesn't oppress women
must be gay. They usually don't ask: they just wonder quietly.
The same goes for all the men who write for XY, those who read it and those whose
pictures and cartoons appear in it. Look at the two men in the accompanying photo for
example. Two men, arms around shoulders, familiar in each other's close company. They must
be gay, right? Well, if they are, or one is, or neither are, it doesn't matter. The
interesting thing is why you need to know just in order to appreciate the picture. What's
the hidden meaning behind two guys touching? What is it we're so afraid of? Sticks and
Some men will tell you these days that homophobia exists because "we don't want to
catch AIDS". Sorry blokes, wrong answer. Heterosexuals have only been aware of AIDS
for the past ten years and Western males' abhorrence of homosexuality has been in place
for much longer. As an example, in World War Two the Nazis hunted homosexuals as furiously
as they hunted Jews, while the antecedents of their hate of homosexuals are much older.
Sticks and stones. Broken bones. Tools of oppression.
In our own culture we speculate that single men, the ones who haven't "had" a
woman for six weeks, are "probably gay". Not having a girlfriend is a sure sign
of being gay. Not playing footy is another sign. Being weaker than your peers is another.
Not having a girlfriend, and especially still living with your mother when you're twenty
five - more hard, factual evidence. In fact, being anything other than a 'real' man means
you're about due, if not overdue, for a good solid whack of the oppression gay people fear
and suffer daily. Sticks and stones. Tools of oppression affecting all men.
You might remember what it's like. Remember when you were in the school yard and the
worst thing someone could do to you, apart from hitting you, would be to call you a girl,
a sissy, a faggot or a pansy? When that happened you sure knew that you better stop doing
whatever it was you were doing and start doing whatever it is they're doing, otherwise
it's going to hurt a whole lot. It was the least worst option at the time, a matter of
survival. So most of us learned either to conform and be one of the boys, or to disguise
and deny whatever it was we really wanted to do.
If we made friends with a girl, if we made really close friends with a boy, if we
helped the teacher, if we showed our true feelings, if mum kissed us when we got dropped
off at the school gate, then we'd hear "Pansy!" Our peers yelled it, and even
the girls (they also got taught what a 'real' man should be). Our teachers thought it. Our
parents were troubled by it. Whichever way we went, we weren't allowed to cry, show
feelings, be caring, nurturing or soft. Gays, and the ways society treats them, were held
up as an example of what will happen to us if we don't conform. As boys, and now as men,
we aren't allowed to keep our full humanity. Sticks and stones. Even the name-calling hurt
each of us.
When we were small, being branded a poof had nothing at all to do with sexual
preference. It's also the same now that we're older. Look again at the picture. You can't
tell one thing about the men's sexual preferences. Only their genuine closeness is
apparent. What are you so bloody afraid of?
The first punches of gay oppression land early and land on us all. These have nothing
to do with who we may choose to love, our age or our goodness. All men are kept apart
because currently our society says that if you want to get close to men then you must want
sex from them: you must be gay. To overturn this belief requires acting on two things.
Firstly, realise that being gay is an okay way to be, so being called 'gay' can never hurt
you. Remember it as you move onto step two: keep getting close to lots of men: gay,
straight, bisexual, nonsexual or rarely sexual. There are over 2.5 billion of us to choose
Just start off with one really close male-to-male relationship. A relationship does not
equal sex, you will notice. You may even fear that you're gay when you try this. The fear
you are feeling is the fear our society heaps on us from early on. Society needs
scapegoats so that there's always a group of people below us in the pecking order. It
makes us feel that the least worst option is to kick and hit them, so society doesn't dump
on us. The fear is empty. Homophobia perpetuates it. Sticks and stones, taunting us from
Unfortunately the old fear remains with most men, and it manifests as an irrational
fear and hatred of homosexuality. They use it as a justification to discriminate against,
maim and kill tens of thousands of men whom they suspect of being gay. Sticks and stones
cost men's lives. Calling adult men names still hurts, just as it hurt when we were young.
These crimes against gays in adulthood are still not about sexual preference. They are the
cold winds blowing in from the bashings and tauntings of childhood. They blow not just for
the poofter-bashers, name-callers and bigots as they seek victims, but for all men as we
seek to get close to other men. That's why you're afraid. It's the only reason you could
ever be afraid.
Hiding your humanity and connection with all men and women is not the least worst
option anymore. Give it up. Reclaim fully your right to friendships with all people,
especially those who are different from you.
First published in the magazine XY: men, sex, politics, 2(3), Spring 1992. XY, PO Box
473, BLACKWOOD, SA, 5051, AUSTRALIA. Reprinted with permission. © Copyright 1995