For a city that’s supposedly full of young, liberal and intelligent people, there is an awful lot of casual bigotry in Oxford. Oxford is the ninth gayest city in the UK – perhaps this is true in terms of population percentages, but not in terms of a ‘scene’. Admittedly it is a million times better than my one-horse home town in North Yorkshire where the gay scene comprised of myself and my then girlfriend, but for a city this large (and this LGBT) you’d expect more than a collection of one specified club night, two pubs and one actual club.
Despite Oxford being generally liberal and open-minded, it’s often seen as acceptable to ask trans people the condition of their genitalia (even in the gay community), to refuse to acknowledge the existence of bisexuality or to invade people’s relationships with foolish questions. By all means, I love people asking for advice on how to be tactful in dealing with their newly out friend, or questioning what the Q stands for in LGBTQ (that would be Queer or Questioning) or even wanting to know what is encompassed by the enigmatic term “Trans”. But why, seriously why, would you ask how lesbians have sex?
Sure, I can understand the mystery locked within a same-sex relationship, especially if you haven’t met many gay people before, but I wouldn’t ask a perfect stranger to describe their bedroom dynamic. The answer I would most like to give is probably to insult the sex life of the person asking by claiming that however we do it, it’s better than theirs. What I actually say is something like “the same as a straight couple” which seems to confuse the asker more. Once I was told that I would remain a virgin as long as I remained a lesbian because lesbian sex doesn’t count. This entirely depends on your definition of sex, I grant you, but it still rattles my cage.
Another pain in the neck is the frequent “Which one of you is the man?” Neither. This question seems especially pointed when one party has short hair (as I do). Although many straight- and feminine- girls have short hair, as I am gay, my short hair obviously indicates that I see myself as the man in the relationship. The fact that a lesbian is a woman attracted to other women is enough to tell you that no men are involved.
This leads me to the third ridiculous request from men; that you and your partner will have a threesome with them. My girlfriend and I once experienced this in Clems where two guys shouted “THREESOME” at us. I couldn’t tell if the problem was that neither of them could count (as I suspect) or that I had misunderstood what exact configuration of three people they were wanting. I see the vague logic in the idea of a threesome; some women are bisexual and so might actually be attracted to the man asking as well as to their girlfriend. However, even if someone is bisexual, what are the chances that they also have an open relationship in which they accept offers of sex from men they’ve never met? This huge assumption that all bisexuals are either confused or just promiscuous is extremely misguided.
These question quibbles are not Oxford-specific but this is the place where I have experienced them. In terms of being out in Oxford, until recently I would say that I’m lucky to live in such a welcoming community. After recent hate crimes and physical violence towards out gay men I do worry that people aren’t taking homophobia and transphobia seriously. Massive steps have been made to eradicate homophobia and to protect the rights of the LGBT community, but when LGBT people are still at risk of violence and ignorance, there’s still more that needs to be done. Violence is an extreme form of discrimination against the community but ignorant comments can be equally damaging.
I saw recently the word ‘gay’ being used in connection with being “anti-lad”. Does this mean that being gay is the opposite of being a “lad”? To be gay should not mean that you are seen as inferior. “That’s so gay” also causes problems. The phrase not only assumes that being gay is something which can be likened to being rubbish or stupid, but is also used so frequently that people have begun to ignore the connotations that are still hurtful. It’s all very well to say that we have equal rights, but when the word describing a person’s sexuality, and part of their identity, is used to say that a film was particularly shit, I think a lesson is still to be learnt.
Saying this, I have found the experience of being out in Oxford a pleasant one. I was originally my own secret homophobe who gave funny looks to the LGBTsoc stall at Freshers’ Fair and asked the LGBTQ rep to stay away from me in public. Within a few months I was husting for a position on the LGBTsoc committee and telling anyone who would listen – including the Principal of St. Hilda’s – how proud I was to be gay. There’s something extremely liberating about accepting yourself and forcing others to accept it too.