By Ben Wood
When I first came to St Andrews, I was extremely lonely. I was coming fresh off a breakup and my friends from undergrad or my brief stint working in the RealWorld™ of publishing had decided that the hundred-mile journey from Newcastle, Manchester or London, where my friends had found themselves scattered, was a journey too far. I'm a research student, so I don't have classmates and a combination of living in a studio flat and seasonal depression made me feel so very alone during my first long, cold winter here. I eventually plucked up the courage to get to an event with Saints LGBT+ and the rest, as they say, is history.
The LGBTQIA+ community within and without the society in our small university town can be a refuge for queer people of all sorts to come together and live independently from the straight world. All too often, though, we succumb to what my friends in Australia would call Tall Poppy Syndrome. When someone becomes successful or happy, we pile on to cut them down. Frequently, we ignore the racism, the classism, and the ableism which are so rife in our community and underpin these pile-on attacks. We sweep it under the rug and absolve our own sins because we sincerely believe as minorities ourselves we can't also be the oppressors.
I hear quite a lot that I'm shy. A paradox arises, though, when someone attacks me, and I stand up for myself. I'm told I'm being entitled, I'm shouting someone down— another cis white man furthering the oppression of the patriarchy. In context, far too often I've been told to lose weight, to buy new clothes, or that my voice is too high: my body is policed by the very same horrible machine of the patriarchy. Once, I sat next to a girl on my first day of undergraduate and she borrowed my laptop to show the outline of the M25, outside of which she said, "Everything goes to shit". I asked her why, if her native Kensington is so divine, that she deigned to come all the way to the North to meet plebian, second-rate scholars such as myself. Though I was quick to retaliate with a takedown of my own, the words she used and the hurt she caused still affect me today as I hear about the parties I'm not invited to and opportunities I can't afford. I can't shake off how I would overhear my parents talking about the bills they struggled to pay, and yet this wealthy woman will probably never even remember my name.
One of the handfuls of times I've been called a faggot, sincerely and to my face, was by a bisexual woman. It cut so deeply because it felt as though I had found someone like me and she had returned the favour by attacking while my guard was down. I had invited her and her girlfriend round to my house for dinner and just before they left, I said something which coded me in a particularly gay way, earning me the shining moniker of faggot. I tried to make peace: "Hey, don't say that. I don't come to your house and call you a dyke". At this, her girlfriend leapt to her aid and said, "Well, that's because it's not true. She's bisexual." I see. If she had been a lesbian, that would make it fine to be abusive.
I haven’t spoken to either of them since, unfortunately. I wonder if this is the kind of community we would like to be? A community that watches the poppies grow and so readily cuts them down? Seasoned athletes in the oppression Olympics? I would sincerely hope not.
Typified by the recent JK Rowling controversy, it is usually white, middle-class, straight or straight-passing women who are quickest to cry oppression, yet attack with the most voracity, though men have never been blameless. I'm gay. I'm working class, first member of my family to get A Levels, let alone go to university for a doctorate. My parents could never really afford new shoes or school uniform and I had free school dinners throughout secondary school. All I want is a place where I feel safe to be myself with other people being themselves. Do we want to continue calling people out in a way which only causes insecurity? Can we afford to squabble amongst ourselves, isolating disabled, non-white, working-class or other types of men when the world media attacks queer people without help from the inside? I don't think so, and I don’t think it’s wrong to hope that we can build a stronger community. A community that nurtures rather than one that cuts down.