Don't call me queer, thanks

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Indy Lifestyle Online
My first encounter with gay radicalism was two years ago in San Francisco, in a crowded cafe where I shared a table with two Americans, Ruth and Joel. They were very friendly, and I noticed Ruth was wearing a cap with the words 'Queer Nation' emblazoned across it.

They told me they had just returned from a gay rights demonstration at Fisherman's Wharf, a popular tourist attraction, where they and 20 other activists had chanted '2-4-6-8, How Do You Know Your Kids Are Straight?' at the families walking by with pushchairs. Ruth and Joel giggled uncontrollably as they told me this; I doubted whether those families would have seen the joke.

I am gay, but it is not the ruling fact of my life. Like most people, I am more complicated than that. I am 20, a student at Edinburgh; I came out to my family when I was 16. Thankfully, they were very supportive, as were friends when I worked up courage to tell them.

The confrontational tactics of Outrage make me very uncomfortable and I think they also make life for gay men more difficult in general. Now, when I meet people for the first time, not only do I have to explode the myth that we are all effeminate, promiscuous and unhappy - but I also have to explain that we are not universally strident, arrogant, and ultra-defensive. Often the one thing that prevents normally tolerant people from feeling really at ease with the gay community is a fear of 'saying the wrong thing' in their company, and causing an eruption of 'political correctness' at the other end of the table.

Moderates like me stay away from street campaigns. I find the best way to interact with the straight community is to listen to the reservations people do have about homosexuality, rather than immediately casting them aside. People respond positively to that; they feel relaxed enough with me to start asking questions like 'what's it like' to be gay, and if I ever fancied girls, and a lot more. By the end, everyone feels they have more in common.

I know I am not the only gay person who feels this way. The radicals would call me a prudish conservative, but I really believe that instead of taking to the streets and lambasting the public with placards about 'furious faggots', gay activism will be more successful if it is undertaken in the relative quiet of the local pub, over a couple of drinks, and, above all, between friends.

Gavin Hart

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