Tram-stops in Nottingham aren't often a place of high theatre. I once saw a Jeremy Corbyn supporter and a Jehovah's Witness have a verbal set-to on who had more right to evangelise their respective good word, but that's about it (neither had convincing arguments). So when last week I was repeatedly heckled and called 'a dirty gay' and told by my scruffy accuser that 'fags' make him sick, I knew that I had set a benchmark in public transport melodrama.
As he sat on the tram a few seats away, tutting to himself, giving me looks which only a mass murderer would consider flirtatious, I began to create a little tally in my head. Of the homophobic nonsense I have incurred in Britain over the years, all has been perpetrated by British-born Asian men. This particular fool was no different. I was just glad that he was alone. Groups have, in the past, led to violence. I'm terrible in brawls - I'm a dresser not a fighter.
Attitudes in Britain's south Asian diaspora towards homosexuality have not evolved in step with mainstream British attitudes. Britain's hands-off approach to integration has meant that the community has been largely immune to the social change Britain has experienced over the last fifty years. Old attitudes, and at times, newly imported prejudices, have largely been left unquestioned. We have a tendency to leave immigrant communities alone to evolve organically. But there is a danger of them developing 'other' to British values and sensibilities. A parallel Britain, with its own value eco-system, sensibilities and tolerances could result. First-generation immigrants can be forgiven for their attitudes, but for the prejudice not to have been largely weaned out by the third generation is a cause for concern. Homophobia exists in other communities, and in mainstream British society, but it is fading and not being reinforced as generation yields to generation
The government has recent good form on coaxing immigrant communities away from mind sets and practises considered dangerous - its actions on FGM and forced marriages have been successful. It's time for another intervention. There are few community voices urging tolerance and contemplation, the religious leaders - the de-facto moral guides of the South Asian immigrant community - are at best, silent, and at worst, stokers-in-chief of hate.
My immediate family has been wonderfully accepting, but we have always been considered a little too liberal by others in the community. The closest I have been to family intolerance is a distant Aunt who suggested that I be admitted to a correctional facility. But I did not take offence, as this is a woman who wears beige, open-toe, orthopaedic sandals with evening wear: she is obviously not of sound mind. But away from my family's safe haven things are very different.
Thanks to brave political leadership and a liberal public, the progress in attitude change over the last thirty years has been phenomenal. So much so, that it could almost be believed that he sunlit uplands of true acceptance are just a few paces away. But there are a substantial body of Britons who are far behind on the climb, they are still milling around at the bottom, chattering to themselves.
I laugh-off the stupidity of the squat little man at the tram stop. I am battled-hardened to intolerance. But I do not rely on the British Indian community for identity and nor do I look to it for approval or support. Others do, and for them, he represents attitudes which they will have to fight daily. Many therefore, choose lives in the shadows.
I am not sure what made him realise that I was gay. Maybe it was my outfit. I had been thinking about finally hanging up the skinny jeans - there is something mildly ridiculous about a man in his late thirties pouring himself daily into trousers designed for someone born in the Blair era (I'm three months off Callaghan). But I'll be damned if I am going to change them now. I'm sorry Nottingham, you are just going to have to deal with my oversized hips for a while longer. I cannot give in to tyranny. But it will take more than sartorial stubbornness to push him toward acceptance.
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