02/07/2013 13:26 BST | Updated 01/09/2013 06:12 BST

A Brief Encounter With Everyday Homophobia


The other day, I was propositioned in the middle of the street. And while I like to think I've handled unwanted advances fairly graciously and good-naturedly in the past, this one was downright unpleasant.

I was walking down my local high street, and I passed a parked van. The three men sitting in the front called out to me, and, presuming they were in need of directions, so I stopped.

"Fancy a bum, mate?" The closest gentleman enquired, around a mouthful of kebab. His two companions howled with laughter, and I walked away without a word, cheeks burning.

I didn't mention this encounter to anyone; it lasted all of five seconds, after all, and was more embarrassing than genuinely distressing. But over the following days, the kebab-scoffing charmer's invitation kept replaying in my head, provoking the kinds of questions I rarely ask myself.

How had these van men known I was gay? Had I been walking a certain way, or wearing something particularly flamboyant? The answer, of course, is irrelevant. Even if I'd been tottering down the high street in kitten heels, it wouldn't have entitled a complete stranger to provide commentary.

I'm no ingénue. I went to an all boys' grammar school, so I know a thing or two about crude banter. And I've brushed off my fair share of uninvited, overly familiar bum squeezes in crowded gay bars. So what was it about this particular instance that bothered me so much? The more I dwelled on it, the more I realised that it was the complete lack of context. I wasn't twerking on the dance floor or exchanging lewd, drunken chat-up lines in a club. It was a Sunday evening, and I was on my way to meet my family for dinner. It was the absolute last scenario where I would ever have expected to be confronted with such an abrupt, direct reference to my sexuality.

I recently read an article about sexual harassment within the gay community with a weary eye-roll. The gay Samantha Brick, I thought. But after my own little roadside solicitation I began to identify with the author of the piece, Jake Buck. He objected to having his everyday life interrupted, invaded even, by a stranger who thought they could get away with saying something distasteful and hurtful. And it hit me; when women get wolf-whistled as they walk past building sites, is this how they feel? Privileged white male that I am, I'm ashamed to say it isn't something I've ever spent a great deal of time thinking about.

I hope nobody reads this as "poor me" journalism. I realise that one ill-judged remark is nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to what gay men and women in less tolerant corners of the world are faced with. And my oh-so-English first instinct was to simply get over myself and forget the whole thing ever happened. But then I thought of the Everyday Sexism project that routinely appears on my Twitter feed. Its mission is to shine a spotlight on the pervasive, seemingly innocuous misogyny that makes up the background radiation of Western culture. Women use the hashtag #EverydaySexism to tell their stories and, bit by bit, challenge the normalisation of this casual prejudice.

Because not all abuse manifests as physical or sexual violence. And when we laugh off jokes and pretend we're not bothered by them, we're buying into the unspoken agreement that this behaviour is, if not acceptable, at least something that we should expect and endure without complaint. I'm a grown man, so I'm pretty sure I'll live. But you don't have to look too far to know that, despite the great steps being made towards equality, this isn't always the case.