Somewhere in the rainbow
The Pride season has started. On Sunday I went over to Birmingham for an hour to squeeze myself through the crowded streets. I amused the people selling the 'end homophobia' wrist bands by picking over the rainbow ones. A rainbow colour version is now available to complement the pink.
"They're all the same," they tell me.
But I see otherwise. The letters don't begin in the same place; there is always diversity within the rainbow.
"It depends what part of the rainbow you want to start in," I say.
I know I have a definite leaning towards reds, oranges and yellows. I choose a band with the letter 'e' stamped firmly within orange, the message leading into yellow and finishing just before the blend to green. This is the message I want to be seen, preferred colours uppermost on my wrist.
One day last week, at work, I returned to my computer from lunch, shook my mouse as usual to bring the monitor out of sleep mode, and found an instant messenger window on my screen.
You are gay
I stare, only for a few seconds, before clicking the message window closed. A lot of thoughts run through my head in these short seconds. I make a moaning sound aloud - not more of these messages! Every now and then a student (it's always presumed to be a student) abuses this service and distributes a message to the whole network, either to prove they can or because they really do believe they are having a one-to-one conversation. It's a blatant contravention of the university computer user policy which everyone must sign up to. The game, perhaps, is in the sender hoping they are anonymous enough not to be identified by the IT system managers. Catch me if you can!
I know this isn't a message just for me, but could it be? I wasn't in the office to witness the collective pop-up on all our screens, the one that makes us all react in some way as we're distracted from our other demanding windows. My moan goes unnoticed. What did my colleagues feel/think when those words arrived on their screens, if they received them at all? I can't ask, for wouldn't that make me seem paranoid? They already laugh (affectionately) when I treat machines as animate objects (and what's wrong in believing the printer, especially, performs more efficiently when I offer soothing tones rather than shouting at it, even if shouting makes me feel better?) There is no one using my computer, and my computer alone, to point a finger at me. With all the thousands of computers switched on at this moment around the university network, the sender was bound to hit lucky.
But this message does feel like a pointing finger. Is that finger accusatory? Jibing? Or is that finger affirming? I know it can be affirming. "Yes, I'm gay and proud to be. Thank you for noticing." It is this contradiction, the uncertain motivation behind this message which makes me uneasy.
Why would someone choose to send this message? It doesn't feel affirming. Suddenly I feel isolated in my office, knowing my heterosexual colleagues are unlikely to be carrying on such an internal debate. I know about the pointing fingers, 'lesbo' shouted from cars, whispers passed down a line, 'there's the lesbian', the crowd mentality of jeering, pornographic pictures of women being thrown my way. My world hasn't been like that for a long time. But elsewhere it goes on, and it's never too far away. The times I've heard 'You're a lesbian' as accusatory far outweigh the affirming. The first time I kissed another woman passionately was in a public street, late at night, there weren't too many around to see. "Lesbians!" someone shouted. "Yes, yes, yes, this is me!" I wanted to shout back. I've always remembered, more than our kiss, the fear in the other woman's eyes, the way she said, "We can't do this."
The message bothers me so much because it's not the first time uncomfortable references to someone's sexuality have appeared on my computer screen. When there was a string of them I know the whole network received, messages which were, that time, clearly touching on very personal lives - "Look at that guy over there", "[Name of person] is gay, he's in the library" - I reported the offence. I was assured the matter was being dealt with; the sender would likely lose their computer access rights.
So, I don't need to report this; IT Support Services will already be well aware. The university will reiterate its policy and make it clear that this is an abuse of the computer systems. But is that the whole of the offence? I know what concerns me more. Why should one of our students feel it is necessary to send this message at all? What is being done to challenge this message's inherent homophobia? What message does each of its recipients take away?
Labels: LGBTQ culture