Fear and shame – and what we can all do differently

The horrific homophobic murder of psychiatrist Dr Gary Jenkins last year – which has been in the headlines recently as the case has gone to court – led Liz Boxall, from the College’s Training and Workforce team, to write a powerful blog post for staff at the College.

We thought members would appreciate us sharing the blog post in this update:

A blog post by Liz Boxall, Certificate of Eligibility for Specialist Registration (CESR) and Training Co-ordinator

Trigger warning: I will use the terminology "queer" in this talk to encompass the full LGBTQIA+ community and I appreciate that it has a painful history for many.

While I'm not completely sold on its reclamation, it is the easiest umbrella term to use.

"His sexual proclivities were to be his undoing. By engaging in that activity, he rendered himself hopelessly vulnerable and was an easy target as he wandered about Bute Park."

These were the opening words of the prosecution barrister in the case of Dr Gary Jenkins.

When I read these words for the first time, I'd watched just the night before the second episode of the Nilsen Files on BBC Two, and I couldn't help but be struck by the similarities of tone to the prosecution and defence lawyers in the trial of Dennis Nilsen some 39 years ago.

I couldn't even muster the energy to be angry because being honest, I'm just tired.

The LGBTQ+ community is a complex thing, the experiences of me as a lesbian woman compared to the experiences of Dr Gary Jenkins, compared to the experiences of a black trans woman, are likely to be borderline incomparable.

What brings us together, I can't help but think, are two rather sad concepts: fear and shame.

Who we are, and what we are, is so bound societally in fear and shame and the journey to overcoming both of those things.

I was outed at 14, fear and shame.

I was ostracised, ignored, bullied at school, fear and shame.

My mother laughed at me when I told her, fear and shame.

I underwent, what can only be described as, conversion therapy at church, fear and shame.

My sister banned me from seeing her children after she found out, fear and shame.

It took me five more years to come out to my other sister for fear that she would do the same, fear and shame.

When I found myself in an abusive relationship with a woman, it did not even cross my mind to go to the police because I couldn't trust the people in my life.

Fear and shame.

To be honest, I'm not really quite sure what I came here to say today and being really honest, at 9am this morning when I was trying to put something down on paper, I was contemplating backing out.

It was only when I remembered being 17 in sixth form and the Head Girl informed me that two of our classmates had been laughing at the stoning of two gay men - and I can only assume she was coming to me in my role of…I dunno…Head Lesbian - to make sure something was done about it.

I remember talking to my Head of Year and getting brushed off and some wildly unsatisfactory response. So, in a rage, I emailed Stonewall, who then showed up to run a day on the LGBTQ+ experience about 3 months later - thus cementing my role as Head Lesbian forever more.

I feel compelled as someone who has battled with fear and shame for so long and definitely still feels it and still struggles with my experiences to speak anyway.

Fear and shame is only compounded by silence.

I didn’t want this to be all doom and gloom because it’s not all doom and gloom, my life and my experiences have got much better as I got older, met other queer people, saw queer people living ordinary and boring lives, went to gay clubs and lesbian poetry evenings.

I can see in the 14 years since I've been out the closet how things have changed and continue to change. The level of outrage at the comments Mr Enoch made in his opening speech, is indicative of such change.

The fact that one lesbian Australian comedienne broke comedy, the portrayal of queer people on television (I remember desperately searching for any sort of queer media as a teen just so I could work out how lesbians live their lives, to see someone who was like me).

The success of TV shows like RuPaul's Drag Race and Pose, films like Love, Simon and The Happiest Season, musicians like Tegan & Sara, Muna, MNEK, Olly from Years and Years are all indicative of how far we've come.

This doesn't mean there isn't more to do, as evidenced by the brutal murder of Dr Jenkins and the wider violence, homophobia and transphobia that queer people continue to experience on a daily basis.

I think when it comes to these things, when we have reflective conversations on racism, homophobia, sexism, and violence against vulnerable groups, it can feel overwhelming to reflect on the experiences of your peers and your friends and systemic discrimination.

It can be overwhelming not knowing what to do or how to tear down the systems or support that group better. So, I'm going to give you one, something that really gives me great joy, (and don't think about this too hard because it's quite sad) one really simple easy option:

Talk about queer things like it's normal because it creates safety.

Even if you don't have a happily married gay couple or a non-binary nibling you can drop into conversation: watch Nannette or watch The Happiest Season and tell me that you too, think Clea Duvall is a genius in her lesbian reclamation of Hollywood cliches.

Watch Pose, go to drag shows (and don't touch the drag queens and also don't be weird if someone hits on you), go to Zanele Muholi exhibits at the Tate, tell me of your love of Kae Tempest, tell me how you don’t like Kae Tempest just use the right pronouns when talking about them.

Supporting queer culture, respectfully and openly, is really one of the best ways you can support the queers and to be honest, it's great fun.

Whatever your niche, whatever your thing, there will be queer folk within that, support them, talk about their art or research or wider work in open forums and you will let every queer person in that room with you, know that you are a safe space.

The thing that the cisgenders and the straights need to know is that more often than not, we, the queers ones, sit in silence out of fear and shame so sometimes, we need you to start the conversation.

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