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I have a young friend, Alexandre, who I love very much, although unfortunately for me he’s incurably straight. Not long ago he said to me:

"I’d say I’m a tolerant person, who respects others and is certainly not homophobic. I also know myself and my tastes. And I say I would sleep with any girl, however ugly, dirty or unpleasant, rather than sleep with a boy, even if I loved him as well as I love you."

And because I love him so much, and couldn’t bear to alienate him, I didn’t challenge him about this but brought our discussion on the subject to a close.

Was that weak and cowardly of me? Of course!

I ought to have told him that the very act of denying he could be attracted to a boy was itself proof of his homophobia. It’s like those people who claim not to be racist with the words:

"I wouldn’t discriminate against a negro, it’s just that I don’t want my daughter to marry one."


(Photo: "Nobody knows I’m gay")

But I had another reason for letting it pass: I myself know what it is to be irrationally and passionately homophobic, and at the same time to be unaware of these prejudices.

I understand this because that is how I used to be.

Yes... I, Henry -your host here at THE CITY WHOSE PRINCE IS AN ADOLESCENT- was once homophobic and, like most people, I was unaware of it.

Our society has, even before we were born into it, selected certain values and rejected others. As individuals we grow to be like other people, in spite of ourselves.

A society that is homophobic will inevitably continue to be like that because of the way it shapes the individuals who comprise it. 

I don’t know at what moment of our lives this all starts, but probably our first lessons in homophobia begin when we are very small. For example, when parents find children playing sex games they may separate them saying "boys shouldn’t kiss boys." Or when they ask boys if they have a girlfriend yet.

Why they never ask a boy if he has a boyfriend yet, or which of his male friends he fancies?

One time something did actually occur in one of those inane interviews they have on TV. A boy was asked one of those clichéd questions such as: "do you have a girlfriend?" or "who are you going to marry?", and he answered: "I’m going to marry John" (... or Peter, or Michel, or whoever it was).
He was saying seriously and sincerely, with the candour that children still have at that age, that he preferred boys to girls.
But his answer was not ’acceptable’, do he received another lesson in homophobia as they told him a boy can’t have a boyfriend, even less marry a boy. And they repeated the question so that he could give a ’convenient’ answer.

In Mediterranean and Spanish-speaking countries, society only has one image of homosexuals: the enduring stereotype of the graceful, witty effeminate ("... you know: the guy I mean acts like a woman...") when, in reality, there are probably very few people like that. There seems to be an inability to conceive that a Real Man -macho, and assertive, who genuinely enjoys sex with women- might also be the ’wife’ of another man, as they say Julius Caesar was:

"He was the lover of every woman, and the wife of every man."
(Suetonius, in "The Life of the Twelve Caesars")

Is it that people are incapable of imagining such a thing, or is it that are they afraid to acknowledge the truth of it?

We men have learned our lessons well, playing our part to perfection, for are there not more closet homosexuals (ones with a wife and children, outwardly ’normal’) than those who are out, who do not hide their true nature from the world. And so, however imperfectly, life goes on.

I forgot to say that a hypocritical society also breeds individuals who are hypocrites, but you already knew that, didn’t you?

I don’t mind if they become fathers to hide their homosexuality behind a cloak of ’normality.’ But what does annoy me is that they are the first to ridicule those who are openly gay, even though they’ll covertly check out a guy if they find him attractive !!!

I’m not saying that any homosexual who’s not out is a hypocrite. Bisexuality exists in even nature (it has been observed in several species of animal) and bisexuality can be harder to bear than homosexuality.

I grew up in an environment where the lessons they taught me were ’kiss a girl’, ’shake hands with a boy’, ’keep away from those undesirables’, etc.
At school, if there was someone effeminate or who had unusual mannerisms, we didn’t laugh at them. No, we didn’t laugh at them: we tormented them!!! They might as well have been strange beings from another galaxy. We might see them in school, but after school they disappeared. They didn’t have friends -or, to be more honest, no-one sought their friendship.

Who was going to make friends with a poof?

We simply passed them by without anyone showing any interest in them, as if they didn’t have feelings, intelligence, a heart, a soul.
I remember one of them, who was quiet and polite, very thin, and not attractive, and who used to talk with the girls and hang out with them. And that gave us the right to persecute him.
But among those of use who taunted this boy every day, there were certainly some apparently ’normal’ ones who were nevertheless just as attracted to their own sex as he was. But we kept up our front of being "Real Men".

And so it was that Henry also became a Real Man.

As a child I was full of energy, very forward and talkative -a good student, too- who people liked, and who was fortunate enough to have the affection of a loving family. On top of this agreeable and confident personality, I was a rather handsome child: slim rather than skinny; well-proportioned, with a round face, small nose, large eyes, and almost always smiling.

When I was seven, something happened which unfortunately was going to change the whole of my life (It’s strange: I’d almost managed to put it right out of my mind, such was the worry and pain it caused, but I was reminded of it by the conversation with my friend Alexandre that I mentioned above, and that brought it back in all its horror). 
The details aren’t important here (and anyway, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to forget them) but basically what happened was this: when I was seven, a neighbour who was 21 or 22 tried to rape me.

My parents reacted very badly when they found out, as if I’d been responsible for it, and they told me off severely and forbad me to go out of the house or make friends with the other children. This lasted three long years.
Only two or three friends had my parents’ permission to come to the house and play with me.

I know that something inside me was broken at that moment. My smile vanished and I became inward-looking, as if embarrassed.

For years, I couldn’t bear to be near older males. I avoided my brother, his friends, my cousins, and even my father and uncles, when they wanted to sit me on their knees or hold me.

I think this also made it difficult to have friends, as even when I liked someone it was impossible for me to let them know it.
I remember that, when I was 13, I got on allright with a someone at school called Philipp. We were inseparable in classroom, the playground, and during playtime. I don’t know if he was after something from me, but he certainly never dropped any hints. I do recall how well things were, and the pleasure we had from seeing each other again after school holidays. When summer came, the two of us would go swimming in a little spot that was rather out of the way. And many afternoons, sunbathing nude on a rock, we would spend a long while without saying a word, simply looking at each other.
At the end of summer, Philipp left to live in another town and we never saw each other again.

Then, I began to go out with girls, just like everyone else (well, not QUITE like them, obviously).

I only felt reconciled with the male sex at the age of 20, when I got to know Marc. He was 15, intelligent and charming. He was my friend and I loved him with all my soul. His tenderness and kindness to me were so great that he allowed me to forget all the troubles of my childhood. With him, everything was simple yet extraordinary, and beautiful, and enjoyable.

When his school-friends learned about us, they began to victimise and torment him, although not openly or to his face (they wouldn’t have dared, because despite being very gentle he was a great sportsman, with an athletic build, and he would have stood up to them). Instead they did it covertly, scribbling malicious notes which they put on the walls, and denouncing him to the priests.
Marc came from a rich and powerful family, and I’ll never know whether they separated us because we were lovers or because I was from a lower social class...
The Jesuits who ran the school didn’t manage to expel him, because he was an exemplary student, but they forbad me ever to enter the college.

Then, I realised that what homophobia really is, and the sly ways it can manifest itself: parents, who think nothing of inflicting psychological abuse under the pretext of protecting their offspring from a ghastly sickness (homosexuality!), without a thought for the unhappiness they cause; priests, who instead of exercising the pastoral role they profess, isolate any black sheep from the rest of the herd and sacrifice him without pity.

Nobody chooses to be homosexual, just as nobody chooses to be straight or bisexual.

Michel de Montaigne, one of the great French philosophers of the sixteenth century, wrote these words about his love for Etienne de La Boëtie:

"If you were to ask me why I loved him, I believe I could only explain it like this:
Because he was who he was; because I was who I was."

I don’t know why two men should fall in love, but...

for that matter, does anyone really know why a man should fall in love with a woman?
Why shouldn’t the one be as natural as the other?
Why do people insist on denigrating our feelings which are in us as pure and beautiful as they are in the hearts of others?

It seems that there are some who will never manage to understand what my friend David wrote about when he was only 12:

My Friend, My Love

What difference is there 
between one rose and another,
Between two petals of an open flower?

They say our love is different,
That I am not old enough for love-
As if love and feelings
Only come with age.

What difference is there 
between one love and another,
Between one kiss and another?

I envy those lovers
Who can show the happiness of their love
In parks or cinemas,
Who shout to whoever will listen
That they are happy and full of joy.

Why can’t I show them you,
Show you proudly to the world,
Happy as I am to have you near me,
To admire you with honesty,
And tell of your affection?

Sometimes we’ve had to lie,
And say we’re uncle and nephew,
As if that relationship
Were more pure and clean
Than this overwhelming love we have.

Why do people emphasise the difference
Between one rose and another,
One petal and another,
One love and another,
One kiss and another?

So I want to tell you now,
When things are so difficult for us,
I simply want to say that in spite of all
I love you. I am your friend.
You are my friend, my love.

Maybe it will not be possible to eliminate homophobia, but must be very clear that 
no person has the right to tell another how or whom he should love, nor persecute and censure him for how he feels.

To be heterosexual does not make you more of a man, or more noble, nor does it make you the arbiter of truth.


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