I don't know what you think of soap operas and frankly I don't much care, because I just watched an episode of Emmerdale that moved me in the nicest possible way.
There's been an ongoing storyline for months: Teenage hooligan goes increasingly off the rails and finally has to admit he's gay. He's a laddish lad full of anger and aggression - beating people up, getting into trouble with the police, generally being a pain. And for a while he was full of self-directed homophobia, refusing to accept any common ground with all those nancying bloody queer folk, and assuming that any acknowledgement of his sexuality would mean his whole life imploding and nobody speaking to him ever again. And then he tried to kill himself, and he nearly went to prison, and ohmyGod his Self Destruct button was like some giant carbuncle on the end of his nose just waiting to pop.
Aaaanyway. Some of it has been a bit extreme, as is the way with dramatified wotsits, but sadly homophobia is alive and well and there really are teenage boys out there killing themselves, being beaten up, generally wallowing in mires of confusion and angst, and all because of homophobia.
I've heard people defend the use of "gay" as an insult, on the basis that they don't mean it like that. They are being ironic and cool and all their gay mates understand that it's only a joke.
I have a friend whose son, when he was five, had a best friend who was a boy. They were inseparable and started to say that they wanted to marry each other when they grew up. They were already using "gay" as an insult, because it's standard playground language. But at that point he had no idea what gay actually meant. Then one day he asked his mum. She explained it to him, and he made the connection. So if he and his mate married, that would mean they were gay? That awful thing that nobody wanted to be? He was horrified. He was angst-ridden about it for ages. He kept picking over it and trying to find some alternative explanation. Of course at that age nobody could say whether he would turn out gay or not, and it really shouldn't have mattered. But it did.
Whenever somebody uses the word gay as an insult, there is a teenager somewhere listening in and hating themselves.
I was in a local secondary school the other day and I saw a poster on the wall: "Zero tolerance for racism and homophobia." I was SO impressed. I saw a documentary on the holocaust recently and there was a section on teaching the topic to teenagers in history lessons. The pupils were asked which groups were persecuted by the Nazis. They came up with all of them: Jewish people, old people, disabled people, socialists, etc... but they missed out gays and their teacher didn't correct them. Indeed he had a pre-prepared list with everyone listed... except gay people. I was shocked. But homosexuality is STILL something that isn't much talked about in schools. The Tories have a lot to answer for. I haven't forgotten all their crimes from first time round. Grrrr.
Anyway. I'm getting distracted. What I wanted to say was that there have been several great bits about the way Emmerdale has handled this. One of them is the way his family (the Dingles), who are all butch and gruff and traded a lot of homophobic banter before they knew he was gay, have all rallied round and done their best to help him accept himself. And tonight, he finally kissed another boy. And it made me go awwwww. They were tentative and awkward and kept misunderstanding each other and were worried that maybe the other one didn't fancy them after all and it was all scary and nerve-wracking and it took me straight back to being a teenage girl in love with other girls, and all the terror and confusion that went with that, but then.... aaaaah. They kissed. And then they did that mad grinny thing you do when you've finally got to kiss the person you've fancied for ages and it's LOVELY and you can't stop smiling.
6 hours ago