Jul 23, 2007
Editorial: Imagined Homophobia? You Must Be Kidding.
In a recent article on Inside Housing about homeless Gay youth, Gayle Jones, chair of the LGBT group at St Mungo’s, was cited claiming: "young gay people often imagined there was more homophobia in hostels that there was. They needed as much education and advice as possible to know what options were available to them." I'm shaking my head here in utter disbelief. They imagine there is more homophobia in hostels than actually exists there? Of course they imagine it... it would hardly be prudent for them to just traipse in to "test the water." What does Ms Jones think these young people are going to do -- test a large and statistically significant sample of hostels and then come to a reasoned conclusion about what sorts of behavior are statistically likely to be encountered in them?
Oh yes -- all this homophobia the kids are (quite rightly) avoiding is just imaginary. Yup -- a delusion brought on by an excess of hormones and the inexperience of youth. After all, the wild and feverish imaginations of young people are legendary. Of course there is no homophobia to speak of in these hostels. Neither is there any to be found in the UK's social services. You couldn't possibly be subjected to homophobia by one of Britain's ever-so-gay-friendly health care providers. Nope... no homophobia in the public and private schools in the UK either. None. It's all imaginary. Never mind that year after year exactly these things happen. It's all just some illusion.
These kids grew up within a cultural context. They know exactly where they are and what is likely to be in their environment. They have seen time and again that homophobia will hound them everywhere they go -- even in their own allegedly loving families. Certainly this perception lacks a certain depth due to an unavoidable lack of experience, but the perception is valid on its face.
As it happens, 'selling' yourself for sex to get a bed for the night is a functional proposition. It works quite well. There are a number of hazards involved, but generally they are fewer than would have to be dealt with in the hostels. On a basic level, it's a prudent and effective strategy.
If Ms Jones wishes to counter this allegedly imaginary perception that the hostels are neither safe nor desirable, then I'm afraid she shall have to do better than blindly insist that the imaginary perception is false. It's not. It is being acted upon as if it is fundamentally true -- the ultimate veracity of the perception is not all that pertinent. What she and her colleagues need to do is produce a manifestly self-evident perception to counter-act the kids' perceptions. No one will need to persuade the youngsters then... it will be self-evident. Here too, it's not all that essential that her marketing be strictly true... it just needs to be perceived as true. There is a difference.
Telling the kids they are "just imagining things" is not the best way to begin. While Ms Jones and her well-meaning cronies are busy denigrating their potential clients' judgment, the potential clients are busy tending to their own needs. The youngsters' decisions are not always ideal (what young person has ever made an ideal decision?), but they ARE functional. If the hostel crowd wants to be a viable alternative to what the kids are currently doing, they will have to show themselves to be a clearly better (not marginally better) option.
Were they to put their minds to it, I think they ought to be able to accomplish this quite easily. Dealing with teenagers is not rocket science and you need no specialized degrees. All that's really necessary is a clear memory of what, exactly, it was like to be a teenager. Failing that, asking a couple will be a perfectly acceptable substitute.
But yes... they DO need "as much education and advice as possible" to know what options are available to them. Too often our youth are completely unaware of many valuable options. Too often they are also quite incapable of exercising those options without assistance even once they know what they are. I'm afraid they rather need advocates, not educators.