Sometimes the world can seem a dark, depressing, and a never changing place, especially as you trawl your way through social and mainstream media. But as the old saying goes, empty vessels make the most noise, and so that can cloud your view of the world.
Every so often I’m reminded, in small ways, that the world has changed, and things are getting better. This reminding usually comes from my nieces, Robyn and Amy, who surprise me with an off the cuff comment that gives me an insight into their generation, and what a different world they live in.
When I was my niece Amy’s age, I didn’t know of anyone who was gay. The word homosexual or lesbian was never uttered in conversation, certainly not in front of young people. My first memory of anything relating to the word gay in the public mainstream was 1994 and the famous Roseanne gay kiss episode. It was the first of the ‘lesbian kiss’ episodes that became a thing on many tv shows. I remember the controversy, the ‘will they won’t they’ show the episode, the disapproving talk on radio and tv.
That reaction was par for the course durning my teenage years. Growing up in that atmosphere made you think any feelings you had that were different, like being gay or transwas wrong—it was something shameful that had to be hidden.
Little did I know then how much the world was going to alter, and that as I lived through the change, I wouldn’t fully appreciate the small changes that were happening every day. I think the first time I was prodded into realising what a different society we live in was rewatching Glee with my niece Amy.
She was a little girl when Glee first came out and had only discovered it as a teenager. When the subject of being out at high school came up in the storyline, I asked if she knew of any gay people at her school. She told me quite nonchalantly there was quite a few, and one bi girl, and one gay guy in her year alone. I asked if they got hassled or bullied and she looked at me strangely and said no.
I remember turning to my partner Lou and saying, “This is definitely a different world than when we grew up.” I was proud that Robyn and Amy’s generation didn’t have the same prejudices or hang ups that my generation did.
A similar incident happened to me today when I was watching, The Prom on Netflix with my niece. She loves anything with a musical theatre vibe. In the story a lesbian is stopped from going to prom with her girlfriend. As we got into the show, my niece said to me, “Are there really places that wouldn’t allow two girls to go together?”
She was surprised, and that told me so much about how the world had indeed changed. I told her that when I was her age this wouldn’t be on tv, it would probably only be on dvd and with an adult rating. We watched and cried together, because we are both very emotional mushballs. When it finished I tried to explain how amazing it was that this kind story with a happy ending, and on mainstream tv, was normal, but I don’t think I could quite get across how different her norm was to mine when I was growing up.
Change has happened in ordinary people’s lives. There might still be some bigoted empty vessels making noice on social media, but they are not important, the change has already happened. What was once shocking is now normal, and being yourself, and honest about who you love is normal.
When I was young, all I wanted to be was normal, and here I am all these years later, married to a woman, and watching two girls on tv singing how much they love each other, and feeling perfectly normal. Change creeps up on you, and sometimes you have to remind yourself how much things have changed to appreciate what you’ve got.