The gay shaming on It’s A Sin isn’t a thing of the past, it’s happening to students today

’Feelings of gay shame are so deeply rooted in me’

TW: Homophobia and homophobic language; this article also contains spoilers for It’s A Sin

Last Friday, Channel 4 introduced us all to Ritchie Tozer and he stole the hearts of the nation. Across five-part series It’s A Sin we follow the experiences of Ritchie and his friends as young gay men in 1980s London. The story shows love, loss and friendship – but, uniquely, it’s a genuine and accurate portrayal of the AIDS epidemic and what it means to be queer. One of the key things Ritchie has to grapple with is being shamed for his sexuality, but whilst it may no longer be the 1980s, this is something many queer people still have to deal with today.

Gay shaming was normalised then and whilst LGBTQ+ rights have came on so far from 1980s London, there is still more that needs to be done. The impacts of shaming are clear when we look at the data that shows us how 24 per cent of homeless people in the UK are LGBTQ+ and how a further 27 per cent of transgender people have at some stage attempted suicide.

The Tab spoke to some of these LGBTQ+ young people who have experienced this gay shaming:

‘The countless homophobic comments make me feel so little and worthless’

Recent grad Sam spoke to The Tab about his experiences of being gay shamed at home. Sam didn’t come out until he started university, before coming out to his parents in second year. He said: “What has been hardest is the shaming that has followed and the countless homophobic remarks that my parents don’t even acknowledge that they’re making. It makes me feel so little and worthless”.

As a result of living with his parents throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Sam says his self-expression has made his parents feel like he’s rubbing his identity in their face and this has created arguments so severe he’s nearly been kicked out. “I’m quite a flamboyant individual, and love to dance around the house,” he says. “The worst part of it is that these comments and feelings associated with gay shame affect all aspects of my life, especially relationships. They’re so deeply rooted in me that they can cause a lot of anxiety and stress and I’ve have had to go to therapy to understand and overcome these feelings”.

However, gay shaming isn’t solely directed at LGBTQ+ people from straight people – there is a stark amount of internalised homophobia within the community, too. This is when someone is not willing to fully accept themselves, and may try to appear “less gay”.

Third year Eóin is a dancer outside of university, and says his ex boyfriend used to refer to him as being “too much”. He says comments like this showed he and his boyfriend were in very different places with how they saw their gay identities, because of how shamed his boyfriend had felt before he met Eóin.

He says: “Last September we were in a gay bar in London and one of [my ex’s] friends said that we didn’t ‘look gay’. He said thank you whereas I could only respond by saying that it is not a compliment”.

‘Uni staff suggested I was a “poof”‘

Recent grad Edan says gay shaming was very normalised across campus and how many other gay people he encountered who like Eóin’s ex-boyfriend were consumed by internalised homophobia. This included one of his neighbours when he was in first year of university who was also gay. “I made a joke about how we’d get bored of seeing each other right next door to each other on Grindr, and then he said ‘I’m not on Grindr as I’m not a slut’.”

Edan recalls a time when a university staff member suggested that he looked like a ‘poof’: “I was wearing a pink bomber jacket I’d borrowed from my ex in first year, and I was chatting with some uni staff as I came into halls and he said about how he loved my clothes and said ‘when I was your age we’d dress around like that, we’d look a bunch of poofs!'”

Arthur, a recent Chemistry graduate, has experienced similar micro-aggressions. He says he was forced to leave his course group chat following a string of comments made by some of his straight male course mates.

Arthur did however say he has been quite privileged and knows that other students have been shamed “worse”. Arthur didn’t come out until he started university and described his secondary school as a “hostile environment where people who were in any way different were treated like dirt”.

‘I developed a deep level of internalised homophobia’

Masters student Kalem says whilst he feels lucky to not have encountered homophobia when studying in England, this is most likely because of how normalised gay shaming is in his native Northern Ireland.

Kalem thinks this is normalised because of the role which religious division plays in Northern Ireland, where 48 per cent of LGBTQ+ students aged 16-21 have been bullied in school. He is a survivor of homophobic bullying which he faced through high school, despite not yet being ‘out’.

“The extent that religion forced its way into my education, forced me to develop a deep level of internalised homophobia is something that has to be examined with a telescope rather than a microscope,” he says. “To go against the grain of religious ideology would ensure you would be ostracised by not only some of your peers but also your teachers”.

Kalem says that more people need to be educated on LGBTQ+ issues, and believes that this can only be done by addressing at the grassroots – by reforming LGBTQ+ education. “To validate someone’s sexuality is something most straight people will never understand,” he says.

Gay shaming can lead to anxiety, paranoia and self-hatred

With gay shaming still happening across UK campuses, we spoke to Matthew Todd, the former editor of Attitude Magazine and author of Straight Jacket, a book about overcoming gay-shaming. A relatively new term, Matthew told The Tab gay shaming is when “LGBT people are forced to absorb the negative message that we hear when we were growing up”. He says this impacts queer people through self-hatred or internalised homophobia.

Matthew says gay shaming can still have an impact well into adulthood. He says many LGBTQ+ adults have paranoia and feeling of being unsafe, because of how unsafe they felt at home, in school, uni and many other environments, with many LGBTQ+ people now experiencing this as “low levels of anxiety”.

Matthew says the key to overcoming society’s legacy of gay shaming is “for everyone to understand” by educating ourselves on queer issues. It will only be then that LGBTQ+ young people, the Ritchies and Colins of today, may be free of gay shame.

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can also contact Switchboard, the LGBT helpline, on 0300 330 0630 or find out more information here. You matter.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

It’s A Sin shows the importance of queer people telling LGBT stories

• It’s A Sin taught me more about LGBTQ+ history and sex education than school ever did

• Here are all the It’s A Sin characters who are based on real life people