• Josh Newis Smith

My Love Letter To Homophobic Trolls

Homophobia has the capacity, no matter how comfortable you feel in your skin, to transport you back to teenage years where you questioned your identity in isolation. As I interview the cast of the show that made me realise I could be me, Will & Grace it seems an apt time to address the comments that follow me everyday.

YouTube is one of the greatest platforms available to presenters today but it is also a breeding ground for points of view laced with discrimination. It is sad reality in 2018 that I experience homophobia every single day.

The comments can be rather uninventive such as, “that guy is a gay pro,” to which I mentally reply with, “thank you ever so much Hun, I try to excel myself in that department everyday.” In addition there are the more soul-searching questions from a troll, “Dude why are you gay?” and the answer to that is, a-la Lady Gaga, “I was born this way babes.” But some comments really are rather bold, including my all-time gut kicking favourite, “I hope you end up locked in jail and raped everyday where you belong.” As much as I can laugh these off and largely ignore them the reality is: every single one hurts but every single one in turn empowers me to carry on.

I am a very proud gay man (calling myself a man still makes me laugh inside as I am still mentally a seventeen year old boy) but homophobia can have the power to fleetingly transport you back to those early teenage years. The years where I personally felt alone and isolated as I wrestled with my identity, without anyone to back me up and experiencing extreme levels of insecurity.

Growing up in the middle of nowhere in a village consisting of less than two hundred people, with the nearest shop a twenty minute drive away I didn’t even know what a gay person was until I went to secondary school. On my first day one new classmate exclaimed, “you are gay mate!”

There are two points to be made here: 1) This makes it seem like I grew up in a place akin to The Walton’s with zero communication with the outside world and 2) That person certainly wasn’t my mate. However it was an epiphany, as if Kylie Minogue descended from the ceiling riding a glitter ball, smacked me in the face and left me covered in glitter. Maybe I was a fully-fledged raging homo after all!

What followed was years of me believing that this was an incredibly negative thing to be, as gay role models were few and far between, and a sexual awakening where I Googled, “Robbie Williams shirtless,” in secret - oh how clueless we are when we are young! I would then print these out and hide them in my Will & Grace VHS case (I saved my actual pocket money for), as I knew no one in my heavy-hetro family would whack that in the video player any time soon.

Watching the show itself was like dreaming in a Disney like state about a far away land where anything was possible and being gay could be a right LOL. Will & Grace gave me the courage to be the person I wanted to be, giving me the confidence to say in rather melodramatic way, “I am queer, I am here, get used to it!”

Did my parents find it hard to accept me being gay? Well they couldn’t have been any more supportive at my insistent requests for My Little Ponies aged three and were willingly to take me to Steps concerts even with my brother in tow. As I grew older and ‘it’ didn’t shift I think it was harder to deal with, they were after all from a different generation with no gays in the local village or any surrounding village to turn to for advice. After all I was disappearing to clubs aged sixteen and undertaking a career in fashion that was far removed from the farmed lands around our home.

Do they accept me now? You bloody bet! Mumma Smith messaged me recently to say, “I am so pleased you are my son,” which is all the acceptance you need when you spent years worrying being gay would mean they wouldn’t. But homophobia has a funny way of making you question this acceptance when you least expect it.

I am now in the midst of a pinch myself career (which I have built from scratch) in a workplace where I am not defined by my sexuality but there are times people try to define my skills against my sexual orientation. I was once told I was a, “great interviewer because you are gay!” No babe, that’s a niche form of casual everyday homophobia. Being gay has nothing to do with me being able to communicate with someone in front of a camera.

When I speak to my close pals about online homophobia they reassuringly try to make me dismiss these ‘haters’ as just being trolls going about their chosen professional business but that is in fact in my opinion lazy. We are kidding ourselves if we believe homophobia doesn’t exist in real life and indeed in every walk of life. Sadly it will continue for years to come as one default human desire is to define ourselves against others. ‘Otherness,’ will always exist, it’s human nature.

But with more prominent figures in modern media like the trailblazers, Will & Grace on our screen we are slowly showing that being gay doesn’t make us an “other” we are well rounded human beings. We can be lawyers if we want but equally we can be (just like one of my trolls says), “more feminine than most women,” if we jolly well fancy it, too.

To the trolls who spend their time belittling me for my sexual orientation: I am damn happy in my lane so why don’t you stay in yours? But thanks for watching and empowering me to be just the way I am.

Love you, Josh xoxo.

© 2018 by Josh Newis Smith