Insult and Identity
My patient cannot find a word to describe his homosexuality: ‘gay’ is patronising, fickle, camp and castrated; ‘poof’ too raw and close to the playground; however, ‘queer’, promises something. I ask what this is and he explains that it is less effeminate–decidedly not normal–slightly dangerous, but he wishes to name himself. He comes up with ‘homoguy’. The fact that he can begin to use language, even if it falls short and requires a neologism, is no mean feat–given that he had been depressed and withdrawn for months, unsuccessfully treated with medication and had withdrawn into his bedroom. In the first few weeks of analysis he rarely left his parents’ home; he was in his mid 20’s at the time and was signed-off from work. Listening to music and coming to see me were the only things he could do to keep his rage and tears at bay.
As a spotty and effeminate boy from the age of eight to fourteen, D was frequently verbally bullied at school. Sometimes other boys would play a game on him where, for a few days, they would appear to be his friends and thus he began to believe that he was part of the crowd. When they made him believe that the bullying had stopped, one of them would shatter the illusion by saying something like ‘go and wash your face you filthy queer boy’. The shock on his face made them laugh even more and another would add ‘ you thought you had us fooled’; they would then take turns in mimicking and exaggerating his high-pitched voice, supposedly mincing way of walking and demanded to know which one of them he fancied. Now, years later, as he wiped his tears after telling me this, and looking inconsolable, he fixed his gaze on me and said as if to defend himself, ‘I didn’t fancy anybody; I didn’t even know I was gay. I just felt defective. It was before I became aware of my sexuality.’ The all-too-common description of the vicious bullying of this patient is summed up in Judith Butler’s comment about the strange ways in which many lesbians and gay men come to take up their sexual identity, through a violent exposure to regulating others before they have a sense of their own desire and when they are least able to turn this newly ascribed identity into something positive or creative. (Butler 1999; ix-xx) Insults came to haunt the relationships D would subsequently form with other boys and men.