Interview by Stuart Graham
Answers by Michael Mullen
Q – Firstly, at what age did you come to terms with, or at least become aware of, your LGBT identity?
A – I think the world usually tells you before you tell yourself, but it wasn’t a very uncomfortable realisation. It wasn’t like I woke up covered in rainbows and thought, “Oh fuck, I’m gay”. It’s the natural thing of always knowing you’re a bit different and of going your own way in life, and then you become aware, because you almost ‘learn’ to be gay.
And then you just kind of go, “Oh yeah, okay, that’s the one for me, that’ll do”. But coming to terms with it, I always say to my friends that you’re not sitting by yourself thinking,”Oh yeah I’m really really gay”, because that’s your normal. I don’t think it is really a ‘coming to terms’, unless you’ve had to struggle against outside factors. I think I was always quite militantly gay.
Q – Can you talk me through the mind-set of a specific time that involved a realisation in some way?
A – You know, for me it was quite exciting actually, like, “Oh, okay, there’s a bit of glitter in the tank, that’ll do”. I never thought that it was going to be bad. I was always aware of gayness – my mum’s best friend is a lesbian. It wasn’t something that I had a struggle with myself because it was never a problem in my head.
Q – Were there any external elements that possibly stopped you from living as openly as you wanted to?
A – Well, there always are. I think even when you’re out and you’re comfortable and everything is great, we don’t live in a fully non-homophobic society. So it’s foolish to think that, even though I’ve had it better than most other people, that it was easy and it was not normal. Because it wasn’t normal – I think the world will always have more of a problem with you than you have with yourself.
Q – Could you talk me through a specific time where you personally dealt with a severe kind of homophobia?
A – For me, it’s not so much the direct ones – the stupid shit like slurs in the street and that kind of thing – that is awful. That always washes over me. It’s more the ignorance of people who think they know, and that seems like such a privileged problem, but you realise that there’s this inkling that things are always going to be different.
And because it’s something that straddles with class and things like that, you soon realise that, even in your comfortable world, you are always going to be different. But I actually think that’s a better thing, that it’s a good thing.
Q – Was there ever a time in your life that you fully believed you were not LGBT?
A – No! Through puberty there were times when I thought I fancied girls, but there were always men as well. There are certain things, like gender identity, that a lot of people think if you’re very very feminine or stuff like that then those things can crop up in your head. Just because you’re curving the norm. But no… no, I’d say I very firmly came out rainbow.
Q – How would you describe the environment you grew up in relation to acceptance of LGBT identities?
A – Well, I mean, my dad’s an art teacher and my mum’s best friend is a lesbian. But I grew up in the east end of Glasgow. Even growing up in Scotland, it can always be… well, was it always a welcoming environment? Like, “Hey look, it’s little gay Michael from down the street”? No, not always.
But I think it’s also specific to people’s personalities, and how they interact with the environment they are raised in. A lot of people who have had it a lot worse will naturally develop a lot more anger and bitterness, and will be a lot more jaded with the world.
Whereas I always had those homophobic elements, and I didn’t live in the gayest part of the world, but I thought, “I’m not gonna move and change and be with different people because they’re also gay, I’m gonna push myself into this and make people accept that this is my environment too bitch.”
Q – Is there a word within the whole LGBT+ acronym you feel that summarises you completely?
A – I’m very, very iffy with labels and letters and hundreds and thousands of this and that. I always say “You know what? It’s specific to yourself”. Putting a label on yourself, even if it’s just sort of saying gay or queer – I wonder why do you have to find a label? I’m Michael, I’ve been with men, I’ve been with women, sometimes I want to be a woman, sometimes I like having a penis. People want to put a name on that – I’m just calling it Michael.
Q – Do you even believe there is power in labels?
A – It doesn’t bother me when people want them. Again, for me it’s just about conforming to a different sort of normativity when its point is to actually be outside of that. So, if you have a power in that label, if you like saying “I am this, I am that” then that’s power to you – but for me it’s always been an uncomfortable thing with the labels. I think they are stressed far too much. And I actually think it constricts something that’s already hard for people to come to terms with, to then feel like they have to say “I’m gay” or “I’m lesbian” or bisexual or transgender or whatever, as well as also having to fit into other boxes other people have made. I think that it can be vicious.
Q – How central do you think relationship or sexual encounters with someone of the same gender are to living as a LGBT+ member?
A – Well, I think that’s an interesting question because I think there are people in the world who just like having sex with someone of the same gender. And then there’s this other idea of an LGBT identity and a sort of queer history and a queer culture, which is very very different. For me, I find so much more comfort in the queer culture sort of thing, way before I was touching men. But obviously that’s kind of an integral part. I think the relationships and sex are very very important – obviously just as important to anyone who’s human. It’s a very human reaction to one another. I also think that as LGBT we have a choice to, again, change the ideas of normativity, and for me, to stop the traditional heterosexual ideals and alter the norm of what a relationship is and what sex is.
Q – So personally if you were to never have sex with another man from now till you were 50, would you then still consider yourself LGBT?
A – Absolutely. Again, it’s this thing of the culture and the identity, absolutely. What goes inside where and what you do with your erogenous zones is not integral to your actual identity. But for some people it is… I just don’t think it has to be.
Q – Would you say you live quite openly as a member of the LGBT community?
A – I’m a militant fag.
Q – Why would you say that is?
A – I say this all the time, but sometimes I don’t want to be accepted. I like provoking certain people and I like being different. I think it’s this idea of a culture becoming more mainstream and that’s great. Being accepted and understood and being welcomed is all great, but then at the same time it’s good to stay a bit fringe, stay a bit punk. I want people to know that I’m gay or there’s something going on, like “That boy’s a bit funny”, you know. Because who wants to be boring?
Q – Do you personally think there’s a stigma or reputation of some of the branches of the LGBT community that mean you either have you conform to or not be considered part of the community?
A – I think quite a lot of the problem now, as the holy mother RuPal says, is the “infighting”. It’s within the community, saying you have to do this, or be like this. But again, it’s that thing of creating rules for people who are already breaking them, which is just dumb. I think there’s always going to be a stigma.
People stereotype, but the most important thing to do is to know yourself. If you know yourself inside and out, and you are really comfortable with that, you don’t care about what straights, gays, lesbians, anyone says to you because you think this is my place in the community. This is my place in the world and that’s what is important.
Q – You said just there “if you’re really comfortable with who you are” – would you personally say at this point in your life that you are truly comfortable with the identity you walk around with?
A – I can only say that right now I’m as comfortable as I’m going to be. But I can’t imagine that changing. In a couple of years I may look back and think, “Oh, look at you talking about boys, you really thought you knew something”, but right now I’ve very comfortable with who I am.
I’ve almost fought to be the person I am, and so I think that’s the reason a lot of LGBT people grow up a lot faster and know themselves better. If you have to struggle to express your identity then it’s almost as if you earn it more than other people.
Q – What are your thoughts on the clichés and stereotypes surrounding certain LGBT-identifying people?
A – I think I’ve covered the fact that people are always saying they’re just stupid and they’re damaging, but again it’s people not understanding. When people see me and my big colours and my chains and my fabrics, they’re going to see you in a certain way – they’re gonna think “Oh, look at that boy”. But, you know what? You can’t hang up on what people are gonna think if you know yourself, and if you know you’re more than a stereotype.
And, also, who gives a fuck? I like to shop. I don’t care. I like fruit in my drink and I sing, but also, if I want to go to a football game, I will do that. If I want to confine myself to another stereotype at some point, well, that’s me.
Q – Can you talk me through your mindset when someone does call you out for being a stereotype or for straying from stereotypes?
A – Usually people who bring up the stereotypes or try to put you in that box are basic and their opinion means nothing. So I’d say my emotional process is above that. What I think affects me a lot is when both men and women don’t think that your input is valid. You feel you’re always going to be on the fringe, always a bit of an outcast. You know your opinion is always gonna be an ‘other’ opinion. I think we [as LGBT members] have try to be heard and respected.
Q – Do you think the university provides the right support for people living or struggling with LGBT identities?
A – I think there definitely could be something that is more widely available or known. I don’t know about any support – maybe because I don’t seek it? But no, I don’t know of anything that there is for LGBT people. There’s an LGBT society and I know of other queer people at university, but I don’t know of anything from the university itself so I guess that is something that could be made available. Even maybe in prospectuses. We have a building being built that’s inclusive for foreign students. Can’t there be some support and leeway for LGBT+ students too?
Q – Out in the wider community, do you think there is enough information made available about keeping safe, both physically and sexually, as a member of the LGBT community?
A – No, I think that’s something that community members are forced to go and find out about themselves. Sexually, and in the outside world, I think that the provision of this information could be improved upon.
Q – Do you personally feel safe as a, let’s say, ‘vibrant’ member of the LGBT community?
A – I personally feel safe, yeah. People say that university is just a microcosm of the world, so there are still the same factors, and there are still the same issues. I feel as safe here as I do here on any street that’s not a war zone, but I think there’s still some risks.
Q – Can you talk me through one specific time when you did feel particularly vulnerable or at risk?
A – As I’ve mentioned, I’m from Glasgow and – not commenting on the beautiful city of Stirling – but when it comes to local people there are differences, and certain experiences that might you might run into. It’s also a very sports-heavy university. Now, I’m not saying that makes me feel at risk itself, but it’s not entirely a particularly open field, so that could maybe cause a bit of worry. Yeah, it’s a difficult question, but I think all new environments when you’re in our community can be quite daunting, as you don’t know how you’re going to be received. You don’t know that you’re never going to walk into a very homophobic space.
Q – Moving away from safety, do you personally feel more drawn to members of the LGBT community within your social life, compared to more conventional heterosexual people?
A – Yes and no. Are most of my friends gay? Yes. But then a lot of them are [laughs] conventional. But uni is a time for experimenting, shall we say, so lines can be blurred. But, no. Do I run around with the intention of running a gay mafia? No. But I guess I have more gay friends at university than I do at home, definitely. But maybe that’s something I actually look for more at university than I ever did at home, because you feel like you’re in that environment to meet new queer people, so there’s that.
Q – Was there any time in your life at you can remember when you wished you could actually just switch off the gay, even just for a few hours?
A – I mean, only if I’m walking home really really late at night across the road from something dodgy, say, a rather ominous looking individual. But those people are probably gonna cause trouble not matter what, so I’m gonna say no.
Q – Would you say you find yourself in confrontations with non-LGBT identifying people a lot in your life? If so, do you find that you are often the instigator of this conflict, or is it often instigated upon you?
A – Well, I’m a wind-up. I find when you first meet a lot of new people, they are interested rather than anything, but that can be different when you’re at a party and someone says “So how’s your experience been at school then [being LGBT]?” and you’re like “Oh, really bitch? I met you 5 minutes ago!” But conflict? I mean, all debate is good and healthy if it is indeed good and healthy, but there’s a couple of times people need to be pulled up. I’ll never back away from the issue, but I don’t run around. Although I did say I’m a militant gay, I don’t run around shoving the gay agenda down people’s throats.
Q – Finally, do you see yourself being LGBT for the rest of your life?
A – [laughs for a while]… Until I die. You never know, I might be reincarnated as an awful hetro.