When your gay mate came out to you did you have a list of things that you wanted to ask? Did all of your blokey fears crowd in on you as you remembered the conversations you'd heard at football matches or in the pub - 'backs against the wall lads', 'don't bend down for the soap in the shower' or 'Gays are alright as long as they keep themselves to themselves and don't try and touch me up'.
How did you get over your ingrained manly prejudice? I'll bet it was over the course of a few months as you had conversations over a pint, and had the opportunity to satisfy your curiosity ('Do you fancy me?... oh good....err, why not, what's wrong with me?...)
Many of us work for large organisations with policies and procedures to make it ok for people to be themselves in the workplace - whether it's a visible expression of faith, or simply being able to be 'out' as a lesbian or gay person. But how many of those conversations have you had in the workplace that make it easier to understand? Not many I'll bet.
You see, most of our policies give us a list of things we must not do or say - in fact in our organisation we even had an acceptable language policy which had really good intent. What we lack though is any organisational help to have open and honest conversations that help us get along better and understand life from another's point of view. In fact rather the opposite, people are just too scared to have the conversation - we've lost the words.
My mate Tony knew the sort of thing that was necessary, he was - is - gay but found a way to have the conversations that were necessary in his environment. In Oldham's working mens clubs Tony found a way to rebuff jibes, and even assaults. It helped him being a black belt in karate. His favourite expression, delivered in a gruff Oldham accent, usually in the Gents with his forearm across the throat of someone intent on attacking him for his gayness, was 'I might be gay mate, but there's nowt queer about me'.
My mate's gran once had a conversation with a neighbour about someone they thought might be gay, she said '...I don't think he's a proper one, but I think he helps them out when they're busy of a weekend...'
The point is that in each of those examples the conversation was of its time and in its own context - we seem to be stifling that with over eager and well meaning attempts to force our language in a certain direction.Language doesn't work like that, and until we understand it, we'll stifle exactly the conversations we need to have to understand each other better.