Well. I was going to write some fic. But ... instead I wrote this? This ... was sort of vaguely intended to be something to show my mother. For those of you who don't know, my mother and I have been having some upsetting "debates" that made me realize that we basically live in entirely different worlds when it comes to gay rights. I ... will probably not be showing this to her, but I kind of like it in all its rambly, ranty glory. So ... here?
Most of the time, when I talk to people about my experiences as a queer person, I’m talking to people who understand, either because they are queer themselves, or they are allies or at least supportive. I’ve realized that this means I’ve learned to speak in a certain way, with an assumption of a certain shared understanding. But not everyone understands the world this way. And I’m not just talking about bigots and hate groups. There are lots of people out there who have no particular beef with queer people who, though lack of exposure and experience, misinformation, or just plain thoughtless selfishness (newsflash, folks: everyone’s selfish) really don’t “get” what it’s like to be queer in this culture. So, this is my attempt to take about ten giant steps back and honestly try to explain that.
First off, I am not every queer person in America. I cannot speak to any experience except my own, nor do I intend to try. And let’s start there. There is no such thing as “the gay community” as an all-encompassing group with a single set of beliefs and ideals. Saying “the gay community thinks X” or “the gay community did Y” is just as ridiculous as saying the same thing about “the straight community.” Would a straight person ever be asked to represent the opinions and interests of all heterosexuals? Of course not. That’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous because sharing a sexual orientation with someone is hardly a guarantee that you share anything else. And that’s just as true of gay people.
There is no “gay agenda,” and if there is, I have never received my copy. There are absolutely LGBT groups that engage in political activism. Promoting political positions that you believe would make your community and your nation better is not evil. It’s called being an active and responsible citizen. And yes, despite what I said about “the gay community” above, many LGBT people do share a number of political opinions. Not all do, but the reason that many do is because many LGBT people encounter the same kinds of problems and inequities in this country because of their orientation or gender identity.
LGBT people are not a special interest group. We are not looking for special treatment. We are looking for equal treatment. We deserve equal treatment because we are every bit as human as straight people. The fact that people I otherwise respect can look me in the eye and tell me things like “I have nothing against gay people, but I don’t think they should have the right to marry,” or “I don’t mind gays, as long as they’re not so obvious about it,” is so hurtful and disgusting to me that it is seriously challenging my ability to continue this essay in a neutral manner. I’m aware that some people reading this may not understand why statements like that are problematic. Try the following on for size. “I have nothing against straight people. I just don’t think they should have the right to marry.” And this one. “I don’t mind straights, as long as they’re not so obvious about it.” Do you see the problem now? The first statement is straight out of the separate but equal playbook, and if civil rights have taught us anything, it’s that separate is NEVER equal. The second indicates that someone is deeply uncomfortable with LGBT people, but knows that it’s frowned upon to say so. Let me make something very clear. The fact that something makes you uncomfortable does not make it wrong. I’m uncomfortable with people who wear socks with sandals, but I’m not about to go make picket signs and lobby for them to change their ways.
Living as a queer person means constantly having to smile uncomfortably and back away slowly from conversations like this. Living as a queer person means hearing the phrase “that’s so gay” from teenagers constantly. And it means knowing that, if you speak up and say that’s not okay, they’ll nod and smirk and then laugh about how uptight you are behind your back. Living as a queer person means knowing that if you are lucky enough to find the person of your dreams and fall in love, there are many things you may not be able to do. You will almost certainly not be able to legally marry in your home state. That means that no matter how many contracts you draw up, no matter how many loopholes you close, you will NEVER have all the rights straight couples are granted just by signing one little piece of paper. It means that even if you have all the powers of attorney and medical proxy forms and even a registered domestic partnership, you may be forcibly kept from your partner on their deathbed. And, if you outlive your partner and their family disapproved of your relationship, they have a very good chance of successfully denying you any inheritance rights and, possibly, custody of any children you and your partner raised if you are not a biological parent of those children. It means seeing political ads that say you are something so disgusting and dangerous that young children in schools need to be protected from you. It means when you go to a website celebrating something you see as beautiful and loving, like marriages in California or Mexico City, there will be hundreds or thousands of hateful comments calling you an abomination and condemning you to hell. It means watching TV or going to the movies and, most of the time, seeing not one character who is anything like you. And it means if you bring that up you are almost always told to “get over it” and “just have fun” by people who have never known what it’s like to not see themselves reflected in their TV screens. Living as a queer person means that to live honestly and authentically you must constantly come out. You must announce yourself publicly or risk being branded a liar. Never mind that there is no similar requirement for straight people. It means being told that your rights are an afterthought. It means even the most progressive political candidates are lukewarm at best in their support of your rights for fear of being “too controversial.” It means constantly, constantly, every day having to put up with a thousand things you just can’t change. And it means being told, in absolute sincerity, that these inequities don’t really exist. It’s all in your mind. If you would just have a positive attitude, there wouldn’t be a problem anymore. And it is just wanting to scream until you’re hoarse because, to you, these issues aren’t complicated. They are simple. They’re so simple you don’t even know how to talk to people who don’t understand, because there’s nothing to understand. You are a person with hopes and fears and dreams and desires. You want to live your life to the fullest. You bleed and cry and hurt. You want to love. There’s enough pain in this world and little enough joy that you don’t understand why it matters so much who you love. Isn’t it enough that you love at all?
ETA: Making this entry public because ... well, because I feel like it :-)
- On Being Queer