The Gay Agenda* #1: Advice for friends – knowing what you are saying
My child identifies as gay and genderqueer. I happen to think that xe* is a pretty awesome person who ought to be treated as a full human being, and that choices in apparel, hairstyle, and personal partners are irrelevant to that reality. Apparently this qualifies me as support staff for the Gay Agenda (woot!). I take all of my jobs seriously, and I love to be helpful. To that end I’d like to use the incredible power of my position as a mommy-blogger to advance the cause by offering this column clarifying details of The Agenda.
* Gender neutral pronouns are only one of the many plots to oppress downtrodden heterosexuals.
In this first installment, I’d like to help out friends who are sympathetic to the Gay Agenda, but who are not, themselves, active agents or support staff. Being an ally can actually be tricky for anyone. We can be supportive in the abstract, and even helpful when faced with extremes of bias, but day to day issues that don’t affect us, personally, tend to be invisible. I’d like to parse a few of the statements that I hear fairly often from well-meaning people and explain the hidden implications that make them problematic, as well as offer some alternatives.
If, at any point, you find yourself bristling and wanting to say, “but that’s not what I mean at all!” take a deep breath. I know that. But this is what comes across. This is a safe space to learn that. It’s just you and the pixels on the screen. They aren’t there to make anyone feel guilty or embarrassed. Only to help with translation.
Statement A: “I never think about whether someone is gay or not.”
Issues: Not thinking about whether someone conforms to the heterosexual standard is a luxury. If you are cisgender and straight you don’t have to worry on a constant basis that people will suddenly lash out at you. You generally just expect to be served at restaurants and cared for in hospitals. You don’t notice when romances in books and movies are heterosexual, but you will notice if they aren’t. Also, I can pretty much guarantee that when you look at someone who challenges gender norms you make a mental note of it. That’s ok. We also notice if someone is speaking a language that is new to us. Just don’t kid yourself that you never think about it because you are above it all. Inasmuch as you don’t think about it, it’s because you don’t have to.
Related Statement(s): “We assumed s/he was gay, but nobody cared.”
How This Comes Across: “I’m perfectly comfortable in my world and generally oblivious that other people aren’t. Also, if you are giving out cookies, I’d like one.”
Alternatives: Listening is always a good option. Often statements of this nature come out when someone is describing an incident where they were made to feel uncomfortable because of their gender or sexuality. If that’s the case, then it’s not about you or what you do, it’s about their experience. Use it as a chance to learn what they notice, and you do not. If it’s appropriate (and genuine), offer acknowledgement. It can be simple, like “wow, that’s really unfair! I’m sorry you had to deal with that.”
Statement B: “Well, she’s lucky she doesn’t live in some other place or some number of years ago.”
Issues: Most of us who are, or who love, queer people are acutely aware that there are at least 76 countries where it is illegal to be gay. We check the legal status of non-heterosexuality in different countries before we travel. We follow the legal battles in our own countries, states/counties/provinces, and municipalities closely. We know that it could be worse, because we have to. The flip side of being lucky to be in one place is the knowledge that there are many places we cannot go without great risk. Some of them may be just outside of our city, town or neighborhood. Part of the legal and cultural battles for the rights of all people is the backlash against anyone who is perceived as part of a “deviant”, and therefore threatening, group. “Better” often means “not as bad”, and better than a place and time in which the person you love can be beaten, arrested or killed does not, necessarily, rise to the level of good.
Related Statement(s): “It’s better than it used to be. You should focus on the good parts.” “We’ve made so much progress, sexuality isn’t an issue anymore.” (These are fundamentally different from comments by gender-non-conforming people who are describing their own past experiences, who may also begin with an observation on improvement, but do not go on to shut down any discussion of current issues.)
How This Comes Across: “You clearly are not aware how lucky you are that you/your family member are allowed to exist. You are ignorant and ungrateful. Also, I do not want to be inconvenienced by your discomfort.”
Alternatives: It is highly likely that the person talking to you has a working knowledge of gender and sexuality discrimination. Resist any temptation to lecture them on their good fortune. As with A, above, listening is generally a good idea. As an exercise, plan a cross country trip in your head. If you are straight, and you have a partner, imagine that many people think it is awful for the two of you to be together (if you don’t have to imagine that, you can stop reading, you don’t need this guide.) Would you put that person in danger by traveling with them? What routes would you take? Where would you stop for food? Would you spend twice as much on hotels to get two rooms so that no one would know that you were a couple?
Statement C: “But she can’t have problems here, this is a liberal town!”
Issues: This pretty much always comes after the observation that a person who is not cis-gender/heterosexual, especially someone young, is having difficulties in an institution like a school or a job. Statements like this invalidate their experiences and their trust in their own perceptions. They are a form of denial that silences descriptions of negative experiences and makes them easier to ignore.
Related Statements: “I know Mr. Guy, and he’s totally cool with gays.” “But Mrs. Smirk is so tolerant, I can’t imagine her making you uncomfortable.”
How This Comes Across: “Anything that does not affect me, does not exist. If I don’t see it, it isn’t real. Moreover, I have no actual interest in your well-being.”
Alternatives: If you don’t have the energy to engage, offer acknowledgement. “That’s terrible. I’m sorry.” If you are truly surprised that there are issues, express interest and learn what they are. “Wow, and this is a liberal town! I can see why that would be tough.”
Statement D: “That doesn’t seem like a big deal.”
Issues: It doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, because it doesn’t affect you, and because you are seeing one tiny sliver in isolation. There are many ways of making people miserable that do not rise to the level of legal discrimination. The variation and level of intention are endless, but just to consider a few: The teacher who forces partner projects with peers who curl their lips at you. The cashier who drops your change on the counter rather than touch you. The drama clubs where all of the parts are in boy/girl romances. The jocks hanging out in the parking lot before school and ranking the girls. Every form you have to fill out for standardized tests, school registration, or gym clothes that makes you choose a gender. The endless literature and history booklists in which you are entirely unrepresented.
Related Statement(s): “That’s just how it is.” “You have to expect that.” “It’s just one person/class/co-worker.”
How This Comes Across: “I am completely incapable of conceptualizing what it is like to be in your situation, but, beyond this, I resent the fact that I am being asked to try. Buck up, already!”
Alternatives: If you find it exhausting to have a friend describe a little of what they experience, imagine what it is like to deal with it as an endless, unpredictable onslaught that you have to stay braced against. Instead of discounting their experiences try, “I hadn’t thought about that, but I can see now how it’s problematic” or just visualizing what they are experiencing and looking sympathetic.
Statement E: “I have lots of queer friends, and they don’t mind X.”
Issues: People are individuals. Even if you have perfect insight into everything that your queer friends do and don’t mind, they do not represent all experiences.
Related Statement(s): “I’ve got a cousin in San Francisco, and he’s fine.” “There are tons of jobs for gay people.” “My gay friends have never experienced X.”
How This Comes Across: “All queer people are interchangeable. Furthermore, I know more about your experiences than you do. In the future please consult with me (and possibly my friends) before having an opinion on your life.”
Alternatives: “I hadn’t realized that could be an issue.” “That’s terrible!”
eta: *“The Gay Agenda” is a series of posts reflecting my response to a broad range of issues relating to gender, sex, and sexuality. While these are distinct aspects of each person’s identity, socially and culturally they are intertwined strands of misunderstanding and institutionalized power differentials. The title “Gay Agenda” is meant to draw awareness to the fact that members of a culture are sometimes inclined to view anyone who does not abide by social expectations as having a hidden agenda, rather than as simply existing in the world as they are. Because the term “gay agenda” is used in all seriousness by some groups, I have used it as the series title. It is not meant to imply that topics will be limited to “the gay!”
Gay Pride “Homosexual Agenda” from Top Pun.
Tell me again about the gay agenda, by SodaHead.
Knifed statue of liberty from Pam’s House Blend.
Tremble in fear of the gay agenda, from Ha! Tea ‘n’ Danger.
I’m not providing links to sources for the actual hate images.