Recently I have met people online who are from without the LGTBQ community who have approached or initiated conversations on LGTBQ issues, to then withdraw when they have received what they perceive as people ‘coming-down’ on them. I have written this post with these people in mind, as a peace offering, and some suggestions for the well-intentioned ‘would be allies’ who are having trouble entering that sometimes ‘hostile-seeming-to-outsiders’ LGTBQ world.
My suggestion is – stay here – don’t withdraw. Hold that feeling of people ‘coming-down’ on you. If you are straight or cisgender – then the issue you were discussing was not about you. The people you think have ‘come-down’ on you probably haven’t. What you might be feeling is the weight of our issues and it might be one of the rare chances that you get of feeling what we are up against on a daily basis – by joining the conversation you have just walked into a minefield zone of high tension. This is the tension that we live with continuously. LGTBQ people (along with other marginalised groups) have higher rates of stress than the general population – which leads to high rates of ill health (both mental and physical) and suicide. Hold that tension that you have just felt – please, don’t turn and walk away – take a seat, take the time to stop, listen and understand why some of us are disgruntled (or enraged) and why someone might be critical of what you have said. Learn where the tension in their words (if that’s what you felt) is coming from, find out what you did (or someone from your community has done) to contribute to that tension and what you can do to help lessen the tension between you and the people that you have just (unsuccessfully) tried to connect with.
Why is there tension within the LGTBQ community? Read my post about heteronormativity (1). People who are not straight and/or who are not cisgender suffer discrimination. Discrimination leads to tension, often that tension can be enough for a person to decide to take their own life. Take this tension seriously. An LGTBQ person risks workplace discrimination, difficulties in accessing adequate heatlhcare, risks personal safety (gay/trans bashing), is the butt of denigrating humour, may be stereotyped, may be shunned by their family, may lack basic rights such as the right to marry (which also involves economic status as a legal spouse, other spousal rights such as access to intensive care and having the right to make decisions for partner as next of kin), the right to be named as a parent on their child’s birth certificate (and subsequent paternal rights such as access to visiting intensive care if that child is ill or parental recognition in the case of separation), the right to identification that matches their expressed identity, may be forced into surgical or chemical transition (which often results in sterilisation) in order to be able to change identity on official documents.
Discrimination is exclusion. When a group of people, or an individual, says that they feel excluded, then we should listen. When a straight, cis-gender person tells me they feel excluded, that they feel unwelcome in the LGTBQ equity conversation, I listen. I’m writing this because I have listened, and I have taken your feelings seriously. There is not much I can do, however, to make you feel comfortable. You are an outsider, and I can’t make you feel less of an outsider. You will stop being an outsider, when I am no longer an outsider – when there is no tension, when there is no exclusion, then neither of us will feel it. As long as there is tension, I can’t pretend it is not there. We need to change the paradigm – together. It takes both sides to shift. I have built up defensive barriers and will remove those when there is no longer a threat – when I no longer have to defend myself. Your side has built a wall or a closet that excludes and contains me. Yours is a heteronormative community which tolerates me, but doesn’t actively include me. As long as we live in a world where everyone is assumed straight, cisgender and one of two options from a strict binary (male/female) division, then there will continue to be places where you and I, and others, will feel excluded and/or uncomfortable.
There are ways to make yourself more at home in our LGTBQ community. Tread carefully – hold out a peace flag and use it when tensions flare. Mind your language – listen to the terms that people use to define themselves (if they define themselves) and use them. Mind your pronouns – not everyone identifies as a ‘he’ or a ‘she’, some people prefer the third person ‘they’ (rather than he/she) or gender alternative pronouns such as ‘zie’, ‘per’ or ‘hir’ (2). If in doubt, ask the person which pronouns they use and prefer. If someone corrects your use of language – stand corrected, make changes and be flexible. Different people – especially from different generations – may use and prefer different language. Be patient – we are all feeling our way and looking for language that is acceptable to all. If you feel hurt, wait for a quiet moment and voice that privately. Be open-minded – heterosexism and homophobia exist and you may have or be unwittingly contributing to that. I know that I have, and perhaps still do. This is how most of us were brought up – it takes a conscious effort to stop thinking in a ‘straight-minded’ fashion, even for LGTBQ people – it’s one of the reasons for the doubt, the questioning, the shame….the difficulties we have had to overcome to recognise who we are. By coming here, you also have the opportunity to overcome your ‘straight-mindedness’ – believe me a world that is diverse is much more colourful, it’s worth the eye-opening journey. So please, don’t close the door if you feel like an outsider – embrace that feeling of being an outsider and not completely at ease when you enter the LGTBQ conversation, it’s actually what makes you closer to being one of us, as here we are all outsiders, we all know what it feels like to be excluded. Welcome to the conversation, together we can work towards a world that is inclusive – mind your step, I don’t want you to get hurt. It is a minefield over here.
I look forward to your comments,
1. Farrow, A., Heteronormativity http://languageofinclusion.com/heteronormativity/(accessed 2.01.2013)
2. Barker, M., Beyond the binary: Gender outside of the two-box world http://rewritingtherules.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/diva-article-on-non-binary-gender/#more-850 (accessed 2.01.2013)