Yesterday’s Facebook drama continues; this morning I received a couple of private messages asking me why I’m friends with people who would say or think that sort of thing. I was morbidly amused to see that the messages were mirror-images of each other: one wondering why I’d be friends with people who “obviously don’t respect LGBT rights” and the other telling me I’m a “nice guy” who doesn’t need to hang out with “radicals”; what was truly ironic is that both messages praised me for my patience and forbearance rather than just banning people like they’d have done. Somewhat less amusing is having a couple of people un-Friend me yesterday over the whole affair; these were people who I’m friends with — or thought I was friends with — in real life. That may make Trillium War a touch awkward, since it’s going to be a pretty crowded event and Ealdormere is a small Kingdom, even by SCA standards.
So this morning I find myself standing in the middle, with offended straight people on one side and angry queer people on the other. Again. This is ground I’m getting familiar with.
First of all, let me address the concerns of my LGBT friend — I seriously doubt there’s anybody on my FB friends list who “doesn’t respect LGBT rights.” I mean that. Even if they disagree with me, even if my posts make them uncomfortable, there’s no question that these people are good people… because as evidenced by my high school “friend” the real assholes don’t last long on my page or blog. I ban them. No, the people on my Facebook friends list do care, and they don’t like having it implied that they don’t… in fact I suspect a lot of the escalation that happened during the discussion was offence at the mere implication that they could be anything less than 100% positive about LGBT rights.
And second, to my straight friend who doesn’t understand why a “nice guy” would hang out with “radicals” — who says they’re the radical ones? Compared to me, some of them are downright vanilla. Not that I think it’s radical to stand up and be counted, to speak up and be seen. It’s not a radical stance… but it is an inconvenient one. It’s messy. It can be in-your-face. It can be a problem.
The problem yesterday was, quite simply, privilege. In response to an incident of outright bigotry that I had to deal with yesterday morning, I made a venting statement on my Facebook. And some people took offence to my frustrated post and told me I was wrong, that LGBT Pride was exclusionary and that it should be made more inclusive, or maybe there should be Straight Pride to counter it. And you know what? In a perfect world I’d probably agree with them.
We do not live in a perfect world. In fact, some mornings I look at the news and the world is so goddamn imperfect I consider just quitting: yanking out my ethernet cable, selling my stuff to buy a boat and sailing away forever.
Heteronormativity (a word that got thrown around a bit yesterday) starts with the assumption that heterosexuality is normal and right — the only normal and right. This may not be overtly stated (in fact it rarely is) but from that foundational assumption, there’s a whole framework of assumptions that get built. If heterosexuality is the only normal and right, then homo- or bisexuality must therefore be wrong, QED. For most straight people, this is the baseline assumption… if only subconsciously. (Hell, for most LGBT people it’s the baseline assumption, which I suspect is why you get so much self-destructive behaviour in the LGBT community.) On the surface, straight people can say “I support gay rights” but if underneath they’re uncomfortable with LGBT people, there’s going to be a certain amount of tension. Western civilization has, in the space of two generations, gone from imprisoning and maiming LGBT people to allowing them to live openly and freely — even to marry and raise children. Objectively, that’s an amazing amount of progress… but attitudes are still catching up. On the Right, you get people who are still openly disgusted by “those people”; on the Left you get people who are squeamishly determined to give “those people” the benefit of the doubt.
Those people. Still separate. And, especially on the Left, if you so much as suggest that someone is not 100% in support of LGBT people, that person gets very, very upset. Because you’re supposed to be. Because it’s good to support LGBT rights. And because, under the surface, there’s that tension between what they subconsciously believe to be “normal” and what their brain and intellect and morals tell you is “right.” That’s what heteronormativity does to straight people who are trying to be LGBT-positive, it creates that uncertainly, that tension. And a lot of straight people learn to ignore that tension, because by and large they aren’t required to deal with it on a daily basis. When they do have to deal with it, though, the tension can sometimes let go in unpredictable ways like a clock-spring wound too tight. I saw some of that on my Facebook page yesterday.
Being in a position to ignore that tension is pretty much the essence of straight privilege.
Of course, some of my straight friends who were declared themselves offended yesterday made accusations of heterophobia, and in response one of my LGBT friends went so far as to deny the existence of heterophobia outright. I slightly disagree with that – I think that heterophobia is real, although I usually see it in the context of being anti-hetero out of sheer frustration with straight privilege. I certainly don’t think that pointing out that someone is taking advantage of their straight privilege is a heterophobic act.
But there were people who declared themselves offended by some of the statements made by my LGBT friends yesterday. And you know what? Part of me is sorry about that because they’re my friends and I know it’s jarring and upsetting to have something offend you. But the rest of me isn’t sorry, because welcome to my life, okay? I wake up, make coffee, and read the news and there isn’t a single day, not one, that doesn’t include news of attacks on LGBT people — sometimes literal, physical attacks, but most often “just” harassment. There are articles on one religious leader or another condemning gays, or a politician allying himself with anti-gay groups. Some mornings, like yesterday, I get to deal with it up close and personal.
I was raised in a devoutly Catholic family. I was an altar boy, I went to Catholic school (uniforms and all), I participated in the rituals and rounds of a very close-knit parish. Last year, Pope Benedict XVI declared that gays are unable to be “fully developed humans.” Can you imagine how much that hurt? Not so much that the some old man in Rome would think that, but that the people from my parish, the community that I was raised in and proud to be a part of, would think that and view me as less than human. Have you ever heard the expression “you can’t go home again?” When you’re LGBT, being cut off from your roots is so common as to be a cliché. But when you’re straight, not so much. Straight people don’t have to think about the fact that, for the 1.2 billion people in the Catholic Church, you’re officially subhuman. When you’re an ex-Catholic bisexual, it’s pretty hard to ignore. (That being said, some straight Catholics are fighting that attitude, and more power to them. I’m painting with pretty broad strokes here because I’ve got a lot of ground to cover.)
The Pope making a statement that I’m an untermensch is a fairly minor incident for me. It hurt, but the pain is fading. Having someone I used to hang out with in high school go off on me yesterday hurt too, but that was also a relatively minor incident. Having friends get bent out of shape and un-Friending me on Facebook because I’m complaining about it? Painful, but a minor incident. My life is a series of minor incidents… but its a daily, steady flow of incidents. It grinds you down after a while.
Do you want to know what a major incident is for me? About three months before I graduated from college, I got queer-bashed. One night, walking home from the campus pub, three guys followed me into one of the bathrooms in a campus building and proceeded to kick the shit out of me in a toilet stall. I didn’t recognize any of them, but they clearly knew who I was: They called me “faggot” and kicked me until I curled up in a ball, and then one of them pissed on me and then they left me there. And because I was twenty and stupid and trying to keep my sexuality from being public knowledge, I picked myself up, washed my face, and limped quietly back to my apartment off campus where I showered and laundered my clothes and never told anyone for years afterwards. It took me a long, long time to deal with that. In a lot of ways I’m still dealing with that.
Balanced against that sort of thing – and I wish it was a once-in-a-lifetime incident, but it wasn’t – a little bit of “offense” doesn’t weigh very much with me. My apologies if you think I’m being unfair, but that’s where I’m coming from.
I’m only mentioning the bathroom incident because yesterday one of the participants in the Facebook discussion pretty much denied that things like that “still happen”, because “he’s never seen it.” Well, as a white straight male he’s got the privilege of turning a blind eye to that sort of thing. I can’t turn a blind eye – I have to see it, because sometimes it looks like three guys beating me in a toilet stall. I’ve had abuse screamed at me for walking down the street holding another man’s hand, or even just for wearing a pride flag on my jean jacket. I’ve had things thrown at me. I wish I could turn a blind eye, or ignore it. But I can’t. So I get angry sometimes. I mock and use derogatory language about the people who treat me that way. One of the people who un-Friended me accused me of hypocrisy because I referred to my so-called high school friend as an ignorant asshole (which, frankly, he was.) I was not, unfortunately, in the best mental space yesterday, which probably didn’t help the tone of the whole debate, and now I have to worry I’ve burnt a couple of bridges I really didn’t want to burn.
Rather than deal with that sort of thing I could, it’s been pointed out, just pass for straight. I am in a very heteronormative relationship right now. I’ve got the home, the car, the dog, the job and rather more to the point I’m marrying a beautiful person of the opposite gender from me. I could stop “making an issue” of my sexuality, I could stop making waves, or rocking the boat. I could just go into the closet and live in such a way that nobody knows that I’m anything but straight and therefore nobody will give me trouble about it.
Yeah, I’ve been in the closet before. The walls are metal, and there’s a toilet, and three large men are kicking somebody who doesn’t deserve it. No, thank you.
Working my way back, after a long, long post, to the middle ground: I understand why my straight friends were upset by the discussion. I understand why my LGBT friends were upset by the discussion. I even understand why I’m upset by the discussion. We’re dealing with upsetting things, and a Facebook wall is an imperfect vehicle for that sort of debate at the best of times.
So, to my straight friends who were offended because they felt they were being judged: I’m sorry… but “offended” is small beans compared to what LGBT people deal with on a daily basis. What I ask is that you take a few minutes and think about what it’s like to live constantly with the fear that you’ll be judged or punished because of who you are… as I lived with it yesterday. The whole thing escalated to the point where I’m actually worried that there will be repercussions against me in the SCA; Think about what kind of shit I’ve had to deal with that makes that sort of concern completely plausible, even in an accepting organization like the Society.
To my LBGT friends who got angry at my straight friends: remember that they’re good people who are genuinely hurt at the implication that they’re not doing enough; they wouldn’t have gotten upset if they didn’t care, and I regret that some folks felt so hurt by the situation that they’ve cut off contact.
I wish I’d handled it better.