It is impossible to grow up in a racist society and not absorb a lot of racism. It is also impossible to grow up in the U.S. as a white person and not benefit from all that racism. Part of it is the generational thing: we lived in nicer neighborhoods than we otherwise would because our parents, grandparents, and so on benefited from preferential hiring practices, redlining of mortgages, and unequal distribution of resources for public schools. And it’s easy for us to say, “Well, that was the bad old days. Things have changed, now, and besides, I can’t do anything about it.” But it isn’t just the bad old days. Racist assumptions are baked into all of our social conventions, institutions, and business practices. Studies have shown again and again that changing something as simple as making a name look less ethnic on a resume substantially improves the odds that a submitted resume will get result in a call for a job interview, for instance. We see it in statistics of which people cops decide to stop and question, let alone the ghastly statistics about police shootings.
So if you’re like me, looking at this news this weekend and being horrified that an angry white man who drove his car into a crowd killing a woman (and wounding at least 19 other people), while people ranging from ordinary citizens to news anchors and even the president are bending over backward to say that bigotry isn’t involved—it isn’t enough to say, “Aren’t they terrible people?” We have to be willing to admit that these terrible people were enabled by a society which explicitly benefits white people, whether we individual white people think of ourselves as racist or not.
Some other folks have explained it quite well: How “Nice White People” Benefit from Charlottesville and White Supremacy:
“For white people who don’t self-identify as disciples of Richard Spencer, David Duke, and/or the ancient demon Beelzebub, there is extreme anxiety around the accusation of racism. We see this fear of blame in Trump’s statement. “Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama” seems to say, ‘Hey, there’s been a tense racial climate in this country forever. It’s not anyone’s fault!’ Except the opposite is true. American white supremacy has been a problem forever, and it is all of our fault, fellow white people.
“White people benefit from white supremacy. Period. Peggy McIntosh spelled this out for us in 1989, but apparently we’re still not quite getting it. Her famous piece, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” lays out undeniable ways that it is simply easier to be white in this country, like always having a boss who is a fellow white person, or, you know, being able to eat Skittles at night without getting shot. Most white people didn’t ask for this privilege. Actually, that’s the whole idea. White privilege is an inherent advantage that easily goes unnoticed and unacknowledged. Rather than stuffing down the sense of shame associated with this obvious unfairness, why not work to even the playing field?”
The referenced article by Peggy McIntosh is also a very good read: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.
“I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.”
We can’t just shake our heads and blame it all on those people. Society as a whole, including us, are to blame. The first step is recognizing that the problem isn’t something which was forced on our country. The problem isn’t something that just appeared recently. The problem has always been there. It has been growing and getting angrier for years. We are part of the problem, so we have to be part of the solution. We have to find ways to oppose this racist authoritarian movement with more than just words.
Anyway, my confusion lasted only milliseconds, because I hadn’t even finished reading the headline before I understood that for this flag, the new stripes represented Queer People of Color. Which made perfect sense. But, as an article that I included in the most recent Friday Links noted, the new flag wasn’t greeted enthusiastically by everyone: The Surprising Controversy Surrounding A More Inclusive Pride Flag.
I’ve seen some of the negative reactions on my own social media, and one thing I couldn’t help noticing was that every person I saw objecting, if you checked out their profile, they were white and male (Full Disclosure: I’m white and male, myself). And their objections are, to a one, ludicrous. I especially liked the guy who said something along the lines of “if you don’t see yourself included in the universal symbol of the rainbow, you need to do some soul searching.” Because first of all, it isn’t a universal symbol, is it? As just one example, we have all the whacko Christian fundamentalists who get all angry and in our face claiming that we’ve stolen the rainbow from god. When the flag was first created (and hand sewn) under the direction of artist Gilbert Baker in 1978, some people in the queer community didn’t like it for a variety of reasons.And it isn’t as if the flag has remained completely unchanged since its original creation. In the fall over 1978, after the assassination of Harvey Milk, there was a sudden demand in the San Francisco area for more of the rainbow flags. To meet the sudden demand, Baker and a flag company decided to use existing stock rainbow fabric (red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and violet), so they lost the hot pink and changed the indigo to a lighter blue. And a year later the official banners for the San Francisco Pride events switched to a six-color version ( red, orange, yellow, green, royal blue, and violet). There are two different explanations given for that change: some say it was because when the seven-color versions were hung vertically from street lamp poles the middle stripe wasn’t always visible, others say that there was difficulty getting both the turquoise and indigo fabric. The point is, the rainbow flag changed several times, with the original artist’s blessing, in the first few years of its existence. I mentioned above that not everyone was happy with it. Some weren’t happy because they thought the rainbow was two generic. Others because there were already symbols being used by lots of queer people (for example: a pink triangle or a labrys on a black triangle), and they thought we should stick to those symbols for various reasons. Other folks have made other variations. And a lot of people in the community didn’t think that the rainbow (or the Pride marches themselves) should include anyone other than exclusively gay men and lesbian women. I remember public arguments about whether the words bisexual or transgender should be added to the official name of the Pride Parade in Seattle during the 90s, for instance. There many other arguments still raging about who should be included. I wasn’t around the community for the arguments about the rainbow flag when it was first introduced, but in the late 80s and early 90s, when I was just coming out, the arguments about why the rainbow wasn’t a good symbol for LGBTQ+ people were still raging. I knew more than one person who was adamant that the Pink Triangle was a better symbol because it represented a time gay men were targeted for extermination in Nazi Germany, and we had taken the symbol back. Of course, there were plenty of people who didn’t like the Pink Triangle, either (some because it was considered to represent only men; others because of its origin as a symbol of our oppression). Or only liked it if it were used along with other symbols commonly associated with lesbians.
So claiming the current six-color rainbow flag is universally recognized as including everyone even within the community simply isn’t true.
There’s another big hint that something like the More Colors Flag is needed: white queers wouldn’t be offended (and the folks objecting are definitely offended) at the flag if the problems it addresses weren’t real. Not only that, all of the arguments I’ve seen used to explain why the More Colors Flag is unnecessary sound exactly like the homophobic arguments given for why queers don’t need representation in movies, books, TV and such or why laws against queer discrimination aren’t needed. And they also are exact parallels to racist arguments used to argue we don’t need laws about racial discrimination (among other things). As they say, if it looks like a racist argument and sounds like a racist objection…
None of this will sound unfamiliar to anyone familiar with discussions about intersectionality. In case you don’t know what intersectionality is, let’s start with the definition (I warned you in the title we would get to dictionary topics in this post!):
intersectionality noun the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, gender, and sexual orientation as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
So another reason that you can’t claim that the rainbow is a universal symbol that applies to all queer people is because the experience of being queer isn’t the same for all categories of queer people. It’s kind of like the people who make that argument that you shouldn’t let a black actor portray James Bond or a woman portray Doctor Who because that would make the shows political. Insisting that the hero must be a white male is just as much a political statement as asking why the hero can’t be something else. Similarly, suggesting we should do something to make people of color feel more welcome is not racializing the Pride flag any more than resisting that inclusion is.
I’m a cisgender white man. I also happen to be queer. I have faced discrimination (and worse) because I’m a gay man. But I also know that I have been shielded from certain types of discrimination because I’m a guy and because I’m white. I don’t know all of the times that this happened, but I understand how systemically racism and sexism are baked into our culture, and therefore there are times when I experience no obstacles, where a person of color or a woman would find things less welcoming. The types of discrimination I experience and the ways I encounter discrimination as a gay man are often very different from the types and ways experienced by queers of color. The same kind of discrimination that I might be able to somewhat sidestep because of a bit of white male privilege I don’t even notice at the time can be a much more devastating experience to someone who does not have those two advantages.Recognizing this isn’t about trying to decide who is more oppressed. This isn’t the Oppression Olympics. The truth is, that a lot of white queer people are unaware of their own racism. Most insist that they aren’t at all, which is literally impossible. You can’t grow up in a racist society without being conditioned to the assumptions of racism. Asserting that the rainbow already includes everyone ignores the fact that there is a lot of racism within the queer community, some of it really subtle because it is just a manifestation of the systemic racism of the whole society, and others of it quite blatant. It’s blatant while also being rationalized away. The photo here of the sign that was seen at the Equality March earlier this month talks about one of those examples. Please note that this sign was at an Equality March, not a Pride March. But it underscores a real truth: a lot of queers, particularly certain white gay men, have these racist attitudes. And yes, it absolutely is racist to say in your dating profile “no blacks” or “no asians” or “no latinos.” The usual counter argument is that they’re just talking about a preference.
I have a preference for redheads. Yet I have never refused to date a non-redhead. And a good thing, too, since neither my late partner, Ray, nor my husband Michael are redheads. I lusted after and occasionally dated redheads, but I wound up falling in love with two different men for reasons other than their hair color. That’s because while I have an attraction toward redheads, I recognize that’s all it is, and that there are other reasons to like or dislike a person than their hair color. The same holds true for race. If you completely exclude someone from consideration because of their race, there is no word other than racism to describe it. And while we’re on the subject: fat-shaming and fem-rejection aren’t any better, and if you’re doing that you’re just being a different kind of bigot, but no less of a bigot than the racist, so don’t do it.Nobody’s free until everyone is. And one of the steps to setting everyone free is recognizing that not everyone is as free as everyone else. We have to find a way to actually be inclusive, not to simply say that being inclusive is a good thing. And being inclusive requires us to recognize intersectionality. To understand that there are different degrees of discrimination. Society imposes different types of disadvantage on people based on categories of race, gender, sexuality, economic class, and other things. Those differences are real. The pain and suffering they cause is real. And the benefits that other categories of people receive at the expense of that pain and suffering is also real. Fighting for equality means not just giving lip service to inclusivity and intersectionality, it means taking steps to do something about those problems. You have to look for the people who are having trouble getting into the freedom tent and work to help them inside and to feel welcome. That requires first listening, really listening to try to understand–not pretending to listen while we’re really just waiting for our turn to talk.
If my queer kindred of color tell me that they don’t feel welcome in many queer spaces, then I have to take that seriously and ask what I can do to help. And then I have to actually help. Which is why I say that intersectionality isn’t just a noun. Because those of us who have some privilege, however little it may be, have to stick our necks out and use that privilege to help those who don’t.
Pride should be for all of us.
By “we” I don’t mean to imply that I was actually at the Stonewall Inn on that fateful night, or for several nights after where the street queens and homeless gay teens and butch lesbians and angry sissies kept coming back out on the streets and demanded their right to exist. I was 8 years old living in a small town in Colorado (and if I recall correctly crushing hard on Robert Conrad as Secret Service agent James West). I wouldn’t even hear about the events of the summer until more than ten years later. But that summer the people who were standing up to the police and demanding the simple right to be out in public without being harassed, weren’t the quiet ones. That wasn’t entirely their choosing. Heroes of the time such as Marsha P Johnson or Silvia Rivera were exactly the sort of gender non-conforming queer who had spent their entire lives being literally unable to hide. When the police raided that night, they took their usual tack of grabbing the people who looked least “normal” to single out for a beating and arrest.Their only crime was being at a bar and being obviously queer-looking and/or queer-acting. Just for some context: it wouldn’t be until 1973 that a court would rule as unconstitutional laws banning people from wearing clothing “typical of the opposite sex” (which included women wearing pants). The police had a lot of leeway in deciding what constituted not dressing in clothes appropriate to one’s gender. And that’s how these raids would go. Cops would surround the bar, then come in, turn on the lights, order everyone to line up and produce their identification. Anyone who was “cross dressing” would be arrested (and usually get roughed up on the way). It was not uncommon for male cops to grope the butchest lesbians while making lewd remarks to try to get them to react, so they could be arrested for resisting.
Ultimately, the cops and other authorities were targeting people who were different.
There had been raids before, but almost never before had the crowd turned on the police. Normally everyone who could run away did, and those who couldn’t tried not to be the few who would get beaten. But that night, the patrons decided not to cooperate, and things went downhill rather fast.
Again, no one, including many of the people who actually were there, knows why the crowd reacted differently that night. Just as no one knows for certain why the police were raiding the Stonewall Inn that night. The leading theory is that the mafia-connected owners of the Inn were suspected of making more money than they admitted to from blackmailing well-to-do customers, and were therefore not bribing the cops and liquor inspectors as much as they should have been. But because all of that was highly illegal, we’ll never know. The riots went on for several nights. Then, in the weeks afterward, several of the people that had been there formed politcal groups to fight for queer rights: The Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaires and the Gay Liberation Front.
Let’s pause here to talk a bit about terminology. Transgender, transvestite, and cross-dressing were terms that at that time were used inter-changeably by people within the community, even though today it’s considered offensive to act as if those terms refer to the same thing. There is still some controversy about which of the street queens should be considered transgender, for instance. It’s an argument I don’t want to get into right now.
And it’s really beside the point. The people who were at the forefront of the Stonewall Riots, and who organized the first new gay rights afterwards were mostly trans (or otherwise genderfluid/non-conforming) people of color. It was the most marginalized who led the way.I’m not trans, myself, but from a very early age I was called “sissy,” “pussy,” “faggot” and worse (by members of my own family and teachers, no less). I was four years old the first time that my dad angrily beat me while calling me, among other words that I didn’t know the meaning of, “cocksucker.” And at four I didn’t know what a drag queen was, let alone a gay or lesbian person. I wasn’t intentionally acting whatever way it was that made that the go-to insult to throw at me. I didn’t mean to be the kind of boy that caused teachers to tell my parents later, after one of the most severe bullying incidents at school, “As long as he walks like that and talks like that, how else do you expect the other boys to react?”
Whichever of my mannerisms trigger people’s gaydar, they’re not under my control. I tried so hard to act like the other boys and not get noticed. Yet, again and again I failed. So it’s both ignorant and unfair to say that the people who got targeted by cops in those raids could have prevented it if they just stopped flaunting things. Long before Marsha P Johnson wore her first outrageous flowered hat out in public, as a little boy growing up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, she had been beaten and bullied. There came a point when she decided to stop hiding who and what she was and embrace it.
Similarly, it’s both ignorant and unfair to say that people shouldn’t dress outrageously or otherwise let their freak flag fly at Pride. The only reason that so-called “straight-acting” gays have found it safe to come out at all (whether it be former NFL players or rugby players or button-down executives) is because the “queens and trannies and freaks” of previous generations decided to stand up and fight back. I’m not saying it is easy for anyone to come out, but many of the community didn’t have a choice about whether people knew—the only choice they had was whether to let themselves be beat down, or to fight back and be proud of who they were.So embrace the fairies, the leather daddies, the cycle mamas, the butches, the fems, the sissies, the nellies, the drag kings, the street queens, the gym bunnies, the queer nerds, the bis, the pans, the aces—every gender, every race, every freaky and fabulous corner of the big wild Queer Community. The old Isaac Newton quote is that he could only see further than others because he stood on the shoulders of giants. We’re only able to be here and see a bright future because we’re standing on the shoulders of those fabulous freaks. And as someone else once observed, if you think someone is normal, you just don’t know them well enough.
We’re all queer! We all belong here! Let’s march into a brighter future together!
Growing up in Southern Baptist churches in mostly redneck communities, I knew from a very early age that I didn’t belong. I was constantly breaking unspoken rules I didn’t understand. Nearly everyone–not just my physically abusive father, but other relatives, church leaders, many of my teachers, and a lot of the kids at school–made it abundantly clear that I didn’t act like a normal boy, and that if I didn’t figure out how to man up, there would be even more severe consequences than the beatings, teasing, and humiliations I was already enduring. I was taught–not just at church, but also at public school in health and science classes–that homosexuality was a severe mental disease that turned the people who had it into pedophiles, rapists, and worse. Homosexuals, they said, were evil creatures who deserved to die gruesomely.
When puberty hit, I finally realized that those two messages were one and the same. Puberty hit like a Tomahawk missle, blasting away my hopes of growing up to have what I had been taught was a normal, successful life. Because suddenly I realized that those odd fascinations I had had with certain men and boys wasn’t just friendship, they had been crushes. And now my hormones and body were reacting to the guys my emotions had been before. All of that added up to the horrifying conclusion that I could never man up enough not to deserve the scorn, ridicule, physical assaults, and even worse. It was no longer a matter of trying to figure out what I was doing wrong–it became a matter of life and death that I hide the truth about what I was from everyone I knew.
After fighting my feelings and having a couple of furtive relationships with other guys my age who were just as scared, I came to know with all my being that three things were absolutely true: If the wrong people found proof about what I was, I would be rejected and certainly come to an untimely and probably gruesome death alone and unloved. If I couldn’t stop having these feelings and acting on any of those urges, I would spend eternity in hell. And absolutely nothing I did–no amount of tearfully pleading with god, reading the Bible cover to cover three times, stealing my dad’s porn magazines and trying to make myself feel attraction to the women in them, et cetera–would make those feelings go away.
I was doomed. It wasn’t a matter of if, merely when.
Despite knowing I was doomed, my basic temperament just doesn’t accept no-win situations. So part of me kept trying to convince the rest of me that we could fake it as long as it took. I also had certain glimmers of encouragement I’ve written about before in science fiction. One thing I didn’t have was any role model or even a hint that there might be another kind of life possible.
There were no gay people in any of the communities we’d lived in until I was in my 20s. There were no openly gay characters in TV or movies or the like until at least my mid-teens. Oh, there were characters that seemed to be gay, but they were always either the comic relief or someone you were supposed to despise. When a few openly gay characters started showing up, they were never regular characters or even heroic. They were still either comedic characters, or victims. Very occasionally one would appear on a single episode to make a message about tolerance. But they were alway alone and there was no sense they had a life or friends, let alone a love life!
And then I saw a news story about a gay pride event that changed my life. I had seen some news stories before about the gay protest marches, but they had been brief, and were always accompanied by images of either very angry people with protest signs, or outrageous images selected to portray all the queers as freaks. This story did include some of those images, but there was more of an attempt to give the queer people a chance to speak. They showed brief clips from interviews with several people, but the moment that stuck in my head was when a pair of middle-aged men who were interviewed mentioned that they had been together for nearly 20 years. They were boyfriends, and they had been together for years.
That single bit of data changed everything. I was 19 or 20 years old. I had had a few secret relationships and flings with guys. They had all been steeped in anxiety and fear of what would happen if we were caught. These other closeted gay guys were the only queer people I had met, and they were all, so far as I knew, just as certain that we were going to burn in hell for eternity because of what we were. Though some of the fiction I’d read by then mentioned gay or bisexual people in relationships, it had all be in various sci fi settings where things were very different than the real world.
But there. on the TV in a news program two men who weren’t sci fi characters were comfortable saying on camera that they were boyfriends and had been for years.
It was several more years before I would even utter aloud to anyone the words, “I think I might be gay,” but knowing that there were actual, flesh and blood queer people out there who were in love and having relationships is what let me hold on to hope for a few more years and gave me the strength to finally come out.And that is another reason I support Pride Parades and all sorts of other out gay events. Because there are tens of thousands of frightened queer children out there scared to death to be who they are. Worried that their own parents will reject them or worse. And because we know that every years hundreds of those kids commit suicide because they have no hope. As long as we have our crazy, flashy, glittery, contentious but fabulous pride parades and festivals and so on, then news sites will run stories about them. It doesn’t matter that the coverage may be slanted. Some of those frightened kids will see those stories. Some of them will click on those images. They will know that they aren’t alone. If we can give some of them hope, then our mission has been a success.
All of us who are living our lives out and proud got here because of the hard, brave work of the drag queens, trans activists, marching gays and lesbians and so forth who came before us. We owe them a debt we can’t repay directly. So we have a duty to not just pay it forward, but gay it forward.
Edited to Add:
If you can, give a donation to help queer kids who have been rejected by their families and kicked out on the street : True Colors Fund or The Ali Forney Center are good places to start. Many communities have local programs focusing on teen homelessness and particularly queer teen homelessness; a quick Google search with the name of your city or town, and the words “queer teen homeless” should point you in the right way. And if you want to hlp support transgender kids, please donate to: National Center for Transgender Equality.
None of the groups who previously organized bus trips did so this year. And the crowd, as the headline says, was tiny. One non-attendee who sort of live tweeted the event said that she counted the entire crowd: “47 if you include the babies.” The speeches were the typical anti-gay fare: how letting queers marry is destroying society, et cetera, et cetera. Then the not-quite four dozen people apparently marched down the street and glared at the Supreme Court building.
The downward spiral of this particular anti-gay hate group has been going on for years. I’ve written before about their tax and fundraising shenanigans. The tl;dr version: small donors stopped giving to them several years ago, so they are supported by a very small number of anti-gay millionaires (most of whom demand anonymity), and have had to resort to taking multi-million dollar loans from their associates religious “charity and education” non-profit to shore up the political side. They’ve skipped filing required tax documents since then (again), but I suspect when they are finally forced to disclose again the situation will turn out to be even worse.
I should mention that in the previous years some of those buses who brought people to the march were paid for by NOM. The story I linked says “groups,” but that’s another bit of chicanery. Most of the other non-profit groups that they used to like to list as supporting them were little more than shell companies of the main National Organization. People who were board members of NOM were each listed as the president of one of the smaller groups, and the individual groups didn’t do any serious fundraising, they were supported by the national organization (in turn relying on those aforementioned anti-gay millionaires). You may infer what you wish from the fact that most of those organizations have been dissolved and there were no buses bringing folks to the march. Can’t pay for buses without money, right?
I assume that if there is another event next year, that it will soon look like the pathetic ex-gay pride event four years ago: literally the only attendees were nine employees of the organization trying to sell ex-gay therapy, and about four internet news people covering the so-called rally. Note by that point, even Fox News was unwilling to send someone to cover the event.
While it’s tempting to take some delight in the downfall of some professional anti-gay people (seriously, peddling anti-gay hate is how people like Brian Brown make a living), this hardly means that no one hates us anymore, or that there aren’t plenty of anti-gay groups out there supporting politicians who are passing laws to take away our rights. All it means is that on the topic of marriage equality we long ago passed the tipping point where a majority of Americans think queer people should be allowed to legally marry if they want. And it means that before then we also got to a point where a majority of people believe sexual orientation can’t be changed.
But there are some nuances. Polls have shown that about 10 percent of the people who think marriage equality should be legal, also still believe that queer people are either immoral, or mentally ill, or some other category of “less than” —they don’t approve of us, they don’t approve of our relationships, but they don’t think their objections rise to the level of justifying legal prohibition.
There is a more disturbing segment (but I haven’t been able to find any surveys that have asked the right question to quantify these folks; I’ve just read a lot of their opinions in various places) of people who agree that sexual orientation can’t be changed, and therefore ex-gay therapy is a fraud, but they also believe that we are irretrievably broken, or otherwise inherently flawed. So again, it’s not that they approve of us or support all our rights, it’s that they’ve come to the conclusion that therapy can’t fix us.
The war isn’t over, it’s just that the battle lines have changed. We may have won the battle for legal marriage, and the battle against ex-gay therapy, but there’s still plenty of fight to be had.
At this point I was no longer feeling defensive, I was feeling angry. So I explained that while if one were speaking Latin, “homo” meant man, but the word wasn’t built from Latin roots, it was from Greek roots, and in Greek, homo means “the same” which is why the doctor who first coined the term picked it, as he had written about extensively that he was describing people who were attracted to and formed attachment to member of the same sex, in contrast to hetero which is greek for “other or different.” So “heterosexual” meant someone attracted to the other sex, while “homosexual” meant someone attracted to the same sex. Also, the doctor in question was himself non-heterosexual and spent much of his life trying to prove that homosexuality was not a mental illness.
Suffice it to say that she did not appreciate my lecture.
That was not the last time I got into that argument, by any means.
Other times when I’ve pointed out the difference between the Greek root and the Latin word which sounds the same, people have countered that “a lot of people think it means male!” To which I replied that a many people think the world is flat, but I’m not going to stop using the word “world” because some people are ignorant.
Don’t get me wrong—I understand that perception is important, but here’s the thing: if I point to a crowded room full of people of many different genders and say “they’re all homosexual” not one English speaking person in the whole world is going to think I’m only referring to the men. No one will be confused. Yes, a few of the women in the crowd may raise the same incorrect objection as the person in my first paragraph, and some bisexual or pansexual people in the crowd will make an equally incorrect objection (there is no portion of homosexual that means exclusively with one’s own gender, just that there is a propensity toward one’s own gender). I will grant that if there are any asexual people in the crowd they will have, linguistically, a valid bone to pick with my sweeping generalization.
The thing is, I don’t happen to like using the word homosexual because it sounds so clinical, and despite the word being coined by a pro-homo doctor, originally, it was quickly adopted by the parts of the medical establishment who insisted we were mentally ill or depraved. But I also don’t like using it to refer to the community because no matter how you slice it, it does exclude asexuals, as well as trans people who are also straight.
If I’m in a situation where queer isn’t accepted, I will sometimes punt to “non-heterosexual,” but that has the problem of defining us by what we aren’t, rather than what we are.
There are people who object to the term because it places emphasis on sex, while we often argue that the real issue is love. I have some small amount of sympathy for that line of reasoning, though it often digresses into rather sex-negative prudery. And while there is a difference between love and sex, for most non-asexuals, the two things are tangled together pretty tightly. I am attracted to other men. The initial attraction is, to be honest, about hormones and desire. For me, at least, love is a choice I make as I get to know a person. Yes, there are feelings and admiration and so forth, but I have feelings for lots of people who I don’t choose to commit myself to. I admire lots of people I don’t choose to commit myself to.
This attempt to separate the sex from sexual orientation also ignores another important reality: heterosexual relationships are just as much about sex as queer relationships are. Don’t believe me? What were the only legal arguments that anti-gay people had left by the time the case had reached the U.S. Supreme Court: that marriage was exclusively about reproduction, and that heterosexual people would never make the lifelong commitments necessary to raise the resultant children is legal marriage wasn’t reserved for straights (no, that argument makes no sense, and yes, that’s really what they wrote in their legal briefs!). Yes, the people who claim that we’re the perverts obsessed with sex argued that it was wrong to define marriage as a loving relationship geared toward mutual support (yes, that was also in their legal brief).
But I’ve digressed enough. The word “homosexual” does not simply refer to men, it comes from the Greek word homo meaning “the same.” Neither does the word refer to any exclusivity in that sexual orientation. Also, although hetero means “other or different,” neither heterosexual or homosexual linguistically imply only two genders. Heterosexual literally means sexual activity with someone of a different sex, not the opposite sex. So not only isn’t the word sexist, it also doesn’t deny the existence of genderfluid or intersex or third sex people.
And now you know!
And some people seem to be most hung up about the fact that we have parades and festivals. Especially the parade seems to bug them. They are always quick to say that they don’t have a problem with gay people, but the truth is that what bothers them is us being visible. When they ask us why we have to flaunt who we are, what they are really saying is why can’t he be quiet and stay hidden and not remind them that anyone who is different than they exist.
And you know how you can prove this? Ask them if they have ever raised the same objections to St. Patrick’s Day parades. The earliest St. Patrick’s Day parades in colonial times were about Irish Nationalism, since all of Ireland was under British rule at the time. By the mid- and late 1800s the St. Patrick’s Day parades were about Irish equality in the U.S., since anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment was quite high, and yes often encoded in laws and government policy. While the anti-discrimination purpose of the parades has faded away, the parade is still about taking pride in one’s Irish heritage. If a person doesn’t object to Irish pride parades (which is exactly what St. Patrick’s Day parades are), but they do object to LGBTQ+ Pride parades, the only logical reason can be that they object to the Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Trans, and all other Queers in particular, and not the idea of a parade celebrating identities in general.
I can pretend that the question isn’t a passive-aggressive exercise of bigotry and give you some simple answers. Why do we need Pride?
- We need Pride because people are still trying to kill us.
- We need Pride because religious leaders are still cheering on the people who kill us.
- We need Pride because people show up at memorials for murdered LGBT people with signs saying they deserved to die.
- We need Pride because people still target gender non-conforming children in schools, and now adults aren’t just making excuses for the bullying and discrimination, they are writing it into law!
- We need Pride because it’s still legal to fire us just for being gay in 29 states.
- We need Pride because some lawmakers and governors hate queer people so much, that they don’t just pass laws to hurt us, but spend huge amounts of taxpayer money to defend that discrimination in court.
- We need Pride because people are more offended at the idea of selling us a wedding cake than they are about queers being murdered.
- We need Pride because people get angry when other people acknowledge our existence.
- We need Pride because U.S. religious leaders demand that we be prosecuted simply for asking for equal rights.
- We need Pride because people get offended if we mention the gender of our significant other in casual conversation.
- We need Pride because religious parents still kick their queer children out onto the streets just for being gay, and it isn’t considered child neglect or abuse to do so.
- We need Pride because people will go to great lengths to take away any rights we managed to get.
- We need Pride because queer kids are born everywhere, not just into families and communities that love and accept them, but often into families where they are bullied (sometimes bullied until they kill themselves) and they need to know that they aren’t alone.
- We need Pride because the world tries to make us hate ourselves, tries to make us be ashamed to love, and most importantly tries to convince us we are utterly alone.
None of those reasons apply to straight people. No one bullies straight children just because they are straight or gender conforming. No parents kick their straight children out on the street because they are straight. No one is targeting sports bars to kill straights because they saw a man kiss a woman somewhere. No preachers are going on the air to say that straight people deserve death. No one is passing laws saying gender conforming children aren’t allowed in public school bathrooms. No one is passing laws trying to ban straight people from adopting children or getting medical benefits for their partners. Straight people and straight people’s sexuality (ever seen a romantic comedy?) is the subject of at least 99% of all movies, television shows, et cetera. So straight people don’t need pride. But if you really think you do, no one is stopping you from organizing your own parades (though I’ve argued before that you already have those, too).
The reason queers like me have been able to stand up and be ourselves is because other queers before us were brave enough to be out and brave enough to protest when necessary. Be it staging sip-ins to protest laws that made it illegal for a bartender to knowingly allow two homosexuals be served in the bar, or fighting back when police raided a gay club, or picketing in front of federal buildings, or boycotting industries whose spokespeople lobbied for laws to take away our rights, or protesting laws making it a crime for us to be intimate with the person of our choosing, or marching in the first ever Pride event in June 1970. Those of us who can stand up for ourselves now owe a debt to those earlier generations of queers. We can’t pay them back directly, so we have to pay it forward. We do that by standing up and being counted and being visible for all of the people (especially kids) who can’t safely be out themselves, yet.
We need Pride not because we’ve come so far, but because there is still a long, long way to go.
The killer’s own father said that his son had been ranting for weeks about how angry he was to see gay men kissing each other in public. He spent weeks using a fake profile on a gay hook-up app quizzing gay men to determine which gay club would have the biggest crowd and which night of the week it would be busiest. It was an anti-gay hate crime. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t also terrorism, because that’s what all hate crimes are: the intent is to instill terror in the targeted community by singling out individuals for bashing or worse.
I wrote shortly after the massacre to explain why this crime hit me so hard even though I live on the other side of the continent and don’t personally know anyone killed. My whole life I’ve lived with the fear and knowledge that there are people who hate queers enough to attack me and kill me, but I haven’t often had to think of that hatred being a danger to those around me. The killer’s father isn’t the only one who talked about what had enraged his son. Others who knew the killer have talked about his increasingly angry outbursts about gay people. Seeing two men kiss made him go kill 49 people in a busy gay nightclub during Pride month.
It’s one thing to know that bigots hate me enough to kill me. It’s much worse to be shown that some hate me enough to commit a massacre.
And it’s upsetting to know that some people who claim to be friends—and relatives who have said they love me—are unable or unwilling to understand that this killer’s actions are a symptom of society’s messed up attitudes about queer people and about guns.
That is what people who claim this is just one lone nut, or that it isn’t really about queer people, or that there is nothing society can do that will make these crimes less likely to happen are actually saying.
One year later, it’s still a gut punch.
It leaves one wondering what we can do.
- There are organizations you can donate to: Scissor Sisters and MDNR honor Pulse victims with ‘Swerlk’ lyric video: Proceeds from the song’s sales and royalties will be donated to the Contigo Fund which, “offers financial support to organizations working to heal, educate and empower LGBTQ and Latinx individuals, immigrants and people of color, as well as those working to end all forms of bigotry in Central Florida”.
- We can attend memorials: Thousands Expected At Pulse Memorial Events In Orlando.
- You can commit to acts of kindness and urge others to: Elected officials on Monday announced that June 12 officially would be dedicated as “Orlando United Day — A Day of Love and Kindness.”.
- We can remember the victims: Orlando Sentinel Marks One-Year Anniversary of Pulse Nightclub Massacre: In print, a special 16-page section; online, free access for all.
- We can try to help the healing process: Faces of healing, one year after the Pulse Nightclub massacre.
Mostly, please just recognize that this was a hate crime, fueled by our society’s abhorrence of gay people and helped by our irrational obsession with prioritizing gun rights over human rights. It wasn’t an act of anti-american terrorism. It wasn’t merely the actions of one disturbed individual. It is a symptom of very American dysfunction. It is a hate crime, and all hate crimes are meant to instill terror in the hearts of the targeted community. If you are a straight person who still insists this wasn’t an anti-gay hate crime, please answer this question honestly: was this crime a gut punch of terror for you? Was it?
I have been relieved that most of the coverage of this crime focused on the victims. Too often the coverage of mass shootings focus so much on the perpetrator that it’s as if he’s a hero, instead of a despicable excuse for a human being. I think I have managed, despite writing about this incident many times, never mention to the name of the killer. Instead, we need to honor the memories of those slain: Orlando nightclub shooting: Read about the victims.
Edited to Add: Several people have written very eloquently about the day:
The argument against the word was that it had been used as an insult against children who failed to fully conform to the ideal for their assigned gender, resulting in many adults in the LGBTQ+ community to experience great pain when hearing the word. I understood that argument, though I had found myself at the receiving end of a lot of vitriol from within the community if I happened to use the word “gay” as an umbrella term, because it left out lesbians. Similarly, I had also been yelled at from using the term “lesbian and gay” because it excluded bisexual people. And the arguments and screaming fits over the word “homosexual” are so convoluted (and intimately tied to the etymology of the word) that they deserve a separate blog post.
So I had found myself, as an active member of a couple of non-profit organizations related to the LGBTQ+ community, constantly trying to say the full initialism in every sentence.
Some gay friends who really disliked Queer Nation saw me marching up the street behind the Queer Nation banner that day (we were actually doing the Queer Hokey Pokey when we passed in front of the bar where a bunch of my friends had met for other reasons). And I got a lot of grief later from them. Some of them just teased me about it, but some were a bit more upset. While I was trying to explain why I wasn’t embarrassed about marching with Queer Nation nor did I regret it, one friend got in my face pretty angrily about it. And thus I found myself retorting, “I am going to call myself Queer if I want to, and fuck you if you don’t like it!”
My feelings about the word shifted during that argument.
Because I realized the argument has a big flaw. Yes, I was bullied as a kid with the word “queer,” but I was also bullied just as viciously with the word “gay.” And the people who argued most vehemently 25 years ago that queer was completely unacceptable, just as emphatically insisted that I should proudly call myself gay. Similarly, I know many women who were bullied during childhood and beyond with the word “lesbian” and derivatives of the word, yet now they’re supposed to proudly call themselves that word, and we’re supposed to call them that rather than use “queer.”
According to several of my dictionaries, in the last two hundred years queer has gone from an adjective meaning “strange, peculiar, or eccentric” to a verb meaning “to spoil or ruin” to an adjective meaning “of or related to homosexuality” to a noun meaning “a homosexual man” to a both a noun and an adjective: “a non-heterosexul person” or something “related to non-heterosexuality.”
Words change. Queer may be derived from the Old High German twerh which was an adjective describing something that was “oblique or not at a right angle.” In other words, not straight. One can see how describing something that was physically at an odd angle would come to metaphorically refer to something that was odd or peculiar in other ways.
My dictionaries that cite the first use of a each particular sense of a word by date indicate that the word was not used as an adjective referring to homosexuality until 1922, and then the noun usage for a homosexual man came 1935. Yet an unabridged dictionary I have that was published in 1957 lists only the definition, “odd, strange, eccentric.”
I see people who are too young to really remember the heyday of Queer Nation amid the horrors of the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s still making the argument that we shouldn’t use the word. They say “some people” are triggered by the word queer, so we shouldn’t use it. What they mean is they have been told by some LGBTQ+ folks my age that they are triggered by the word. I, however, remain extremely skeptical of anyone who claims a single word is a consistent trigger. Triggers are tricky, but in my experience, the people claiming to be triggered by the mere utterance of a single specific word really mean that they dislike the word, not that hearing it gives them flashbacks forcing them to relive horrific experiences. This kind of claim cheapens the very useful meaning of the word “trigger” to describe a phenomenon that some survivors of trauma experience. And I’ve never, ever heard anyone claim to be triggered by the words “gay” or “lesbian” even though those words were used as vicious insults just as often as “queer” was.So, I’m not going to try to squeeze the various QUILTBAG initialisms (LGBT, GLBT, LGBTI, LGBTQ, LGBTQ+, LGBTQA ad nauseam — and boy, does it get nauseam!) into every sentence. I’m queer. I’m a queer man who is a member of the queer community. The community includes trans people, bisexual people, pansexual people, asexual people aromantic people, non-heterosexual people of all genders, genderfluid people, two-spirit people, bigendered people, ambigendered people, et cetera, et omnia, et perpetua. No matter how you look at all of those people, if you get us all together, many of us are quite strange, a little odd, or wildly eccentric in wonderful ways. So queer is a word that encompasses us well.
If a specific person asks me not to call them queer, I will make an effort not to use the word to refer to them specifically, but I’m going to go right on calling myself and the community queer. I’m here, I’m queer, and I’m not going to be silenced by anyone.
I’ve already said plenty about the day, but here are some other thoughts worth considering:
“…nothing helps a country’s militaristic right-wing triumph over their domestic enemies more than a state of war.”
“Let us reclaim our belief in the sanctity of human life. Let us turn swords into plowshares.”