It’s National Coming Out Day! And just for the record, in case it isn’t clear: I’m queer! Specifically I am a gay man married to a bisexual man. For many years I lived in the closet, and am ever so happy that those days are far, far behind me. So, if you’re a person living in the closet, I urge you to consider coming out. Being in the closet is scary—you live in a constant state of high anxiety about people finding out and what they might do when it happens. Studies show that this affects us the same as extended trauma, inducing the same sorts of stress changes to the central nervous system as PTSD.
The problem is that coming out is also scary. 40% of homeless teen-agers are living on the streets because their parents either kicked them out because the teens were gay (or suspected of being gay), or drove them away through the constant abuse intended to beat the gay out of their kids. This statistic is the main reason I advise kids not to come out until they are no longer financially dependent on their parents. Yeah, there are many stories of kids who came out to their parents and those parents became supportive allies. But not all, by any means.Even if you are a self-supporting adult, coming out is often accompanied by drama. Some of your family and friends will not take it well. You will be surprised at some of the ones who you thought would be okay with it being exactly the opposite. On the other hand, some people will surprise you with how fiercely supportive they become.
In the long run, being out is better than living in the closet. You will finally know who loves you for who you are, rather than those who love the idea of who they think you ought to be. You will also find out that you were expending far more energy than you realized constantly being on the look out for signs your secret is discovered. There will be a moment when you feel the burden lifted. But you will also discover the coming out isn’t a one-and-done deal.
But the freedom of no longer living a lie is incredible. So when you’re ready, come out, come out, where ever you are!
Don’t just take my word for it:
Please note that I said this stereotype is only somewhat less toxic than many others about queer men.
So a few years ago when I mentioned in blog post that it was my birthday and my age (it was 53 or 54, but I don’t feel like going on an obsessive search to try to find the specific post), some random person I didn’t know commented about how broken-hearted I must be, since everyone knows that fags are all obsessed with being young. I typed a reply to the effect that no, I actually considered myself quite lucky. But then I decided that rather than argue with a troll the better thing to do was to simple delete the troll’s comment and move on.
But I keep running into people making this specific observation, or variants of it. A gay activist who is a frequent guest on news programs passes the age of 50 and all the anti-gay hatemongers start referring to him as an “aging activist.” This is pretty rich coming from a completely white-haired anti-gay pastor who is pushing 70, let me tell you. If a 50-year-old is “aging,” what do we call a 68-year-old, hmmmmm?
So, I’m still a couple years from 60, yet, and I know that I frequently make references to my age, mostly because 1) I am older than the average people active on the internet, 2) I’m older than the average age of people active in the various fandoms I participate in, and 3) I frequently find myself being a little boggled at people who otherwise seem really well informed being completely unaware of (or deeply misinformed about) fairly major things that happened in the world when I was, say, in my 20s.
I was still very closeted in my early 20s when the AIDS crisis began. This mysterious illness was striking gay men down, and not only did the White House Press Secretary laugh and make a fag joke when a reporter asked about the first Center for Disease Control alert about the illness, but all of the rest of the reporters in the room joined in on the laughter. One night at a church service I was sitting with my head bowed when a pastor went on a long digression in his prayer thanking god for sending the scourge of AIDS to punish the wickedness of gay people and wipe them from the face of the Earth. 10 years later, as an out gay man, I found myself going to memorial services of men sometimes younger than I. One particularly bad winter, 16 different people we knew died in a single three-month period. It really did seem that every gay person was doomed. And it didn’t seem to matter that we all now knew to practice safe sex—because condoms can break, and so on.
As much of an optimist as I’ve always been, in the face of all the overwhelming chilling life experience, I seriously doubted that I would live to see my 50s.
So, I am not in the slightest bit sad or embarrassed to have reached the “ripe” age of 57. I’m not sad that my beard is mostly white, because I’ve earned every one of these grey hairs! I’m not ecstatic that some of the medical issues I’ve always had are getting worse as I get older. I’m not joyful when I read about the death of someone (famous or not) that I’ve known and admired for years. I know that that is going to happen more often, that’s just the natural consequence of the passing of time.
Getting older has its drawbacks, yes. But the alternative is worse, right? So I say, “Bring it on!”
Among my role models growing up was a very cantankerous paternal great-grandmother (who taught me how to listen in on the neighbors’ on the party line phone, among other fun things) and an even more ornery maternal great-grandfather (whose jobs when he was younger had included driving souped up cars, including sometimes outrunning the police, to deliver illegal alcohol during Prohibition). Both of them said and did things around us kids back then that embarrassed their own children (my grandparents and great-aunts and great-uncles), and I fully intend, if I’m lucky enough to live as long as them, to similarly embarrass some of my younger relatives and acquaintances.
On ocassions such as birthdays, one is often asked to share some words of wisdom. I’m going to give you two pieces of advice, one from each of the aforementioned great-grandparents:
“Life is too short to carry grudges or worry about what other people think of you.”
“Never let the revenuers piss on your parade.”
Not every person who identifies as bisexual is experimenting. Nor are they in denial of their real orientation. Because a certain number of gay people who are struggling with accepting themselves take shelter in a lie (a lie we were trying to sell to ourselves even harder than to anyone else), we give other people anecdotes that get weaponized and used against people who actually are bisexual. So, for my contribution to that misperception, I must apologize. I’m sorry.
So, to be clear:
- A bisexual person who settles into a long term committed relationships with a member of the opposite sex is still bisexual. They just happened to fall in love with this person.
- Also, a bisexual person who enters a long term committed relationship with a member of the same sex is still bisexual. They just happened to fall in love with that person.
- A bisexual person who isn’t dating anyone at all is still bisexual. They’re just not seeing anyone right now (or ever). A person’s sexuality isn’t determined by their current relationship status.
- A bisexual person who has never been (or you have never seen) in relationships with members of both sexes is still bisexual. Again, relationship status is different than sexual orientation.
Bi erasure is a real problem. Bisexual people often don’t feel welcome in queer spaces. They also often don’t feel welcome in non-queer spaces. People assume that they are straight of gay based on their current relationship. Other people dismiss them as confused or in denial. Sometimes they don’t just feel unwelcome, but unsafe.
Studies have shown that the stress of enduring homophobia affects the health and nervous system exactly the same as PTSD. It’s traumatic and physically damaging. That’s true whether you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or any other orientation outside the heteronormative. And its true in all the forms it takes, including biphobic attitudes of other queer people.
Don’t contribute to someone’s trauma. Don’t be an asshole about bisexual people—all the time, not just when you think you’re in the presence of a bisexual person. Because if those National Institutes of Health studies about covert sexual activity are correct, about 46% of the population is bi (and about 6% is exclusively gay). So if you’re sitting around with a half-dozen people, the odds are more than one of them is bi. You just don’t know it.
When the NIH published those studies in the mid-90s, the summary included this little gem: Americans would rather admit to being heroin addicts than tell someone they were bisexual. And that’s because of homophobia in general, but also biphobia among both the straight and queer communities.
So, if someone tells you they are bisexual, don’t argue with them, don’t doubt them or try to convince them that they’re just confused or curious or uncertain. Believe them. Accept them. They were brave enough to open up to you. The least you can do in the face of that is refrain from being a jerk. You know, don’t be a “contemptible, stupid, or inconsiderate person.”
Instead, be an ally. Their sexuality is valid. Period.
That is not histrionics. When they talk about “saving the white race” and so-called “self deportation” and the like, they are saying “go away and die!” When they say that queer people are a threat to the future of the planet, they are saying we deserve to be killed. When they say that brown and black people are destroying “white culture” they are saying brown and black people deserve to be killed. When Richard Spencer said, literally moments before he was punched in the face on camera last summer, “we have to ask ourselves whether humanity needs the black man, and having confronted that question, then ask how to most efficiently dispose of them” he is saying that black people aren’t human and that they must be killed.
And if you don’t believe that saying that deserves a punch in the mouth, then I question more than just your morals.
In the case of the angry man who was punched in downtown Seattle this weekend: he wasn’t punched just for wearing the swastika. He was punched for yelling at every dark-skinned person he passed on the street, specifically calling them an ape. He was explicitly saying that they aren’t human. He brought a frickin’ banana with him that he eventually threw at someone after screaming that that person was an ape—underlining and emphasizing the claim that the person thus targeted isn’t human (and implying that said people don’t deserve rights, dignity, respect at the least, and that killing would not be murder). That wasn’t just expressing an opinion, that his verbal assault and a declaration of intent. And under the law, throwing the banana is physical assault.
Wearing a rainbow and chanting “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” is none of those things.
Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can say mean, hateful, threatening things to other people and that those other people have no rights to speak up and defend themselves. Calling other humans animals, and saying or implying those humans should he rounded up and executed is not merely stating an opinion, it is revealing their hateful and murderous character. So if other people don’t want to be friends with a hateful person advocating genocide, that’s just making the decision not to associate with horrible people.When we wear rainbows, we’re saying “my sexuality is valid, and your sexuality is valid, and bi, gay, pansexual, transexual, asexual, and straight people are all equally valid and have a right to be who they are.” Yes, we’re saying the straight people are valid, too. We aren’t calling for straight people to self-deport. We aren’t calling for straight people to be killed. We aren’t calling for straight people to be converted. Rightwing anti-gay people do call for queer people to be fired from their jobs, denied the right to rent or own homes, denied the right to put their spouses and children on their medical insurance, denied the right to marry their significant others, denied the right to adopt, denied the right to protection from assault and harassment, denied health care, and so forth. They advocate rounding us up and putting us in prison, or camps, or so-called hospitals (depending on how blatant they are in their bigotry). They advocate the widely debunked conversion therapy. They advocate bullying queer kids in school (when you insist that religiously conservative kids can’t be punished for bullying queer kids or the children of queer parents, you are advocating bullying).
When the anti-gay people (including the neo-Nazis) do that, it isn’t a difference of opinion, it is oppression and assault.
When queer people say we don’t want to be bullied, we shouldn’t be discriminated against, we deserve to have our families and jobs and homes just like anyone else, we aren’t calling for the oppression of anyone else. Because not being allowed to discriminate isn’t oppression. Not being allowed to bully, terrorize, or assault queer people isn’t oppression.
Sexuality isn’t an opinion or a choice. Sexual identity isn’t an opinion or a choice. Sorry, the medical science has been clear on that for a long time.
Hate, however, is a choice. Violence against others because of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, and so forth is a choice.
All races are valid. All sexualities are valid.
Not all choices are valid.
There are only a couple reasons that you can’t see that distinction. There are only a few reasons you would defend the hate by attacking its opposite. Either you aren’t very bright, you’re deeply misinformed, or you are blinded by hatred.
Please, step out of the darkness and join us in a more glittery, sunny world of the rainbow.
When people find a person in their midst who does not conform to their expectations, their reaction is to try to find a behavioral cause of that non-conformity. Because admitting that different kinds of people exist naturally challenges the simplest notion of normality. So when confronted with a smart, slightly gender-non-conforming kid who seems to know about things people don’t expect kids to understand, they go looking for an easy explanation of why I’m different. And it really was both of those differences that confused people. More than one relative on different sides of the family commented that as a young child I seemed like an adult trapped in a kid’s body.
When you are clinging to the notion that there is a limited number of ways to be normal with someone who doesn’t fit any of your notions, the easiest thing is to look at which of the non-conforming person’s interests seem least like theirs. So in the 1960s and ’70s, people focused on my interest in science, science fiction, fantasy and related topics. Because before the era of the personal computer and the cultural behemoth that was the original Star Wars, those things were completely beyond the kin of normal humans. Some of the cover art of magazines and paperback books raised a few eyebrows. At least one relative asserted the belief that reading superhero comics, with all of those skin tight costumes on the male heroes, would turn a boy into a sissy.
In retrospect I find it hilarious, because of all the media/fiction I can recall from my childhood, the only place where gender fluidity and related topics occurred regularly was not in science fiction, fantasy, or science fact books, but in one of the most popular forms of pop culture of many decades: Looney Tunes cartoons, specifically Bugs Bunny cartoons.
Even before Bugs Bunny had the name “Bugs,” he was dressing up as a woman to seduce a male character. Long before he ever dressed as a woman to distract Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam, the character then referred to informally as “Happy Rabbit” disguised himself as a female version of the unnamed hunter’s dog to distract the dog from his trail. So if everyone’s theory that someone what made me non-conforming was the shows I watched, clearly it should have been Bugs Bunny they focused on, right? Contrariwise, Bugs is a great argument against the whole media-causes-queerness argument: as I pointed out in a post last week, for a number of years the Looney Tunes cartoons weren’t just ubiquitious, they were almost universally adored by a couple of generations of folks. If media exposure causes queerness, then just about every single person aged 40-something through 60-something alive in North America right now should be an out queer, because Bugs taught us all that to be a drag queen was to be triumphant.
This meaning of drag: “Women’s clothes as worn by a man; (less commonly) men’s clothes as worn by a woman; a party at which such clothes are worn” as rendered in the Oxford English Dictionary has been around since the late 19th Century. The first written citation coming in 1870 as a reference to male actors portraying female characters on the stage. At various times in the history of the theatre, it had been common to cast young men in the feminine roles, because it was considered inappropriate for women to perform on stage. So there is a certain tradition the theatre (which cropped up later in movies, though usually for comedic effect) of men dressing as women on stage. There is also a tradition of characters of either sex on stage and in movies dressing in disguises—sometimes disguises that shouldn’t fool anyone—and carrying on for scene after scene completely pulling the wool of the eyes of other characters.
The disguises that Bugs donned in the various cartoons weren’t always drag. The point of the gag was how gullible Bugs’ adversary could be in light of the disguise, no matter how ridiculous. Which is why I don’t think it ever occurred to anyone back then that how easily the hero of the story could adopt the persona of a woman and seductively entrance the villain might be just a little bit queer. Maybe it was the fact that the audience was in on the joke—Bugs was dressing as a woman to fool his antagonist and make the audience laugh, not because he enjoyed it, and certainly not because he was actually trying to seduce the other character. Maybe it was simply the fact that they understood the jokes in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but sf/f didn’t appeal to them, and a lot of that cover art looked erotic, demonic, and sometimes both.
To me, the ease with which Bugs transformed himself in his various disguises is a manifestation of a much, much older narrative tradition: The Trickster God. One of the oldest examples of which is the Old Norse story of the time that Loki is tasked by Odin with getting the gods of Asgard out of a particularly unwise bet. The gods had made a deal with a builder to create a magnificent fortification, but that if the builder couldn’t do it in a ridiculously short time with no help except that of his horse, the gods would never have to pay for the fortress. It quickly becomes clear that that both the builder and his horse are possessed of magical abilities and will succeed at the seemingly impossible task. Loki tries various things, but eventually is only able to succeed by transforming himself into a beautiful mare in heat, and thus lure away the magical horse away. In the Norse story, Loki actually mates with the horse and later gives birth the another magical steed, Sleipnir, which becomes Odin’s horse and figures in a lot of other mythologies.
I’m just glad that I never pointed out that little similarity back then. It was one thing when I was sometimes forbidden to check out certain books from the library, or buy certain paperbacks at the used book store. It would have been infinitely crueler to forbid me from watching Bugs and Daffy!
So, in case you missed it, a group of conservative evangelical organizations have banded together, calling themselves The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and they issued this multipart statement of faith, most of which is exactly the same old ant-gay, anti-trans, anti-equal rights for woman, stuff that we are used to hearing from these bigots. But this time there is one important difference.
That difference is Article X:
- WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
- WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
In other words, they are now explicitly and emphatically saying that anti-LGBT bias is an essential part of being a christian, and anyone who does not subscribe to their anti-LGBT beliefs are not christians.
Now, for some years many of us on the queer and queer-affirming side of this divide have been pointing out that they have boiled christianity down to nothing more than the hatred of the gays. Politicians who in no other way support what any reasonable person would call Christ-like values, nor who love in anyway according to christian values are given high ratings, endorsements, and money by these organizations as long as they oppose marriage equality, trans rights, and so on.
There was that amusing Tumblr post I linked to awhile back where someone made a joke about homophobes, and scores of angry christians swarmed on the post calling it anti-christian hate. Then the original poster had to point out that the word “christian” didn’t appear anywhere in joke. It literally said “homophobe” but, “you guys went ahead and read yourselves in there.”
But whenever we accuse them of throwing out all of Jesus’s teachings (in the Bible, Jesus never said a single word, not one, about homosexuality) and replacing them with a hatred of us queers, they have emphatically denied it.
I’ve seen some folks say to just ignore it, because they don’t officially speak for anyone. But here’s one of the problems I have with that. In May of 1845 a bunch of conservative Baptist churches sent representatives to a meeting in Augusta, Georgia, and issued a 14-point statement of why they were separating from the rest of the Baptist Churches. Twelve of the fourteen points in that statement were affirming the institution of slavery in various ways, along with the segregation of the races and the inherent superiority of the white race. That was the birth of the Southern Baptist Convention, years before the civil war.
Even after the war, that group continued to fight for white supremacy and racial segregation, until 1971… at which time the finally endorsed desegregation and shifted their focus to abortion, women’s rights, and gay rights. They were the core of the Moral Majority. They remain a core consituency of the Republican Party in general and Donald Trump in particular.
I know this, because I was raised in that church. I’ve always been proud of the fact that my own grandfather was one of the delegates to the 1971 convention where racial segregation was finally removed from the official doctrine of the church. I was less proud of how many members of our home church at the time quit to form a new Bible Baptist Church over the issue of racial segregation.
So, 172 years after issuing a similarly bigoted statement, pain and suffering are still being inflicted on some segments of the population. I have trouble not fearing something similar here from the signatories of the Nashville Statement. Adopting hate and sticking to it didn’t make that group whither away. It grew, until it became (and remains) the largest Protestant denomination in North America.
Until now, they have always stopped short of explicitly saying that the christians who disagree with them on this issue aren’t really Christian. I think this represents a new battle line from people who feel emboldened by the election of Donald Trump. I don’t think this is just the same old, same old. These are the same people who, when we point out that the teachings of Jesus contradict them, claim that Jesus’s various admonitions about love and compassion only apply to fellow christians. They’ve been sanctioning the murder of abortion providers for decades, as well as the bashing and murder of queer and trans people. This statement puts targets on many more people.
Don’t laugh it off.
I was routinely called a “sissy” and “pussy” at school, on the playground, and even at home. Of course, those weren’t the worst insults. If my dad were really angry he’d call me “cocksucker.” This word was usually deployed while he was physically beating me, whereas the others usually never arrived with anything worse that a slap. Now, to be fair, he also yelled that word at tools that didn’t work the way he wanted, engines that were failing to perform correctly as he was repairing them, and so forth. It’s not that the word literally applied to me back then.
I was a sissy. I liked to sing along and dance in front of the TV when mom watched old musicals on the afternoon movie, for instance. I liked helping my mom, my grandmothers, and great-grandmothers in the kitchen. More of my friendships with kids my own age were with girls than with boys. I was horrible at any sports-related activity. I would much rather read (my mom taught me to read well enough to read picture books to my younger cousins before I entered school) than run around playing cops and robbers with the neighbors.
I also loved helping my grandpa do carpentry work (when I was really young that involved me following him around and trying to hand him the right tool). I loved working in the garden with my grandpa and great-grandpa. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any male role models — I had some very positive male role models in addition to the awful example of my father — I was just equally interested in things that stereotypically girls were expected to be interested in as those that boys are expected to like.
I wasn’t completely gender-non-conforming. I liked watching boxing with my paternal grandfather and football with my maternal grandfather (once I was living close enough to see him all the time). I loved playing with my Tonka trunks. I would create elaborate war and spy story scenarios to act out with my Captain Action action figure. I was really into the space program and built a model of the Gemini space capsule and later the Saturn V rocket and Apollo capsule and lunar module.
I have been a science fiction fan since before I can remember. My mom was into Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury, and infected me with the sci fi bug very early. I was quite fluent in Heinlein’s brand of manly-men conquer alien worlds style of sci fi at a very early age.
But for every Tonka truck I longed for, there was an Easy-Bake Oven, or Barbie, or various kitchenware-based toys that I also wanted. And I could never quite understand why I got yelled at by Dad for wanting to play with those. I mean, one of my grandpas (Dad’s father) baked the best cornbread in the world (hand’s down!). If Grandpa could enjoy backing, why couldn’t I?
While some parts of my childhood were bad, I do have to admit that things could have been worse. I was bullied for not be manly enough by dad, other boys at school, certain male teachers, and more than a few church leaders. Mom and a bunch of the church ladies held secret prayer meetings to try to pray my (suspected) gayness away when I was a teen-ager. But, I wasn’t actually kicked out of the house (like thousands of kids around the country each year, and like two of my high school classmates) for being a queer.
And though I did go through more than one period of having suicidal thoughts, I never actually tried it. Unlike hundreds of kids each year who try and succeed because they’ve either been bullied for seeming queer and/or are terrified that their family will find out.
Most of that is down to luck. My love of sci fi/fantasy gave me access to a lot of literature that gave me hope for a better tomorrow. The vast majority wasn’t about a better tomorrow for queers, of course, but just a better, more enlightened tomorrow seemed less likely to be so hostile to boys like me. I also had some wonderful teachers and other adults in my life who affirmed my interests, and just affirmed me.
I also just don’t seem to be temperamentally able to give in completely to despair. There’s a stubborn core to my personality that believes I can beat or solve anything, if I just have enough time to figure it out. How much of it is inherited (I do come from a long line of very stubborn contrarians), and how much is learned (some of the stubborn relatives were in-laws or adoptive relatives), but I suspect more than a little of it is hardwired into my neurological system.
More than one of those relatives who were important role models were also outspoken advocates for doing what’s right, standing up for yourself and others, and never being ashamed to be yourself. That some of them contradicted those lessons a bit later in life when I came out didn’t shake the foundation they had helped lay in my heart, though.
So, I’ve been a nerdy queer loudmouth for as long as I can remember. That’s more than 50 years. I don’t know why anyone would expect that to change now.
We’ve got a super full schedule this weekend and I’m already running behind, so please have a Happy Pride Weekend!
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!