HI. I’m talking to you.
You’re a staunch Ally. You support your Queer friends, you support laws that are directed at recognizing our equality (not giving us equality, but recognizing that condition, an important and subtle distinction, right?).
You’re doing what you can do to help us, and I appreciate that. Really, I do. I am well aware that we need allies. No social justice movement has ever survived without the support of a significant number of people who represent the dominant culture.
Here’s the part that I need you to understand.
Part of the experience of being marginalized is microaggressions — ambiguous situations where discrimination happens in ways that are not cut and dried. It’s been shown that these situations have a serious negative effect on us. It’s like walking around with the top layer of your skin abraded away, where something that wouldn’t bother you if it happens once in a while stings like a yellowjacket precisely because it keeps happening, over and over, and if you react to it, people who don’t deal with it all the time wonder “what’s their problem?”
“Why are you so sensitive?”
“You need to grow a thicker skin.”
I have a thicker skin that you can possibly realize. Or, I should say, I had one. I had rhino skin, baby, but I’ve been standing in one of those sandblasting boxes for the majority of my life. If you’ve ever had sand in your underwear you know that it can seriously inhibit your enjoyment of the beach.
That’s not my point, though. That’s just background.
People need to vent. People need to blow off steam.
People in marginalized populations sometimes say things about the dominant culture in less than perfectly tactful ways. Say things like “many straight people suck, man.” Some even say things like “I hate straight people.”
Sometimes these things are said in private. And everyone involved in the conversation knows that it is an expression of our frustration, of abrasion, of just always having to be sweetness and light. Always. Every single time.
Because if you say something like that in public, it makes straight people uncomfortable. And God forbid we should do anything that makes you uncomfortable, even for a moment, even if there is absolutely no way that anything we say can possibly cause you any damage whatsoever beyond that instant of minor discomfort. Of asking yourself, “Hmm. Do I suck? Nope. OK then.”
Oh dear lovely straight people who are my friends and allies — you’re right. You don’t suck. I wasn’t talking about you.
So why do you feel the need to tell me to simmer down, to not be so angry, to remember that I need Allies? Anytime I say something negative about straight people, why do you assume that I’m talking about you, specifically?
I’m not. I’m talking about the ones that suck.
It’s not directed at the people helping us, helping me. It’d directed at the people who are hurting us, hurting me.
But let’s talk a little bit more about microaggressions.
What you are doing when you jump to the defense of all those poor helpless straight people who I am slandering when I (or a friend) says “Many straight people suck” is a classic microaggression. It is ambiguous — there is no single thing I can point to and say “This. This exact phrase caused a problem for me, had evil intent.”
But here’s what you’re saying.
You’re saying I either don’t have the right to be angry at all, or that my anger is misdirected. That I need to be sure that my language carefully divides the good from the bad, that I need to start every single expression of frustration or anger with two paragraphs of egg-walking apologies and submissive cringing so I don’t discommode you — just as I started this blog post. Because as long as I am cringing, as long as I am crawling with my belly and my throat exposed, you know that I am not a threat.
I want you to ask yourself why my statement that can be taken as a diss on straight people is so threatening to you.
Do you think that if my kind ever get our equality recognized, we’ll flip it into superiority and start treating straight people the way that queer people have been treated? (At least one of my friends seems to feel that way.)
Do you feel that it actually does apply to you?
Here’s another piece of the puzzle. When I ask that people around me use language that is tuned to my and my friend’s comfort — use the right pronouns, avoid slurs, don’t erase me — I often get accused of being “overly politically correct.” (I feel that I am simply being correct, by the way, and if someone thinks that’s political, well, thanks for recognizing that the personal is political.)
But if the object is the comfort of people who represent the dominant, then it’s not “being PC”. It’s just viewed as… the way it should be. Because if the dominant are discommoded, then Houston, we have a problem, but if it’s people who have been pushed to the fringes who are feeling the burn, it’s a case of people being oversensitive.
People needing a thicker skin.
People needing to just quit taking themselves so seriously.
See what I’m talking about? For every queer person that says “I hate straight people” there have been a thousand slights and insults and injuries, some of which are huge and life-threatening, and some of which just result in tender tissues that everyone has being painfully scabbed over. A scar from a thousand cuts is still a scar.
Straight is a socially acceptable identity. It is a foundation of security that is used to deny people like me even the basic ontological regard of existence. Nothing, absolutely nothing I can ever say will do anything to rock that foundation in any way, even the slightest. For example: straight is universally recognized as a stable identity — no one looks at a person who identifies as straight and says to them “Well, you’ll get over that one of these days”.*
But think about it — the overwhelming majority of LGB people have, at one time, either self-identified (or outwardly identified, to pass) as straight. Doesn’t that make straight a transitional identity?
Now, personally, I don’t believe straight is a fragile of false identity. That doesn’t matter because my point is that even if I did, that opinion would in no way affect straight people’s perceptions of themselves, or other’s perceptions of straight people. I cannot harm you.
But you can harm me. And you say you want to help me, and I believe that.
So here’s a way you can help me. Don’t get defensive about my anger. Don’t tell me that if my public mask slips and I say something out of frustration out of pain out of a fresh bleeding crack in my scar tissue, that you’re not one of them, that many or most straight people are not jerks. I know that.
When you tell me, because I have expressed my pain in a way you find aggressive, that I need to be nicer because I need Allies, what you are saying to me is If I don’t toe the line, you will no longer support me. Your support is contingent on my making extra efforts to make you comfortable at all times.
- Every single second of every single day.
Considering the myriad of things that I have done in my life to keep straight people comfortable — for my own safety, including hiding my identity and history for decades — why am I expected to continue to put their comfort first even after coming out?
Assume if I or anyone else says something about straight people that you think might be touchy or disrespectful or oh I don’t know maybe ANGRY, that it doesn’t apply to you personally. Consider this a universal disclaimer.
It’s not directed at the people who are helping us. It’s directed at the people who are HURTING us. If you are helping us, then help us a little more by allowing us to be human beings and get angry/upset/less than perfectly tactful once in a damned while.
Others have said exactly what I said here. In my opinion, they have said it better. But straight people are not listening to them, because they have not been careful to embed it in apologies, to surround their harsh words with cotton wool and flannel batting, to meticulously avoid the slightest possible indication that they might actually be hurting and angry.
Maybe this time, I’ve said it with enough civil gentility to be honestly heard. I don’t know — my “Angry Bisexual With A Keyboard” tagline may have been enough to turn people off.
Because God forbid I be angry. Or hurt. Or even disappointed. I mean, I need Allies, right? Wouldn’t want to say anything that might make even one person who casts a vote in my favor decide to stay home this election day.
*With the exception of some people who want to validate themselves by claiming that everyone is bisexual, a type of erasure that I have addressed before and certainly will again