There are many adjectives you could use to describe me, but ‘manly’ is probably not one of them. I don’t play six sports at the same time, I don’t drool over cars and I most certainly do not even lift, bro. Instead I do theater, play piano and occasionally watch famous drag queens on YouTube. Most of my friends are girls, I shriek slightly when I see a wasp or other malicious stinging insect and people always tell me that I’m pretty in touch with my emotions.
So I’m gay, right? Nope.
That, right there, should be the end of that conversation. But for some reason it isn’t. Usually, it goes something like this:
“Oh…I’m so sorry…”
“It’s just that you, well, kinda sound…um…”
“Really, it’s fine.”
“I mean I don’t know many straight guys who watch RuPaul’s Drag Race…”
“Look, it’s seriously not a big deal.”
Just writing that exchange makes me feel wasteful. Are nine or more extra lines of conversation really necessary to affirm my sexual orientation? Even in 2015, it seems that they often are. And I go through conversations like this a lot, constantly dealing with apologies and awkward silence.
A couple of weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court upheld the right of all couples—whether heterosexual or homosexual—to get married. While a huge step in the right direction, the LGBT community knows there’s still a lot more ground to cover until we are all equal. The main argument is going to be over discrimination: in 29 states, there are no laws that prevent people from being fired from their jobs for being gay. These are legal battles, and I have faith that they’ll be won in the future.
But there’s another battle that the LGBT community and its allies (like me) have to fight: what people—not governments—think of their fellow homosexual humans.
I know people who fully support LGBT rights and rejoiced at the SCOTUS decision. They’re in no way homophobes, but I’ve had the above conversation with them. They seem taken aback by the fact that I’m not gay, and then proceed to apologize profusely for assuming that I am.
So what’s with the stigma associated with homosexuality? Why do people support and accept it while simultaneously considering it taboo? One word: heteronormativity.
You may or may not have heard of heteronormativity, a worldview that prioritizes heterosexuality over homosexuality. This has been the norm from the beginning of our species’ existence. That’s understandable, because heterosexual relationships were needed to produce children and grow populations and communities. But today, we don’t need more humans because overpopulation is just over the horizon. So, logically, heteronormativity should fade away, all sexual orientations having equal representation in human social psychology. Obviously, that’s not the case.
It’s been taught in basically every religion that being gay is wrong. From a young age, religious people develop at least a slight aversion to homosexuality, because whatever religious text they’re studying tells them to. Once they grow up and realize that gay people are not abominations, these people usually accept and embrace the gay community. But there’s still that social stigma that lingers, one that makes people believe that gays are fundamentally different than straight people. Of course, that’s not true: sexual orientation is just one layer of any far more complicated human being.
People who believe that being gay is something ‘not normal’ can be easily educated; they’re not the same people who use the word “gay” in place of something derogatory. They shouldn’t be seen as enemies of the LGBT community. Here’s what you should say to them if you run into/witness a situation like the one previously mentioned:
“Oh…I’m so sorry…”
“Hey—it’s really not a big deal.”
“Yeah. It’s not like I’m insulted or anything. Just a mistake. Let’s go eat pizza.”
That’s worked for me most of the time (N.B: you can insert a preferred food in place of pizza). People who aren’t inherently homophobic will realize that, while different from their own sexual orientations, gayness isn’t something that should insult people. Heteronormativity just makes it awkward for us to inquire about each others’ sexual orientations.
We, as the generation living in the digital age, have the power to change that thinking. The way I see it, you can be attracted to whoever you want regardless of gender or sex, and that should be seen as totally normal. That’s the way we all should see it, too.