“I feel like you always talk about LGBTQ stuff.”
Yeah, ‘cause I’m queer AF.
But honestly, outside of this column, I really don’t spend that much time talking about queer issues. It might just seem like that though, because being cis and straight is the norm. Straight people don’t have to overtly talk about straightness because that’s the default in any conversation. We don’t talk about straight movies—they’re just movies. We don’t talk about straight couples—they’re just couples. We don’t talk about straight marriage—that’s just marriage. But Brokeback Mountain? Oh, that’s a gay movie. Ellen and Portia? That’s a gay couple. And two gay men in a wedding ceremony? That’s a gay marriage. (On a side note, this dichotomy of “normal” vs. gay completely erases all other queer identities, but I digress.)
And while I would love to live in a world where no one would even notice if I talked about something queer, that’s not the world we live in right now. And I’m going to have to talk about queer issues in order for us to get to that world.
I didn’t always think like this. In high school, I came out to each of my close friends with the disclaimer, “I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about it,” knowing full well that no one was actually going to take me up on that offer, and then never mentioned it again. It was a non-issue, and everyone treated me the same, which was exactly what I wanted.
This also followed the precedent I’d set by never discussing race or class. I was one of less than a handful of black people in my grade, but we never discussed that. My family income was significantly lower than the vast majority of my classmates (a fact that became glaringly obvious whenever my friends visited my home), but we never discussed that. So when I came out, it made sense to never discuss that either. I equated ignoring difference with equality.
I’ve come to realize, however, that social justice can’t be just a one-time conversation. Me coming out once doesn’t magically make homophobia and heteronormativity go away. It’s a step in the right direction, but far from being good enough.
We shouldn’t feel silenced by other people’s discomfort in our identities. We shouldn’t feel afraid to talk about marginalized identities and bring them into conversations where they were not welcome before. We shouldn’t feel afraid to speak out against oppression and the little ways that we all perpetuate these systems of oppression. We shouldn’t feel afraid to remind people that we exist. I know that I haven’t always had a seat at the table, but every time I speak up, I bring my chair a little closer to it.
And yes, gestures like wearing a pin or adding a filter to your Facebook profile picture are important for visibility. But much of the work of social justice happens in everyday conversations—by talking about these issues with someone who disagrees with you, explaining terminology to someone who’s not familiar with it, or sharing some of your experiences with a friend. So, if you do decide to wear a pin or add a Facebook filter, that’s great. But, make sure you’re also talking with people about why you decided to do it. Performative gestures on their own won’t create change.
As I focus more on pushing for equality and embracing my various identities, my relationships with others have changed accordingly. I’ve found that the most meaningful friendships I have are ones in which we care not just about each other, but also about dismantling the oppressive structures that affect one another. I want to tear down anything stopping my friends (and everyone else in this world) from living their best lives, and I hope they want that for me too.
For example, most of my friends are cis and straight, but they still care about fighting queerphobia and recognizing the ways that their privilege allows them to perpetuate heteronormativity and cisnormativity. This is partially the result of talking with me and other queer people.
My friends and I have had long conversations about my discomfort with coming out, how hard it is to meet other queer people, and why I relate most strongly to the label “queer” over “gay” or “bi.” If they see something in the news about same-sex couple adoption or the trans military ban, they’ll bring it up over dinner. And then there’s the more fun ways that they bring my queerness into our friendship, like suggesting queer films for movie night or making puns with the words in the LGBTQ+ acronym. My friends recognize that queer topics are important to me because queerness is part of who I am, and so these queer topics become even more important and relevant to them.
You know, the more I think about it, maybe I do talk a lot about LGBTQ stuff.
What’s wrong with that?
Becina J. Ganther ’20 is a Crimson editorial editor in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.
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