A few weeks ago, during Pride, a friend asked me why we still need to celebrate Pride. This wonderful human said that everyone she knows lovingly accepts LGBTQ folks, and welcomes us into their lives and communities. And there ARE so many amazing, supportive heterosexual allies out there. I understand how it might seem redundant to celebrate sexual minorities, since so many are incredible advocates for diversity.
It is true that most of my queer friends don’t regularly experience overt displays of homophobia, but every single one I’ve spoken with has at some point encountered some form of discrimination or harassment.
Last night, Lisa and I were on our way to our first ever St. John’s Dyke Dance. We were meeting up with a good crew of people beforehand, and were both looking forward to our evening out. As we walked down the street together, a car full of young intoxicated men drove past us. As they sped by us, one leaned his head and shoulders out the window and shouted “FAGGOTS!!”.
We heard the others laughing hysterically over the blaring bass as they drove away. Lisa and I stopped and stared after the vehicle in disbelief.
My initial reaction was to their word choice. Faggots? A “faggot” is a derogatory term used to describe a homosexual MALE. I’m certain neither Lisa nor myself fit this category (obviously the perpetrator’s queer education was spotty at best).
Before either of us had time to process what had just happened, another car approached.
This was the kicker.
Less than thirty seconds later. A car full of young women drove by, and at least two of them screamed “LESBIANS!” at us, with an “F*ing” thrown in for good measure.
What they were saying is 100% true. It is a fact. We are lesbians. Thank you, Captain Obvious.
But I still don’t think those ladies deserve gold star stickers.
Because this wasn’t a “Hey! Lesbians! Hoorah!”.
Twice, in less than a minute. Honestly, I was shocked. This was a main road through downtown St. John’s. Minutes from our home.
Lisa and I WEREN’T EVEN TOUCHING each other. We were walking down the street. At nine P.M. With at least a metre between us.
What hit me the most was how much hate was packed into those two moments. And it was the first time that brand of fear and hatred was blatantly directed at me.
Lisa looked at me sadly and said “Welcome to the club, Baby”.
It’s a club I don’t want to be a part of. And I don’t want anyone else to have to be part of it either.
Those two carloads were drunk, closed-minded, confused and insecure young people trying to impress their buddies. I was able to view them as such, with a little reminder from someone older and wiser (Lisa). I was able to shrug it off and go on to have a fantastic evening full of dancing and friends and fun. But I'm lucky. I have a wonderfully supportive family and friends and work environment. I have reached an age where I am not ashamed to honestly, openly and unapologetically express my individuality. I think it’s safe to say those two homophobic displays won’t have any lasting effects on my self-perception. I’m pretty okay with who I am, even as a Faggoty Fucking Lesbian.
While those goons haven’t damaged my psyche, people like that DO affect my behaviour. I don’t want to invite negative attention. As a result, I never kiss Lisa in public, even on the cheek, or hug her, without first looking around to see who might be watching. “I love you” is said quietly and quickly. When we hold hands, I reflexively steel myself against the inevitable catcalls and stares.
Alcohol removes inhibitions. Those two cars of young people more than likely wouldn’t have tossed out homophobic slurs if they were sober, or would have had to face us afterwards, but they still would have been thinking it. And that’s where the problem lies. Even when they’re not expressing hate verbally, they’re thinking it.
I’m not the first to say it, but it bears repeating:
Tolerance is not acceptance.
My choice in who I love is not something other people should have to endure.
Who I sleep with, who I live with, who I build a life with, is no one’s business but mine. No one, barring myself and my partner, gets to have an opinion.
After all, I didn’t follow those same folks to the bar and dictate which new drunk buddy should share their bed. It’s not my bits they’re gonna diddle. So I don’t get to say anything. See how that works?
Until diversity is the norm, accepted and welcomed, all of us still have work to do. Those young people hurling insults from car windows were recently children, and children learn how to move through the world from the adults in their lives. Someone taught those young men and women to fear and hate difference.
I know that I’m preaching to the choir with this blog post. But I’m also guessing that most of us have silent (or not-so-silent) homophobes in our lives. Maybe they’re not yelling at gay folks from their car windows, but they’re still cracking gay jokes and they’re definitely not self-identifying as Allies.
They’re the people who give us too much room as they pass on the sidewalk. They’re the folks giving us dirty looks when we sneak a kiss at the movie theatre. They’re the ones pulling their children closer when I smile at them. They’re the family members who call our partners our “friends”, thereby refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy and equality of our love. And these are the people we need to encourage into discussing issues of equality.
Even if that makes them uncomfortable. ESPECIALLY if that makes them uncomfortable. Because these are the people teaching their children that being different is being less.
And that’s just not legit.
We still need Pride. We still need an opportunity to celebrate diversity and equality, and bring LGBTQ issues to the forefront. We still need to encourage allies to voice their support. We still need to teach the next generation a message of acceptance.
Until gay men can donate blood. Until trans* folks can use whichever bathroom they prefer without discussion. Until sexual minorities are no longer targets of hate crimes. Until Lisa and I can have a destination wedding wherever we choose.
Until it’s not a thing anymore, it’s still a thing.
We’ve come a long way, baby, but we’re not there yet.