This week has brought out an array of interesting allies to the LGBTQ community. I’ve watched all sorts of folks respond to the vote for bigotry in NC and the President’s statement (and the Vice President’s statement earlier in the week) with a mixture of delight and surprise.
Most of the people I know seem to be supportive and would identify themselves as allies.
But it’s also brought out a better sense of how lacking in information allies can be even as they do their best to stand up for their LGBTQ friends. Here are a few bits of information I’d like you to consider. (See this for more information.)
Please don’t use the word homosexual.
This word is inaccurate because it does not include bisexual individuals, transgender persons and those who identify as queer. Some would say that they are arguing biological or clinical terms, but I am not your science experiment or your patient. I am your friend. If you feel strongly enough to defend me, please honor me by using a term that is respectful of my true identity – not a term that has become a political volleyball in the right-wing. You can’t undo the damage to the word homosexual. And really – does it even sound nice? Please don’t use it.
Please remember there is no such thing as gay sex or gay marriage.
You can read 10 years of “Savage Love” to see that any sort of sexual act in the world is not defined by the gender of the people involved. Straight people have anal and oral sex all of the time (especially teens.) Sex between two men or two women is … well none of your damn business. Why do you have to label my sexual activities? I don’t even care about yours much less feel the need to describe it … ever. Its sex. And its private.
If you need more convincing at the dangers of dividing up the sex acts, look at the increasing rates of STDs among young adults who engage in unprotected anal and oral sex because they are being brainwashed to think that intercourse is “real” sex. So they take risks and pay a heavy price to preserve their virginity. Using accurate language to talk about sexuality is important if you want to promote healthy attitudes towards sex.
A similar argument for gay marriage. I use it and the media uses it because it is shorthand. But really – it can also play right into political arguments. It’s not about gays getting married. It’s about equal rights for all citizens of the United States. Marriage is a civil institution that represents commitment between two people and a contract with the state. When you use the term “gay marriage” it suggests that marriage is different depending on the genders involved. And that we are different. And so forth.
I’m not offended when you use the term, but I think its ineffective when you are speaking to others. If someone says “I’m not homophobic, but …” it’s probably a great opportunity to remind them that this is about equality for all citizens, not their opinions on sex.
Try to understand the alphabet soup.
LGBTQ means lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. Some use GLBTQ. And there are other variations. You can take a moment to read about it (use that link I provided above) or you can try to understand the simple but mind-blowing point that sexual orientation and gender identity are not limited to two options. I know that’s how we’ve been brought up to believe male/female, gay/straight. But it’s not true.
And it’s actually pretty cool to see the umbrella of the queer community expand as our understanding grows. I’m a good example – I came out in my late twenties after being in several committed relationships with men. I don’t think I was in denial – I believe I simply wasn’t aware. People love to try to force me to “pick a term” — am i bisexual? am I a late-blooming lesbian? am i queer?
Again, why does that matter to you? My favorite answer is when people admit that they are just nebby – they usually say curious, but let’s be honest. A willingness and interest in understanding the experiences & identities of LGBTQ persons does not mean you have to pick a category for us that conforms to your world view. It doesn’t mean that your questions will be answered to your satisfaction. Welcome to our world – being open to new experiences is uncomfortable.
Now, this is a point where people get overwhelmed by the lack of clarity (or feel defensive) and say “I’m using gay.” And that’s fine. But understand that not everyone is gay. And not everyone will grasp the impact of your language. And we can usually tell the difference between using shorthand to reach a certain audience where they are at and just being lazy with your language.
It is transgender. Not transgendered.
The concept of what it means to be other gendered is a world rocking concept. But a few rules of common courtesy should help. First, drop the ‘ed’ because transgender is a state of gender identity, not a verb. People are transgender. Period. Second, its none of your business “where they are at in transition” and its rude, frankly, to speculate. Oh believe me a lot of my gay, lesbian and bisexual friends do this, too. We are innately curious about someone who is other. But it’s still rude.
Mocking someone who identifies themselves as a transmale or a transfemale or trans because of their appearance is boorish, ugly, mean-spirited bullying grounded in misogyny and a terrible reflection on your claims to be a decent human being. Suggesting that you should know any details of another person’s biological/medical status to determine if they are worthy of your “acceptance” is pathetic.
You are reading this online so I feel confident you can use the Google to read up transgender terms, experiences, lives and stories. You can read about top surgery, bottom surgery and other medical procedures. You can read about legal issues and barriers. You can brush up on the data showing how vulnerable trans youth and adults are to depression, poverty and harassment. And you will probably be reading this on some terrific websites that will give you plenty of tools to be a respectful ally.
Bisexual people exist.
Again, don’t be nebby. If you claim to be an ally, you must accept that bisexuality is a sexual orientation – it is not indecision. How people identify is up to them, not you. And they don’t owe you any explanation. Yes, there are lots of issues of bisexual men and women being able to access or slip into heterosexual privilege (look it up) but the same can be said of gay men and lesbians accessing white privilege. Or socioeconomic privilege. Making jokes about bisexuality is immature.
Ask me. Maybe.
I have no problem with you asking me to help you understand my community better, but not to satisfy your curiosity. Your curiosity is your problem. Asking me to join you in whispering about “how trans is that person” is akin to asking me to guess “how black” someone is. I’m not going to do it. Asking me to share what I know, what I don’t know and what I feel comfortable discussing is fine.
The Council of Gays aka Your Gay Friend
Now you don’t have to take my word on any of this. You can ask that one gay person you know if its okay to use the word “tranny” or “homo” and that’s fine. But I try to differentiate from my personal opinions/comfort levels and actual facts. Homosexual is not an inclusive term so by default its inaccurate. Don’t blame me. Blame Latin.
You can find different opinions and that’s a good thing. There’s no official Department of Gays that rules on these things. There are respected, well researched guides like the one I linked to above that can help you find appropriate, accurate and respectful language to be effective in your communication. (I think the Department of Gays was merged into the Society of Political Correctness just to make your life miserable.)
I’m happy to be your gay friend that answers questions, but I’m going to say that I have no authority to dispense you to be a bigot or use hate language. Ellen also does not have the authority and neither does Sharon Needles. We are three people in our community – ironically because we each have platforms, we have a greater duty to provide accurate information.
Being a Trekkie or a punk rocker or a Mormon is a choice and a lifestyle. Being on top or loving chocolate ice cream is a preference.
The fact that you are a married heterosexual woman is none of those things. Well, hopefully you chose to be married but you get my point. The interesting thing is that you – married heterosexual woman – and I – unmarried lesbian woman – can BOTH embrace the lifestyles of the Mormon Trekkie punk rockers AND indulge in our preferences for chocolate ice cream. Because they have nothing to do with orientation and gender identity.
If you want to be a respectful ally, you are going to have to accept some of this on blind faith. Even if your gay BFF says its okay.
Words have power. You can argue with me until the end of time that it’s up to me to “give” power to those words, but in this reality – people have feelings that are hurt by the words other people use. And so we have a responsibility to choose our words carefully.
You also have a responsibility – as an ally- to share a message that’s both accurate and fair. Imagine how much more of an impact it will have if you have a quiet word with a well-intentioned friend about using the term “homosexual” than if I post it on my FB status. Imagine if you were the friend who didn’t smirk about prison rape jokes, etc.