I’m a gay man in my 40s with some friends who have a big case of white gay privilege. When we talk about other parts of the LGBT community, there’s a lot of eye-rolling if the subject is anyone other than a white gay man (and they still think that bisexuals “just haven’t chosen a team yet”). I chalk up some of their resistance to being dismissive of “those crazy kids.” What’s your advice for educating them to have a more nuanced understanding of how people identify and express themselves, especially if it’s not one of the well-known categories?
Ignorance isn’t Bliss
Dear Ignorance isn’t Bliss:
So here’s the thing.
The divide between white gay monogamous guys and the rest of us is actually real, you know?
I mean, for a lot of these guys, they’re only one more piece of legislation (ENDA) away from feeling like they’re pretty squared away. So what if it was transgender women punching out cops at Stonewall? Why should I feel obligated to them? So what if bisexuals have the worst health outcomes of anyone in the LGBT community and feel completely left in the cold? So what if trans women of color are in terrible physical danger every damn day? What do they have to do with me?
They’ve got theirs, they’ll get more, and they’re good. Double white male income. Kids if they wanna. White picket fence and 2.5 cars and a house in Lavender Valley.
These guys — these comfortable, smug, privileged guys who don’t actually care about civil rights or solidarity — are going to keep laughing and being douches, and I heartily encourage you to stop being friends with them. Do not waste thirty damn seconds of your precious life trying to help them learn anything.
Fortunately, there aren’t as many guys like them as it seems. Most gay guys I know, like you, genuinely feel solidarity with the rest of the queer community, at least when you make them talk honestly about it. But it seems like more people fall into the Uneducatable Category because of three things:
- Peer pressure,
- intellectual laziness, and
The way you educate — or at least discomfort the comfortable — is that you figure out which of these three things is motivating the guy who is sneering (after filtering out the Log Cabin Republican who truly thinks some people are just better and deserve all the things.)
Folks who function due to peer pressure are just insecure people who want to fit in and be cool. (Or they’re having an insecure day). So, you pressure them back. People in their 40s, for instance, are terrified that we are old and out of touch. So you laugh at someone for being old and out-of-touch. “Did you just use the word ‘tranny?’ What are we, trapped in 1997?” or: “Really? You want people to pick a gender or pick a partner? Oh, honey. Do you need me to help you with all those confusing buttons on your phone?”
The nice thing about responding this way to peer pressure is that you can quickly and with humor point out he’s being an asshole and that not everyone in the room agrees with him. Even if the guy you are calling out isn’t shamed, other people who are listening will fear being seen as old and out-of-touch, and they’ll take note of it and maybe STFU the next time they want to say something like this.
This is the one I find personally really frustrating: lazy statements like “Oh, just stay the way you were born” or “there are only two sexes: male and female, deal with it.” Luckily, the way to handle this is very straightforward. You can call them on it: (“Sounds like you have put about as much thought into this issue as you did into picking that outfit!” or maybe worded a little nicer), and then you can calmly talk to them about it. Offer them resources or phrases to google like ‘intersex,’ and be an earnest nerdy educator – provided they actually say they want to learn more. Make fun of them a little for being lazy, if you feel you can do that in a socially acceptable manner.
Cowards are afraid, right? I mean — we’re all afraid. But cowards are the ones who give into their fear. They think the kids these days are cooler than they are, and edgier, and more queer (they are, actually. All of those things. Sorry man but the kids are awesome). They’re afraid the world they thought they understood is changing. (It is — or at least our understanding of it). They are afraid to give up their privilege or to become aligned with people they think are freaks and weirdos or silly or laughable. They are afraid of being laughed at and so they laugh first. They mock first. They cling desperately to the privileges they have.
And I’m going to be really honest: I don’t know how to deal with cowards. I have a gut feeling that we need to help them to feel brave, but the only way I know to do that is by being brave myself: being willing to look stupid. Being willing to earnestly educate (as long as I’m not wasting my time). By showing them that there can be some people who won’t sneer to get along, who protest even when we risk being seen as buzzkills, who try to make people see what is right in front of their faces.
So maybe just keep doing that.
Fight on, brother. I’m glad you’re on my side.
- So many people I know who didn’t seem to get trans stuff at all have watched Barbara Walter’s piece on transgender kids and have changed overnight.
- The Genderbread Person, furiously banned from sex ed curriculums by stupid parents everywhere, is a really great simple layout of terms and ways to understand the spectrum of gender identity, physical sex, sexual orientation, and gender expression. (UPDATED: this is version 3, after lots of input!)
- The Klein Sexual Orientation Grid helps people to get that sexuality is not a fixed, unchangeable state for most people — it updates the Kinsey Scale to incorporate the passage of time.
- Left off of the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid is asexuality, which you can learn about more at the Asexual Visibility and Education Network.
- Here are, regrettably, a bunch of truly depressing statistics about trans women and the violence they experience from Mother Jones.
This letter originally appeared in bitterempire.com on July 30, 2015.