Equality for All? Fear in the Queer Community

EqualityFlagMy mother, the life long champion for those amongst us who are underrepresented or disenfranchised or under served, asked me a seemingly harmless question while dropping me off the other day that lit a flame inside of me. She asked how our community views bisexuals and if they are seen as equals or accepted. My mother thinks nothing about bisexuals at all except that they are people like all people, but she wondered if they were met with discrimination or humour within our community. My mother and I have a beautiful thing going where we see each other as people and talk about actual issues with one another (we can talk about how cool my mom is some other time*). But it gave me pause…how do I explain this? How do I answer this question? And if I cannot even come up with a clear answer for this woman, the most understanding and open woman I know, what does that say about the future of our ‘community’ when we are having to defend ourselves to big, bad wolves?

We have a problem. It is not a deep, dark flowers-in-the-attic kind of secret. It is open discrimination amongst our own; a casting aside of the very diversity that makes us whole and perfect. We have all fallen victim to it at some point, perhaps even been perpetrators ourselves.

If I had a nickel every time a gay man found out I was gay and responded with, “Really? But I normally hate lesbians!” It’s ridiculous. We’ve heard it all before: lesbians who think all gay men are just belligerent, gay men who think lesbians are all angry man-haters, new-age gender-non-conformists who think lipstick lesbians are a disgrace to feminism, “real gays” who think being bisexual is a stepping stone to reach their ranks, bears who think twinks should just ‘grow a pair,’ cis-gendered folks who think all gender neutral (or non conforming, third sex, transsexuals, transgendered, drag queens etc) should just stop ‘acting’, lesbians who think transwomen can’t identify as lesbians, and the list goes on and on. What it boils down to is simple: we are afraid of what we do not know and we too often attempt to repel new information instead of embracing it.

Here’s the deal. I’m over it, and you should be disgusted with it as well. In this community of lovers who are demanding we get equal recognition simply because it is OURS by right, shunning some of our own for the very reasons we are being shunned by the rest of the country is just sickening. We are the people who declared the international symbol of peace, the rainbow flag, would forever be synonymous with our struggle and our identities. Perhaps our community has grown much larger than we ever could imagine, but that is an inspiring and incredible state of affairs. The very fact that we are no longer a binomial entity of “lesbian” and “gay” whom adheres to gender roles and expectations is a very good thing, indeed. The progress we have been pushing for, and living for, and screaming at the top of our collective voices for, is here. We are too blind to see the beauty of the rainbow. Cis-male, transformative, gender-non-conforming, third-sex, futch and questioning, and everything in between or around or under or unknown. We can blend seamlessly within our lives to simply…BE. As people not asking you to allow us to live outside of your idea of acceptability. But as a supportive community who has been pushed aside, who has been told that we are making ‘choices,’ who have been belittled and degraded and told to suck it up and live within a confining box. We have rebelled, and now we must flourish. Who are we to disregard another’s identity and call them invalid? Who are we to let our own hang-ups or values discredit another’s? Have we learned nothing? Who do we want to be? Because if we cannot be a family to our own, we cannot not hope to be recognized as equals to those who are different from us. We cannot continue this cycle.

What it boils down to is simple: we are afraid of what we do not know and we too often attempt to repel new information instead of embracing it. Well, guess what? That’s exactly what’s going on in the rest of the country who have discriminatory laws on the books too. It is not acceptable. I know we are better than that because I am better than that. As my family, who have helped raise me and nurtured me and learned from me in kind, you are better than that.

We must support each other, unconditionally and collectively. We must encourage people to express themselves how they see fit; to dress however makes them feel confident; to use whatever pronoun empowers them. We must adapt to new language, and create neologisms when necessary. We must not judge each other or try to discredit what we are unfamiliar with. If we, as a community of diversity unlike any other, cannot grow with our next generation then we will become stagnant and irrelevant to the future. We cannot demand our civil rights while simultaneously fractioning ourselves. We are stronger as a whole. We must be a united front. We cannot win this war without all hands on deck—whether those hands have 6-inch glitter nails and a high school football ring, or have dirt in the creases. We must be that much better than our opponents expect. We must exemplify the very banner we walk under. We must, or we have already lost much more than our civil rights. We have lost our dignity, our self-respect, and the dream that so many have put their lives on the line for. We are all Brandon Teena as much as we are all Boston. We are all Matthew Sheppard as much as we are all 9/11. An attack on one is an attack on all. Unified, we are unstoppable; and the time to unite is now.

* Many of you do not come from the kind of completely accepting and loving parents that I am fortunate enough to have. If you’d like to borrow them or meet others like them to talk or to get some reassurance or just listen to I highly recommend you attend local PFLAG meetings. Families are an amazing resource, and whether through blood or choice, they are what get us through this crazy life.

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About Leah Schein

Leah is a born and bred Chicagoan, and considers herself extremely fortunate to be raised by amazing liberal parents in Logan Square. Coming from a long family history of equality activism, the crazy world of politics feels like home to her. Her upbringing allowed her to fully appreciate her love of tacos, and provided the support needed to be independent and insane. She is a happy survivor of the public school system, all the way through her undergrad years, culminating with a BA in anthropology. Her love of travel and all things adventurous led to the pursuit of a Master of Science from sunny ol’ England, where she happily grasped a conservation degree and ran off to live in a number of rain forests to research nocturnal primates. Through the amazing diversity she was fortunate to be raised amongst, she has an unwavering appreciation of all cultures and peoples, and has used this to form the foundation of her outspoken support of civil rights. You may have seen her running around Boystown/Tuna town over the last decade, or at events she volunteers at for the Human Rights Campaign. It’s possible you spied her at the Silent Film Festival. That strange woman getting into a wrestling match in the leaves on Foster Ave beach at 3am…that definitely wasn’t her. She couldn’t be more excited about sharing her love of science, and it’s role in our daily lives, with the community she loves. Nerds are cool, people. They drink martini’s too.


7 Responses to “Equality for All? Fear in the Queer Community”

  1. I have dated bisexual women for years and it still bothers me that my lesbian friends say, “I would not do it in a million years, what if they leave you for a guy?” What if they do? What if they leave me for another woman? Oh no – what if we break up for no reason related to who we identify as? Seriously, this is a wonderful topic and one that still concerns me in the lgBt community. Yes, there is a “B” in there folks – get used to it!

    Posted by Kat | April 22, 2013, 9:59 am
  2. Thank you for your response Kat! Yes, there are tons of letters that get overlooked…LGBTQAI is what we’re up to I think. But the point is that we’re all on the same big-ol’ rainbow team, no matter what we identify as. And yes, allies are on our team (wahoooo).

    Posted by Leah | April 22, 2013, 12:27 pm
  3. Thank you for drawing attention to this divide. As a bisexual woman, sometimes I feel like I’d kill the conversation if I were to bring up my orientation or tell an anecdote from past experience with a guy that is not somehow disparaging. I’ve found that there’s almost no real way to express bi, only by turn expressing straight and lesbian.

    My experience in the queer community is relatively limited. But I believe there is a certain conflation of sexual and cultural identities. While there is definitely more acceptance in terms of variance in appearance, there is still an idea of what “lesbian” attributes are and what “lesbians” should like, in terms of taste in music, hobbies, etc. Because of that, I feel there is a pressure to conform that may be causing people to overemphasize certain interests and downplay others in order to fit in. My tastes and cultural identity develop(ed) separately from my sexuality, so sorry I didn’t get a queer cut, sleeve tattoos and become the biggest fan of Tegan and Sara immediately after coming out. 😛 (But good for you if you did!) Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just, like you said, even people in the community have certain expectations of what gay/lesbian/trans/bi/etc should be like. We need to learn to see each other as people first. I love it when I can connect with other queer women on topics other than queerness (and associated stereotypes). Thank you for reminding us all to keep our prejudices in check.

    Posted by Eve | April 22, 2013, 2:46 pm
  4. I’m ok with bisexuals, but I am against those trannies.

    Posted by Proud and Gay | April 22, 2013, 9:08 pm
  5. Thanks for writing this Leah. Some people complain about the ‘Alphabet Soup’ getting a little unwieldy, but I love the all of the letters of the alphabet, and we need to really learn how to embrace them more within the community instead of putting people into isolated little boxes.

    Posted by Val | April 22, 2013, 10:52 pm
  6. The response above (by “Proud and Gay”)proves that we still have a lot of work to do. And we cannot do that work by simply employing empty words of support for the trans community. We cannot on the one hand champion ourselves as allies to trans women and on the other support an event that specifically excludes trans women and has been very hurtful to them. It’s one thing to promote this event and another entirely to do so UNCRITICALLY and to shut down conversation regarding it, especially when a trans woman speaks up.

    We need to do more than talk. Start walking the walk.

    Posted by Staci | April 23, 2013, 11:33 am
  7. Again, thank you all for the comments! Each view and experience is important to listen to and learn from. Staci, I agree with you about walking the walk. This article is intended to push just that issue, I hope that you found it to come across that way 😉

    Posted by Leah | April 23, 2013, 1:22 pm

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