I had intended to do a clever diary about how folks like NOM clearly have to be supporting bigamy and polygamy, but it appears that's going to have to wait for another day.
Recent events have reminded me--once again--that no matter how well-intentioned, non-queer progressives and liberals sometimes--even often--just don't get what it means to be queer, and as uncomfortable as this may seem, sometimes we need to recognize our differences in order to move forward.
The most common disconnect regards how being queer is a 24/7 thing. For us, it never stops, and not only does it never stop, but we also frequently don't have much of a choice about when and how our queerness comes up.
For well-intentioned, non-queer progressives, queerness often seems like an exercise in philosophical ethics. It's an issue non-queer progressives can pick up, discuss, but ultimately leave behind if they want to. They can go back to their lives after the discussion, and more or less, the issue won't affect them directly--not in the ways it affects queerfolk, anyway.
And that's a fundamental difference. I can't stop "being queer". Even if I wanted to walk away from the issue, I can't, because it has ways of intruding itself back in my life, whether I want it to or not.
Although the title here is "It's a Queer Thing. You Wouldn't Understand", I'm going to try to explain anyway, and demonstrate how unrelenting it can be.
This is the one thing most, if not all, LGBT people have in common. It's a shared experience, yet one that most, if not all, straight people never have to deal with. It typically comes in three stages:
1) Coming out to oneself. This may very well be the most difficult thing. The realization typically comes with puberty, when a kid is all a mess emotionally anyway, and there are all kinds of reactions to it. Increasingly today, kids are accepting and embracing their queerness, but that's not always been the case. The pressure to be heterosexual in our society is incredibly intense. Non-queerfolk probably don't feel that pressure because it's "normal" to them, but society reinforces, in every kind of way (popular culture, family expectations, religion, etc.) that people should be straight. The realization that one is "not normal"--particularly arriving at such a vulnerable period in a person's life--can be traumatic.
2) Coming out to family. This is also pretty difficult. Today's youth are coming out, in general, earlier, but even still, no one knows quite what to expect. Some parents are completely okay with it, while others throw their children out of the house. Most reactions are somewhere in-between, but no queer kid knows how their parents are going to react. Furthermore, parental reactions cross all lines--some progressive parents have disowned their queer kids, while some evangelical parents have embraced their LGBT kids. Once it's "in your family", it crosses all political lines. It's scary, no matter who one's parents are.
3) Coming out to friends. Again, this can be hard. Some people disown their queer friends, just like some family do. It's never happened to me, but I've heard of it happening to others. It's scary, though not quite as scary as coming out to family.
The thing about "coming out", though, is it never stops. I'm 40--I "came out" to my parents when I was 18. You'd think that'd be the end of it, but it wasn't. Every time I get a new job, I have to go through the process of coming out to new colleagues and co-workers. Every time I'm introduced to new people, I have to decide what to do with the issue. Since I'm married, it's not like it's not going to come up--it will. Every semester, when I start a new class, I have to decide whether to come out or not--and since I teach English composition, and the issue of marriage equality is bound to come up, it's not like I can duck the issue in the ways a chemistry professor could. Coming out isn't a one-time event--it's on-going, and at my age, I wouldn't even say it's a "process". It's certainly not a process for me. It's mostly just an irritant now--a chore every time I meet someone new or change jobs or teach a new class. It gets old fast.
[Edit:I wanted to expand on this a little. I don't think I can underscore the importance of the experience of coming out enough. There's no similar rite-of-passage for straight people, so there's really no frame of reference at all.
I'm bothered by some of the comments I've seen in this diary and in others recently that downplay or even outright dismiss the effects of coming out. Where you may now see an out-and-proud queer, there probably was a kid terrified about how her or his parents would react. Almost all of us have to do it, and we get no help at all when we do. All our support networks--our parents and our friends--are the ones we're afraid of losing. We have to do it alone.
And it leaves a scar. Whether it's a clean, nearly invisible surgical incision or a messy, glaring wound, coming out leaves its mark.
This past spring, I watched RuPaul's Drag Race, and like a lot of other fans, I got to loathe PhiPhi O'Hara, one of the top three contestants. She was vain. She was a bit mean. She was arrogant. But then she told her story about her father rejecting her, and the scared little boy in me saw the scared little boy in her, and I could feel it.
It's a bond we all share with one another, whether we're Latino or white, lesbian or bi, drag queen or bear, and it's so hard to explain to those who have never experienced it how powerful that connection can be.]
If you're queer, your back has probably stiffened at least once in your life hearing that shouted anonymously by someone driving by. It's usually not even specifically directed at us--just a yahoo yelling a homophobic epithet to the universe. But you never know.
In "Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses", French philosopher Louis Althusser discussed a phenomenon he termed "interpellation". The example he gives to illustrate it is a police officer shouting out "Hey, you!", and you turn. According to him, at that moment, you are "interpellated"--hailed into being, forced into an identity in that moment, even if you're not doing anything suspicious. You might be the target of the cop's "Hey, you!", and so you look.
This is an experience many queers have when someone shouts out "Hey, fag!" No matter how comfortable in our skins we may be, in that moment, we're suddenly interpellated as a "fag". Our identities are reduced, in that one moment, to this aspect of our being, and we look--and we have to, because the threat could be real.
It was for Matthew Shepard. "White privilege" didn't save him from being tied to a fence on a cold, October night and left to die. "Male privilege" didn't protect him, either.
I've had "Die, fag!" scrawled in highlighter on a pillar in a space I was working in. I've seen the same thing chemically burned into the front lawn of an apartment building near "the Loop", a place near my neighborhood where in-the-closet men cruise in my hometown.
Most of the time, it's nothing, but no one wants to be the next Matthew Shepard, or Brandon Teena, or Gwen Araujo, or Lawrence King. It's chilling.
The Incidental Irritants
Then there are the incidentals. They're small, but constant.
Is it safe to hold your partner's hand? Are other public displays of affection safe?
Every April 15, I have to decide whether I check the box for "married" or "single" on my federal tax returns. On employment applications? Other documents?
Did we remember to save enough money to pay the extra tax incurred because I'm on my partner's health insurance, but since I'm not a legal spouse, the part of the premium his employer pays is considered taxable income (I call it the "homo tax").
Should we draft wills, even though we're legally married in our state?
And that's not even considering turning on the news and seeing marriage equality being debated by a panel of four non-queers on CNN, who glibly debate whether or not we should have the same rights as other people, without giving us even so much as a space at the table.
The thing is it never stops. It just never stops. Non-queer progressives can take a break from the issue. Queerfolk can't--not even if we wanted to. No matter how sympathetic, non-queer progressives haven't dealt with the shared trauma of coming out. A non-queer progressive can walk by graffiti that says "Faggot!" and be reasonably certain it's not a personal threat. The debate over marriage equality doesn't really affect non-queer progressives one way or another.
[Edit #2: Wow, the Rec List AND the Community Spotlight. It's the first time for the former, the second time for the latter. I'm honored beyond words.]