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May 18, 2010

Eight Things I Don’t Need to Hear From Straight People

Over the years, well-intentioned folks have said a whole host of things that are not helpful and are in fact damaging. If you are a well-intentioned straight person: thank you! I really truly appreciate your good intentions. It is because I appreciate your intentions that I’m composing this post: now you don’t have to accidentally hurt your queer friends. If you want to be a straight ally for gay/queer/LGBT people, here’s how you can get started.

Before we get started, check out the video 6 Rule for Allies by Dr. Jones (thanks to Special Communion for this gem).

Ready? Here we go!

Have you thought about ….
Yes, I have thought about it. This is my life. I have thought about everything and everything you could possibly imagine. Probably every day. Possibly multiple times a day. I’m sure you’re trying to be helpful, if you want to be helpful the best thing you can do is listen to me and trust me.

I have a gay friend and she …
If you have a gay friend who likes it when you call him a faggot or make jokes about her bedroom habits, I’ll have to trust your relationship with that person. I am not that person. Your gay friend is not a Get Out of Jail Free card for the obnoxious and/or problematic things you say and do.  And perhaps your gay friend just doesn’t want to deal with your ignorance while trying to be your friend. Take a moment to consider you might not know everything about your gay friend.

Let’s all get along …
Me calling out injustice is NOT more offensive than the injustice itself. I see this a lot around racism. Somehow “racist” is a bad word  and describing something as racist is worse than the act itself. Don’t settle for that. Don’t tell me I’m too angry, or I should be patient, or I’m causing controversy, or my demands would make people uncomfortable. It’s easy for the privileged to say “It’s not a big deal” or “Let’s all get along.”  Don’t try to change my discomfort by asking me to behave, eliminate my discomfort by eliminating the problem.

Gay people are just like straight people, they just happen to be gay…
I don’t need you to normalize my experience. In many ways, I am similar to straight folks: I need to eat, I have relationships, I have a job. In other ways, I am very different: relationships are inherently difficult and so I must be intentional about them, my faith/religion/spirituality is questioned daily and so I know it intimately, I don’t take gender roles for granted, I am blessed with a family of origin and a network of chosen family. Being queer is one aspect of my identity and while I don’t need you to focus solely on it, I do need you to recognize that it is an aspect of my identity which is oppressed, and thus it does matter.

Gay is the new Black.
No it’s not. Black is still Black. Racism, homophobia, and transphobia are matters of social justice but gay is not the new Black. There are overlaps and there are distinctions. I know you have good intentions, but it’s more problematic than it is helpful.

Gay people are monogamous / go to church / get married / serve in the military / pay taxes and therefore they deserve equal rights…
Your equality and humanity are not contingent upon conforming to some standard. Give me equality and justice because all humans deserve it, and not because I clean-up well. And don’t forget that queers who aren’t monogamous / don’t go to church / reject marriage / oppose the military / avoid taxes deserve justice also. In fact, we can learn something from these non-conformists! Check out Queers for Economic Justice & The Audre Lorde Project to begin educating yourself about other issues important to queer folks

We should love gay people because they didn’t choose to be gay, why would anyone choose to be gay?
Hope College professor Julie Kip put it beautifully when she said “She doesn’t need your love, she needs your justice.” Don’t pity me, be proud of me.

If you would just…
Well, if you would just….

After writing this article, I reflected on the amazing straight folks in my life and what they have done and are doing. In response, I composed Five Awesome Things Straight People Can Do. It’s full of all sorts of ways you can be an ally & advocate.

If you’re digging this article, you want to check out the Tough Questions on the Road to Affirmation series (in progress right now). Subscribe to catch ‘em all.

Comments

  1. Brian – this is great: funny, beautiful, and inspiring. I especially love the “Gay people are monogamous … deserve equal rights” part. Ugh! I hate that. I also hate the, “we have to respect them queers because it’s not a choice” argument. Thank you!

  2. Brian – this is great: funny, beautiful, and inspiring. I especially love the “Gay people are monogamous … deserve equal rights” part. Ugh! I hate that. I also hate the, “we have to respect them queers because it’s not a choice” argument. Thank you!

  3. Awesome post!

    Another we should add to the list: Folks who think and say they are “allies” but who tell gay people they are “pushing too hard,” “want things too quickly,” “politicize things too much” and are “militant.”

  4. Awesome post!

    Another we should add to the list: Folks who think and say they are “allies” but who tell gay people they are “pushing too hard,” “want things too quickly,” “politicize things too much” and are “militant.”

  5. Claire

    Well-said.

    The other one I really, really hate goes like this:

    1. Claire expresses frustration to straight girlfriend about how hard dating is when you are both gay and Christian.

    2. Straight girlfriend responds that dating is hard for everyone and it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight. “It’s just as hard for me to meet a nice guy.”

    3. Claire says, “Yes, but you guys are like 90% of the population, so statistically – ”

    4. Straight girlfriend interrupts that “It’s just hard to find good people to date, period.”

    5. Claire gets stabby.

  6. Claire

    Well-said.

    The other one I really, really hate goes like this:

    1. Claire expresses frustration to straight girlfriend about how hard dating is when you are both gay and Christian.

    2. Straight girlfriend responds that dating is hard for everyone and it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight. “It’s just as hard for me to meet a nice guy.”

    3. Claire says, “Yes, but you guys are like 90% of the population, so statistically – ”

    4. Straight girlfriend interrupts that “It’s just hard to find good people to date, period.”

    5. Claire gets stabby.

  7. Unfortunately, growing up in the Midwest, I’ve let all my friends and family spout off the majority of aforementioned things… assuming they DID love me. While their approach is almost like that of someone who consoles another with a terminal disease, I now respond simply and honestly to help THEM, because really? – - they were born stupid and I’m going to take the high road and tolerate them. *snicker*

  8. Unfortunately, growing up in the Midwest, I’ve let all my friends and family spout off the majority of aforementioned things… assuming they DID love me. While their approach is almost like that of someone who consoles another with a terminal disease, I now respond simply and honestly to help THEM, because really? – - they were born stupid and I’m going to take the high road and tolerate them. *snicker*

  9. Matt, Matt, and Claire, thanks for your comments!

    Phil, I’ve definitely let all of those things slide before–in fact, I’ve probably said them all myself in the past. I was on a journey and I know others are on a journey. Hopefully we can help folks speed along their journeys so they can get to the good part sooner :)

  10. Matt, Matt, and Claire, thanks for your comments!

    Phil, I’ve definitely let all of those things slide before–in fact, I’ve probably said them all myself in the past. I was on a journey and I know others are on a journey. Hopefully we can help folks speed along their journeys so they can get to the good part sooner :)

  11. Beautiful post, Brian. You are really encouraging people to be better critical thinkers, as well.

  12. Beautiful post, Brian. You are really encouraging people to be better critical thinkers, as well.

  13. John Horstman

    And now, a Queer Theory critique:
    “Have you thought about ….”: I don’t actually know what you mean here; I’m assuming it’s more specific than an objection to anyone (or, actually, straight people) asking if you’ve though about any topic e.g. “Have you though about the environmental damage being caused by the massive oil leak in the Gulf?”

    “I have a gay friend and she …”: Yeah, assuming all gays people are the same by virtue of their gayness is asinine.

    “Let’s all get along …”: “Me calling out injustice is NOT more offensive than the injustice itself” – that’s true, assuming you’re right; you probably ARE right most of the time, but given your conflation of bigotry (individual action) and institutional norms (like heterosexism) and your mildly hypocritical myopia concerning enforced social norms (more in a bit), I’m willing to bet that you also occasionally see homophobia where there is none, ascribing someone calling you out for being a jackass to homophobic attitudes and norms. You absolutely should point out injustice when you see it, but you also have to be willing to be wrong. “Don’t try to change my discomfort by asking me to behave” – again, you must be VERY careful with this attitude, as identifying as part of an oppressed group is not a free pass to be an asshole in any/all circumstances.

    “Gay people are just like straight people, they just happen to be gay…”: What you do here is to universalize/homogenize and normalize the experience of all straight people, which is exactly what you’re objecting to with respect to yourself. The fact that someone is straight DOES mean that one will experience certain institutional norms differently, but your “differences” that you list could all apply to any given straight person. Your assuming that “straight people” and, even more problematically, any given straight person with whom you’re interacting DON’T share those experiences or others because they’re straight. Gay people ARE just like straight people, in that none of us have the same histories, experiences, or identities, but we do share different parts of different aspects of ourselves with others. The problem is that you’re elevating the straight/gay binary (false binary, it’s a continuum) to the status of an ontological truth in identity division/determination, and it just isn’t.

    “Gay is the new Black.”: I’m astounded that anyone actually utters these words; no disagreement here.

    “Gay people are … and therefore they deserve equal rights…”: (A note: I’m assuming that your objection is to this kind of statement, and not only to this statement with the limited list of norms you present; if not, I withdraw what follows.) I seriously doubt that you actually believe that humanity and equal rights are not dependent on conforming to some standard – should we just let serial killers go about their business? Not murdering a series of people is a social norm, and I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that it’s one to which you think people should conform and, additionally, that a person who does not conform to this standard should be stripped of many/all of hir rights. The problem isn’t that you actually think coercive social norms are inherently bad, that problem is that you disagree with the social norms that are presently established in your society. I agree that many of them (heteronormativity, patriarchy, ethnic paternalism, racism, etc.) are really bad; that doesn’t mean that I think there should be no coercive social norms. This is an extremely important distinction, as it’s understanding is necessary to avoid advocacy for a system that will be equally as oppressive, just not oppressive towards YOU, instead of an all-around less-oppressive system. While I certainly don’t think non-heteronormative aspects of one’s sexual identity (I hate the fact that “sexual identity” is reduced to the sole consideration of the sex/gender expression of one’s partners) is anywhere near as bad as murder, arguing against all forms of the social contract is arguing against human social organization entirely, without which we would all be eaten by tigers (metaphorically, and for a few literally).

    “We should love gay people because they didn’t choose to be gay, why would anyone choose to be gay?”: I agree completely – we should love gay people because there’s nothing wrong with being gay (other than that which is wrong with any normalized, rigid, oppositional, binary identity category e.g. gay/straight, white/of-color, old/young, man/woman, etc. – the entire idea of these binaries is problematic, but “gay” is no more or less problematic).

    “If you would just…”: Generally, this is probably a stupid thing to say, but it will of course be context-dependent, and I therefore object to your universalized objection.

  14. John Horstman

    And now, a Queer Theory critique:
    “Have you thought about ….”: I don’t actually know what you mean here; I’m assuming it’s more specific than an objection to anyone (or, actually, straight people) asking if you’ve though about any topic e.g. “Have you though about the environmental damage being caused by the massive oil leak in the Gulf?”

    “I have a gay friend and she …”: Yeah, assuming all gays people are the same by virtue of their gayness is asinine.

    “Let’s all get along …”: “Me calling out injustice is NOT more offensive than the injustice itself” – that’s true, assuming you’re right; you probably ARE right most of the time, but given your conflation of bigotry (individual action) and institutional norms (like heterosexism) and your mildly hypocritical myopia concerning enforced social norms (more in a bit), I’m willing to bet that you also occasionally see homophobia where there is none, ascribing someone calling you out for being a jackass to homophobic attitudes and norms. You absolutely should point out injustice when you see it, but you also have to be willing to be wrong. “Don’t try to change my discomfort by asking me to behave” – again, you must be VERY careful with this attitude, as identifying as part of an oppressed group is not a free pass to be an asshole in any/all circumstances.

    “Gay people are just like straight people, they just happen to be gay…”: What you do here is to universalize/homogenize and normalize the experience of all straight people, which is exactly what you’re objecting to with respect to yourself. The fact that someone is straight DOES mean that one will experience certain institutional norms differently, but your “differences” that you list could all apply to any given straight person. Your assuming that “straight people” and, even more problematically, any given straight person with whom you’re interacting DON’T share those experiences or others because they’re straight. Gay people ARE just like straight people, in that none of us have the same histories, experiences, or identities, but we do share different parts of different aspects of ourselves with others. The problem is that you’re elevating the straight/gay binary (false binary, it’s a continuum) to the status of an ontological truth in identity division/determination, and it just isn’t.

    “Gay is the new Black.”: I’m astounded that anyone actually utters these words; no disagreement here.

    “Gay people are … and therefore they deserve equal rights…”: (A note: I’m assuming that your objection is to this kind of statement, and not only to this statement with the limited list of norms you present; if not, I withdraw what follows.) I seriously doubt that you actually believe that humanity and equal rights are not dependent on conforming to some standard – should we just let serial killers go about their business? Not murdering a series of people is a social norm, and I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that it’s one to which you think people should conform and, additionally, that a person who does not conform to this standard should be stripped of many/all of hir rights. The problem isn’t that you actually think coercive social norms are inherently bad, that problem is that you disagree with the social norms that are presently established in your society. I agree that many of them (heteronormativity, patriarchy, ethnic paternalism, racism, etc.) are really bad; that doesn’t mean that I think there should be no coercive social norms. This is an extremely important distinction, as it’s understanding is necessary to avoid advocacy for a system that will be equally as oppressive, just not oppressive towards YOU, instead of an all-around less-oppressive system. While I certainly don’t think non-heteronormative aspects of one’s sexual identity (I hate the fact that “sexual identity” is reduced to the sole consideration of the sex/gender expression of one’s partners) is anywhere near as bad as murder, arguing against all forms of the social contract is arguing against human social organization entirely, without which we would all be eaten by tigers (metaphorically, and for a few literally).

    “We should love gay people because they didn’t choose to be gay, why would anyone choose to be gay?”: I agree completely – we should love gay people because there’s nothing wrong with being gay (other than that which is wrong with any normalized, rigid, oppositional, binary identity category e.g. gay/straight, white/of-color, old/young, man/woman, etc. – the entire idea of these binaries is problematic, but “gay” is no more or less problematic).

    “If you would just…”: Generally, this is probably a stupid thing to say, but it will of course be context-dependent, and I therefore object to your universalized objection.

  15. Orrcarolyn

    Amen!

  16. I hear that!

  17. “calling out injustice is NOT more offensive than the injustice itself”

    love that.

    great post.

  18. I consider myself to be an “ally” (my best friend since high school is a gay man) – one of the most annoying things that I hear other straight people do: When being introduced to a gay person for the first time, immediately launching into a speech about how “I love gay people/I don’t have a problem with gay people”. It’s like, dude, just shut up and stop making an ass out of yourself.

  19. WintryDweller

    I agree with most of the meat of the post, and with pretty much everything in your reply.

    It’s enormously important to make sure we don’t allow ourselves to do the very things we loath in reverse, in if for the right reasons.

    Thanks for the well reasoned info!

  20. Great points. Well put.

  21. Name

    STRAIGHT CIS ALLY: I’m going to the pride event, why hasn’t anyone told me how great I’m being and supportive and stuff
    ME: *subsequently strangles*

  22. MamaTootz

    “I support gay rights BUT i’m straight!”
    “This is so and so my gay friend!”

    …I was guilty of saying the above in the past and since I’m a better ally now, there’s hope for the noobs! :)

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