November 14, 2008

That's So Gay.

The past few weeks have been really eye-opening for me.

It started with Prop 8, of course. I'd had a bad feeling that Prop 8 was going to pass, but I didn't expect it to leave me feeling awful and angry and crying.

Realization: Getting your civil rights voted away by people who don't realize just how hateful and ignorant they're being, and who reduce your lives and families and dreams to a political catchphrase, feels sort of like getting kicked in the stomach repeatedly.

At the Prop 8 comment thread over at Shakesville, everyone was hurt and bitter and angry and quite possibly hung over after Election Night festivities. And then there was this comment:

"Its not about hate. Its never been about hate. [sic] I don't like cigarette smoke, but that doesn't mean I hate smokers."

As I was reading the thread, that stopped me in my tracks.

In the midst of all that angst and disappointment, some "loving" person thought there was nothing wrong with comparing the lives of thousands of people, probably including some of her own family and friends, to second-hand smoke. And that was one of the nicer comments.

In the interest of full disclosure: I live in a happy, bigotry-free bubble. I've mentioned on multiple occasions how proud my school makes me, for being such a safe space for gay students. I really have never felt like someone could hate me just because I'm dating a girl.

The realization that there were really so many people out there who really hate gays and lesbians, and that my life and my relationship meant nothing to them but something bad to yell out, felt like the sky was falling.

So the other day I was flipping through my facebook page, editing some things, and my eye fell on the part where it says "Interested in: Women," which is a fairly recent development because for a while I was afraid to be out on facebook.

And I had to pause to think about it, because I thought for a second that that couldn't be right, because that's not normal. And if I'm not normal, than it means my typical high school relationship, with all the usual fluff and angst, is something political and weird. It means that if my girlfriend does what she wants to and joins ROTC, I could lose her her scholarship and her job. It means that when I wore my rainbow Obama button in Manassas, I had to find myself fending awkward, uncomfortable looks. It means that when I go to get a job in my home state, an employer could refuse to hire me just because I like girls, and once I finally get out in the real world and go to buy a house I could be evicted if my landlord doesn't like gay people. It means I have to defend my civil rights in class debates, and listen to people in the hallways saying "that's so gay" to everything they think is stupid.

It means that every time I look at a college I want to apply to, I have to check to make sure it's gay-friendly. It occurred to me recently that that's something I look for, subconsciously if not overtly. I was relieved when I visited one of my top-choice colleges this weekend and saw that there were plenty of out, happy gay students.

That's not normal, right?

When I was at the college, my hostesses took me to see a performance by a tour called Second Class Citizens. It was a spoken word poet and a folk singer, both lesbians, who had stopped to do a show on campus that night.

It hit me, halfway through one of the songs, that I'd never heard a love song about two women before. I bought her CD, just so I would have a break from a culture that tells me, in every movie and romance novel and song on the radio, that I'm not normal.

So yeah, my happy gay bubble has been burst. And yeah, I could end on an optimistic note and say that now's the time to fight back, and go to protests, and make a fuss, and hope that maybe someday all the assholes will change their minds and start looking at us like human beings.

But really, it just sucks that my life and relationship is a political issue.

Despite my double-take, Facebook wasn't wrong when it said I like women. And that's okay, and I have to keep living like it's okay, and normal, and not bad or weird or wrong, and hope that eventually maybe it actually will be. But I think, despite how easily the whole coming-out thing was for me, I'm still learning how to do that.


mr_subjunctive said...

Hey. Came here from Shakesville.

It's not fair, no. There's a lot of extra stuff you have to deal with, being gay. But it's still better now than it was ten years ago. When I was in high school (1987-1991), I don't think anybody would have dared to be out at school. Now, it's something that's a choice, that you kind of have to think about, but it's not totally out of the question. Someday, I'd wager, it will be something that students won't even think about. And there's a ton of other stuff like that. Portly Dyke, at Shakesville, posted something to this effect last week: progress has actually been relatively fast, considering.

Your post actually reminds me a little bit of myself, after I came out: I spent a lot of time reading anything and everything I could find with any kind of gay content; I bought CDs by artists I didn't even especially like, just because they validated that no, it's possible for a guy to find another guy and experience love and all that. It's something that's hard to explain to someone who hasn't lived it, the need to see people like yourself represented in stories and songs and so forth.

I don't know what to tell you, exactly, except that it does get better. It doesn't go away, but you get better at not letting it take over your whole life. I'm actually, weirdly, more encouraged than not by the stuff that's happened since Prop. 8 passed: people are putting the Mormon Church on the defensive for supporting P8, people are marching in the streets, people are suing and blogging and really taking an interest in this one, on a scale that I haven't seen before.

Things will look a lot different by the time you're 30. I can just about promise.

Spiffy said...

Thanks for the comment!

I'm actually really encouraged by all the protests and stuff too - I was at the Richmond one today, and people seemed really supportive. But changing things takes such a long time! XP

Dori said...

I came out in highschool too, christ, almost a decade ago.

I remember the day I found out that the principal at my school didn't like girls being out...I went to an all girls public school, so she had an issue with our "image" if it became known that we had queer students.

I was given detention, and threatened with everything from suspension to expulsion for the smallest of things after I came out. The final one was a threatened sexual harassment charge for "unwanted sexual contact" when she saw me give one of my friends a hug. I told her to suspend and charge me if she liked, but to be warned that I knew my rights, and that I would use them to own her ass if she did.

Anyway, my point being, that moment was my realization that who I was represented something bigger than me and absolutely frightening to other people. I had already been heading in that direction, but I really confirmed myself as an activist then.

It does suck, knowing that we have so much against us, but Mr. Subjunctive was right. It has already improved so much, so quickly (relatively) that it will likely only get better.

Ol Cranky said...

Sadly, I'm old enough to be able to notice the difference over time. Luckily, there has been a difference over the years and it is noticeable when you take a step back and look around you. While people didn't come out at my HS (mid 80s), there were a few people who made everybody's gaydar go off and nobody thought anything of it (of course they were friends with the "popular" kids). I started noticing a discernible difference in response to "teh gay" during college - and I went to VA Tech - mid-way through, orientation seemed to be a non-issue in general (of course, I'm straight and more than a little oblivious).

As dejected as I was about the passage of Prop h8, I was equally heartened by the responses of my co-workers when someone commented that it had passed. [For the record, I live in Philly]. We don't generally discuss politics in the office but the person who made the announcement is a conservative voter and she was shocked and saddened. People came out of their offices to make sure we'd heard correctly and we all, liberal and conservative alike, announced our disdain at the results. My direct reports (most of which are in their 20s) have also made comments that they look forward to positive cultural changes in the near term future.

I think, Spiffy, you do have a future in which people will be curious about what your gf (or wife) does without finding it curious that your partner is a girl.

Anonymous said...

I followed your link from Feministe, and I really identified with this post--I grew up with a very accepting family, went to a very accepting and queer-friendly high school, and an even more queer-friendly college, and I had the exact same kind of revelation myself, when I realized the rest of the world wasn't as accepting.

I guess I don't have anything add, except to say, you're not alone. (And that the world will get better. We will make it better.)


Anonymous said...

Also here via Feministe:

Your remark about having "a break from a culture that tells me, in every movie and romance novel and song on the radio, that I'm not normal" reminded me of a book I read last year, called "Girls Next Door: Lesbian Feminist Short Stories", which has a passage very similar to yours in the introduction, and was compiled specifically as an antidote to the problems you describe.

I wrote a review of it (from my het male perspective! heh... well anyway...)

Just thought I'd offer it as a recommendation, anyway.

Spiffy said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Snowdrop! And thanks everyone else for telling your experiences, I really appreciate it.