“Do we have to know who’s gay and who’s straight? Can’t we just love everybody and judge them by the car they drive?”
Why do cis-gendered heterosexual people support the Queer Community, I’ve always wondered. Is it because of their “morality”? Or is it because they feel like not doing so will result in a backlash from the ‘woke’ society?
Don’t get me wrong. I love the support. It is encouraging and empowering. As a minority, we need the support. But what happens when this “support” is taken a bit too far? Whether it is the monetization of queer lives by people outside the community (see also: rainbow capitalism) or to receive social approval. There are more than a few instances I could point out in recent times and I am going to deal mainly with the social aspect of ‘support’. How far is too far?
The day I mentioned this article to a friend of mine, the first thing she told me was, “be careful with how you phrase it because not every marginalised individual has the privilege to disengage with their reality”. Privilege being the key word here. Quite honestly, up until that point, I was not very accepting of my own privilege, either. Try and hear me out, however, before you completely eliminate the possibility.
The thought that people were starting to go too far crossed my mind on two different occasions. The first was when an acquaintance of mine, who identifies as a straight, cis-genderedwoman, used a girl in order to get the attention of a guy she liked. While this was already arguably problematic even if she had used another guy for the same means, it ends up being a little more hurtful when the same is done to a minority community. The second occasion was when a straight person I know was trying to become a social media influencer by using their ally-ship to give their platform a boost (this was shortly after the reading down of 377 on the 6th of September, 2018). The funny part, though? I think it kind of worked in their favour.
Even more so, it took me a while to understand completely why certain words could be used only by people of a certain community or background. It always made me think, “if the word is that bad, why are certain people still allowed to use it? Why not completely eliminate its usage?”. While this is something I know a lot of us may not openly say, it certainly would have crossed our minds, especially if we have been poorly educated about an issue. The awakening came with Samantha White in Dear White People. When she explained things from the point of view of a Black person, I began to correlate it with other communities and, hence, understand it better. One thing she said always stayed with me; “Dear White People, in a shocking reversal, using the term ‘African American’ is borderline racist now. Turns out, if you’re too worried about political correctness to say ‘Black’, odds are you secretly want to callus ‘niggers’ anyway and TBT, I rather you be honest about it.” The way I interpreted it was that you being so sensitive and afraid of offending a person or a community arises from the fact that, somewhere, you know you think and/or say things that you know are offensive, but you would still go ahead and do it. I am no innocent party, here.
In some way, being human, we all do this. Think about the last time you spoke to someone from a ‘lower’ economic or social background than you? There is always a wall. Think back to the last time you made a remark about your South Indian friend’s skin color. Think about the last “yo mama” joke you made. I think about the last time I played “Chinese, Japanese” as a kid and how racist that game is even to a lot of people from the 7 Sisters in India. Racism, casteism, classism, gender biases. They are always present in the smallest things we do that we think nothing of. But in the mind of someone affected by these issues first-hand, the situation tends to unfold differently.
The Social Interaction Theory is a sociological theory that studies an individual’s patterns of actions and reactions in response to other people. The theory basically states that one’s behaviour would change based on the social pressures they encounter. This, as a theory, holds, when analysing the behaviour of people who do not identify with the community. This, again, is solely with respect to their support for the community. I think people tend to go a bit too far when showing their support for the Queer Community. (Like in the earlier example with the social media influencer who chooses to write about Queer rights only when it is trending.) Often, when it comes to showing enthusiasm for a Pride Parade, most want to go there and “see the gay people and how they dress up like a rainbow”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but the pride march at its core is a protest. The essence of a protest must not be taken away from it by the glamour added to it – whether by brand trying to gain out of it or people trying to be a part of an ‘it’ crowd.
Think about it. Think about a straight friend of yours – this does not even have to be the ‘most heterosexual’ one you know. Talk to them about Pride and about the new girl you’re seeing. I am not going to generalize, here, by saying that 10/10 of them will react differently from what you initially expected. While you always expect them to react weirdly, you want them to react as they would if you were talking about your heterosexual relationship. From what I have observed – and this tends to happen a lot – no matter how much someone may support you, there is always that hint of formality. This formality usually comes in the form of hesitation where they do not know if they should react normally or make it a“thing” – and again, I understand the hesitation. I think, somewhere, this goes back to you being told to “behave a certain way in order to not make someone feel bad”. This stems back to them maybe not having met enough queer people and, hence, not knowing what is the proper way to react. Somewhere, this behaviour troubles me, as well, as it makes me feel like a lot of the allies of the queer community aren’t really allies.
A majority of people are always interested in “that Pride Parade” but very rarely would they have a completely normal reaction to you being in any kind of relationship that is not a monogamous, heterosexual one; the only kind society completely accepts. And I do not blame people. Indian society tries to teach us to be tolerant towards queer people without having to realize the fine line between tolerance and acceptance. Tolerance would mean being okay with a Pride Parade and being okay with the fact that your neighbour’s son is gay. While I cannot entirely blame society for not teaching us the difference – due to how closed every person is to having a real conversation about the community – it is surely something we can try and change. Acceptance would mean maybe attending a Parade to see what it is all about, or actually talking to the gay son and maybe even inviting him home for chai. While every person’s way of accepting is different, it honestly comes down to the way you treat a person. Merely tolerating someone shows an element of discomfort. It is likely that, at some point of time, this discomfort would lead to an absence of tolerance, itself.
There’s also always that issue with allies of the community speaking for the community. While speaking up for us is needed, appropriating our experiences and profiting off of them is problematic. Let’s try to compare it to something more of us could relate to. Mansplaining. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “mansplain” as(of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing. Take a moment. Let that sink in. Women, you know how you feel when your ideas are mansplained? That’s the exact way someone – I will not deny my own privilege – in the community feels when a cis-gendered heterosexual person tries to explain their feelings or the way they have been treated in or how they feel about a law being changed. That is how I feel. Straight people, sometimes, may – knowingly or unknowingly – try to ‘queers plain’ things. While it may come from a good place, its impact may not always be as you expected.
Let’s take a “reality check” of sorts. Are you an ally but were uncomfortable somewhere while reading this because it may be something you do? Well, then that brings us to the question that a lot of my friends ask me. They want to support the community and its people but never know how to do so without either offending someone or having to adhere to stereotypes.
We do not expect you to be completely okay and accepting the first time itself. We understand that it takes some time. So, here are three simple things you can do in order to be a good ally. Firstly, ask questions. Questions are good. We would rather have someone ask us questions than assuming the outcome of a situation and end up doing the opposite of what they should be doing. This does not mean that you make your queer friend a punching bag of sorts to your questions, either. Secondly, please do not assume a person’s sexuality. Not every feminine man or a masculine woman is gay. The same works the other way round. Not every feminine woman or masculine man is straight. For some people, this may also be a sensitive stereotype that they have been dealing with their whole life. Saying things like, “oh but you’re too cute to be gay” or “you do not look gay” does not help. Thirdly – and maybe even the most important – show support. This could be in the form of voicing your opinion (without having to queers plain) or asking someone their preferred pronouns (this is a very important one as I know cis-gendered heterosexual people as well who prefer gender-neutral pronouns) or even attending queer events like a Pride Parade. Try attending a Pride Parade with a positive approach. Look at it as an opportunity to learn something new and understand the victory of a struggle.Support is good. Never stop supporting something you believe in. However, you can never fully understand the extent of oppression until it is something you have gone through. Show support, but please do not try to “put yourself in their shoes”. Subtle actions, subtle reactions.
- Social Interaction Theory, Social Roles & the Presentation of Self – Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.com. (2018). Retrieved from https://study.com/academy/lesson/social-interaction-theory-social-roles-the-presentation-of-self.html