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And my dad said “Wow, [the queer community has] so many labels, don’t you.”
Me: “Cisgender, heterosexual, white, able-bodied, neurotypical, male. These are your labels. You just don’t notice them in the same way you notice ours, because yours are assumed. It goes without saying. Me? I have to explicitly point to my labels in order for people to see them at all, because unless I do they assume my labels say ‘default’. There’s a reason that authors usually only mention the skin colour or race of people of colour, or describe the fact that a person is using a wheelchair to get about, or that someone is transgender. There is a reason that people rely on stereotypes to convey labels without having to explicitly say ‘this character is gay’, ‘this character is trans’.”
Dad: “I hadn’t thought about it like that before.”
Why I give eternal side-eye to people who complain about “too many labels”
Check out the “Critical Approaches to Heterosexuality” syllabus at the end too
…It is little wonder that parents—even (and perhaps especially) gay and lesbian parents—feel this way. We have been encouraged by the mainstream gay and lesbian movement to spread the word to straight people (and then internalize for ourselves) that being queer is very, very hard, and that this fact is very, very sad. One of the most popular gay and lesbian retorts to the homophobic assertion that gays should quit their shenanigans and choose heterosexuality is: “my god, don’t you think I would do that if I could? Who would choose a life of discrimination and homophobia? No rational person would do that, and ergo, I must have been born this way.” Blah, blah, blah. But despite the realities of homophobic bullying, violence, and discrimination (which I will speak to in a moment), this logic simply doesn’t ever ring true for me and I suspect it is more of a discursive habit than anything else. It certainly bolsters heteronormativity, by implying that heterosexual lives are free of gendered violence and suffering (which they are not) and by obscuring the profound forms of queer joy that accompany, and sometimes compensate for, queer suffering.
…Let me be clear. Homophobic violence happens—to young people, to adults, to women, men, and trans people. It happens to straight people when they are gender-variant and/or are presumed to be queer. And it happens most harshly to queer people of color, and poor and working class queers. In all cases, it is tragic. The ideas that undergird the “It Gets Better” campaign—namely that queer kids can expect to grow up, make money, buy fine things, and discover their entitlement and civil rights— elide the race, class, and gender disparities that shape the lives of queer people (see Laura Logan’s excellent empirical documentation of this at http://thepublicintellectual.org/2011/07/18/the-case-of-the-killer-lesbians/).But here’s the thing: gendered, classed, and racialized violence happens to straight people too, and in many ways, gendered and sexualized forms of violence and suffering are much more unrelenting for straight women. When I teach “Introduction to Women’s Studies” at UCR, I show a series of films about gendered violence and suffering: V Day: Until the Violence Stops,Dreamworlds, Senorita Extraviada, Tough Guise, Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus. These are films about the horrific violence (sexual, physical, emotional) that women endure at the hands of men and the state; about the incredible toll that masculinity takes on men’s bodies and mental health; and about the tedium and unfair division of labor that destroys, or threatens to destroy, an astounding number of marriages in the U.S. Even though I have seen these films a dozen times, I still cry when I watch them, and I have always assumed that I am crying feminist tears. I have assumed I am crying for women. But something shifted the last time I taught the course. After watching the films, rereading the numerous articles about gender oppression I had assigned, and listening to countless stories from straight women students about their shitty male partners, I got in my car and breathed a huge sigh of relief that I am queer. I went home and told Kat, “thank god we are queer.” And I realized that I was crying queer tears for straight people. All of a sudden it became clear to me. Their lives are very, very hard, and this fact is very, very sad. My god, I hope my son isn’t straight. Because who would choose that?Being queer hardly means we are saved from state violence, sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, crappy relationships, or tragic breakups. But what being queer does mean is that we are, at the very least, immersed in a political subculture that does not normalize or celebrate these things. Our relationships, unlike straight relationships, aren’t presumed to be antagonistic, or in structural conflict from the get-go. We are not always already set up in such a way that someone risks being an old ball and chain, or a nagging wife, or getting trapped by an unwanted pregnancy, or needing to buy self-help books like He’s Just Not That Into You, or worrying about how to catch a man and keep him, or retreating to a manspace or sports cave, or becoming a husband-with-his-oh-so-important-job-he-can’t-be-bothered-with-parenting-or-housework, or needing to convince our dating pool that we aren’t bitches, whores, stupid, weak, or liars, and so forth. Often anger is the dominant mode of relating to heterosexuality among radical queers. But might I suggest that it is more appropriate to worry about heterosexuals, to feel sympathy, to wish better for them, and ideally, to support them to do better and help them come up with a plan? It is time to reconfigure the direction of the “ally relationship,” such that queers become allies to the heteros down the street and in the supermarket, especially the women who may be experiencing just as much gendered suffering as we are, but without the hot sex, gay humor, political unity, or good music to which we have access. You can volunteer to help straight women at hetero resource centers—these centers go by names like “Moms Club.”