Dear Straight People,
My dorm floor was doing a Secret Santa exchange—it was a five-dollar maximum, but since no one sticks to the limit, I went all out. I got some stationary from R.S.V.P., some fancy chocolate, the works.
When the day arrived, my giftee looked at her present and with a nervous giggle remarked, “I’m scared to open this.”
I just smiled and let her prove her fears unfounded. Yeah, that crack pissed me off, but I thought it was just because I talk openly about sex, and something about that didn’t jibe with her. I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I gave you all the benefit of the doubt.
A friend of mine, also openly queer, went up to bat next. Someone said, “I hope this isn’t a dildo or something.”
A lesbian acquaintance opens her gift—a t-shirt emblazoned with a kitty in a state of panicked awe above the caption: “Lesbians eat what!?”
I’ve lived with this kind of “soft” bigotry since I came out four and a half years ago. As much as it would be easier to ignore the reality of the situation, I’d just be lying to myself. Straight people, each human being in the world is infinitely complex, capable of being a great amount of things in a variety of contexts. What frustrates me is when you take that complexity and boil it down to an inaccurate stereotype: that of a nymphomaniac tone-deaf fairy who can’t turn it off.
Straight people, I’m a lot of things. We all are. I’m a writer, speaker, business owner, former Catholic, feminist, journalist, anti-racist, artist, atheist, leftist and ludologist. I could engage with you in any one of these capacities, but if there’s one thing I can count on, it’s that the overriding identity you see in me is my affinity for dick. And I don’t even like dick exclusively, or that much! I’m down with trans men and masculine gender-queer people, but do you see that? No. You nonchalantly assume I’m as repulsed by vaginas as if they were Satan’s very maw.
The only thing being queer means, straight people, is that we’re not one of you. That’s it. And you don’t have the right to determine who we are any more than we do to you.
Dear Straight People,
Are we friends?
Am I already having a frank discussion about my sexuality?
Do you honestly believe the myopia of my story will enrich your understanding of the world?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, then it’s probably not fair game to ask me what my coming out story is, or what my first time was like.
Are those narratives important? Of course! Are they all pretty boring? Uh huh. Does your question stem from a privileged perspective that regards my experience as your property? What do you think?
Dear Straight People,
I doubt any of you reading this are actively, virulently homophobic. It’s 2015 after all, and Modern Family is on the air! Hell, I can even mire a partner and myself in a binding, capitalistic contract in 35 states—and we wouldn’t have gotten that if it weren’t for y’all on the ballots.
That isn’t enough, however. You need to deal with your own hang-ups when it comes to queer people, and you need to stop tokenizing us, too. When I talk about you, I don’t introduce you as a “black accountant” or an “S&M enthusiast ecologist,” because I try my damnedest to recognize that we are each of us a holistic and complex person.
Identifying yourself as queer in a particular context or situation is a complicated decision, and I can remember exactly zero times where I’ve asked any of you to do that for me … and plenty of times when y’all did so anyways.
Dear Straight People,
When I’m arguing with you over your casual use of the word “faggot,” or you comment about how you don’t want us “shoving it in your face,” try listening for a change. It’s not about what I think about you as a person, it’s about the fact that there’s bad people out there who find themselves legitimized by the bigotry in your joke. You’re not 2000’s-era Louis C.K., jeez.
Dear “Straight” People,
Listen, I get it. I was there. By definition, we all were. We understand the fear, disgust and isolation. Every one of us has all gone through some degree of it. And believe me, there are people out there—myself included—who will do everything we can to help you out. We’ve got hotlines, LGBT centers, friends, teachers, the whole shebang.
That said, it’s 2015. I’m not going to indulge you when you talk about how “gross” gay sex is or how your feelings of shame are legitimate. I mean, yeah, they’re legitimate in the sense that they are actual feelings that you are in fact experiencing, but sincere bullshit doesn’t smell any better.
Furthermore, being gay doesn’t make your homophobia acceptable. When you take your internalized self-loathing out on other people, you are understandable and human, but you’re still an ass.
(Also, no, I’m not going to go back into the closet to date you.)
Dear Relatively Masculine White Queer Men,
Fact: We’re at the tippy top of the privilege spectrum compared to everyone else on the same totem pole as us. It is well within our power to be racist, misogynistic, transphobic and/or homophobic, and it’s not cool.
Seriously. Open up Grindr and count how many guys will have shit like “no tr*****”, “no rice” or “no curry” in their bios. Really, go ahead. It’s an enlightening experience.
Not being privileged in one context does not mean you don’t exercise privilege negatively elsewhere.
Dear LGBT+ People and Our Allies,
It’s rough out there.
But here’s the thing: We’re making progress. I know that doesn’t mean much when faced with all of our pains and struggles, and I don’t say this to make light of them. (I know my words may ring hollow to those who deal with the kind of violence I haven’t.) Still, I want to celebrate where we are.
The ability to be openly gay—hell, openly anything—is a fairly recent delight. Some of us deride gay marriage as our movements’ most myopic focus point (and rightly so, in an opportunity cost sort of way), but the fact that people are willing to support us publicly in any capacity, given historical precedent, is staggering.
In the world’s most progressive places, LGBT+ acceptance is less of a struggle and more of a fact of life. People are living bravely and throwing pride parades in countries and cities that sometimes make me wonder if certain headlines are just big jokes. Trans people are starting to break into public conversations and movements in ways they’ve been denied for so long … ability to play themselves as actors somewhat notwithstanding. (I’m looking at you, Jared Leto.)
And no, our situation is nowhere close to ideal. We’ve come far enough to know we’ve got a long, long way to go.
But we have fought to make a space for ourselves where we can live and live freely. Once, there was nothing for us. Now, there is something.
So if you ask me, we’re winning. If you ask me, we can’t lose.
Edward Fiala is a student at the University of Iowa. He is self-employed and definitely majoring in something.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 179