Heteronormativity of LGBTQ People

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The very core of who we are is implanted into us during our childhood. Sure, you may argue that education causes us to look out who we are, decide what is good/bad about it, and make needed changes to evolve, but keep in mind how we define those very structures is based on our upbringing, the very way our parents raised us. For LGBTQ youth, we grow up in a familial culture that doesn’t understand our very differences. Our parents teach us what they, in turn, learned from their parents. It is a perpetuated cycle of heteronormativity and most cases it’s so ingrained into us that we do not see it as anything else other than how we are raised. We are taught that we should be looking for someone of the opposite sex to get to know, settle down, marry, have kids, and start the whole cycle again. Our parents weren’t taught there was a difference, at least in a positive light, so it is seen as the only way to be and anything else is an aberration.

 

What is heteronormativity, Merriam Webster says this : heteronormative adj – of, relating to, or based on the attitude that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really speak to the very nature of heteronormativity. The Medium.com goes further with a definition from other scholarly sources that says:

Ranging from organizational to interpersonal spheres, the presumptions that there are only two sexes; that it is ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ for people of different sexes to be attracted to one another; that these attractions may be publicly displayed and celebrated; that social institutions such as marriage and the family are appropriately organized around different-sex pairings; that same-sex couples are (if not ‘deviant’) a ‘variation on’ or an ‘alternative to’ the heterosexual couple. Heteronormativity refers, in sum, to the myriad ways in which heterosexuality is produced as a natural, unproblematic, taken-for-granted, ordinary phenomenon.

One could argue then that this definition is very close to what most would perceive as homophobia and you wouldn’t be far from the truth. Homophobia is more like the sibling of heteronormativity but louder and in your face. Heteronormativity is the more day to day, subtle process that are so pervasive to our culture and much more akin to colonialism. Essentially it is the basic form of sexual expression and the very foundations on which societies are built. It states that the only normal expression is that of a man and a woman and anything else is deviant or less than normal.

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This can be seen by the laws of the communities all of us belong to, when you see countries that punish homosexuality by violent acts, jailing, or the extreme being killing. It only reinforces that heterosexuality is the only acceptable course of life. These are unacceptable and downright inhumane, and you think this can’t happen in our country because of laws that have started passing in the last fifty years. You are right in that assumption; however, it still exists here, and it done much more subtly. Sure, it can be argued that LGBTQ people are the minority and that as such the majorities mindset shouldn’t have to change to placate such a small group. The problem is this very mindset goes beyond affecting only LGBTQ people. Also, we have to realize that not challenging this social injustice is just morally ambivalent to the status of society and wanting to create and environment where everyone is treated equally and fairly.

The very nature of heteronormativity implies the fact that a relationship is based on a ‘masculine’ and a ‘feminine’ person, as such it teaches that the men are the providers and women are the child bearers. Basically, stating that men are the top of the structure and create what is considered normal or acceptable. It creates the power struggle that allows men to believe they are the control in the situation and allowed to subjugate those below his status. It goes further to create standards of what is perceived as the sexual male and female, from how they talk, how they stand, or how they dress. It does not allow for any deviation on those standards. It only allows for a sexual desire between the male of female sex and that only those who physically appear as men can be attracted to those who physically appear as women.

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So how has this affected the LGBTQ people? It pervades our very culture and has shaped it over time, whether we want to admit it or not. For gay men it has colored our sexual proclivities. Tops and bottoms, femme and butch are a good representation of it. We have shaped our ideas of how sex should be based on ideas that were taught to us by our parents, school, and environment we have grown up with and lesbians have much the same basis. It has also created the mindset lesbians and gays cannot be friends, old mindset but still happens today. It has given us the ability to persecute drag queens and our transgender brothers and sisters. It is also the very reason why many of us view bisexuals with such disdain. We were taught that sexual attraction can only fit an either-or situation, that anything outside of that isn’t right and should be judged.

 

There are still plenty gay men who believe that you can only be a top or a bottom. I can’t count how many times I have heard the phrase that versatile means a bottom in denial. Or if they say they are top versatile that they are pretending to be something they aren’t. It is a restatement of a masculine and a feminine role and that it cannot be anything other than that. They are the same ones who argue this is my preference and just how I am, when it is more of the fact that it is what has been taught to us since we were kids. As LGBTQ people, we fight against the molds that society places upon us, to show we are what we are and not a mistake. We fight for our differences while at the same time maintaining outdated modalities that shouldn’t apply to us.

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It goes further when you hear things like ‘straight acting’ or ‘masculine’ gay male, as if they very nature of someone who isn’t a perceived idea of what it is to be male is offensive. Why is feminine deemed unworthy of affection or desire? Heterosexism typically implies that being feminine is below being masculine and therefore subpar. Again, we follow a precept of a group that we try our hardest to distance ourselves from while at the same time cow tailing to that very same group for acceptance and justification in our equality. It is the very reason we strive for marriage equality, we feel it would give us the feeling of being normal and just like the happy married straight couple who deserves all the benefits that’s comes with being a married couple.

A challenge for you; Google the word couple and look at the images that populate. At least 90% of the images returned will be of heterosexual white couples. Out of the first page of results, you may see ten images that are LGBTQ and out of the ten one is of a transgender couple. It is a proof that the majority believes that marriage is about heterosexual couples and most focus on white heterosexual couples. Don’t believe me? Watch ten episodes of “Say Yes to The Dress” and count how many minority couples are on the show. This shows the mindset of the general populace and one that we need to actively work on changing.

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Delusions of Equality

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So, You Think We Have Rights?

Were we, as LGBTQ people, tricked into supporting legalized marriage? Seems like a shocking thing to say, right? How hard is it to believe that the powers that be convinced us to change our fight for rights to something more controllable?  We have fought for our rights that the Constitution gave every American citizen long before the Stonewall riots of 1960, it was that even that solidified our movement forward. That isn’t where our history began. Somewhere between the events of 1960 and now we changed our focus on activism to push for Marriage Equality. We were tricked into believing that would make us more acceptable and would be the means in which we achieved the rights of our heteronormative counterparts. This very focus changed what we viewed as important and what we were protesting over.

1500 Rights and an Equal Symbol

The Constitution guarantees us certain inalienable rights, but did you know that those people who are licensed to officiate a marriage also have the ability to grant married couple 1500 rights that single people do not have. What makes these people so special that they can grant rights that the Constitution cannot? The answer to that is simply a piece of paper and recognition by the state in which they reside. I state this because I am legally able to perform wedding ceremonies. In Ohio, it cost me $10, that was a filing fee. Some of these rights include the ability to receive discounted rates for homeowners’, auto insurance, ability to make medical decisions about their spouse, get health insurance through their spouse’s job, Medicare, and Social Security. All things that are not given to single people. As a single person, there is a fair change that any benefit that you leave to your siblings, relatives, friends or lovers could be contested and even absorbed back into the system that you paid into. We were somehow duped into believing that these are rights deserved by marriage only. The HRC has been famous for parading out people to show how marriage equality would have prevented any issues. Take for example Edith Windsor whose 84-year-old partner died in 2009. Upon her death Edith was faced with estate taxes of $400,000 and the court case argued that if she had been married this wouldn’t have been an issue. Windsor became a poster child for marriage equality. The New York Times made Windsor out to be a slightly impoverished victim of not having the right to marry, in fact it was later proved that her net worth was over $10,000,000. HRC backed the case and continued to make sure she was the victim. During Pride season it was common to see t-shirts and posters showing “I AM Edith Windsor.”

Where was HRC and the media showing how this would affect those of lesser means and why weren’t they the example to be held up. HRC is famous for only showing the social elite in its media presentations, like for instance Chicago’s reclusive gay media mogul, Fred Eychaner who commands a large fortune and even held private meetings with President Obama. These are the ones that are chosen as our representatives for marriage equality, not the ones struggling to get by on food stamps and living in horrible conditions because landlords will not rent to LGBTQ people. What has HRC given us in return for all of this? The erasure of part of our LGBTQ history by replacing the rainbow with the blue and yellow equality symbol. A symbol to represent unification without the supposed boundaries of the rainbow, but one built only on the examples of privileged LGBTQ people.

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The Painful Truth of the Stonewall Riots*

2009 was the fortieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots and is often used as a means to draw parallels between the Gay Rights Movement of then versus now. During that same year, a column was written by Frank Rich of The New York Times, in this column he described the events of the riots: “The younger gay men and scattered women who acted up at Stonewall on those early summer nights in 1969 had little in common with their contemporaries in the front-page political movements of the time.” The stranger truth of this is that the riots were started by drag queens and the transgendered people of the time and were the very types of people that most gay men didn’t associate with, in the first place. Even still today, these groups are marginalized by our own community. The very people who propelled the movement into the modern era are rarely in the media as who rights will affect. The group that sparked the Stonewall riots were considered the fringe of the LGBTQ lifestyle, many were prostitutes, homeless youth, effeminate young men, and butch lesbians. These were the groups most often arrested by the police and were distanced from by the early homophile groups. These groups believed that gays should assimilate into heterosexual culture, without distinction.

HIV/AIDS Shaped Health Benefit Battles

With the onset of the 1980s, activism shifted due to the increasing devastation caused by AIDS. We watched as our community was ravaged by this disease and all denied the ability to be with our loved ones as they were dying in hospitals. This was due to the fact that we were not seen as family members or couples. The early roots of marriage equality were sparked from these sad affronts. Why were only heterosexual couples given this “special” right to be with their loved ones in the hospital. We were told that we did not matter because we were not related, and our love was illegal. As so many gay men were dying, it was our lesbian sisters who took up the cause for pushing through legislation about healthcare reform and how AIDS research was handled. The AIDS Quilt was put into place to memorialize those that we had lost to this monster of a disease. Still, we were not allowed to be with our loved ones in their last struggles. The fight for marriage started. In the same article by Frank Rich intimated that had gays been bestowed the rights of marriage unto them, the struggle with AIDS would not have been so bad. That somehow our suffering only happened because we did not have marriage equality. The truth is that healthcare reform should have come to singles and not just married couples. There should not have been the division of rights that would have prevented us from having adequate health care coverage or the ability for our loved ones to be by our side

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Is Healthcare The Goal?

As of now, it was argued that gay marriage would be a way to extend healthcare to our lovers, through the union of marriage. Our current administration is working to subvert this very right granted by the union. If you haven’t been paying attention, Trump is pushing for the HHS (Health and Human Services) to change how healthcare is doled out to the masses. He is working to make sure that anything about gender is removed from the language and working to allow healthcare workers the ability to turn away patients that are against their religious beliefs. So, the principles that groups like HRC and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force have convinced us to work towards are on the verge of being taken away because of religion. So much for separation of church and state. This is the very proof that we have worked all the years for a goal that in effect means absolutely nothing. We should have been working on making sure that healthcare was accessible by all people, regardless of their standing as a couple. We should have been working to make sure that education reform was put into place that would change how the masses view minorities

Gay Marriage, The Cure All*

In 2008 there was an uptake in youth suicides due to the effects of relentless bullying by peers based on a presumption of the youth being gay. This led to many gays and straight advocates of making an assumption that the legalization of gay marriage would have an effect of lowering the stigma of being gay and thereby aiding in lowering the rates of suicide and making queer and queer identified teens appear more normal. What actually can be inferred from this assumption is that all social problems are directly tied to marriage and the rights that union bestows upon people. It would seem more logical that proper education and inclusion training would do better to diminish this negative outcome more than marriage equality would have an effect upon. In December of 2009, Melissa Harris-Lacewell wrote about her lesbian niece and the suffering she endured at her school. It was so bad that she eventually transferred to another school to escape it. Harris-Lacewell argued that marriage equality should be passed to ensure her niece did not have to go through this trauma. Her arguments state that marriage equality would make life easier for the LGBTQ people. The statistics for LGBTQ youth that attempt suicide are staggering and those numbers are from those who feel they cannot bear to live in a homophobic world. They experience bullying from their peers, negativity from the family situation, and constantly being told how they are wrong or sinful. They already live in a word that tells them how they will not accept any form of deviation from the norm. Pushing for marriage equality is telling our LGBTQ people that conformity is the only way to survive in this world and that any form of nonconformity can and should lead to death.

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Union of Individuality

I am not opposed to anyone wanting to spend the rest of their lives with the ones they love. Each person needs to make that decision on their own. The history of marriage shows that it is more about keeping wealth and power in a given family, as opposed to being about love. It is a union that is sanctioned by a State and Federal Government contract that gives you rights that should be available for all people. Perhaps we should have worked to use different wording that could be used to express the love we say we are joining over. Our fight should be for achieving the same rights that others have, not change the fact that we are different from others. That is the key to all humanity, no one is like another person. Celebrate what makes us who we are, embrace the differences, and love the ones that can lift us up in spite of them.

*Against Equality: Queer Revolution Not Mere Inclusions” Edited by Ryan Conrad copyright 2014

 

The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California
The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California, U.S. June 11, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

LGBTQ Inclusivity

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You will spend, on average, 90,000 hours of your life at work. 90,000 hours, can you really grasp that. So why is it that a place we spend so much of our time at that we feel that we do not need to be that comfortable doing it? 46% of LGBTQ employees have not disclosed to their bosses that they are, in fact, LGBTQ. In some cases, it could cause you to be fired if you live in one of the states that have not passed any form of protection laws. Some of you may argue as to why should you disclose to your job that you are LGBTQ.  Saying things like it won’t affect your job or that it isn’t needed to be known about your personal life. Remember that you spend 90,000 hours of your life working. Chances are they already know things about your personal life, like if you are stressed, sick, having hardships at home, and other aspects of your life. So why should something that is such a fundamental part of who you are not be discussed.

There are genuine fears of disclosing your identity at work, that is true. This is also why inclusivity training is fundamental to every organization. After all, the workforce is constantly changing and any business that cannot keep up with that change will likely not succeed. At one point, under the Obama administration, we all felt we had some form of protection under Title VII. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age (over 40), and disability. Even worse is that it still includes identification that, in many cases, is proven to be an outdated for of differentiation of people. Sex is being used to define the gender you are assigned at birth and the Government is pushing standards that will allow sex to be used to define only two options of either male or female and be the definition of what someone is. Sex simply lets the anatomy of a person be the defining factor of who they are, and we can find plenty of examples where how a person is born can cause issues when it comes to just using anatomy as a definition. To discuss all of this would require a post focused on just that and for the means of inclusivity training, we will have to bypass it for now. But the transgender bathroom debate, that has been a focus for a few years now, has been the driving force behind workplace inclusivity. This is helping companies reassess the workplace and how it relates to its LGBTQ workers.

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A 2018 Accenture study polled 22,000 men and women in at least 34 countries were asked what factors were most important to thrive and advance in their workplace. Forty factors were identified and some of them were the freedom to be innovative and creative,” employees never being asked to “change their appearance to conform to company culture,” and employees feeling “comfortable reporting sex discrimination/sexual harassment(s) to the company.” The study also shows that LGBTQ people are more likely to advance and feel more satisfied in companies where these forty factors are in place. Forbes Online  quoted Ellyn Shook  saying: “It’s critical that companies create a truly human environment where people can be successful both professionally and personally—where they can be who they are and feel they belong, every day.”

If the government will not be the driving factor for inclusivity and prevention of discrimination, then it is left to us and the companies we work for to foster these practices. It should be less of a legal have to and more of a moral obligation. Businesses can do this by implementing inclusive policies and procedures such as, same sex benefits. They can also deal with discrimination head on and not hesitate to engage employees who engage in discriminatory jokes or treating coworkers with mutual respect. Deal with this swiftly and consistently. Companies should also make sure that there is ongoing and consistent training to foster an environment of inclusivity. That training should focus on transphobia, homophobia, and LGBTQ issues. LGBTQ ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) should be implemented. These allow a feeling of inclusion and gives a place to turn to discuss issues in a safe environment. And to go an extra step, companies could support an LGBTQ cause or charity or even go as far as participating in a community event.

The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California
The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California, U.S. June 11, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

I am sure there are many out there that will say this goes beyond what any company should do for a small group of people. My counter to this is it really that much to ask? Many companies already do this for groups that heteronormative people engage in. Many companies donate to local churches or schools that their employees belong to. There are sports teams for their employees. Many companies already have groups that are geared towards employee ethnicities and parents, so it shouldn’t be such a stretch to include the LGBTQ employees, as well. It is just another means to create an environment for all people that work for a company. No one group is more important than the next, as it takes a community to raise a barn. So, making sure that all people feel comfortable in their workplace is only beneficial to the company as a whole.

We must, also, not equate inclusion with conformity, simply because we want the same rights that our heteronormative counterparts have doesn’t mean we should be so quick to accept their way of life. The rights that we have fought for are a means for us to be who we are, wholly and independently. Our struggle for rights has been built off the backs of the feminism, civil rights, and free love movements. Each one has provided essential means to help us progress in our fight, to foster ideals and give avenues to follow. After all, our issues are not so far removed from the plight of others, since we compromise each ethnicity and gender. So, access to equal healthcare for all is just as important as anti-hate crime legislation. All of which are freedoms that should not be based on the conformity of the act of marriage. Inclusion is a means to show that all LGBTQ people have the same inalienable rights, whether married or not, Caucasian or other, as does our heteronormative counterparts. These rights should be given, as the Constitutions mandates, without having to change the essence of what we are to fit into a Legislative ideal of what it means.

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Inclusion training is about being able to understand and accept the differences of the group being discussed. It is a means to relate to them on a common ground and better understand the points of view they come from, as they are uniquely and vastly different than another. In regard to businesses, it is a means to ensure they remain competitive in a changing environment. In regard to schools, it is a way to understand the children in the facility you work at and teach others to be open and tolerant of those that are different from themselves. By teaching these principles, we can change the climate of our culture, whether a government is in support of it or not. Our change will, in time, force the very change of the en masse organization.

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Are You A Friend of Dorothy?

Let’s be perfectly honest here, we all do this daily. We modify the words we say, the tone we speak, and our body postures based on the people we are communicating with. All of us. When you are at home with your loved ones you are more relaxed, and your affectations are looser, and you feel more at ease with yourself. If you are in public or at work, you worry more about what people may perceive you as, so you hold back on things you say or pay more attention to how you present yourself. Some of it, we are taught as children. This is how you act professionally, or this is what you say in polite conversation. For some of us, these are the very things that can keep us safe in mixed company or its things we say that only our friends understand. No matter what it is, it is call “Code Switching.”

 

 

Code Switching – the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation. It typically refers to someone who speaks more than one language, but in modern times has come to also include types of language like body language, or elements that define a particular community. It is most often used as a means of fitting in. Think about it, when you are out with your friends, all sorts of topics come up and many of them aren’t things for polite conversation. Hell, the rest of society isn’t used to hearing us talk about our sexual proclivities, so we tone down some of the words and conversations we engage in. We all have varying levels of how we talk to one another, from truly Qween to pushing butch. It is all rooted from the same place, safety and acceptance, but the question is why?

 

When I was a younger gayby we would call it a nellyectomy. Basically, it would be used to describe someone in this way, “He is so butch at work, but when he walks into a gay bar it’s like he had a nellyectomy and flamed on like the human torch.” It is a good description of what code switching is like. We also used phrases like “are you a friend of Dorothy” as a means of identifying ourselves to one another. It of course refers to Judy Garland’s legendary role as Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz.” While not easily usable in “straight” conversation, it is a way to self-identify. Even saying something as simple as “I’m out” was a code-switching phrase. It’s one that can transcend the group you are with so that those in the know can pick up on you identifying as LGBTQ without others easily picking up on it. Well maybe not as true today as it was ten or twenty years ago.

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Most of the language that LGBTQ and specifically gay men use comes from the gay African American culture. A prime example of this would be the movie “Paris Is Burning.” This movie shows the ball culture of New York city’s African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender community. Many of the words that have become so popular in our culture have originated there and is also one of the ancestors of modern drag. To sum up why it is important, let’s look at “Gurl! On Code Switching When Your Black and Gay”  Madison Moore states “We all need to use language to survive, but code switching is about language used to create bonds and to convey secret information in plain sight.”

 

Prior to the Stonewall riots, LGBTQ people were much more conscious of modes of dress and terminology when they were looking for others of our kind. An example of code switching at this time would be dressing in a suit and tie to match your job and when you were heading out to pick up someone, you would switch to the “Castro Clone” mode of dress. This typically would be Levi’s jeans, white t-shirt, maybe a leather jacket, and some form of boots. This was a mode of dress common in the Castro from the mid-70s to the mid-80s. See the picture above or think Freddie Mercury from Queen. It was typically an over representation of the hetero culture. The other above picture shows a man in running shorts, white socks, and gym shoes, another example of “Castro Clone.”

 

“We’re looking at code-switching a little more broadly. Many of us subtly, reflexively change the way we express ourselves all the time. We’re hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities — sometimes within a single interaction From NPR Codeswitch: Frontiers of Race, Culture and Ethnicity

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It becomes second nature, for the most part. It does for me, anyway. When I am at work my whole mannerisms change. While I don’t hide being gay, I do tend to “butch it up.” I’m the IT guy and I want the company I work for to take me seriously, so I butch up my vocabulary and drop my voice an octave or two. It seems to convey an impression of authority and knowledge. It doesn’t change my knowledge, but as LGBTQ we are taught that heteronormative society doesn’t relate well to us in any position of power or influence. My knowledge over the subject matter doesn’t change, but the tone in which I convey something to people can create a perception that I don’t know what I am trying to impress. Many people can’t see beyond a sexual preference when it comes to LGBTQ. It begins and stops with who we sleep with, for them.

 

“Several friends and I who identify as queer or somewhere on the transmasculine spectrum, have learned the ins and outs of shopping for clothes alongside cis men.  We’ve joked that men don’t take a lot of time perusing the options in the sock and underwear aisle.  They know their size, they don’t care much about the color.  You go in, grab a package of undershirts and boxer briefs and get out.” Many transgender men feel this way and is their approach to day to day shopping, according to the article “Queering the Line.” Things like this can make day to day normality a struggle for LGBTQ people.

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The reality is that these differences do not really matter in the day to day. How we choose to dress, words we use, and body posturing doesn’t change who we are or the things we know. Unfortunately, much of the public doesn’t see it that way, they see the differences. To them that means not the same and therefore less than they are. Inclusivity is important for understanding how to deal with someone and would help in getting over the code-switching issues. So, how do you code switch on a daily basis?

 

Were We Standing Still?

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Many times, it feels that we have let the LGBTQ movement pass us by. Are you wondering why I would say that, so do I. Coming through the 90s, as a young gay man, I had such high hopes about our future. At the time, the man I loved proposed to me and there was only one place you could legally marry. Even after that it wasn’t recognized anywhere, so it almost seemed a trivial act. Between my nights filled with drinking and sex, I thought about where we were headed and the hopes of being accepted as a gay man. I wouldn’t have to worry about some “good ole boy” cornering me and beating the shit out of me. I wouldn’t have to worry about getting kicked out of an apartment or losing a job, again, for being gay. I had dreams, like so many of us did. The problem is, we failed the movement. We let others dictate to us what is acceptable for us to be happy and somewhere along the way we swallowed that medicine with the spoonful of sugar they gave us.

Homogeneity: the quality or state of being all the same or all the same kind.  This is what we were tricked into accepting. We were convinced that we needed to be the same as our heteronormative counterparts, not celebrate the differences that make us who we are. On UC Press Blog (https://www.ucpress.edu/blog/36851/gay-pride-should-be-seen-as-an-aspiration-not-a-settled-accomplishment-martin-duberman/) is an excerpt from the author Martin Duberman who wrote the book “Has the Gay movement failed?” who states “As I’ve already itemized (the greater mutuality and satisfaction that characterize our coupled relationships, the fact that gay men exhibit greater empathy and altruism than do heterosexual men, etc.), there’s much to affirm and even celebrate about gay life.” What he is asserting is that none of us are the same, each and every person is “queer” in their own way, there is no normal. So, for LGBTQ to be pushing for normality is the very opposite of what it means for us to be ourselves. We seemed to have forgotten that we were fighting for acceptance of who we are, not to be harassed for our difference, and the ability to live our lives our way. We were duped into thinking it was better to be accepted as normal. We settled for “Gay is Good.”

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Duberman goes further to say “If the “source” of our isolation and depression lies in society’s lethal mistreatment of us—and it does—why don’t we, as they did in GLF (Gay Liberation Front), wake up politically, mobilize our collective strength and actively assail the engulfing walls of prejudice that enclose us—and which do show signs of weakening and decay. Controversial though the findings are regarding LGBTQ “mental health”, one conclusion is obvious: Gay Is Not Yet Good Enough. The suffering goes on, and at high levels—and Gay Pride should be seen as an aspiration, not a settled accomplishment. . .”

We have been convinced that we do not need our Gay neighborhoods, our bars, our own programming, community centers, and eventually our Pride celebrations. Too many times have I heard our LGBTQ brothers and sisters say that we don’t need these things, I challenge them with why the feel this way and their response is to talk of the progress we have made. Yes, thank the stars, we have made progress, but by no means is our fight over. This is the very time we need to circle the wagons and think about what is best for our forward movement. We need to rethink the grass roots involvements our communities give us. Don’t shy away from the gay bars, they are as instrumental to us now as they have been. I am not addressing or beginning to talk about the topics of substance abuse. We need to go back to the beginnings of what our Pride Parades were for, the activism. We need to support our Community Centers and our people.

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Many times, we say, “the young generation” and this is a misnomer, it implies ageism. What really is being said or even referred to are those that are new to accepting who they are and doesn’t matter their physical age. Though, younger LGBTQ people were not there to witness, even second hand, the trials and struggles of the earlier fights. You can be 50 and just accepting that you are LGBTQ and still be unaware of much of LGBTQ history. Each has its own disparities and not everyone will or wants to be an activist. They simply want to be and coming out to themselves was enough. That is your right, as it is for those who feel they need to push the limits and not just accept the status quo.

It can be hard to understand that we are not in a safe place, if you don’t have a history to compare it to. You see where we are now, and it is all that you know. We have the right to marry and many states do have laws in place that prevent us from losing our job or house because of our identity. These few gains do not make us safe or equal with anyone else, but many of us have come to believe that where we are is enough for them. But the slope we are on is very slippery. We have seen this year that the current administration has banned transgender from joining the military. But yet, many of us still cling to the idea that we need to be like out counterparts and not stand out. For me it is too much like going back into the closet. I prefer the accept and celebrate what makes LGBTQ people different from our heteronormative counterparts.

The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California
The annual Pride Parade is replaced with a Resist March as members of the LGBT community protest President Donald Trump in West Hollywood, California, U.S. June 11, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

All too often we put our support behind groups that do not always shave our best interests at heart. In the years of the 70s and 80s, many gays backed the Advocate as the only magazine that supported the causes we were fighting for. What was found out was more that they only fought for those of a more privileged position and many times tried to pacify who LGBT were. HRC would be another that followed the same path. HRC was big for pushing for the right to marry and once it was achieved hasn’t really went much further to push the boundaries. All too often they seem to cater to the right or just skirt the ideas of safety as not to offend anyone and draw too much attention. As recent as 2014 HRC was still supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which still gives more footing to “religious conscience” as a means for employers to discriminate against LGBTQ. All other LGBTQ groups, accept the Log Cabin Republicans, have pulled support for this Act. They are more concerned with offering praise to Republicans who on a few occasions stick their necks out, instead of supporting and pushing for more with the Democrats who have always lobbied for us.

It is left to the local radial LGBTQ groups to fight for our basic rights. These are the groups that are fighting how to cope with transgender violence, provide support for the homeless LGBTQ youth, and the inhumane judicial system. This is where the fights should be focused, however the larger groups aren’t there offering the support needed for them. This is history repeating itself. All of the strides we have made are from the small groups that became mobile and forward thinking. These were the ones that were of the people and understood that embracing what makes us different is why we should be fighting.

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Perhaps it is a time to rethink the LGBTQ movement and our priorities. Or is it that we need to call our leaders into check and make sure they are fighting for our best interests. Closer to the point is that we should be thinking of what is important to us and making that known to our leaders and those in our community. Going forward, will we continue to let me movement pass us by, or will we take hold and steer it where it should go.

 

Conversate on Conversion

Question

One of the things that causes me vexations is where I hear an LGBTQ person talk about how safe we are now. That we have achieved a sense of acceptance and that people are more welcoming of who we are. I am not discounting the progress we have made in the last 50 years, it is truly fantastic how far we have come from the lows we were at. Having to scuttle around in darkness and going to secret bars that were sketchy at best. Having to use code words to identify ourselves to others. It is truly a progressive time but remember that there are still plenty of people and things that we need to be know about. Our own administration is tirelessly working to remove the advances our forebears bled over.

As of January 2019, only 14 states, the District of Columbia, and a few municipalities have passed any form of legislation banning conversion therapy, so in 36 states conversion therapy camps are legal and used. Wait conversion therapy, isn’t that where you stop using one facial product for another? Or is that where you swing from one religion to another, like Madonna has done or even John Travolta? Who is John Travolta? Stated simply, conversion therapy “is the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological or spiritual interventions.” According to a definition for WikiLeaks.

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The map shown here shows states that offer some form of Conversion Camp, granted it is a bit out of date, but it is still a rough idea. These camps are not regulated by any medical standard, nor are they regulated by the federal government. The means of treatment ranges in type. There are Mormon groups that attach electroshock devices to the genitalia of kids they are “treating” and force them to watch arousing imagery. Any time the react to homoerotic imagery they are given an electroshock as a means of deterrence.  Many other Christian groups used mental tactics as a form of treatment instead. Their statements say that they use psychological and spiritual intervention to cure you of these sinful ways. If you have watched the movie “Boy Erased” you see many of the types of procedures that are used. From body posturing that appears to be more masculine to blaming it on repressed anger towards family members or blaming familial problems.

There are still two prominent groups that practice conversions therapy in the United States, People Can Change and Desert Streams. According to Tufts Independent Data Journal, People Can Change hosts three “experimental weekends” for their treatments and are divided based on the “condition” of the person entering the program. The first two weeks are for “men who want to resolve unwanted homosexual attractions.” The two programs are called Journey into Manhood and the Journey Beyond. “Journey into Manhood is a two-day retreat that uses a variety of methods to help men prevent their same-sex attractions, and Journey Beyond is for those who have graduated from this program.” They combine journaling, safe healing touch, visualization, intense emotional release work, and group sharing as a means of riding you of the unwanted attractions. They work from the premise that all non-heterosexual men are actually heterosexual and just have been affected in some way to create this attraction to other men. The course is defined to identify and work to overcome “reprogram” the desires to reawaken the heterosexuality. They claim no religious backing and solely work with people who volunteer for their program at $650 a person.

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Desert Stream work on the premise of establishing support groups in churches They run six programs, but only three focus directly with Christians who are dealing is sexuality issues. The programs are called Falling Forward: Men Seeking Purity, Crosscurrent, and Living Waters. They advertise that they are designed for Christians that are struggling with “sexual and relational problems.” Their means of cure are described as “biblical wisdom, godly support, and the power of prayer.” If a church decided to start a group, Desert Stream provided training for the church to handle the issues.

These are only a couple of the MANY conversion therapy camps out there and appear, to the public, as the lightest in methods. I have known someone that is Mormon who underwent similar treatment and had been hooked up to an electroshock device. He was forced to sit in a room and watch images and if he had a reaction to any that were of a homoerotic nature, they would give him a shock. And to date, there is no substantial proof that any method of conversion therapy changes the sexual nature of a person. Often, as with recent media, those who underwent the therapy only lapse back into what they were originally. This can lead to depression of the individual and possible suicide. For a look into how it affected one person read this article “Went to church camp to ‘Pray the Gay Away'”  It is the experience of Thomas High going through a conversion therapy process.

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To keep in mind some of the horrors attributed to conversion therapy, let’s look at a few throughout the past few years. In 2009 the church Manifested Glory Ministries came under fire after posting a video to YouTube of a 16-year-old boy (seen above) undergoing an exorcism for being gay. They felt his condition was due to demonic possession and the video showed him writhing on the church floor as church members stood on his feet and hands to prevent him from moving. I have mentioned electroconvulsive therapy, but here is another event. Samuel Brinton grew up in rural Iowa as a gay boy. His family sent him to conversion therapy where they forced him to enter what was called the “Mouth of Hell.” Here they inserted tiny needles into his fingers and forced him to watch pictures of explicit acts between men and he would be electrocuted while viewing them. In June of 2011 in Hong Kong several companies hired a psychologist to give government sponsored training on conversion therapy. Some of the techniques prescribed were cold showers, prayer, and abstinence. Sure, when did forcing gay men not to have sex every cure them of being gay? Matthew Shurka underwent six years of conversion therapy and was subjected to a host of horrors, some of the more strange were not being allowed to see his mother and sisters as a means of curing the effeminate nature he had expressed. This did not work as he later went on to be the spokesperson for National Center for Lesbian Right’s anti-conversion therapy campaign. Even here closer to home Leelah Alcorn was forced onto Prozac and to attend conversion therapy churches to cure her of her transgender identity. This ultimately led to her death and for President Obama to stand up against conversion therapy. Then there are the groups like NARTH, National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, that still profess that homosexuality is a mental disorder. What’s even worse is when these treatments turn to sexual abuse, take Dr. Melvyn Iscove. In March 2018, while claiming that homosexuality was a disease that could be overcome it came to light that he was also engaging in sexual abuse of the patients he was supposed to be helping. Two male clients came forward to state that Iscove had engaged in inappropriate contact with them after they confessed of having homosexual thoughts.

Our current Vice President, Mike Pence is a staunch support of conversion therapy. Marc Lotter, a spokesman for the Vice President, said he was misinterpreted and never made any statement in support. However, looking at his record for anti-LGBTQ rights. Remember that while governor of Indiana he signed into legislation a bill that would allow any business to cite religious freedom as a means of refusing service to LGBTQ people. He also voted against employment non-discrimination against LGBTQ people. He has even publicly argued for federal funding of conversion therapy and the reassignment of federal dollars for HIV/AIDS research if they were to go to any group that celebrated or encouraged behaviors that lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

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There is no cure for LGBTQ people, no conversion camp can fix you because you are not broken. In most cases, conversion therapy does far more damage that it does in helping an individual. Minors, unfortunately, suffer far more in these cases. They are kicked out by the family and friends, forced to endure torture that constantly tells them they are wrong and if they start to buy into it suffer deep depression because they realize they still have the same desires. Just remember that you are perfect the way you are. It would do far better for our parents and people around us to go through education on what it means to be LGBTQ to gain a bit of understanding to who we are and how we are not that different. If you are a minor and are going through a situation in which you need help, please reach out for support. There are plenty of placed to turn to talk, contact www.TheTrevorProject.org. They have staff who understand and are sympathetic to what you are going through. Fellow Cleveland LGBTQ people, if you need help you can reach out to the lgbtcleveland.org, LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland for assistance. Also check out my resource page, there are sources you can turn to. If you need help, my email is gayinthecle@gmail.com. You have support, please reach out for assistance.

conversion-therapy

GuRu by RuPaul A Book Review

So to end out the week, I am opting for a lighter tone. Something that is  more fluff and feel good. Without further ado…

RuPaul

I realize that when you talk about RuPaul to the LGBTQ community you get varied responses. She is idolized by some and hated by others, but you cannot deny that she has been a major influence on LGBTQ culture for over 20 years. That is saying something. It is not often that any trend really survives in gay culture or any culture. From here meager beginnings as a go-go dancer to her stellar level of fame in RuPaul’s Drag Race, she is an indominable force. I was first introduced to her by the first love of my life in a movie titled Wigstock and have been an ardent fan ever since.  Coincidently, she is also the reason that I have been a huge drag fan, well that and because my first love was a drag queen, as well.

RuPaul Charles has built an empire around the brand of RuPaul. Music, movies, tv shows, podcasts, makeup, and now literature. Her newest work is called GuRu. It is simply a pocket-sized book that acts as a fearless and fabulous compass for your journey. It is filled with pages that offer brief glimpses into what created RuPaul’s fierceness and combines it with quotable outtakes to help you see things from a different perspective. It’s less the how to live manual and more of the “let’s have a kiki and dish some tea” perspective. The often-simple insights really just point us to remember that life isn’t as serious as we often times make it out to be.

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We live in a world that is so fast paced and “in our head” focused that we have forgotten that part of life is the show person side. This book helps in remembering to take care of yourself with those show person moments. The forward is simply titled “Everybody Say Love” and it is that simply phrase that can be some impactful. Love is the one gift we all need and the one gift that is much better given than kept. Simply allowing ourselves to love who we are can change our view on the world. I know, I know that sounds like some Dr. Phil bullshit right there, but that doesn’t mean it is any less true. We are told daily we aren’t good enough and that there are other people better. Many of us have come from abusive pasts that beat us into submission where we cannot see any good in ourselves. That is the lack of love

Yes, many of the quotes and sections can be kitschy, but there can be nuggets of truth found in each one. Take the quote on the inside cover, “By Fixing Only One Piece of the Jigsaw Puzzle, You’ll Miss Seeing the Whole Picture.” That is a great truth, when we focus on one small issue, we may be missing the larger that is causing the problem. Someone makes a negative comment to you while you are out shopping and you obsess over it, you can believe that person had the audacity to say such a horrendous thing. That in turn causes you to neglect more important issues, you’re being upset takes away from you focusing on driving in traffic and you make a lane change without looking causing an accident. All of this from one simple action, okay fine that is an over simplification, but the point is still valid.

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There are some great nuggets of wisdom in the book that I truly like “The Phrase ‘Please Refrain From’ should be replaced with ‘Bitch, Please’.” A simple statement that means do not let anyone or anything hold you back. If someone tells you that you cannot do it, it should become your opportunity to not only go ahead and do it but show them why you were meant to do it. My second favorite is, “Folks gonna talk shit about your anyway, so you might as well just go ahead and do your own thing.” That statement doesn’t need much clarification. We are a judgmental society, each of us, and it should not prevent us from living “our” lives in “our” way. After all, we won’t be answering to the nay-sayers of the world.

If you are looking for some sage new perspective on life and how to fix it, then this book isn’t for you. It is written with the whole concept of trying to show you that life shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Remember that you aren’t getting out of it alive, anyway. I really enjoyed the book and it is a quick read. Lots of chuckle moments combined with sharing of personal experiences that shaped RuPaul’s journey upward. I will leave you with one of RuPaul’s quotes and it is one that I truly believe in.” Never pass up on an opportunity to wear a fancy outfit, even if you’re the only one who appreciates it.”

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