Community At Odds

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After a conversation with friends at the bar, last night, this seemed all too relevant. I had been sitting on this article for a while trying to decide if I wanted to post it or let it set for a later date. Sometimes the universe tells you that something is more important than you thought it was and I guess this is one of those synchronicity moments.

Pride will be starting in a few short months and it’s the time when we are supposed to look back at our history and celebrate the advances we have made, honor those that have stood up at the Stonewall riots, and plan towards our futures. It is meant to be a time of solidarity and celebration. The problem is that is not the case within our community. Each of our individual groups are segregated along the line of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, queer identifying. Inside of each of those group we further divide ourselves, twinks and bears, dykes and lipstick, and so on and so on. From there it goes to division based on minority, body shaming, fetish shaming, and even worse shaming others for how they dress. We fight to get the respect we feel we deserve from our heterosexual counterparts when we don’t even oblige ourselves that same courtesy. The question is why?

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From a very young age we are exposed to judgmental mindsets, we are introduced to the word perfection without relation to what it means. Media presents us with unrealistic mindsets of “perfection”, skinny, perfect hair, skin, and eyes, clothing from the hottest designers. Kids truly have it rough. Combine this kind of torture with dealing knowing you are different from the others. Not only do they have to worry about being judged because their clothes are not like their friends or they may be a bit overweight or they have glasses, now they are bullied because they maybe a young LGBT kid. Feeling they are truly alone in the world and no one understands what they are going through. That is some rough shit to have to live through and many do not. Teen suicide among LGBT youth is higher than other teens.  According to The Trevor Project  LGBT youths are three times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual youths are and they are five times more likely to have attempted suicide than heterosexual youth.

As we grow and age, we start to meet others that appear like us. We are introduced to more LGBT people and start to feel comfortable with who we are, and we start to believe we have a place that accepts us. All too often this isn’t the case. We quickly realize that our differences keep us just as divided as we were before. Scroll through any dating app and you can see the divisions and the shaming that goes on. “No fats or femmes, masc 4 masc, and straight acting for similar. Sure, we all have our specific tastes and preferences, but shaming others isn’t the answer. Nor should any of that prevent you from reaching out to someone and just talking.

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All of the judgments we deal with from our childhood on weigh us down. They shape how we view ourselves and define our worth with those around us. It shapes how we interact with people and view ourselves. I stand in front of the mirror, daily, judging myself harshly. “If I can just lose this much weight…” “If only my thighs looked like this…” “If only this perceived imperfection wasn’t here…” “Why can’t I be endowed like this porn star?” Many of which are unrealistic goals and many more aren’t healthy to try to achieve. We are left with the fake sentiment by so many words that there are people out there that will love us for who we are or if they can appreciate us for what we are we don’t deserve them. These come from many of the same people how make similar judgements. I recently read a tweet where a user was stating that he cannot understand why anyone would want to wear a jockstrap or a harness. They are not attractive, and he would never date someone who wore either. Here is that shaming mentality again. You would be so vain as to not consider someone worthy simply because of garments they wear? You may not agree with a particular fetish that someone has, but that doesn’t make them any less of a person or worth dating. What elevates you to a better position? Being overly critical of someone for a fashion choice is much more unattractive than a jockstrap.

There are many things that I am confident in myself over but looks and build are not among them. I stare in complete awe of those that have the courage and not give a fuck mentality to be themselves in front of others. The ones that do not give a single thought to how they are perceived, because they are happy with themselves. I am one of those larger almost bearish types of gay men, however I do not have the body hair that many have That leaves me with feeling less than those I am attracted to. Because my lack of hair and larger build, I know I may be repulsive to the more in shape guys that I also find attractive. Where does that leave me? At 46 I have mostly grey hair and beard, a trait that I have carried for almost 20 years. I started going grey in high school and take after my grandmother who was mostly grey in her 20s. This leads others to believe I am older than I may be, so less desirable. Are these feeling mostly in my head? Yes, but does that make them any less real to me.

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I know how exhausted constantly thinking about my negative emotions make me feel, I cannot even begin to imagine how someone who is transgender feels in our world. Our community is tortured enough by those who feel we are already less than equal, why should we carry this over to how we interact with each other. I am not saying we should have a Utopian society, that too is unrealistic. We should, however, work towards inclusion and acceptance of one another. Use our strengths to lift us up from our low spots, use our fellowship to guide us and shape our futures into a safer environment for our future LGBTQ brothers and sisters. We have lost a large chunk of our history to the devastation of HIV/AIDS, let work to make sure we don’t lose a larger chunk of our future to the suicide of our youth.

Bi-negativity of LGBT

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Switch hitters, fence post sitters, AC/DC, confused, and straggot are just a few terms that are thrown out by people when the term bisexual comes up. Even more sad is that a lot of these terms are still being said by our own community. It seems that when it comes to judging others, we are often harder on our fellow brothers and sisters. Why do we have such strong emotions against bisexuals when we are so adamant for fighting for our own rights and acceptance? What is it that we feel is an attack to us or an insult?

When I was a young gay, I remember hearing many of the terms listed above. I remember hearing that bisexual men were merely confused and just hiding that they were gay. There would be anger towards bisexuals, saying they were holding our struggle back by being able to easily go back into the closet for safety. Many felt anger that bisexuals were decreasing dating options we had under an illusion of being something they were not. The truth is, any of us could, and even sometimes do, hide our very natures out of reasons of protection. So why does this create a feeling of animosity to those that identify as bisexual? There was even a time in which I thought and said similar things. Here I was going through this deep struggle of trying to accept that I was different and the fear of being physically hurt for what I was on the inside and they could easily hide by dating members of the opposite sex. It angered me that someone would be able to flip who they slept with, at what seemed a whim, and not have to worry about anyone judging them. What I failed to realize is that their struggle was the same and, in many cases, worse than my own. Not only do you have to rationalize being attracted to members of the same sex but that is doubled by also still being attracted to the opposite sex. Leaving you with a feeling of what are you doing wrong to have these feelings that so many say is wrong and sinful.

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The fact is binary concepts of sexuality still pervade into our own LGBT mindset. For many gays and lesbians, we see sexuality as an either-or condition, either you are heterosexual, or you are homosexual. We still believe that at some point they will have to decide to be one or the other, if they ever hope to truly have a relationship. Beyond that we still view them as a group that may be incapable of carrying on a relationship or are solely driven by sexual impulses, seeing them as sleeping with everyone because they don’t have to fall into one category or another. Perhaps this is rooted in some form of jealousy for a freedom we do not, ourselves, seem to have. Even heterosexuals have weird grasps of bisexuality. Many think that once a bisexual marries someone that they are no longer bisexual, like when Larry King interviewed Anna Paquin. That somehow you can only be bisexual if you are single and sleeping around.

Gay and lesbians know all too well the struggles we go through trying to accept we are, just imagine the added issues of being bisexual. Also imagine the pain we go through from constantly coming out in new situations, now think of how much harder that is for bisexuals. They are often told they are lying about their true natures or simply confused. They are often judged harshly for sleeping with members of their own gender and can be rejected by both potential partners because of their past romantic involvements. Gay and Lesbian Alliances have turned away bisexuals because they do not fit the molds of how they feel their services are designed to help. They need the same support systems we do, when we are facing dark times. Here we are claiming we are safe zones when, in fact, they are only safe places for a narrow view of what we think our community should be.

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According to Bustle.com  they reported a 2013 survey done by Pew Research Center that states, “While 71 percent of lesbians and 77 percent of gay men are out to the people close to them, only 28 percent of bi people can say the same. The numbers were even lower for bisexual men, only 12 percent of whom are out.” Numerous other surveys report that 45 – 50% of the LGBT population identify as bisexual, that is half of our community, but only about 28% of those numbers openly identify as bisexual. Often many prominent figures that have identified as bisexual throughout their lives are often remembered as gay icons after their passing. Take for instance Freddie Mercury, front man for the iconic band Queen. Throughout his life he had male and female partners, but history instead portrays him as gay.  Our own LGBTQ history forgets many bisexual leaders that were there throughout the movement. We see the focus on Harvey Milk, Cleve Jones, Audre Lorde, and Barbara Gittings, all of which identify as lesbian or gay. Less is known and even shown of bisexual leaders like James Baldwin and Brenda Howard, who were instrumental in the early rights movements and key in bringing spotlight to bisexuals. Even bisexual organizations are less talked about, take for instance the Boston Bisexual Women’s Network founded in 1983. They still publish their quarterly newsletter called BiWomen and is the oldest bisexual publication in the world.

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Eliel Cruz, historian of AIDS and HIV activism was quoted as saying: “Not only was the bi community suffering because of the HIV/AIDS, they were fighting it. While the media was busy scapegoating bi men for spreading the disease to women, bi activists like Dr. David Lourea and Cynthia Slater were out raising awareness and offering sex education in the same sex spaces of San Francisco. In fact, throughout the history of ‘gay rights’ bi activists and allies have been consistently erased…” Even today, healthcare workers are more apt to judge bisexuals more harshly in STI situations than they would lesbians and gay men. Biphobia hasn’t diminished as LGBT rights have expanded, in fact many times they are left as the invisible minority. According to thinkprogress.org (https://thinkprogress.org/media-ignoring-bisexual-community-3a46e7081bb1/) “Compared to peers who identify as gay or lesbian, bi+ youth and adults report higher levels of mental illness and suicidality, and lower levels of social support; bisexual youth report higher rates of bullying and harassment; and bisexual people face disproportionately high rates of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and stalking.”

What we, as a community, need to fully realize is that their sexuality is as valid as ours. Who they are as people and choose to love is as fundamental as it is to deal with being transgender. We need to embrace each of us as equals. Reshape our mindset to remove the stigmatism we have about our bisexual brothers and sisters. The gaps we have in inclusion in our community is what keeps us from organizing to erase the hatred and violence towards us. We must be strong together for each other, after all no one else, but ourselves, will look out for us. If you see bisexuals being judged or mistreated, be sure to stand up just as you would for any gay, lesbian, or transgender. Let us validate their choices as genuine as our own, realize that their sexuality does not change, regardless of their relationship status. They are not pretending to be straight if they are dating members of the opposite sex or short-term gay if they are dating members of the same sex. Their contributions to our history are as important as anyone else’s for getting us to where we are now.

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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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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

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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.

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