I got shouted at from a passing car tonight. Just ordinary sexist stuff, like I should be flattered to be noticed. By a man. Or something.
On the LGBTQI spectrum, my partner and I tick several boxes between us, but we are really fortunate to live where we do. A gay colleague was in the town last night where a vigil was held for Orlando. ‘But I didn’t see anyone I knew.’ Brighton is like that. There are thousands of trans people I’ve never met here too. No, the city isn’t overrun by us, it’s just that when a place is accepting, those who need ‘acceptance’ gather more easily. I find it very reassuring and liberating to see non-hetero lovers openly and naturally out together, not least because we are not unusual.
But when we are in a different country or place I sometimes hang on tightly to my partner’s squirming hand rather than just letting it go. I got used to being looked at, at feeling my difference, because I really was noticeable at the start of my transition. I’m not now, but walking around as a lesbian couple has been a new visibility to both of us. And being safe sometimes means watching out for your visibility.
What I mean to point out, is that you sort of adapt to being a potential target. Maybe not violence, but just opinion. Maybe just a little something that tells you that you’re less than, for being not hetero-cis-normative. You can forget a time in life when it wasn’t about this. Maybe you were bullied, had a difficult time for another reason, but you grew up and the childish challenges died away. If you were bullied for your sexuality or identity, that probably did leave you scarred.
So being in a safe place, where you are with and among other people who at least have a chance of understanding, is precious. But it is a reminder that for the vast majority of us, prejudice, suspicion, misunderstanding, aversion – are always as close as the proverbial rat. However normally we live our lives, we know it is there.
The origin of normal
However normal we feel, there are those who seem to believe that we are not. Statistically, with normal being the middle range population, that might be true, but many people use normal to mean acceptable, non-deviant, in the terms of some moral framework. That moral framework isn’t intuitive, it’s taught, and the chances are that religion is involved. This is simply because moral authority has a need to be unassailable, and invoking a god to speak the moral code assures this.
A lot of Western morality is like beef stock: the bones have been taken out but the taste remains. People who have no significant religious belief still speak using its authority. And if that religion has developed past opinions about sex (even for contemporary practical reasons), the flavour remains. Sex is not bad, but open celebration of it as an expression of love is still a bit taboo. Speaking of it as fun, or bonding, or just healthy, is done with great caution, lest you be misunderstood.
Because we don’t talk about it, there is a real curiosity about how LGBTQI people have sex, or play, or love, or whatever. There are no secrets, but it’s not always like you imagine from the outside. We have relationships, we love, we commit, just like anyone else. And yet there is a deep-rooted underlying feeling that it isn’t right, that some god condemns our love, that it is something gone wrong, something abnormal, something to be cured, an illness. Or at the very least, I suspect most view it as somehow less worthy than cis-hetero love.
No. Our love is just like your love.
So when did you last feel a pang of uncertainty or fear, for making physical contact with your lover in a public place? Or a kiss, or an embrace to greet or part? Why should we? And why should we have to accept it, or expect it?
Gender identity and sexuality is something we are born with. It can’t be planted in us, and it can’t be extracted. Forcing any one of us to live as if we were not as we are, or to hide it or deny it, is violence. So yes, I blame any philosophy that attacks or denigrates us, for all our fear, for all our pains, for all our injuries.
On June 12, 2016, over 100 people were gunned down, half were killed, and not all were LGBT. They just happened to be happy to dance with their LGBT relatives and friends. The gun issue has to be addressed, but this was not random. The Islamic extremism has to be addressed, but this wasn’t political. The gunman had visited the Pulse club, had a history on a gay app, a father who preached that god sees homosexuality as punishable, and a faith that has local preachers teaching that to kill gay people is a mercy to them. This, in a country that has a Republican party inciting fears about transgender people using toilets, from a fundamentalist Christian philosophy that denies plain observation whilst embodying the worst male traits among its members.
In the aftermath, the reporting made the homophobic nature of the crime blend into ‘an attack on all of us’. But it wasn’t. The parallel is the stand-off between #blacklivesmatter and #alllivesmatter. Yes it was, and yes they do, but recognise that just as black Americans suffer discrimination that began with slavery, so LGBT people suffer discrimination that began with illegality.
The beef-stock morality may have cooled, but between generations its flavour is still taught and passed on, and however human it is to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex … we cannot completely relax and live unguarded as you can. It doesn’t have to be as gross as Orlando, it can be as little as loosening your hands in public.
We still have some way to go.