I’m writing from my hometown – so-called Fremantle – which is really Walyalup on Whadjuk-Noongar country. Throughout my life, I haven’t thought enough about that. I’m also writing from my soft, young, white (Croatian, Chilean, Australian) queer body. A body that is comfortably cis-female and simultaneously rejects gender identification with fervent force – if that’s even possible. Until recently, I really hadn’t thought enough about that.
First nations people of so-called Australia and BIPOC around the world have long endured the rejection and persecution of ‘majority’ society under the justification that their bodies are somehow wrong. They have fought and survived genocide, slavery and ‘cultural immersion’ even more dehumanising than anti-gay conversion therapy. They have begun reclaiming space for all marginalised bodies to rise into their worth.
With the championing of feminism and LGBTIQ+ equality, Womxn, femmes and queer folk are increasingly recognising and expressing themselves – and ultimately demanding the respect we deserve.
And how? By refusal to conform: a legacy of which we should be proud and eternally grateful. A legacy that must be upheld.
Let’s have a look at (dismantling) some of the ways that the LGBTIQ+ community and allies find ‘acceptance’ in conformity. Let’s demand safety and celebration for ourselves as ourselves and not only as a silent minority ever-so-kindly permitted to blend into the wallpaper.
“Sexuality shouldn’t define you.”
Who’s said any of the following to a queer person?
- “It’s okay, you’re still the same person you’ve always been; this doesn’t change anything.” (Doesn’t it? Shouldn’t it?)
- “Don’t stress, it’s not a big deal: your sexuality doesn’t define you.”
Yup, same. Heard it all, said it all. These were about the most progressive and validating sentiments a queer person could have hoped to encounter a decade ago when I was a teen. It’s a slyly pervasive attitude, even now. Whilst there is some truth to it, this statement is a smokescreen for a whole lot of toxic internalised societal conditioning – kind of like “not all cops”, “not all men” – you know?
When I started the coming-out journey, stoicism and going-it-alone were super on-trend. Being queer was absolutely not — unless you were a stereotypically flamboyant, cisgender, white gay man, in which case it was fashionable but frighteningly enigmatic.
I now see that my attempts to defend my sexuality as “not a big deal” were oppressive. They silenced a very real, legitimate part of myself throughout my formative adolescent years; the damage continues to surface even now. I’ve witnessed many others go through similar experiences. We disembodied our queerness as though there was nothing unique to celebrate. We maintained that there was no fundamental difference between our lived experiences and those of our straight, cisgender friends. We hid, right where the oppressive majority wanted us, behind statements like…
“I don’t see gender.”
“I’m not sexist,” says your boss. “I assess merit on an individual basis. In fact, I’m hiring mostly (attractive, young) women.”
“I don’t understand how homophobia and sexism even exist!” says your woke mate. “We’re all just people. There’s no difference between us.”
“I admire your openness,” says your lover. “Honestly, everyone should just be pansexual.”
Everywhere from the boardroom to the bedroom, frivolous declarations about the meaninglessness of gender and sexual identity are made.
Another smokescreen. We can learn here from anti-racist sentiments and specifically why statements like “I don’t see colour” are so deeply offensive (see: spiritual bypassing). There are a plethora of nuances that I – a white-identifying individual – cannot claim to wholly understand, but let’s at least begin to unpack this.
Firstly, it’s just not true. We all internalise societal prejudices to some extent. To claim that we are somehow exempt from this inevitability is
A. shockingly egotistical, and
B. a rejection of personal responsibility for unlearning this harmful conditioning.
Secondly, this perspective either fails to acknowledge the ongoing suffering caused by the construct of whiteness, or boasts disengagement as allyship, pedalling the belief that “good vibes only” will heal BIPOC wounds or address systematic racially-motivated violence. Yeah, probably not.
The message is clear: To be seen as “not being different” is not a compliment. It is not a consolation for the fact that society at large still disempowers and violates those considered minorities – the bodies that are ‘wrong’. To earn validation through one’s lack of uniqueness is frankly a degrading concept; surely diversity is worth celebrating, not hiding or homogenising.
Self-segregation: are we really creating our own problems?
The fuckery of racism cuts and dries the importance of acknowledging oppressed minorities as such, and then fighting for equality. And yet when it comes to gender, there seems to be a whole lot of confusion in our collective closet. I am not exempt. Deep down, I believed in self-segregation: that identifying with gender was the root of sexist and queerphobic injustice.
But looking at the world today, gendered injustice is everywhere, that’s just fact. It’s date rape, it’s exploiting trans sex workers, it’s expectant chivalry, it’s the gender pay gap, it’s uterus-havers-only birth control, it’s queer suicide due to bullying, it’s parents ignoring their children’s preferred pronouns. You know what’s not making the list of villainous acts? People taking control of their gender expression and respecting one another’s identities.
Gender exists. The patriarchy exists. Just like race and whiteness exist. Not because they are ‘real’ or provable on any scientific basis, but simply because they benefit some powerful, greedy, angry people. Segregation concentrates power to a select group, and requires obedience from the rest. “Not seeing” injustice is that enabling obedience…
Silence is violence
To witness injustice and say nothing or to willingly remain ignorant causes great harm to the victims. Think of gendered injustice as the schoolyard bully: sometimes micro-aggressive, sometimes brutal. Impossible to escape. You’ve got to stand up for yourself and your friends, because in the big wide world, there is no teacher to run to.
So how can LGBTIQ+ allies help break the silence?
There are fundamental differences between the lived experiences of ‘normative’ and ‘minority’ groups. The nuanced challenges faced by queer folk may not be directly apparent to you, and they are tough to understand (even for us), but they are real.
Ask – what particular challenges is your friend facing? How do they want to be supported? What isn’t helpful for them?
Call out sexist or homophobic bullshit. Graciously correct pronoun misuse. Default your language to normalise inclusivity e.g. use gender-neutral pronouns until one confirms their preference, ask your friends if they’re dating anyone rather than if there’s a “boy/girl on the scene”.
It’s draining for queer folks (as with BIPOC) to explain their own marginalisation over and over again. Put in some effort to gather these perspectives through books/podcasts/whatever and place less strain on your LGBTIQ+ mates.
Model self-exploration and self-acceptance.
Don’t shy away from examining your potential queerness. Try not to hide yourself. Whatever you find, or don’t, is valid and wonderful. That’s the advice you’re giving, right? So lead by example.
Whoever you are, gendered injustice is relevant to you.
Maybe you’re like me, and you think we’d be better off without any such concept as gender. Maybe you think that’s dumb and I’d better lay off the cones. Either way, society will not be ready for genderlessness (or racelessness) until it celebrates the worth and validity of all people, all parts of the gender spectrum and all complexions and cultural backgrounds. To “not see gender” at a time when equality is still up for debate is to ignore and invalidate the experiences of every person who has suffered as a result of a gendered, queerphobic, patriarchal society:
The men expected to live up to an emotionally starved image of masculinity; the resulting victims of suicide.
The women who are taught to be submissive; to expect and tolerate aggression.
The victims of gendered or sexual violence, those who live in fear of it.
Those who face verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse due to their gender presentation, gender identity or sexuality;
and those who were told who to be, what to wear, what to want and who to love based on their anatomy.
Which is actually everyone. Including you.