Someone once told me that she supports gay marriage, same-sex parents, and the LGBTQ community. “Love is love! We are all the same. Live and let live!” Now, for clarification, I am a queer, nonbinary person. Because I transitioned from she/her to they/them pronouns after my kids were born and older, they call me Mama; my kids have two moms. The woman I was talking to is cisgender and straight.
While I appreciated her sentiment, I disagreed with her words. We are not all the same. And not everyone thinks love within the LGBTQ community is love. It is seen as a sin, illegal, disgusting, and punishable. Yet, her response is one I receive a lot in the name of acceptance and justice. But without action, the “live and let live” mindset is a cop-out.
As an advocate and educator, my mission—literally my job—is to help people see the differences between the LGBTQ community and the rest of straight, cisgender, heteronormative society. I do this by sharing my everyday experiences of microaggressions against me. I share national news stories about LGBTQ rights being threatened or taken away. I provide statistics of the large number of LGBTQ people who are homeless because of abuse and rejection. I showcase amazing stories of perseverance of individuals in my community who have finally created the family they have always wanted. I highlight ways people have had their identity affirmed. I celebrate laws that are making the country safe and fairer for LGBTQ people.
We are not all the same. I am okay with that. I am not okay with being treated less than because I am not the same. If we are to truly accept each other as equals, we need to see and appreciate our differences. Because in the case of marginalized people, our differences are what cause our inability to have equal and equitable lives. To many, my differences are not considered normal, and this causes confusion, fear, anger, and hate. My differences, my normal, cause people to fight to keep me from living the life I deserve. Who I am causes discomfort in ways that make it hard for people to learn. So instead of really finding out who I am or what is hurting the LGBTQ community, people wave away their discomfort by simply saying people should just follow the Golden Rule.
I recently talked about being policed when I go to the bathroom in public places. If I go to the women’s room, I am often told I am in the wrong space. Going to the men’s room has the potential to be unsafe. I love when I have the option to use an all-gender or gender-neutral bathroom, and I praised a location that gave me this option. Many folks empathized with my frustration; some told me I was a pedophile and that my vagina makes me a woman (I’m not and it doesn’t FYI); and some people gave me the ol’ shaking of the fist, we need to just let people live and let live commentary.
Waving away a marginalized person’s story, our fight, and our requests to be heard feels as hurtful and as ignorant as someone telling me I am garbage. Saying that you believe we should simply “live and let live” comes with a lot of privilege. It is an active choice to not see that we don’t all have that choice. My livelihood sometimes depends on others, unfortunately.
The “live and let live” sentiment feels like a lack of appreciation for the fact that I can’t just live my life when many people don’t think I deserve to live. I don’t feel understood or seen when someone provides a coverall statement preaching the beauty of tolerance. The truth is that “live and let live” can’t be achieved until people see that I am up against hate, ignorance, the religion behind “do unto others as you would have them do to you.” There is no “live and let live” if something isn’t being done to combat the extremists who think I am an abomination.
I am all for kindness. I am totally down with people minding their own business when I go into a bathroom, but head-in-the-sand denial of my daily interactions does not make change or progress. How can I live life to my own accord when so many are fighting to prevent LGBTQ people from adopting children, serving in the military, accessing the health care, housing, and employment we need? How can you live yours knowing I can’t?
You can absolutely live a life believing that we were all created equal, but it’s not helping the marginalized groups you claim to support by assuming we are also treated equally. I agree that we should be, but we just aren’t. And, in order for us to fully live our lives, this fact can’t be ignored by the “live and let live” crowd.
The “live and let live” sentiment comes across as poo-pooing my complaints, sadness, and frustration while not giving the bigots more than a slap on the wrist for their hate. It’s as if you are annoyed that I am not being treated fairly, yet you don’t want to do much to confront those who you wish would just magically change their way of thinking. You aren’t really doing anything besides stating your opinion and exiting the conversation.
So instead of reminding me what I wish for, ask me how you can help me live the life I want. Because if society is to truly embrace the idea that we can live mutually inclusive, independently happy lives, then you really need to understand what marginalized groups need. We need allies willing to listen and do some work. We need you to use your privilege to lift us up, not gloss over the fact we are constantly being put down.