Well, turns out, sometimes homophobia manifests itself in progressive circles, too. You might even be a tiny bit homophobic yourself!
Allow me to provide a few examples of well-meaning, nice, gay-rights-supporting people being unintentionally homophobic. If you see yourself in any of these examples, I hope you’ll take the time to do the work to root out these tendencies in yourself.
Several months ago, a friend of mine posted on social media asking for recommendations for a book series for her tween. I told her my kids devoured the entire Wings of Fire series by Tui T Sutherland and then re-read it, and I mentioned the “added bonus” that there was an LGBTQ subplot in the series. My friend came back because she wanted to double-check with me that there wasn’t any “actual sex” in the books.
Did you catch it? I don’t even think anyone on the comment thread noticed my friend’s unintended microaggression. What does her follow-up question imply, given that her original question asked specifically for book recommendations for her tween?
It implies that she either thinks I would recommend books for her tween that have sex in them (and would also allow my kids to read them), or she subconsciously equates queer topics with sex. I’m pretty sure it’s the latter. Now, this friend is a wonderful, generous, caring human being. She is an ardent supporter of LGBTQ rights, I believe that 100%. But her response is an extremely common — like, nauseatingly common — microaggression that LGBTQ folks deal with. Whenever we talk about our relationships or even just ourselves in exactly the same way a heterosexual person would talk about their relationships or themselves, for some reason people assume we are talking about sex.
(Why are heterosexual people always so fixated on the sex they think other people are having? Stop it. *squirts water bottle*)
On another thread on Facebook, a popular writer friend of mine posted in celebration of LGBTQ relationships. One of the most-liked comments was from a member of the LGBTQ community thanking my friend for the post and reminding everyone that love is love. Many others responded with their support. But then some random woman piped in with, “Love is love, as long as it’s not a 52-year-old man after a nine-year-old boy!”
Imagine someone popping in on a thread about heterosexual love with “BUT WHAT ABOUT PEDOPHILES?” Y’all know that the vast majority of abusers and pedophiles are heterosexual men, right? The worst part is, I tried to point out to the woman why her comment was not only irrelevant to the conversation but also hurtful, and she fucking argued with me about it and brought up NAMBLA. I’m not giving that bullshit organization the words, but I assure you the gay community does not claim fucking NAMBLA. Get out of here with that noise.
If your first thought when someone brings up gay love is pedophilia, or some ridiculous shit about “slippery slopes” with sexuality and identity, my friend, you are not a tiny bit homophobic. You are super fucking homophobic.
Imagine someone talking about a heterosexual wedding they are planning on attending, and someone says out of the blue, “Yes, but did they invite pedophiles? Because if they invited pedophiles, I’m sorry but that’s just not right.” People would be so fucking confused. Um, why are we talking about pedophiles? I thought we were talking about two people engaging in an adult, mutually consenting, loving relationship? What is happening? Help?
Well, gay people like me are just as confused when you suddenly pipe in about pedophilia when we’re talking about our adult, consensual love lives and when we don’t fucking claim pedophiles. Just because you found two fringe psychopathic gays buried in the gurgling bowels of the internet who think pedophilia should be a recognized and accepted sexual orientation, doesn’t mean that gays collectively condone that shit. Seriously, yuck. Adults can consent, children cannot. It’s that simple. Gays condoning pedophilia is not a thing.
There are less obvious forms of homophobia you may want to check in with yourself about, things that hurt us queer folks when we notice them, and believe me, we notice. Do you claim you’re totally cool with gay folks but kind of cringe a little when a couple of men make out on TV just like a heterosexual couple would? Do you save your naughty eyebrow waggles for when it’s two women? The former is homophobic, but so is the latter because it tokenizes lesbians, and can you not?
Are you pro gay rights but kind of wish they wouldn’t be “so obvious” about their relationships in public, especially when there are children around? Um, hi, when gay people hold hands or peck each other on the lips, your kids are not thinking about sex and they are not suddenly confused. You are. And you need to work on your homophobia.
Are you “fine with all the gay stuff” but think that “this whole ‘they/them’ thing is taking it too far”? Nonbinary people exist, and if that makes you uncomfortable or you feel more protective of your antiquated (and wrong) ideas about grammar than a living breathing human being, you are hella homophobic. You also know less about grammar than you think you do.
When someone says the word “transgender” within earshot of your young child, do you get a sudden itch to change the subject because oh dear god, what if we have to talk about genitals or sex? I have seen people who claim to be supporters of LGBTQ rights just about leap out of their seats at the mention of this word. Sigh. Here’s how to explain what “transgender” means to a kid: Transgender is when a person is born with a boy (or girl) body but really has a girl (or boy) brain and heart.
The conversation can and should deepen and become more nuanced as kids ask more questions and as you incorporate talks about acceptance and inclusion into your daily routines. But at a bare minimum, if you find yourself tensing up when someone uses the word “transgender,” you have some work to do. Same for all the other “gay” words.
Homophobia is everywhere, in all kinds of big and small ways, but when people who claim to be progressive engage in this kind of “I’m super accepting but ew, not like that” homophobia, it’s almost more disappointing than the obvious, flashy hatred of someone who is openly, proudly homophobic. So do us queer folks a favor and check in with yourself, as a little personal inventory may be in order. We’d really appreciate it.
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