Are queer people different than everybody else?
Recently I was on a second date with a woman and I mentioned a wedding I would be attending soon. “I don’t know the brides well, but it should be fun,” I said.
“Oh,” she said, “so it’s a GAY wedding?”
I laughed. “Yeah. I mean, it’s a wedding. Weddings are weddings.” I was half-joking.
Three days later we were texting when she sent a follow-up question that must have been bugging her the whole weekend. “When you said what you said about that wedding…was that an attempt to have LGBT people blend in with straight people?” she asked.
I hesitated. Talk about a loaded question.
I can’t say I was surprised, though. She had just been talking about her feelings of isolation as an outspoken queer in the not-so-big city we both recently moved back to. She spoke of how different we were–me, caught halfway through the process of coming out of the closet, only now, at thirty; her, a late-nineties Portland lesbian who told me (tongue-in-cheek, I hope) that reading Melissa Ethridge’s autobiography might make me more visible to dykes. I laughingly replied that I had read all the other Prominent Lesbian Autobiographies (Ellen, Portia, Chely and Jane), but apparently that wasn’t sufficient for me to be granted the Lesbian girl scout badge. She said that not many women could handle just how out she was or relate to her quest to disrupt hetero privilege, and that it made her lonely.
At this point, I might remind you, we had only had two dates. And yet somehow we had managed to spend the majority of our time together–first date time, the time that is supposed to be electric, magical, hopefully at least quite a bit of fun–talking about hetero privilege, alienation, coming out and queer politics. I wanted to ask her, why had she let these straight people in to cloud our time together? And I wasn’t sure how my journey out of the closet could possibly make her lonely, when we had just met, but she was asking me to hear her. And I did hear her. I listened. But here are the things I would have said to her, if I was a more confrontational person:
I spent my whole life being scared, and feeling guilty. I was scared of religious fundamentalists, I was scared of bullies, I was scared of the microaggressions of the people who said that they thought being gay was fine, but they just didn’t “get it.” I was afraid of those people, certainly. But I was also afraid of the queer community. I felt guilt for passing as straight, guilt for staying in the closet. I was afraid that even if I came out, I would be seen as a pariah for having slept with men. Guilt and fear kept me in the closet for as long as it did–guilt and fear from both sides.
The day I kissed a girl for the first time, that guilt, that fear, it all turned into a pearly white balloon. I let it go, and watched it float away, above my head, until it disappeared into the whitest part of the clear sky. I was done with it. Because the moment I kissed a girl for the first time, I knew: love is love. Dating is dating. Kissing is kissing, and weddings are weddings.
The kiss felt like magic. It felt like water. It felt like electricity. It felt like every other kiss I’d ever had, only so. much. better. I finally got what kissing was all about (it had bored me, I must admit, with men). It was dark outside. We’d each had a single glass of wine and bacon-wrapped figs. We were standing near where our cars were parked, just outside the hush of an empty church. And as I dropped my bag and my hands found her back and her hair and our bodies pushed together slightly with the promise of something more, I realized I didn’t care about the fundamentalists or the bullies or the regular people with their microaggressions. I realized I didn’t care who saw us standing there because this was the most magical thing that had ever happened to me, and also the most normal. All the fear that I had felt before I took that leap: the afternoon after that kiss, I wrote: “there was no there there.” Much ado about nothing. People connect, people kiss, people fuck. People try to find each other. My date and I, we were no different, no better, no worse.
Fast forward to three months later: another woman, another date, telling me that we shouldn’t blend in with straight people; telling me, also, that my belated journey out of the closet made her feel isolated and lonely. If she wrote here, she would argue: we ARE different. Because people had to fight, so hard, for years to make it safe for me to kiss someone outside a church on a warm, beautiful Saturday night. Because people put their careers and sometimes their lives on the line so that she could be an out teacher. Because we are about 150% safer than our counterparts in many other parts of the world. Because hetero privilege is still very much alive and well in our society, and we must forearm ourselves against it. We should not assimilate, she essentially told me. We have a heritage, a culture. That heritage matters. It’s important to the story of who we are.
“I don’t want to be normalized. I don’t want to be put in a box or a category so that other people can understand me better. I don’t need for straight people to think that I am just like them so that they will accept me. It is not my job to make other people feel more comfortable about who I am so that they will give me the respect and basic civil rights that I deserve. I deserve these things simply because I exist.”
I understand that, I truly do. But I don’t think that we’re actually in two different camps, the We’re Like Everybody Else Camp and the We’re Not Like You and That’s Ok camp. I don’t think we’re as far apart from each other’s viewpoint as we seem. Being normalized, for me, is an internal process. It’s not about other people’s acceptance of me. It’s about my own acceptance of myself. After all, can’t we be the same–all human beings trying to find love–and different–a minority with a specific history of persecution–all at the same time?
Of course we can. And when I say that “a wedding is a wedding,” I don’t mean the 50-year old brides won’t cry because getting married in front of their families is a dream they’d given up on long ago. I don’t mean that the wedding might look different than tradition dictates (in fact, many modern weddings, gay and straight, have begun to part from the weddings of yesterday). What I do mean is this: when I realized that the feelings I felt, the attractions I had, were no different (i.e. no more other, no stranger, no more alien) than the ones straight people felt for each other–once things normalized for me–I was able to let go of my fear and guilt, and start to move forward with my life.
The term “gay wedding” is, for me, a term that qualifies the event. There are weddings, and then there are gay weddings. And that is simply not accurate. Everyone is just human (everyone is the same) and also, everyone is so different. We are like everybody else, and that realization freed me from a prison.
So, please, even if you don’t buy my message that queer women are just as “normal” as everybody else (spoiler alert: no one in this crazy world is normal), don’t attack me for who I am. We need to stick together, if we’re going to make continued progress. Celebrate my journey, and I will celebrate yours. Because I’m done with shame, and I have nothing to be ashamed of. In truth, I never have.