(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #442, April 26, 2012)
While the Minnesota Marriage Amendment is an unfortunate and unwelcome development, it nonetheless is creating teachable moments—like the following conversation I had recently with a (non-Lavender) co-worker.
This person is very supportive of GLBT people and causes, so I was surprised to hear her say, “I was just walking behind a guy in the skyway, and—why do some gay guys behave like that?” Like what, I asked. “Well, he was swinging his hips and flipping his wrists—you know what I mean. There are some gay men who act like that, and then there are the rest of you, who just act normal.”
I explained that there might be many reasons why someone would act “like that”: Maybe that’s just the way he is. Or he might have been “camping it up” either for fun (perhaps inappropriate in public) or to deliberately upset onlookers (generally not appropriate in public—you won’t get people to sympathize with your cause by antagonizing them). Or he might have been exhibiting learned behavior—when he was young he was told this was the way gay people acted. (All these same possibilities apply also to masculine women.)
Or he might not have been gay. Many effeminate heterosexual men and boys are assumed to be gay and are even sometimes bullied as a result. Too often people assume that one’s gender presentation (masculine women, effeminate men) is connected to one’s affectional preference (lesbian or gay) when, in fact, they’re not always connected.
I also explained that, in my experience, younger people tend to make these assumptions less often than older people, and younger people also grant themselves and others both more freedom and more fluidity in whom they love and how they present their gender image to the world.
I finished by explaining that I hope to see a society that lets everyone be who they are and express themselves authentically, as long as they are being civil and appropriate. An opposite-sex couple flaunting their heterosexuality in the skyway would not be appropriate public behavior, either. But there’s a difference between making out in public and simply holding hands.
I felt I had accomplished something when her response was, “Well, thank you for explaining. Now I’m going to go home and tell all this to my husband—because that guy in the skyway really would have bothered him!”