I am over the moon to introduce all of you to my first guest blogger today! This has been a long time coming, and I am proud that my dear lifelong friend Drew has agreed to join us as a contributor at String of Pearls! One of the bravest people I know, Drew inspires me to think outside the boxes we’ve made for ourselves as a society. Please be sure to visit Drew’s personal blog and connect on social media.
Drew’s Top Ten Misconceptions about LGBTQ Communities
Heyo, Drew here. I realize that every person has a slightly different version of this list given their own perceptions and experiences. These are my ten, and while I could go on about each of these topics in detail, I’ve done my best to keep it brief:
10. “There is an LGBTQ Community.”
Let me rip that Band-Aid off for you: there is no LGBTQ community. There are absolutely individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer – yes. And sometimes those individuals come together within a larger social context to celebrate with each other, to advocate for each other, and to connect with people who had similar experiences. The LGBTQ identities are not synonymous, though, and no one voice can speak for all. To be an ally, recognize the key differences between each identity, and challenge yourself to support all of the LGBT communities.
9. “Gender and sex are the same thing.”
Many forms and check lists you see make it seem like sex and gender are interchangeable – do not be fooled. “Sex” refers to a person’s biological and physiological characteristics, whereas “gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors and attributes that are attributed to one’s sex. The WorldHealth Organization does a pretty fantastic job explaining this. Once you understand that sex and gender are different, you can begin to delve into between sexual orientation (simply, who you’re attracted to) and gender identity (simply, the gender you know you are). That, friends, can be another post entirely.
8. “Labels are only limiting.”
While it’s true that labels can be limiting, and that identity is self-defined, labels can also be liberating. As a person who has struggled with my own gender identity, I struggled in not having a title to own. I felt invisible – a combination of things I wasn’t, rather than things I was. Almost everyone I spoke to did their best to encourage me, telling me it was okay to not have a label. Though I knew that to be true, I also felt lost – like less of a person. As allies, we should never, ever, define someone’s identity for them. We can, however, help individuals work through identities that might resonate.
7. “Bisexuals just can’t make up their mind.”
Bisexuality is probably one of the most challenging identities to own, as these folks are subjected to discrimination everywhere; too gay to be straight, too straight to be gay. (Simplified, of course.) Bisexuality is an identity on its own – it’s not just a stop “on the way” or a “phase” that one goes through in college. So check your biphobia, and read The Advocate’s “13 Things Never to Say to Bisexual People.”
6. “It’s just a phase. You’re just confused.”
Let’s admit something to ourselves: we are all confused – every single one of us. LGBTQ folks are no more or less confused about what and who they want than those who identify as non-LGBTQ. A person’s sexual orientation and sexual preference* may change over time, but that is not limited to those who come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or any other identity they so choose. Trust me when I say no one I’ve met who has come out as part of the LGBTQ communities has ever simply woken up one day to say, “I’ll give this a whirl.” Coming out is a process; it’s hard, it’s painful, and it can challenge everything a person’s ever known. As an ally, support that person through their process – however long or short that may be.
*Sexual orientation and sexual preference are NOT interchangeable terms. Orientation refers to the attraction one feels towards another person. Preference, on the other hand, refers to the types of sex one prefers to engage/not engage in.
5. “All transgender (trans) people transition medically.”
Simply put – no. Body modification is NOT a requirement of transgender identity. The trans identities are complex – I won’t lie. In the most simplistic of terms, people who identify as transgender tend to identify with a sex and/or gender different from the one they were assigned at birth. There are roughly a million factors for a person to sift through when considering a transition from one gender into another, or transitioning into no gender – yes, that exists. Whether a person chooses to alter their body physically makes them no more or less trans. Looking for a good place to learn about the transgender identities? Check out GLAAD’sReference Guide.
4. “I’ve got great Gaydar.”
I don’t care how good you think you are at pointing out folks who identify as part of the LGBTQ communities – if a person hasn’t told you their sexual orientation, you do not know it. When you “turn on your Gaydar” you are relying solely on stereotypes, and that’s rude. Knock it off. Unless you’re trying to sleep with someone, their sexual orientation doesn’t matter. And if you are trying to sleep with someone, offer dinner first.
3. “It’s all about sex.”
There’s a nasty rumor that we queers (don’t worry – I’ll get to that) are obsessed with sex: all day, every day. My response? “No more than you, buddy.” Your sexual orientation dictates your sexual preferences to a certain degree, yes. However, your sex drive is completely unrelated.
2. “Queer is always a naughty word.”
Queer as a word is highly debated. As an identity, it’s both liberating and frustrating as hell. To be brief – it’s got a bad history, but some folks (myself included) use it to describe their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression.
I can’t speak for all, though I’ll tell you that I identify as queer because it’s not tied to gender (like the terms lesbian and gay,) and it doesn’t feel as limiting, as constricting. It allows me to have a non-heterosexual, non-binary label, so I don’t feel boxed in.
While there’s no “general rule,” I’d recommend using it if someone uses it with you. If someone tells you that they’re queer, ask how they define it, and support them in their identity. For more reading, check out PFLAG’s fantastic post. Even Wikipedia has a pretty good article.
1. “The Gay Agenda”
There is no such thing as the “gay agenda.” Sure, there may be a few folks who identify within the LGBTQ communities who are out there to make “a statement,” but what that statement is depends on who that person is and how they identify… remember how we started this post? The bottom line is that people are looking to be treated equally, and with respect. If a person comes out to you as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or queer, it’s because they trust you – not because they’re trying to push politics, programs, or plans.
Challenging your own misconceptions is part of being an ally. Have questions, comments, or stories to share? Let’s connect! Find me on twitter (@drewcl) and let’s keep the conversation going!