My Story

Growing up in conservative West Michigan, I watched lesbian and gay friends and family members struggle to be accepted and be treated equally. There are gains and losses in this fight every day, and it is vital for LGBT individuals and their straight allies to stand up and to pay attention.

12 April 2011

The Queer Monologues at CMU and Straight Privilege

Tonight was my kick-off of Pride Week. And I have many reasons to be proud.

The Queer Monologues is "a production of works created by queer and queer positive writers." Individuals affiliated with CMU's Gay and Lesbian Programs performed in Plachta Auditorium tonight at Central Michigan University.

As a student at Central Michigan University, I'm sorry to admit that I haven't joined any of the LGBTQ organizations on campus. I've made it my number one goal next semester to join the Gay Straight Alliance here, called Spectrum. After The Queer Monologues, I'm more determined than ever to be involved in this active community on campus.

The Queer Monologues was a funny, at times tear-jerking, thought-provoking, and educational experience. Topics ranged from the difficulties of being gender nonconforming, bisexual, transgender, and also the difficulties of coming out in general.

The performers emphasized that LGBTQ individuals are all around us. For example, a gay man may live in San Fransisco, but a gay man could also live in a small town with his partner and children--even in my hometown of Holland, MI, no matter how much some residents would like to suppress this "lifestyle." These LGBTQ individuals do not necessarily follow stereotypes. There was a list of dozens and dozens of famous people that are or were LGBTQ (one in particular surprised me).

One performer discussed one specific difficulty of being transgender: her voice. That constant reminder of her past that hormones could not change.

Another talked about LGBTQ teen suicide. About society's inescapable intolerance of who she was. I don't know about other audience members, but tears were in my eyes.

I identified with one performer in particular. She was a straight ally. She talked about the difficulties of being a straight ally, difficulties I have experienced myself all through high school, and sometimes in college.

As I was walking back home after the Queer Monologues, I remembered a time my sister was walking with me in our hometown, Holland. She went to hug a friend goodbye on a street corner, and a car slowed down and the driver yelled crassly, "Get a room!" He assumed based on stereotypes that my sister was a lesbian. I remember having blood rush to my face and I had a mind to chase after the car and tell him what-for. I remember my sister shrugging with a little embarrassment, saying, "Forget about it." I know she has experienced many worse things than this, and has had the courage to share it with Holland's city counsel in this open letter (Here's the link again. And again. And again, bigger. Read it!)

That's the last thing I could do: forget it? I never have.

Doesn't everyone deserve to be able to walk down the street and hug a friend?

I don't have to worry about what people think when I talk about my significant other. I don't have to worry about what to call my significant other. Someday, I will have the right to visit my husband in the hospital, and the right to make important decisions. I can have children without anyone else having a say in it. I could adopt a child if I want to. I was never harassed in high school. I can hold my boyfriend's hand in public without a second glance from passersby. I know my family will accept me. I don't need announce my sexuality to anyone else; it is assumed. My friends, roommates, family members, and others are all comfortable with my sexual orientation. Nobody assumes I'm a pedophile. Nobody thinks children need to be protected from me. My children will see representations of their family in children's books and school curriculum. I am not told I "must be confused" or that my relationship is sinful. My church doesn't discuss whether my relationship will send me to Hell or not. There are TV shows or movies available with people of heterosexual orientation kissing or even having sex without it being a big deal. I am not defined or grouped or put in a box because of my sexual orientation. My sexual orientation won't be a problem at any workplace or classroom. I don't have to face hate because of one facet of my identity. I can get married. 

I don't need to be worried about being harassed on the street corner.

I have straight privilege. I am the heterosexual norm.

So, being a straight ally does have costs. Occasionally, people assume I'm a lesbian. Occasionally, I may be discriminated against because of my views. Twice, I received letters explaining why I'm going to Hell (because of this newspaper column).

But I don't experience 1% of the harassment, discrimination, oppression, or disadvantage that LGBTQ people do.

Sometimes, people wonder why I get so worked up about an issue that "doesn't even apply" to me.

Doesn't apply to me? I'm fighting for my future children and grandchildren and for my cousins and my sister and my friends. I'm fighting because I don't want another child to feel marginalized because of one small part of his or her identity. I'm fighting because I desperately want to prevent more of the ubiquitous teen LGBTQ suicides, and I wish I had been able to be an ally for those who needed one but didn't have one in the past. 

I'm an ally, and I'm proud of it. That's what Pride Week is all about. I'm proud of my sister, my friends, my acquaintances, and I'm proud to stand with them. You should be too. 

[My sister, me, and my mom in Oregon]

(Google Peggy McIntosh to read more about privilege)

1 comment:

  1. Good post! Thanks for being such an active ally.