Talking about my family can sometimes be awkward.
I have queer parents, which to me is normal, but for others seems very different. Occasionally, people are outwardly homophobic. Obviously, this is what I dread when telling people about my family. No one wants to have to ‘agree-to-disagree’ about whether or not their parents will burn in eternal hell-fire.
But there is a different kind of ignorance that I’ve seen a lot more of in my first year here at Trent — that of being over-identified with queer culture. My explanations of my family have been met with an overwhelmingly positive reaction. “That’s so cool!” someone will respond, “I think gay people are super interesting!” I am confused. “Really?” I think, “How so? How is my family more interesting than yours? Than anyone’s?”
I’ve also been exposed to the perceptions my peers have about gay culture. I watched MTV’s 1 Girl 5 Gays with my friends and was baffled. It’s one woman and five gay men who sit around and talk about their lives, choices, and views on certain issues.
Part of me appreciates the attempt to broadcast queer culture in the mainstream media, but it is a very narrow view of queer culture, relying heavily on stereotypes and never letting you forget that the people you’re watching are gay. They are, by the very definition of the show, significantly different from straight people. Different enough for their gay-ness to be the feature of the show.
Most alarming to me is the readiness with which people will apply the stereotypes they’ve seen on TV to real people around them. I’ve heard someone say that they wish that they had a “gay best friend” or that their real male friends were gay. They cannot separate the sexuality from the stereotype, and this is worrisome to me.
Somehow I, too, am stereotyped. In their eagerness to seem progressive, or their anxiety to seem non-homophobic, others sometimes treat me like I am supposed to represent all queer culture, simply because I am a member of it.
Raised in a community of queer and straight people, sexuality is not significant to how I think about people. The family and friends I have are all whole, complete human beings to me, with personalities, opinions, families, jobs, homes—lives that differ completely from the stereotypes I have been confronted with this year.
Much of what I’ve realized is that people I have met at Trent—nice people, whom I know and like—really struggle to understand how my life really looks, and how diverse and unique the people involved in it are.
It’s complicated. I do think that, in meeting my parents and me, some people might actually get to see how a gay family works outside of the fabricated media portrayal. And a lot of the homophobia I witnessed in my first few months at Trent has really died down. People stop seeing “queer culture personified” and start seeing just me. But is it up to me to be someone else’s queer education?
The over-identification of gay people with contrived stereotypes (even positive ones) is, without question, a big part of homophobia. Unfortunately, in trying to be progressive, people can’t see the trees for the forest. A blanket understanding of culture, propagated through stereotypes, shrouds the unique individuals who form that culture. Someone really anxious to see ‘gayness’ as a positive thing can’t see the person they’re confronting as more than gay.
I think this applies to any minority group. It’s unfair when others overly identify you with your culture, even if belonging to that culture is something you’re quite proud of.