(Or ‘How not to be an ally’)
So the I’m not gay but I don’t care if you are Facebook group popped up in my feed again to remind me just how much I hate their faux-progressive posturing.
Recently I posted an angry Facebook thread (where I believe I called it “heteronormative bullshit”) about it, where the general consensus among both queer and straight friends was that I was “being too harsh” and “at least they’re trying” and I should “stop nitpicking” etc. etc.
I’m still pretty sure I was right, and here’s why:
Firstly, and this is far from the main problem, within a heteronormative society it’s just not enough to “not care” if someone is gay. You have a duty to actively think about being inclusive, in the language you use, the way you behave, and the kinds of speech and behaviour you put up with from friends.1 Not caring is a cop out that avoids dealing with the specific needs and sensitivities that queer people have as a result of living under an oppressive system.
1. This, by the way, means challenging homophobic speech even when there’s no queer people around.
But the worst part is, “I’m not gay but” is a pretty clear attempt to retain access to a privileged identity while defending an oppressed group. It’s wanting to appear pro-gay while avoiding all the negative consequences of being associated with queers; some of us don’t have that luxury. It’s “I think being gay is ok, and I’m straight so you should take me seriously”. It’s “I’m normal, but if you’re not that’s cool with me”. And it’s pretty offensive.
I’ve had this move used on me in person on occasion, and it’s a pretty uncomfortable experience: When arguing with some outright homophobe about something, some hetero white-knight will come over and pull the “I’m not gay but I agree with you” move.2Immediately, the dynamic of the conversation shifts from me arguing with a dickhead, to two straight people arguing about me in my presence, and I don’t like it. When someone pulls the “I’m not gay but” move, I don’t think “oh great, an ally” – all I see is someone who wants to reassure a homophobe that he’s not one of the queers.
2. And often expect me to be grateful for their “tolerance”. As a rule, I don’t appreciate being tolerated (as opposed to included/accepted) and you won’t get a good reaction if you try it.
If you want to actually be an ally (as opposed to posing as one) it’s not going to be consequence-free – siding with an oppressed class rarely is – and one of those consequences is people will associate you with a group of people whose sexuality is stigmatised and shamed. If being mistakenly thought of as gay is such a big deal for you that you need to assert your heterosexuality at the beginning of a discussion then you’re not an ally, and you’re probably at some level a homophobe.