I once used to joke that for me everyone is queer unless they come out as cis or straight. Deep down I always meant it. This isn’t to disregard the identity of the dominant cis and heterosexual persons but rather it comes from a place where I am taking a stand against the stereotypes to ‘identify’ queer persons. This is also to highlight the constant pressure and anxiety persons from the LGBTQIA+ community go through to come out or being identified or ousted.
At times being the only visible queer person at workplace or other gatherings becomes tiring because my identity takes over me as a person. I become “that gay guy”, or the “representative” of the LGBTQIA+ community. I usually take it as an opportunity to learn how to do my job better as a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion professional. I also take these opportunities to educate of burst the bubble people hold about the LGBTQIA+ community.
You don’t look gay…
…said no queer person ever to me. Once in a meeting a well-meaning longtime ally said “oh you do not look gay at all”. That was the first time someone ever negated my identity as an adult apart from the “it’s a phase” comment. I laughed and brushed it off because I did not know how else to react at that moment but what they said lingered in me for a long time. I had various questions in my mind for the next few days — What does it mean to be gay? How should a gay person look? Did they mean this as a compliment? If so, do they look at gay persons as inferior? What is the image of a gay person in “their” mind? How are they seeing me as a person? were a few.
Another time someone at a D&I conference said that they were “OK” with gay persons like me and not the flamboyant ones. They went on to justify how it is important to maintain “decorum” in the workplace. I said “I don’t agree with you” and excused myself from the place. That incident made me think if my access to certain spaces were “conditional”. And I cannot help think how many persons from the LGBTQIA+ community were turned away from their place because they did not adhere to the person’s sense of “acceptability”?
Being ally means open to unlearn and learn and relearn…
As a cis-gay man I am also an ally to the others in the wide spectrum of the LGBTQIA+ community. Which means that when I stand by the others in my community, I am also conscious that I do not share the same life experiences as them. Being a visible ally is important and it also comes with responsibility.
We should also be ready to accept that being well intentioned doesn’t always translate into action. The first incident could be seen as a casual remark that shouldn’t matter. But when we talk about inclusion and belonging it is important to understand certain conversations and understanding of ours are shaped by the dominant culture which is not inclusive of all. To make a better workplace and society it is not enough to just address the symptoms but to understand the root cause and work together to fix it.