This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness. Many of you are familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.
Rules, rules, rules.
So many things you must do or mustn’t do. All the hidden rules of being marginalised, the hoops you have to jump through, the constant checking and second-guessing.
There are things you don’t do out of fear to pandering to various stereotypes. We all know those rules – I don’t comment on clothes or fashion (partly because I don’t care, but it has reached a level of pretending to not even knowing what Versace is and gods’ preserve you if you actually know Jimmy Chos are shoes). If I’m decorating any room it is carried out in the utmost stealth because 2 gay men cannot possibly be seen to be involved in interior design without it being a gay thing (we live in a cave. Yes, a cave with rough hewn rock walls. Paint has never ever entered our home, honest). Music choices must be carefully vetted in case they reveal to much disturbing gayness. And while a straight man wearing pink is mature and secure in his sexuality, Beloved going out in that ghastly pink shirt is just seen as a gay man being extra gay. And I’ve lost count of the times I’ve bit my tongue because I fear being seen as a catty, sarcastic queen (and, believe me, giving up sarcasm is an epic sacrifice).
Of course these seem comic, but there’s a lot of trouble behind them, the second guessing of your actions, the checking of stereotypes (I’ve been accused of stereotypes I never even knew existed. And I’ve given up on hair – there is absolutely no hair length or style you can possibly wear that isn’t somehow “gay” apparently) the constant push not to be boxed. Because all it takes is one stereotype too many and you’re not a person any more – you become a gay.
And, of course there’s the flip side – because if you avoid all of them then you’re not a REAL gay man, no, go too far and you’re trying to be straight, or trying too hard or closeted. Then there’s nothing for it but to crank the Cher, reach for the glitter and find yourself a feather boa.
And there’s the darker side. The rules you follow to stay safe. Don’t look at a man for too long, don’t make eye contact, don’t stand too close. Is it safe to use that pronoun? Is it safe to talk about Beloved? Maybe I should use “spouse” rather than husband. Can’t go there, it’s not safe, can’t say that, it’s not safe, can’t go there at that time, the gang’s out bashing again, can’t go alone. Don’t go there, the police will think you’re cruising, don’t go there, it’s near a school/playground and you know what people will think.
Then there’s the rules you never even realised you were following and wish you weren’t. The ones that cast you as one of the “good guys.” The “you’re not one of THEM” rules – I don’t kiss in public or hold hands (because I’m too scared too), I don’t flaunt or force it down anyone’s throat. I don’t wear pink and rainbows, I’m not outrageous or flamboyant – I’m one of the “good gays” right? (Of course, in many other ways and to many other people I get to be one of the bad ones). And doesn’t that get on the last nerve? Because, of course, my behaviour is to try and comply with their expectations – it couldn’t in anyway be natural or normal to me, right? But that’s part of the rules – everything we do is about being a gay, not about being me.
Of course, it then sets us up against each other – those who follow the rules and those who don’t (and, as an added bonus, the rules shift), encourages us to turn on each other, encourages us to fawn and serve and play the subservient for the sake of crumbs and attention. But more than all this, there’s a much worse undertone – we’re only accepted while we play these rules.
Our humanity is acknowledged on their terms. If we play by the rules, if we’re good little GBLTs, if we’re suitably subservient to the straight, cis overlords, if we don’t rock the boat, if we say “please” nicely and if we don’t upset them – then we can be human. Ish. Almost. The rules for being a good GBLT give us a way to earn our humanity. And how grossly pernicious is this? Here are the rules – this is what you have to do to (almost) be considered equal (ish) some of the time. Our humanity or equality or respect isn’t assumed – the rules tell us it must be earned.
Which, of course, brings me to those times when you break the rules you never even knew you were following. And that does so catch me out – you think you have a friend, an ally or at least someone who has half a clue and then you realise that all the time you’ve been part of an unwritten agreement that says “I will tolerate so long as you don’t do X, Y, Z!” But no-one tells us that X, Y, Z are deal breakers for us being treated as fully human. You can be tip-toeing around rules without even knowing they’re there!
And then you break them and suddenly that oh-so-safe ally? Not so safe. You campaigned for that right they don’t agree with. You objected to some homophobia they were happy with. You mentioned your spouse one time too many. You don’t even know the maze your navigating around until you cross that invisible line – then suddenly that safe person blows up in your face in a nice little privilege volcano. It’s certainly added to my trust issues.
I think, perhaps, we will truly know we’ve achieved justice when we can throw away the rule book. Until then, we all have those extra hoops to jump through and that extra tightrope to walk.