So Jodie Foster has finally, sort of, come out publicly. Sure there had been rumours for years and most of us who form part of the LGTB community knew she was a lesbian. Even as celebrities continued to come out, Jodie Foster still remained in the closet. Foster cites her personal privacy as part of the reason she has never come out publicly. As far as she was concerned she had already come out to those around her and she was living an authentic life. One must ask the question why she should be expected to come out.
Many reasons exist for LGTB to come out publicly. The most important reason is for our youth. Role models are critical for young people. The more we stand up and say yes I am LGTB the more our youth see that being LGTB is not only a viable option but one that can actually make them happy. The more of us who stand up, the more visibility we have the less likely LGTB youth are to hate themselves.
Celebrities have even greater visibility; their role in society is magnified. This is why it is so important for them to acknowledge their sexual orientation. Trans celebrities are in a unique position to help youth and parents to understand what may be happening in their family.
As long as LGTB youth are killing themselves in large numbers we all share the responsibility to be role models.
 I heard it described as a ‘glass closet’ – basically everyone could see who she was even if she wasn’t going to come out.
The RCMP has recently released a video featuring gay and lesbian members. It is a great video of compelling coming out stories and serves to smash some of the myths that surround job opportunities for gay men and lesbians. While I really liked the project when it first started in 2010, I am now not so sure how effective the project is in inspiring youth and preventing suicide. It does seem that the RCMP is a little late to the party.
Characterizing the teenage years as something that has to be endured is not overly helpful. Youth need help now rather than hope for the future. Imagine flashing back to your teenage years and the cesspool that is high school. If you are in anyway different or deviate from the norm, your peers will sniff it out and exploit it. Bullying is rife in our schools and it is still claiming lives with alarming frequency. While not all bullied children who commit suicide are gay or lesbian, there is a higher overall suicide level amongst queer youth. As a teenager, being able to imagine a different life, outside of the microcosm of high school is near impossible. Years seem like decades and the time someone is being tormented does not pass quickly.
Instead, I think it is incumbent up LGTBQ adults to be role models. We need to be out and visible. Growing up lesbian, I did not see or meet any other lesbians until I was an adult. Not having any role models was extremely confusing for me as I knew I was different but didn’t really have a reference point; I didn’t know what was different.
Members of the LGTBQ community must resist the urge to blend into the community. It is really easy to move to the suburbs and just blend in. Instead we all must realize we have a responsibility to provide support and modeling for queer youth. If we are serious about ending bullying and youth suicide we must be visible and be prepared to educate people. We must challenge transphobic and homophobic remarks. In particular, as equal marriage marches on, we must not abandon our trans brothers and sisters who are still fighting for basic rights.
What do you do to be a positive role model?
 I even submitted a video.
October 20th is Spirit Day. I wore purple all day. This year there is even more urgency given the suicide of James Hubley. I could go into the details of why James felt he needed to commit suicide but they are all too familiar to a queer person. Suffering under the pressure of knowing you are despised for something you cannot control or change is unbearable for most of us. Somehow most of us get through it.
Growing up queer in a Christian-centered county like Canada can be difficult. When I was a teen you didn’t talk about being gay. You didn’t your parents, your friends, your teachers or your counselor. It just wasn’t done. You live in fear that someone is going to figure it out. So you learn how to live a lie. Even though I had some gay male friends in high school, I still didn’t feel like I could come out. Hell, half the time you can be so pressured to conform to the hegemony of heterosexuality that you are even confused about your own feelings. Kids like James who come out in high school have a very lonely road to walk. If they don’t have adequate support from the school and their peers the consequences can be dire.
Hurbley’s suicide caused me to reflect on what my path had been. I can remember coming out to my Honours professor at the University of Calgary. I don’t remembrer why I needed to do it, likely it had a lot to do with being authentic. He didn’t blink. It was no big deal and we went right back to discussing whatever book I had just read for my independent study class. I was out on campus. I volunteered for the LGTB organization; I was there when the right-wing nut jobs posted death threats on the door of our office. We reported it but the university administration did not take it seriously. It scared us to say the least.
In my thirties, we had moved to Vancouver. It felt like we had gone from a lesbian desert to the Promised Land. We could walk down Commercial drive and see lesbians everywhere. We held hands for the first time in public in the Davie Village. We had community everywhere. Meeting other queer women was as easy as hanging out with our neighbours or co-workers. We felt free to just be.
In 2003 we got married. Married for real. We didn’t expect a change in the quality of our relationship but there was. It was good. We were family now. We had the same last name and we had the acceptance of my family. But it seemed that while there had been great changes for us, there was more bullying of youth everywhere for being queer. The more society moves towards acceptance it doesn’t make sense that things should be worse for the youth. I don’t understand it.
Here is the thing about being different. You are never really safe. I repeat, you are never really safe. While life can and does get better for queer people as we move through adulthood, we are never, ever truly safe. People can talk a good game and can act properly and say all the right things but still act upon homophobia. I know because at 45-years old I became the target of bullying. A great deal of this bullying was simply because I was a lesbian. It took all of my strength to get through it.
I don’t have an answer. I wish I did. I feel very bad for the Hubley family as they grieve the loss of their son. I want the world to be different. I want it to be a safe place for queer people, all of us.
Today, Deb and I were at Safeway picking up a few things. We were doing our usual shtick, teasing each other. This time it was about the deviled ham I had put in the cart. Deb, as a new vegetarian (again), was mocking my choice. I then made a comment about not teasing me, to which, the cashier piped up and said: “isn’t that what friends are for?” I then replied: “or partners.” Well. You would have thought I grew a third head. The air turned icy and it seemed to take forever for her to ring through the rest of our groceries.
After we were in the car we had a discussion about what had happened. I feel the need to challenge people’s assumptions about us. I have been doing it for a very long time. I resent the fact that people believe they can make assumptions about our relationship. Sometimes they see us friends, other times it is as sisters. People just never think outside of the box and consider that we might be married. I think this fact is exacerbated by the fact that we are women. Women, outside of heterosexual relations, are rarely seen as sexual beings.
All of this, of course, is about discourse. As long as we live in a hetero-normative society these kinds of assumptions will be made. We are all so busy assuming everyone is heterosexual that we do not recognize different sexual orientations. Along with the discourse of heterosexuality goes the rampant homophobia within our society. Where we live, there are not as many LGTB people as there are in Vancouver. We live very close to the bible belt and the views which are predictable of neo-Christians.
What is the answer? Well, we need to begin to challenge heterosexist views. Not everyone is heterosexual. By assuming everyone is space is not given for people to be different. This lack of space creates huge problems for youth who are different. Without role models youth have difficulty seeing LGTB people living happy, productive lives. Queer people need to become a positive part of the general discourse, i.e. magazines, TV shows, stories etc. Perhaps if we incorporate more images of queer people into our media we will start to see some positive change. Every time we challenge people’s assumptions, we start to break down barriers and make room for different kinds of relationships.
Today is National Coming out Day. The purpose is for those of who are LGTB to come out and let those around us know our sexual/gender orientation. When I was younger this was a much more important event. Those initial ‘coming out’ events are very, very stressful. Any of us who have gone through it definitely understand. Telling friends and family that you are queer has the very real risk that you will lose that person in your life. I can remember deciding I was going to come out to someone and being completely petrified by the whole prospect.
Coming out to my parents was by far the most difficult. My sister told them ahead of time to kind of ease the way. It still didn’t matter. While I was not disowned, they certainly were not receptive in any way. I decided not to tell them until I had someone I wanted to be with and take home to meet them. The first time they met Deb, we had been together almost a year and they were incredibly rude. My step-father did not talk to her and my mother picked a fight with both of us. It was a disaster!
Over time, as you live your life completely out, coming out is not an issue. Now, I do not ever have to bother coming out. I just live my life openly. I talk about my partner and my life just like everyone else. I never thought that would happen. When I was young I had become so accustomed to that heart pounding in my chest feeling when I came out that I never imagined my life would be as it is now.
Coming out is a continuous project. It takes different forms and can be done in different ways. Regardless, being queer in this society requires constant negotiation. Coming out and living your life truthfully takes guts and courage. If you know a queer person, congratulate them on their courage today.
When a minority group has struggled for acceptance for a very long time it is so surreal when you see yourself reflected in popular media. Integration is defined as: “the intermixing of people or groups previously segregated.”* I have known that I was lesbian since I knew what the word meant. I also knew that being lesbian would not be acceptable in my family let alone society. In my lifetime, I never dreamed that homosexuals would achieve any measure of acceptance within society let alone any level of integration. I am sure you are all wondering what has led to my discussions of integration. Sometimes it is in very simple and strange ways that integration presents itself. I recently purchased an iPad. I enjoy playing games and I had played “Sally’s Salon” on the computer. When I saw “Sally’s Spa” I immediately downloaded it. “Sally’s Spa,” like a lot of these games, uses customer profiles. As I was playing, I came across a customer type called the “lovebirds.” For gameplay, they are inseparable and so they must be served together. When I first saw them I did a double-take as they looked like 2 women. I wasn’t sure so I decided to wait until I saw a close-up of their faces. Sure enough, they were 2 women. I am sure the significance will be lost on a lot people. For us queers, seeing ourselves represented in a computer game is very significant. It means that we our presence is no longer deemed so abhorrent that we should be kept in our closets. I do believe that the fact that the characters are women is because lesbians are not as much of a flash point as gay men. This of course speaks to the invisibility of women and their sexuality but that is an argument for another day. Seeing representation of lesbians in moderately popular iPad game in no way means that things are all rosy for us lesbians. One only needs to look at what has happened to Tory Inglis of New Westminster, BC. She has been told by her church that she is “promoting a sexual lifestyle.” Clearly, there is a long way to go. Not only for gay, lesbian and bisexual people but also trans and gender-variant folk. It is, however, nice to see that we are making some progress. *Definition came from the Apple dictionary on my MacBook Pro
I just watched this weeks episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It was such a pleasure to see queer people and their lives completely integrated into the show. Finally, something on television that seems to just ‘get’ the way things are for most people when it comes to, at least, lesbian and gay people in society.*
It was not too long ago that us queer people would cheer about a gay or lesbian storyline. We would all know it was coming up and many of us would tune in to see ourselves represented. Generally, the characters (generally they would be guest characters) would be labeled as gay or lesbian and we would all marvel at how the regular characters on the show would interact with them and one of them would have some kind of breakthrough understanding about homosexuality and then try to enlighten everyone else. One of the characters would be a homophobe and would spew some vitriol at the lesbian or gay character. Generally this would be followed by an epiphany of sorts that the “homosexuals” are just like us. They live and they love only they do it with members of the same-sex. Then the show would end, the ‘homos’ would be gone and next week would feature some other kind of aberration. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Things are different now – at least on Grey’s Anatomy. This is a very good thing. A lesbian couple** is part of the fabric of the show with no explanation. Their characters go through their own trials and tribulations and they live and love. The sex scenes are just as hokey as the heterosexuals get and just like the heterosexuals sometimes they are hot. Straight and lesbian characters can interact with each other and talk about their partners and this is nothing different from 2 straight characters having the same conversation. This, my friends, is progress.
One of the things about growing up gay or lesbian or bi or trans is unless your parents are any of the above you really don’t have a role model. Teachers and other people who work with kids generally keep their sexual orientation quiet if they want to keep working with kids. We all know how some parents can react if their child has a gay teacher. How do queer youth learn how to be if they can’t know real people who are also queer? Television is a poor stand-in for real, live role models but it can help. Seeing yourself reflected in the characters of a TV show is normalizing. It says to the queer kid that they can be successful and fall in love with a member of the same-sex and that it will all be fine. It gives kids a name for what they may be feeling. It also gives parents an easy way to talk about these issues with their kids and find out if their kids are struggling with their sexual orientation.
It would be great if the integration would also include bisexual and trans people. There have been many strides forward made by gay and lesbian people that, unfortunately, do not translate to other members of the community. It is great to celebrate the progress but we must not forget that the struggle is not over until we are all integrated.
*I have yet to see any integrated trans or bi-folk on a TV show.
**Although it seemed like they were going to flirt with bi-sexuality for a while last season but I think that go too risky for the network.
When we lived in Calgary Deb and I often went to lesbian events, venues and parties. We had to do this in Calgary because most women remained in the closet particularly in the late 1980s and 90s. I always enjoyed these events because there is something magical that happens when strong women who love women share the same space.
When we moved to Vancouver we stopped needing to seek community because it was everywhere here. I worked with a significant number of lesbians and a few gay men and Deb the same. We never really did become involved in the lesbian community in Vancouver. Besides I was out of the closet and finding queer space became less important. I then got a job at the local LGTB Community Centre and suddenly I was immersed in our community. I really enjoyed meeting other lesbians and getting to know the community.
Saturday night, when we were at the Rhizome café I was reminded how much I like being in the company of lesbian women. While the crowd was not entirely lesbian, there were a few including us. Even though it was not a strictly lesbian space, the other people there were completely open and welcoming. Being able to be open with my partner, holding hands, dancing together or just have our arms around each other in a public place, is a pleasure we are unable to enjoy in most places. When those times come, I treasure them and enjoy them thoroughly.
We watched Milk last night and I was struck by the power of political activism. The energy generated by injustices and a clear solution is amazing. But it left me wondering what would it take to have that kind of energy coalesce around an issue in our time. What would have to happen here to have 30,000 people march?
There are many issues right now that demand this kind of energy and activism. Here in Vancouver we have had 2 gay bashings in a short amount of time yet the community is unable to muster more than 2-300 people to come out and protest. We had over 60 women go missing from the Downtown Eastside over a period of years yet it took the better part of a decade to arrest someone and try him (I refuse to write his name). Even then, justice has been denied. He was only tried on 6 counts of murder. The other 20 women, whose DNA was found on his family’s farm, have not gone through the courts. The community also believes that he did not act alone as there are questions about his mental capacity.Then there are the gangland shootings which have plagued Metro Vancouver this year. Twenty people have died and they deaths have not garnered any response from the community in spite of the fact that innocent people are being killed. The police response is pathetic – they want parents to turn in their children.
Even the world-wide economic crisis is not enough to push us out of our apathy. Our systems are broken, our governments corrupt and we sit by letting it all happen around us. In other countries like Pakistan, for example, many people, mostly lawyers, braved severe repercussions to protest the suspension of the Chief Justice. How can we forget the images that came out of Myanmar when monks protested against the ruling Junta. Why do some countries in other parts of the world seem to be able to create social change while we cannot.
I suspect the answer lies in the fact that for most people in North America our lives are pretty comfortable. Yes there is grinding poverty in many areas of Canada and the US but people are not so uncomfortable that they are able to rally and demand change. The other impediment, as I see it, is one of definition. The issues affecting us are extremely complicated and deeply rooted in discourse. We have been indoctrinated in so many ways that we are unaware of why react the way we do. I have discussed the response to the poor in North America before – one only needs to look at the Protestant roots of our society to see where a great deal of our prejudice comes from. The religious idea of predestination underpins our reactions and judgments against those who are less fortunate. Until we are able to dissect our core beliefs, questioning the status quo is impossible.
Even when we can examine our beliefs and define the issues how are we going to solve the problems. Personally, I am at a loss. I can identify an issue and examine the discourse surrounding it yet I am unable to see what change could look like – this is the power of discourse. I think until we are pushed out our comfort zones and forced to suffer a bit not much is going to change. This makes me very sad.
It is really sad that even in predominantly ‘gay’ areas of Vancouver, the LGTBQ community is still not safe. Apparently there was a gay bashing in the west end early Saturday morning. Two men were walking together, holding hands, when they were accosted and subsequently assaulted by a group of 4 men who were yelling homophobic slurs at them.
The police have made an arrest and are considering charging the individual with a hate crime. I am not sure why there needs to be any ‘consideration’ especially when it is so clearly a hate crime. I am not sure why some young men (as they were in this case) feel that it is ok to harass and assault innocent people walking down the street. The area in which the assaults took place (Davie and Hornby) is in the gay village which leaves one to ask why these young men were there if they did not want to come across homosexuals. If gay people are so repugnant to them why would they seek them out? Sadly, the answer most likely is that they wanted to commit a hate crime.
I would like to wish Jordan Smith a speedy recovery. He will have to have his jaw wired shut for 6 weeks as it was dislodged in the attack. I hope his attackers get everything the justice system can throw at them. There should be a special place in hell reserved for those who commit hate crimes.