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.
We are still on vacation so this will will be a short post.
We went to the hotel restaurant yesterday, Rockamoles, and it sucked so we went off in search of somewhere else. Anyway, the Settlers Pub was good except for the clientele. There was a straight couple on a first date. He never shut up the whole time. We will call this couple #1. Couple #2 came in a little later and, according to Deb, they continually stared at us until their beer arrived. I didn’t notice but that is not a big surprise as I don’t usually see that kind of thing. Then there was couple #3. They awhile after us. They began holding hands intensely, staring at each other and using their combined 4 hands. Then they started to kiss. Then they started to almost make out in the middle of the restaurant! After a bit, the guy from couple #1 got up to go to the bathroom and there was this large silence and then couple #3 started to laugh with the woman from couple #1 about him. That was how I found out it was their first date.
What really pissed me off was the overt PDAs (public display of affection). It would be ok if they were a little more discreet. What really gets me though is that if Deb and I were to do that our personal safety could be at risk. I hope that one day we live in a world where a same-sex couple can hold hands in public somewhere other than the Davie Village.
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
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.
I just found out that Lorne Mayencourt, yes the author of the “Safe Streets Act” and member of the BC legislature is running for the Cons in Vancouver Centre. Now the Cons have a gay candidate. How on earth can Mayencourt justify running for a party that is fundamentally opposed to LGBTQ rights? What on earth does he think he can accomplish? With his penchant for being an outspoken maverick how does he think he will fit into Harper’s despot-like regime? Going up against Hedy Fry will also be incredibly difficult – just ask Svend Robinson who tried in the last election when he ran for the NDP.
H/T to Slap Upside the Head