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.
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.