I was chatting with someone recently about gay activism. He turned to me and said, “But you know, I have to tell you something, the weird thing is, I’ve never really felt ‘different’ because I’m gay. I mean . . . I feel different as an immigrant, different because I’m tall and large-bodied, different because I’m a nerd, but never different because I’m gay. I just wanted to tell you.”
People say this to me a lot these days. Especially when I am talking to them about what I consider to be the waning of gay activism. And I know what they really mean — they just want me to shut up. They’re thinking: why is this guy going on about gay politics? In 2015? Now that we have gay marriage in Canada and in some American states, why is it necessary to be a gay activist anymore? Why, in fact, be concerned about anything gay?
Come on, after all, isn’t “gay” kinda over?
Well the first thing I did was say to the guy, “You know, you pass — so, if you don’t come out to people, they don’t think you’re gay, so . . . of course you wouldn’t feel different because you’re gay.” I mean, people would definitely think he was a nerd when they met him, but not necessarily that he was gay.
But looking back, I might have said much more.
“Okay, so the situation is that you don’t look gay or act gay. But so what if nobody knows you’re gay unless you tell them, and when you do tell them they say ‘Cool! ’ or ‘That doesn’t make any difference.’ So what? Unfortunately, there are still very important contemporary issues these days that affect gay men, including drug use, unsafe sex practices, the criminalization of AIDS, porn and body fascism, the marginalization of older and effeminate gay men within the community, etc etc etc. Nevermind the fact that, as a teacher, I constantly come in contact with teenagers and 20-somethings who talk about the difficulties of coming out (Should I . . . shouldn’t I? What will my parents say?).
Yes. Even in 2015, the kids are still afraid to come out!
I recently met somebody who works with an organization called Pride at Work. The mandate of this organization is great: “Sharing knowledge accelerates the pace of change. By providing organizations with the information they need to bring about change (the ‘how’) and demonstrating the benefits of a diverse workplace (the ‘why’), we empower their leaders to make positive decisions.”
The organization was started in 2008, because apparently even though you can’t fire somebody in Canada for being gay, there are still lots of organizations where there is homophobia at work, and people are not entirely comfortable coming out. Pride at Work believes that “LGBT employees will be more able to be themselves and, ultimately, to be more productive.”
It’s all very nice to think that everything is fine now that we have a few more civil rights and we can all watch Will and Grace reruns. But if queers still need to be helped in order to come out at work — well maybe we haven’t come such a long way, baby . . .
But what is most odious about this guy’s point of view? The attitude: “If it doesn’t affect me, why should I care?”
Or, “so white cops are shooting black men for no reason in the States, well what do I care? I’m not black. I don’t live in the States.” Or, “so what if my pants were made by some underage kid in some third world country who got paid almost nothing, working for long hours until he’s sick and practically dead. That’s not my problem. I got the jeans for $5. — that’s all I care about!”
Do you get what I’m saying?