For the longest time it was difficult to feel good about being queer, or to even be queer, in the presence of heterosexuals. Even the few progressive ones made us feel quirky and it wasn’t even their fault. It’s just that there were so few of us and they had so much to learn. Feeling like the quirky gay friend and having to come out over and over again gets old fast.
The stress of hanging with hets was part of the reason queer enclaves emerged. Hanging with other queer folk was essential-not just for self-expression but also for sheer sanity. But times have changed. We really are everywhere and most of us feel damn glad to be here in all our queer colours. We struggle more openly with differences within the queer community-around race, gender, class-but the het world has also given up some of their homophobia. Does this mean that hangin’ with hets is easier than it used to be?
As one woman reports, “When I came out it was such a relief to be around other lesbians that I did not willingly leave ‘the commune’ for any reason. I got a little bored after a few years of that and grudgingly admitted a few straights-men even-back into my life, but being around large groups of them still leaves me feeling rather glum.”
Another woman reported on a visit to her very supportive brother and sister-in-law and their new baby in a cookie-cutter suburb of Toronto. “My brother is so sweet and he misses me, but he stopped himself in the middle of my fantasy about me living in his neighbourhood one day. He looked at me and laughed and said. ‘You’d die!’. He is so right and the fact that he would say this and we could laugh about it showed me how far we’ve come.”
A dyke friend who has a blue-collar job said, “Things have changed a lot, but not in the way I expected 20 years ago. Then I hoped that the guys I work with would stop the queer jokes and sexist crap. But now, the guys and I have found a whole new kind of banter: they accept my sexual taunting on equal ground.”
An openly gay (okay, he’s a screaming faggot) student friend of ours has had many positive experiences with straights on campus, but has encountered homophobia as well: “I went to see one of my professors in his office one day last year and was astonished by his body language. He backed himself away from me until he was practically pinned to the far wall. He looked totally foolish but succeeded in sending me a strong message. I never went to talk with him again.”
Another gay man shared this experience with us. “I was playing touch football with a team of friends from school. I am totally out and had felt very accepted in this group. But our heterosexual quarterback surprised me in the huddle. ‘Okay,’ he said, alarmed that we were losing. ‘Enough of this faggy stuff.’ ‘But Ian,’ I said, “I am a fag.’ That stopped him dead in his tracks and he was fairly ashamed of himself. I felt proud of myself for calling him on his homophobia, especially since for jocks like him it’s so incredibly normal. But I didn’t feel like going to any more games.”
While it seems, from our cursory research, that lesbians find straight people they come into contact with quite accepting, gay men may encounter more resistance. We think it’s that old weenie in the bum thing that a lot of straight men just can’t get over. But dykes are not loved by all.
A dyke from the Drive reported, with some shock, that one of her neighbours-a community activist-is a big old homophobe. He thinks dykes are disgusting and won’t hesitate to say so. As a member of a minority community himself, it hurts this gentle lesbian to find that her support of his rights is not reciprocated. But what else is new? Women-lesbians and straight-have long championed the causes of others who would have us barefoot in the kitchen, on our knees or flat on our backs for their pleasure not ours, right after we finish doing their typing, photocopying and leafleting. It’s difficult not to feel bitter at times.
But in many instances, being queer or straight in friendship groups is less important than other factors. These days, the kids or no kids divide is often larger, as one childless lesbian told us. “I don’t see the world in gay-straight terms anymore. I see it in ‘babies/non-babies.’ The hets who’ve chosen not to breed have way more in common with me than my dyke friends who have kids.”
For the child-rearing dykes and fags, however, the existence of the Queer Family Network can be a lifeline. Hangin’ with hets may be easier than it used to be, but queer community is like chocolate: it’s possible to survive without it but why would anyone ever want to?
What the fuck!