The world is more liberal now than it has ever been. Yes, there are countless remissions in LGBTQ rights that continue to fill the headlines, with regular saddening updates coming from Russia, Uganda and Nigeria to name a few, but let’s not be lulled into thinking that support for LGBTQ people worldwide is not progressing at a pace unthinkable a mere few decades ago. But should we be grateful for this?
Progress in these terms is a basic recognition that we can expect to be treated just like every other human, legally and socially, with our sexuality and gender identity not a determinant to this entitlement. Yet amongst this growing support is an increasingly overlooked and awkward lack of general agreement about exactly why it is “okay” to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual, pansexual, intersexual or queer in the first place. The reasoning why we and others feel the need to justify this entitlement has become a worryingly accepted, internalised and unexamined element in our thought process.
It is common to many debates on LGBTQ rights to use religious tolerance and intolerance as justification for our acceptance. For example, Christians believe that God loves everybody, everybody includes gays, if God loves gays then everyone else should too. The other side to this coin is that religion is seen as blind, short-sighted, regressive and wrong, and that because religion is wrong gays are okay. The fundamental flaw in this thought process is that LGBTQ people should not need to seek acceptance in religion. Historically, societally and culturally, religion has been granted an undeserved privilege in this regard which automatically puts the burden of proof on the individual to show that they are worthy. We should not feel the need to bid for their acceptance, and yet we do.
To grant religious justification a platform in this matter implies that by default God, religion and religious institutions would condemn homosexuality and that they are justified in their discrimination. It encourages the thought that it is only through proving we are not that bad, disproving doctrine, or changing minds that we can truly be accepted. The action is on our part, implying that we are the weak, lesser party bidding for redemption and validation, when in truth, why should we care? We should not feel the need to justify our sexuality in line with differing religious standards and neither should we justify it through sheer contrast to religion. We should rework the thought process entirely.
An alternative justification, or precondition, for not stoning us to death or burning us at the stake is the fall back excuse of normality, that we ‘bother nobody’, ‘keep to ourselves’, and don’t ‘put it in people’s faces’. This might sound obvious but when told that a person will only accept my sexuality as long as I keep it behind closed doors, consciously try and fit in with the heterosexual mould, and don’t mess with kids, I find it hard to be grateful for their version of tolerance.
Why should we accept ‘keeping it to ourselves’ as a precondition for our own acceptance? This amounts to staying in the closet, and to do so would be to accept an inherent shame in our sexuality. We should not be ashamed, despite what this version of tolerance would have us believe. Feeling like we should act and conform to heterosexual expectations when in public to make them feel more comfortable, and to make us look less different, ultimately makes the fact that you have same-sex sex easier to forget. My refusal to be grateful for tolerance that comes with stark reservations about how we should act is not a cry to necessarily be outrageous in public, but a recognition that equality should not be on the majority’s terms. Equality should not come with small-print. We should not be grateful for this kind of engineered acceptance.
This engineered acceptance comes with baggage, as the individual integrity of the LGBT community is subconsciously reduced to a certain set of tropes. Lesbians are hot, gay guys are fashion gurus, trans* people make great comedians, bisexuals are fun – these are the positive stereotypes that the LGBTQ community are neutered with, I will not go into the negatives. Why should a LGBTQ person be grateful for acceptance when it is done so on the assumption that they fit a shallow and warped stereotype? The fact that I fuck guys is to a great extent unrelated to all other aspects of my personality. The family-friendly, stereotypical face of camp LGBTQ entertainment helps to distract from the physical, aligning mainstream acceptance with a level of denial about what is exactly being accepted in the first place.
Finally a few well-meaning but confused allies will claim that being gay is tolerable because after all this is the 21st century, and this is how things are now. Homophobes are outdated and fixed in the past. Sexuality did not come into season. Sexuality did not come into season. Sexuality did not come into season. The world was not made up of only heterosexuals in our grandparents’ age, or ever. We have been here throughout and this heteronormative approach to history is insulting. It is not the day, month, year or decade that justifies the existence of a person that differs in sexuality from the majority. LGBTQ people are not like the automated check-ins in doctor’s waiting rooms that you just need to get used to. We do not cling to our millennial coins in the search for toleration. We have always been here and always will, and hate of any form, whether current or historic, should not be appeased.
When we analyse what makes it okay to be LGBTQ, to answer this it might be easier to reverse the question by asking what makes it okay to hate, what makes it okay to judge, what it makes it okay to tell anyone who they should go to bed with, what makes it okay to pass comment on lifestyles that you have no part in?
People should be tolerated and celebrated because we are all people, irrelevant of sexuality. We are all of equal worth. We all have a heart, and we have a mind, and we are responsible for our own choices and our own decisions. We do not ask anybody else to justify their existence on this same pretext. It is simply the innate equal worth of humanity that makes it okay for anyone to be anything, and for all of us to be okay with that. We should not be grateful that people are finally starting to realise this.