I’ve been thinking about a play I went to a couple months ago. Before the show, I looked around and noticed that I was the youngest person in the audience, by at least ten years. The median age was at least 50, and the crowd was 99% white (not that I did not contribute to that percentage).
In the first act of the play, the character running for Senate is giving a speech and references “LGBTQA rights.” She slows down as she gets to the “T,” drawing out the Q and the A, giving the audience a laugh at the length of the acronym. This was in Cambridge, a hugely liberal town. But this moment did not feel progressive, it did not feel welcoming, and it did not feel good.
Am I reading too much into this one moment? Perhaps. Maybe that’s not even how the line was written. But it felt cruel to toss aside the last three letters as if they are less important. As if the acronym is too long, too many letters, too many identities, won’t you just fit into the three we’ve already allotted you, you fucking weirdos?
It isn’t even the orientation-equivalent to the ploy that people often use with race: “I don’t care if you’re black, brown, green, purple…” You know that one? When they lump people of color in with imaginary skin colors, because to them they may as well be the same thing: silly and invalid.
No, it wasn’t even like that. Because these are real identities, all of them. There are real human beings who identify themselves as such. Maybe its okay for the 60-year-old Harvard professor who recycles every day and drives a Prius to laugh at weird sexual identities because its done ironically. Or maybe its okay because he voted for Obama (both times!) and watches The Daily Show. Or maybe its okay because its the theater.
Or maybe its not okay. Maybe its not okay to dismiss peoples’ identities because you think more than four letters is excessive. Maybe there is no such thing as ironic bigotry, because it’s just as bad as the garden variety. Maybe it is an act of violence to consider some queer identities more important or legitimate than others. The acronym LGBTQA is not a rank order.
I have noticed a trend of people who hold a lot of privilege (everyone holds some privilege, but I’m mainly referring to white men, myself included) of distancing themselves from the sources of that privilege. It involves splitting up the “good” and “bad” of that population. This is where “not all men” comes from, and where “those white people are awful” comes from. It is a way to simultaneously benefit from privilege and not take any responsibility for it.
It is irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst. I will not pretend to be a voice of authority on this (because that, of course, is part of the problem), but I urge those in places of privilege to acknowledge it, think about it and challenge yourself on it.