1. Don’t automatically assume that they’ll want to be set up with the other queer person you know. They probably don’t.
When I broke up with my partner in 2008, I absolutely fell apart. I’m the type of person who puts a lot of myself into a relationship, and when that relationship failed, I felt like I failed. I watched Once, cried a lot, and ate the entire contents of my aunt’s refrigerator. To fix it, my cousin’s wife (lovely thing that she is) offered to set me up with the other queer person she knew. He lives in Seattle. I asked her how I could possibly meet this person. She told me I could fly there. Hearing that my best opportunity for happiness was 2000 miles and a plane ticket away wasn’t helpful, especially considering I’m terrified of flying. I am Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids.
And this happens to queer people all the time. A friend of mine’s mother tried to set her up at Christmas with a woman from her work, aka. the only lesbian she’s “ever met.” Note: You’ve definitely met more.
2. Don’t tell them that you like them so much more than other queer people.
I really don’t understand what part of this is supposed to be a compliment. Is it that you generally dislike other people like yourself? Is it that you’re acceptable only because you’re “different” from “them?” Is it that you adhere to their principles of what a queer person should act like, dress like or speak like? If you’re a male homosexual, you’ve usually heard this statement because you’re relatively “straight acting” (which is my least favorite phrase ever). To quote Tarzan: effeminate bad, masculine good. You can be gay, as long as you’re not all gay about it.
I don’t consider myself straight acting (and am damn proud of it), and my father still does this to me all the time. As I’m bi/pansexual, he’s cool when we talk about “dude things” — like how hot Christina Hendricks is (because we’re not headless) — but when he brought up Sex and the City, he assumed I wouldn’t like it. Being me, I had to say, “Actually, I have a love/hate relationship with that show. It’s incredibly problematic in terms of race and I hate Carrie, but I think the early seasons are well-written and somehwhat progressive in terms of female sexuality. It was a show about self-proclaimed ‘sluts’ talking about sex, which is interesting, even if they’re still always talking about men. Also, I am Miranda, although I’ve never shown my boob to a man in a coatroom. Not yet. Give me time.”
When I finally finished “the speech” I give about that show, it looked like I’d smacked his face with a tennis racket.
3. Don’t assume that they will want to go shopping with you.
What is it about my queerness that makes straight girls think I’d want to watch them shop for three hours? Unless I’m the one buying dresses and heels here — I went as Chloe Sevigny for Halloween — it’s not exciting. There is this strange idea that carried over from the 90s that a woman’s greatest accessory is her gay BFF, one that is fine with tagging along with her, laughing at all her punchlines like a human laugh track, getting no story lines and not being able to kiss. You exist only to aid in the consumption of the heterosexual. You get to be Carson Kressley. Who does this sound like fun for?
We like shopping (who doesn’t?), but we don’t like being tokenized. Note: If you want to go shopping, take us to the sex toy store. I will never turn down a trip to get sex goodies.
4. Don’t assume they watch Glee or use Modern Family as proof of how much you “LOVE GAY PEOPLE.”
Once I went to my friend’s family party with my boyfriend at the time and my best friend, and we quickly became the “token queer people” in the room. They were blinded by our queerness. In order to show that they accepted us into the group, everyone around us made a point of talking about Modern Family and how “high-larious” it is. (Which it is. Fact: I am Claire Dunphy.) I didn’t fault them for the gesture — which was as sweet as it was willfully naïve — but I thought the more appropriate method of acceptance would have been not to make a point of how tolerant they were and just be tolerant. Being open and affirming is that old writing on writing: Show, don’t tell.
Also, I don’t know many queer people who watch Glee these days, which has been a tonal trainwreck for the past three seasons. (A friend of mine recently referred to himself as “the only self-respecting queer who still likes it.”) If you want to bond over something, talk to the queers about American Horror Story, Revenge, Scandal or RuPaul’s Drag Race. Gurl, I am always down to talk Scandal. I live for Kerry Washington.
5. Don’t make jokes about other parts of our community.
Just because I’m not transgender doesn’t mean I don’t have trans* friends. For instance, if you use the word “tranny” in conversation as a non-trans* person, I have the right to be offended — because I know and love trans* people who that word targets. It’s not your word to claim or reclaim, and you don’t get to use it — whether you like that or not. It’s like using the “n-word” when black people aren’t around. Just because you can use it without black people overhearing you doesn’t mean that you should. It’s not cute. It’s called being Don Imus.
6. Don’t say how “brave” it was for a straight person to play a queer or trans* person in a film.
You know why this pisses me off? It’s not “brave” for Sean Penn to win an Oscar for playing a gay man in a film — because actors know that playing gay means Oscar paydirt. (See also: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Plummer.) It’s not courageous of Hilary Swank to play the transgender Brandon Teena. In giving a great performance in Boys Don’t Cry, she was doing her job and doing it well. Brandon Teena was brave. Harvey Milk was brave. Truman Capote was brave. These were people who fought for their very identities — to exist in a society that told them that people like them didn’t deserve to have jobs, to get married or to live.
Sean Penn was lucky to play a man as great as Milk was. Calling him “brave” for it — affirming the idea that playing gay is the struggle here — is homophobic as hell. Look at James Franco. We can’t stop him from paying queer characters if we tried, and I’m sure his agent is trying. He’s like the Jessica Chastain of playing gay. That’s what’s awesome to me.
7. Don’t assume your friend is gay or a lesbian. They might be bisexual, pansexual or a litany of other things.
A couple years ago I asked out a female friend of mine, who I’ve liked pretty much since I met her. She’s just one of those people it’s impossible not to like. Men literally throw themselves at her feet — or spontaneously bring cupcakes or flowers to her work. Even every queer girl I know wants her, and she’s not even queer. She just has a power. She is the ring, and she rules us all.
When I went to ask her out, she asked if I “was sure,” assuming it was a going-back-into-the-closet gesture, and I had to explain to her that I didn’t want a beard. I wanted a girlfriend. And I had to explain to her what “bisexual” is, and no, it’s not just something that happens on Torchwood. Having that conversation when you’re asking someone out is the ultimate bonerkill.
8. Don’t ask them who the man and the woman are in their relationship.
If you know even one thing about being a good ally, straight people, you know that this is a cardinal no-no. Don’t assume that our lives adhere to your narratives, where someone has to be the more masculine one and the other person is more effeminate. Besides, a lot of straight couples I know don’t even adhere to that. Liz Lemon got to be the parent that works, ladies.
And sometimes, a butch lady and another butch lady fall in love and have little butch babies who listen to Sleater-Kinney, because Sleater-Kinney is awesome. For the poly folks in our community, sometimes you’re partnered to more than one person (as in a triad or a quad thing), and sometimes you’re asexual and you get to date yourself, which sounds awesome. It clearly worked out well for Dennis Rodman. (Except that he isn’t asexual. He’s beyond explanation. He just is.)
Queer, to us, means that we’re different from the norm, and we’re different from you. We want to define our lives and our communities by our own rules. Sometimes those rules can be confusing, and they are always changing. But the evolving nature of our community—bringing new terms and identities into the mix—is the best thing about being queer. It’s not like being straight. That’s why we like it, or we would be straight. It’s not better or worse; it’s just doing us.
9. Don’t say the word “gay” as a pejorative.
Straight people in the audience, I feel like you already know that this is wrong. It’s like using the “r-word” and says a whole lot more about you than the person you’re using it against. So, just don’t do it. Don’t do it standing up, don’t do it in the missionary position. OK, promise? Now everybody take some rubbers.
Note: In this post I used gender neutral pronouns throughout. For queer people, y’all know about that, but for allies not in on the lingo, these include “they,” “zie,” “sie,” “hir” and “ey.” I used they to simplify because switching between them can get confusing. I often use gender-neutral pronouns in my pieces as an intentional way to be gender inclusive and break down heteronormativity, homonormativity and patriarchy. It’s not a grammatical mistake.