Let’s get this out of the way. I identify as queer. I don’t remember the first time I “knew.” I have just always been attracted to women (though I am both physically and sexually attracted to men as well, just to a lesser degree in some ways).
In fact, the details of my gender identity do not matter for the purposes of this article. Because this is more than just an article about the condemnation, guilt, marginalization and fears that people who identify as queer are usually forced to go through. Instead, I want to write about a stance or an attitude that I believe more people should practice when dealing with sensitive subjects — not only issues relating to gender — but to other subjects such as race, class, religion and many more.
One of my closest friends once told me, “Substitute the word ‘politically correct’ with ‘polite’ and you’ll understand its full meaning.” And really, it is not that difficult to be polite.
My family and I were on our yearly vacation and during one of our meals, a few of my family members began discussing the issue of gay marriage. It quickly escalated and some of my aunts and uncles (and little cousin who was barely fifteen) began condemning people who have “chosen this sinful lifestyle” and even started to condemn women who have had an abortion. And to give you a rough picture of this “discussion” and the overwhelming moral righteousness present, all but two at our table stated vehemently that they believed that these “sinful people” were hell-bound.
Now, regardless of whether these “people” are hell-bound, I do not believe that this conversation was conducted in an appropriate and sensitive manner. Though gender issues have been raised time and time again around me (and many times I have been an active participant in these conversations), this is the first time that I have been forced to leave in tears. As a person who identifies as queer, I felt as condemned, isolated and marginalized. And why wouldn’t I? My own family was condemning me and my life choices.
Granted, many did not know that I identified as queer; but regardless of whether they knew or not, I felt that it was completely insensitive to condemn the life choices of others without knowing how some family members on our table identified; not to mention that we were surrounded by many other people as we were having this “discussion” in the midst of a full restaurant in a country where it is acceptable to be queer and many people identify in a similar manner.
My aunt later told me, “I didn’t know you identified as being queer.” But that is not the point. The point is that they did not know how I — or other people at the table and around us — identified but still they decided to have this conversation in an open, public space and condemn people who do not identify as straight. (And of course, even if everyone present believed that queer people were hell-bound, condemnation of others is still not a healthy practice!)
When this discussion was rapidly escalating, my other aunt told me, “I have a right to have an opinion. And I have a right to air it, wherever I want.” Yes, of course, I agree. I agree that she has a right to have whatever opinion she chooses and that she has the right to voice it. But is this really about “your rights?” Even if you do not care about causing hurt to those who do not identify the way you do, think, at least, about the people on your table, your family. You definitely did not know how at least two of us identify, because I can tell you that at least one other person, besides me, on our table identifies as queer.
You said you “did not know,” but that is exactly my point. Why would I have had any reason to tell you about my gender identity when I already knew how you felt about it? Today, you essentially condemned me to “hell” but I have known since young how you felt about people who identify as queer; I guess you never thought that one of your own blood might identify as queer.
Which brings me to yet another point of my article. Why do you think some people find it so hard to come out of the closet to their own family? Precisely because there are family members like mine who condemn those to identify differently, who have different beliefs and practice different lifestyles. And do you know how hard it is to live with the knowledge that people whom you love dearly are condemning you? My heart goes out to all the people who have the courage to be open and stand up for their beliefs that have been condemned over and over again by their own family. Because however their family reacts, they have exposed themselves to condemnation and disgust. And more importantly, they have overcome the fear that their family will no longer love or accept them once they find out the truth.
If I could live by one mantra, it would be this: Judge not, lest ye be judged. Who are we to judge others, when we have never been in their shoes? Why can’t we learn to create a safe space? I believe that we can create room for differing opinions, so that people who identify as queer, straight, trans, asexual, gay, lesbian and many more can have a discussion without any group having to feel condemned and marginalized.
But this attitude is not limited to issues revolving around gender. There are many other topics that require sensitivity such as race, sexuality, morality, religion and more. And it is only “politically correct” — or as I like to call it “polite” — to make sure that these topics are addressed in a sensitive manner and to be aware that they might be people around you who do not share your beliefs. In many cases, it could be the people sitting around you at your dining table — your family.