Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Distinction and a Difference

A gay comedian performed at our school today. That's how he was described: "a gay comedian". His name was mentioned mostly in passing, except when he was actually announced on the stage. The rest of the time, he was "a gay comedian" that our local Gay Straight Alliance hired to perform. I see a problem. The GSA is drawing a distinction, and they are hurting their own cause by doing so.

Let's consider racism for parallels. Racism certainly exists here and now, but we can all agree that it isn't nearly to the extent that it was half a century ago, yes? Part of the reason is that we honestly do not see the distinction to the extent that we did decades ago. One of my closest friends is black. I'm well aware that he's black. But I don't really think about it. If I'm asked to describe what he's like, I'll say that he's a friendly guy. I'll say that he's involved in a ridiculous number of extracurricular activities. I'll say that he can be a bit self-centered at times, but in the end he is honestly a decent person. I'll say that he's gay. But I will not say that he's black until I'm asked about his physical appearance.

So why would I say that he's gay, but not that he's black? Why is his orientation a larger part of my idea of his identity? The simple answer is that it's mentioned a lot. The more complicated answer is that all sides of society seem to be trying to carve it out as a separate category. There is a large effort in LGBT activism to build a sense of LGBT community. The effects of this activism work in concert with homophobic efforts, creating a general view among everyone that we are somehow separate. There is a common link between the discriminatory comments of certain public figures and the activists' attempts to unite us under a rainbow flag: they all draw a distinction.

The simple fact is that we cannot have the equality that we want if we continue displaying ourselves as a separate category. The message that we convey is that we are different from the norm. What we need to do is make it normal. What we need to do is treat it as no big deal that we're different in that one way. Every time we proclaim our orientation as something to take note of, people really do take note of it more than they did before. They perpetuate the label, the distinction, and, therefore, the possibility for discrimination. That really isn't what we want.
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