When Facebook turned red for marriage equality, I had a lot of friends change their profiles in solidarity to LGBT rights. Many of them shocked conservative friends and family members with their stance, which isn’t surprising since, even as an out and vocal bisexual woman, I still shock people with my support of marriage equality.
It was a little annoying to hear about some of the rude questions my friends faced as a result of their stand. I don’t really know what it is that makes people feel like they have the right to nose into your personal life or judge you simply because they disagree with you, but I thought I might take a moment and remind others of a few general tips of politeness with regard to the sudden awareness of those who support marriage equality.
First of all, the fact that someone reveals their personal stance on marriage equality is not an invitation to ask them, “Are you gay?” If they haven’t made a point to inform you of their sexual orientation, it’s none of your business. You are not entitled to additional personal information about someone else based on the publicity of their political views.
I’m not saying we should all assume everyone is straight until told otherwise. There is a polite and respectful way to ask about someone’s orientation. If you’re meeting a new acquaintance, it’s actually nicer to ask if they have a partner as opposed to a boyfriend/girlfriend. You’re opening the door for them to talk about themselves without making a heterosexist assumption or (as I’ll talk about below) stereotyping them as gay.
However, politely giving someone the space to reveal something about themselves as you get to know them is not the same thing as accosting someone you already know to question them about their sexual orientation because they revealed a political position of which you were previously ignorant. The former is a courtesy; the latter is just the opposite.
Secondly, if they feel comfortable answering such an obviously rude question, it doesn’t give you the right to shove your more conservative beliefs in their face. Again, if you’re not close enough to them to know their sexual orientation, you’re probably not close enough to them to tell them how to live their lives. If someone feels comfortable asking for your opinion on an aspect of their life, THEY WILL ASK YOU. If they don’t ask you, keep your mouth shut. Simple as that—and that goes for parents too!
Thirdly, don’t assume someone’s orientation based on how they look or who they’re with. If your “gaydar” is based on stereotypes, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. There is no such thing as a “gay look” or a “dyke look.” Femininity or masculinity are not clear-cut indicators of someone’s orientation. Saying someone looks or doesn’t look gay shows you up as a bigot who can’t think outside of clichés.
Furthermore, just because someone is dating or married to a member of the opposite sex doesn’t mean they are straight. Many people feel trapped in a false identity out of fear or have been sucked into unfulfilling relationships under the lie that marriage can “fix” their same-sex attractions. And if you’re the type of person who would break any of the above courtesy rules, you can’t expect a closeted person to feel like trusting you. In fact, you’re probably contributing to them feeling like they need to stay closeted.
Also, don’t forget about the middle. Sexual orientation is not black and white. Most people fall somewhere along a continuum, and a good number of them fall close to the middle, meaning they are attracted to multiple gender expressions. That also means that there are a good number of people in heterosexual, monogamous relationships who do not consider themselves strictly straight. I’m one of them. Just because I don’t happen to be in a relationship with a woman right now doesn’t mean my attraction to women ceases to exist. In the end, judging someone’s sexual orientation based on their relationship status is just another form of heterosexism.
Lastly (for now), supporting marriage equality DOES NOT mean that you are gay. Straight allies exist, and they can be as vocal for marriage equality as any LGBT person. It’s not a hard concept. White people have been allies in the fight for racial equality. Men have been allies in the fight for women’s rights. Christians have been allies in the fight for religious freedom. Pretty much for any struggle, you’ll find members of the power group lending their support to the oppressed. Stop assuming that only gay people support gay rights.
This is a brilliant post. There’s a clear need right now for more people who can so comprehensibly express issues in the LGBTQ community.
I’m a bisexual woman in an opposite-sex relationship. A lot of people assume this means “I’m straight right now, maybe I’ll be gay next week” or “I really am straight, I just went through a phase”, which can be infuriating. I also find it frustrating when, as you mentioned, people assume that because I’m a woman, I must be in a heterosexual relationship, or (if they’ve already met my partner) assume that I must be straight because what other option could there be?
I realize that, as social creatures, it’s necessary for us to be able to quickly put strangers and short-term acquaintances in boxes – it would be impossible for us to really get to know everyone we come across – but I don’t see why sexual orientation has to be one of the assumptions we make. It’s not really relevant unless you’re hoping to know if they would be interested back.
Being bisexual really does make you almost invisible, both in the queer community and in the “straight” world. That’s frustrating for sure. And we’d face it even if we were in a relationship with women because in our heterosexist world, the assumption is that you’re straight, but if that’s proven wrong, then you must be gay.
I think the whole topic of having to vote for Marriage equality is sad. First of all, it;s worse than voting for blacks and whites equality to marry, the federal government is treating this like abortion rights, and it will never end. I am a Honorable discharged Veteran who served her country as a lesbian female, obviously with no spousal rights and fighting in the Gulf War, fighting for all our rights, except, because I am a Lesbian, have no equal rights as far as Federal. It seems like the federal government, forget about the state rights, which don’t really matter, want to keep us from paying our fair share of taxes,etc.. what would the fine line be as far as marriage equality and our civil rights, not to mention regular marriage rights be? Let’s see, what would the government gain, and what would they lose? It;s all about money, don’t you see? If the federal Gov. had to pay for the military lesbians housing for their wife/partner, well, that would cost money, just like a straight married couple, so they would vote no to that spending, then there is us lesbians paying our taxes together as a married couple, and getting tax breaks like the straight married folks,etc… etc.. so all this is about money..how sad..I had to fight in a supposedly non combat zone due to being a female, but had combat at my front door, I didn’t complain, but never received my actual “Combat Pay” to this day. I went back to my unit state side as all of us “Soldiers do” and all the men received their combat pay and bought new trucks, etc.. and I was awaiting my combat pay, and never received that extra bonus like all the men did, and am kind of pissed off, because I have the same nerve damage,etc.. from the blast that our unit got, am just as disabled as them, but my paper work states, even though I was in Combat just like the men I received no Combat pay but received the same metals as they did, Going off topic a bit, but really the same, we as women receive less then any man, or straight couple, just like being in the same war for our same freedoms, I receive as a second class citizen, and it will never end…Period.
I do appreciate all of you straight and Bisexual support, as you already have your civil guaranteed rights, wish I did! But thanks for your support! Fought for this country, am a U.S citizen, and was honorably discharged War Veteran, but still haven’t earned my civil,regular given rights? Hmmmm..TY!