Facebook Turned Red and Heterosexism Came Out to Play

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.

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Like a Virgin: Voting

This wasn’t my first time voting, but in many ways it was. In the past, I voted who I was told to vote for. I didn’t dare think outside the box because I was terrified of what might happen. The few people who were brave enough to openly support Obama at Bob Jones University were looked down on and ostracized by their fellow students, and I’ll admit that I was one of the students ostracizing those brave souls. Between the peer pressure and the terror stories told by the preachers about what would happen to America if we didn’t vote her back to fundamentalist principles, there never seemed any other option. I voted blindly. I voted fearfully.

This time around, there was a similar fear, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. As I watched the consistent attempts to whittle down women’s rights and listened to the rhetoric that made me feel like I had entered an alternative universe, I felt like, once again, I had no choice. Even though I was unhappy with Obama for having extended the Patriot Act and concerned with the potential ramifications of H.R. 347—even though I was dumbfounded by the fact that both were almost unanimously passed through Congress—I still felt like I was being forced to vote out of fear of what might happen if a Republican won . . . until I discovered that there were more than two choices.

People told me it was a wasted vote. They told me that “third parties” never won and that the two-party system was just the way it was. They told me their own disappointed stories of having voted for third-parties and nothing coming of it. They said the United States had been that way since its birth and wouldn’t change.

But I decided that I wasn’t comfortable just letting it go and voting what I was told. I looked into each candidate. I thought I would probably come back to Obama because he would still seem like the best choice, but it gave me comfort to feel like I was making an informed choice.

To my consternation, I found myself falling in love with Jill Stein and the Green New Deal. I fell in love with her stand for freedom, her refusal to take corporate money, and her unflinching honesty about topics that the Democrats and Republicans were staying as far away from as possible.

Still, I heard that voice whispering that I needed to vote for Obama . . . or else.

Or else what? Something bad might happen if I step out of the two-party peer-pressure system? Such classic avoidance training! Yes, something bad might happen if I take a chance to express my disapproval with both Democrats and Republicans . . . the candidate I like least might win.

But nothing good could happen if I voted out of fear.

Both Democrats and Republicans have betrayed freedom, in my mind, by passing legislation that attacked various rights. I definitely think Republicans have made more obvious attacks, but they both made attacks. Voting out of fear would just mean I was making a choice between which rights I was willing to forego. Was I willing to overlook my right to privacy in order to vote to have my right to choose? Were my rights as a bisexual worth more than my right to protest, to freedom of speech, or to due process?

I don’t think I should be having to weigh which rights I’m willing to take a hit on. Talk about wasting a vote! Voting for someone I don’t believe in because I am too scared not to is a wasted vote!

Eleanor Roosevelt is famous for saying, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I’ve been thinking about that statement and the personal power it implies all afternoon, and I think she was onto something much deeper than just feeling bad or good about oneself.

No one can take away my power or my rights without my consent. No one can take away my choice or my autonomy without my consent. No one can take away my voice without my consent.

I hear so many people complaining about the way the elections are functioning and expressing dissatisfaction in the lack of choices, and the infuriating part is that we are the ones locking ourselves into this because we too scared of what might happen if we step outside of the box we’ve put around ourselves.

But isn’t that what I left fundamentalism to escape? A life controlled by fear isn’t what I want. My power is my own. I will not give it up by believing that it can be taken away.

Today, for the first time, I voted for the candidate who I felt represented freedom the most.

For the first time, I feel like my vote actually counted because it wasn’t a tool in someone else’s hands; it was the clear and unequivocal exercise of my right to express how I want government to function.

I can’t even express how excited and proud I was to walk into that booth and know that I was making my own choice. I dream of a day when we can all recognize the tremendous power of change that we possess and stop this silly business of voting the party line out of fear.