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.