Though not yet legally equal to heterosexuals, recent LGBTQ community action is moving gays closer to political equality. Seventeen states allow gay marriage, seven of which passed legislation in 2013. The Supreme Court also overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, allowing married couples social security benefits, shared health insurance and retirement savings. These changes demonstrate genuine strides towards civic equality.
But they mean absolutely nothing without social equality.
By social equality, I mean the general population treating LGBTQ community members equally. Whether someone knows, assumes or believes that another is gay shouldn’t differentiate a conversation from one they’d have with a heterosexual. (The one exception being a romantic-based conversation, which falls under the domain of differences between heterosexual and LGBTQ individuals.) Though this shouldn’t be the case, I’m treated differently in situations where people don’t assume I’m gay.
Let’s use the gym as an example. I enter the Central Campus Recreational Building and see the guy swiping people in. I give him my MCard and he swipes it as he says, “Sup, dude.” We’re on a “dude” basis as he sees me pretty frequently.
I head down a flight of stairs to the weight room. Upon entering, I see one of the regulars. We make eye contact, and I give him a head nod to acknowledge his presence. He does the same. Having a shared existence in the gym has given us a mutual respect for each other. I head to the bench press and begin exercising when a guy signals that he wants my attention.
“Hey man, can you spot me?”
“For sure, dude,” I respond.
I help him with his set, and on his ninth rep, I give him a little help pushing the bar up. After finishing, he responds with a “Thanks man,” and I respond with a “No problem.”
At the gym, these guys talk to me the same way that they’d talk to the rest of their buddies. They treat me with the same respect, and they don’t go into a conversation assuming that I’m any different than they are.
However, in many other situations, I’m not treated as guys would treat each other. For instance, I was talking to a guy on the first day of a class. We were having a good conversation, and I thought that we could be pretty good friends. Then, we got on the topic of music. He asked who my favorite musician was and, in giving an honest answer, I responded with Lady Gaga.
Liking Lady Gaga shouldn’t be used to assume a guy is gay. Music preferences — like clothing choices, hairstyle and personality traits — aren’t indicators of homosexuality; an attraction to the same sex is. However, I can’t deny that our society contains (incorrect) gay stereotypes, and liking Lady Gaga is one of them.
So when I gave that response — even though it wasn’t a fair assumption — I could tell that he thought I was gay. And it shifted our interactions. Of course he was never outright mean to me, but he treated me differently than when he didn’t believe I was gay. This shouldn’t happen. Sure, some of my traits are more feminine than a stereotypical guy, and I am gay. But when it comes down to it, I’m still a guy.
Being gay means having a different sexual orientation. It doesn’t dictate my interests. I like Lady Gaga because I like Lady Gaga. I wear orange jackets because I like wearing orange jackets. I enjoy reality television because I enjoy reality television. They may differ from male stereotypes, but I don’t enjoy them because I’m gay. My interests also shouldn’t make others feel that I’m any more different than any of their friends. One friend may love rap and the other loves rock, but this doesn’t influence their friendship. Therefore, although my enjoyment of pop deviates more strikingly from the norm, it shouldn’t cause any differences compared to guys who like rap or rock. And having some stereotypically feminine interests doesn’t indicate that all my interests are stereotypically gay. I like lifting weights and video games just as much as the next guy, and Kendrick Lamar is one of my favorite artists. Like everyone else, I’m a unique individual with a variety of interests.
Not only does sexuality bear no influence on my hobbies, it bears no influence on my personality. I have some stereotypically gay traits. I use “like” frequently and I can quote “Mean Girls” in its entirety — although many straight guys do both of these surprisingly frequently. However, these choices don’t define who I am as a person. They’re just traits and quotes that I enjoy. Having these doesn’t imply that all my mannerisms are feminine.
Boys aren’t solely responsible for homosexual stereotyping. Though in my experiences, I generally see guys stereotyping a little more than girls, girls can stereotype as well. And to say that every guy treats me prejudicially wouldn’t be accurate. I’ve met a lot of guys who get to know me for who I am as a person, not letting my sexuality influence their perception of me. But I’ve also met enough people — too many actually — that instantaneously stereotype me. Though I’m not a lesbian, transgender or bisexual, I know both men and women stereotype each of these subgroups. I can’t know whether every LGBTQ member would confirm this with certainty, but at least for me, no U.S. legislation aimed at making me feel like a political insider can offset feeling like a social outsider.
Michael Schramm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.