Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Can we stop treating gay people as pets?

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky. 

I think I need to check the local pet shops to see if they sell Gay Treats. After all, there are so many straight folk out there that treat us as pets that I’m amazed there isn’t someone trying to make money off it.

I have reached a point where I simply cannot be surprised any more by how condescending straight allies can be. There is so much head patting, so much petting and so little attempt to treat gay people as actual adults. I want to say a general “can we just stop?” can we stop treating gay people as pets, or children, or toys? Can we just stop with the constant diminishing language and dismissive treatment? Can we stop being treated as negligible people? But there are specific instances in particular that are getting on my last nerve and these need to stop.

The Whole “Gay Best Friend” Bullshit

I have ranted about this before but it isn’t going away and I am past tired of it.

I am tired of endless television shows and books having straight women with a gay man as a servant or side-kick. Usually clogged with stereotypes, this man exists to serve and support the straight woman – usually in trope laden ways (fashion usually, but also her latest romances). They’re not people, they’re pets, servants.

And it’s bled over into real life – magazines from O Magazine, to Teen Vogue have extolled the virtues of accessorising with a GBF (Actual Quote: The must-have items for her fashionista classmates included a Proenza Schouler tie-dyed top, a shrunken military jacket, neon-bright chunky bracelets, and. a gay best friend). Celebrities are showing off their GBFs – and we have a whole culture of straight women using gay men as servants, toys and pets. I have been introduced as “my gay friend” I have had near strangers believe I am their bestest friend ever because they simply “must have a gay”. Who I am, what I do, my personality, opinions, my profession, even my full name are not only unknown to many of these people, but they’re irrelevant as well. I’m not a person to them.

We’re toys. We’re pets.  We’re not people. When you treat us like this, you are not an ally, you are not a friend – you are a homophobe. And no, you don’t have to be a violent-slur throwing arsehole to be a homophobe.

Fetishising

My pet hate. And definitely one I have mentioned before. And again. And again and again.

The number of people who think that thinking GBLT people are oh-so-sexy and make for viewing pleasure somehow makes them the greatest ally ever is staggering. Just because you aren’t running screaming at the sight of a same-sex kiss doesn’t make you the most pro-gay person ever, nor does it mean you aren’t a homophobe.

It’s creepy, it’s fetishistic and it reduces us to poseable objects for your amusement. And, again, it bleeds over into real life. People expect GBLT people to perform for their amusement. They go into our spaces to drool, to make horrendous suggestions and, ye gods, to take pictures.

We’re things, objects, ornaments –  not actual people.


Expecting us to Fawn

I have seen 2 classic examples of this on Twitter recently. Firstly someone tweeted me linking my name to a newsletter they were writing. I objected because the title included an anti-gay slur which I didn’t like at all – and liked even less because the writer was a straight person. I didn’t want to be associated with it, don’t link me to it. End of, I thought.

But, no, instead I got a barrage of tweets of how they’re not homophobic and how I was hurting their (straight) identity by objecting to their use of a slur and they were a member of the gay community (apparently, despite being straight and cis) which concluded with how they’re more a member of the gay community than I am (an actual gay man) because of how pro-gay they are.

Right.

Secondly was, alas, Cher. Yes, the Cher. She tweeted in support of pastor Joel Osteen saying how he made everyone feel welcome. And a GBLT person responded with, and I quote: “Umm... not everyone. He's pretty uncool about gays.”

A pretty moderate correct. But ye gods of mercy, you would have thought they’d suggested Cher was out axe murdering gay people every night. The melt down was epic and depressing and ended with Cher, after repeatedly saying how much she’d done for us and how her heart was broken, threatening to leave Twitter.

It was a bit of an over-reaction, one could say. Especially when further down in the time line, where she praised Churchill as a hero and someone gently pointed out his faults she said she would go research and learn. Why the moderate response here followed by the utter melt down when a GBLT person raised such a mild question? I wonder I wonder.

And, sadly, it’s a pattern. There are an inordinate amount of people who think their self-declared ally-dom and nice words makes them immune to criticism – but not just immune to criticism, but deserving of praise. People who melt down not just because they’ve been criticised, but because they haven’t been praised enough. They expect gay vassals, followers to fawn and genuflect to them. We’re not people to them, we’re pets they bought with pretty speeches.

The Head Pats

I once told someone I was married and was told “well done.” I’ve also been told I was brave, that they’re proud of me and I even got an applause once. Actual applause. No, really, they clapped.

I’ve been told my marriage is “ZOMG, just like a real marriage!” been praised for acting like an actual couple. I’ve had numerous praises for being out; not celebrations of coming out, but praises for being out. It bemuses me, I didn’t do this for them, I don’t need a cookie, I don’t need condescending head pats for living.

This is one that’s hard to convey in writing because you have to get the tone. That tone like you child has finally been potty trained, or your puppy has just learned a new trick. That condescending, cloying sweetness that sets your teeth on edge. Though sometimes the tone is clear through text – I’ve sat bemused watching a straight person repeatedly tweet “free yourself”  to closeted gay people with words about the “true meaning of pride”.

These are some of several tropes –  and there are many more when brought together. The advice and instruction straight people always feel the need to give us. The number of times our opinions are discounted or we’re considered too emotional or not sensible enough to be listened to. The number of times were presented as silly, as childish, as too obsessed with fun and incapable of taking things seriously (more ridiculous tropes we see over and over) is almost unbelievable. But they all have one core element – condescension and belittling. This idea that we’re not people – we’re pets, we’re toys, maybe, just maybe, we’re children.

But we’re rarely people and never adults to be taken seriously. Certainly never to be respected – and this is not common among the haters, this is common among the people who consider themselves allies. I won’t urge allies to watch their words here – because the words are just a symptom of the lack of respect you have for us. Check your thoughts, check your mind and think, don’t just guard your tongue – because we’re not going to get anywhere if you don’t respect us.