I’ve tweeted about topics related to being in the queer community that get a lot of people riled up. I’m not necessarily trying to make anyone angry, but since we all have strong ideas on how to effectively coexist, at least some debate is likely to happen. In the midst of one of those tweets spreading around, one of my straight friends asked me how I’m able to stay so calm and politely explain my points to people. I described it to him as being the same as Bruce Banner keeping The Hulk at bay by always being angry. There’s always that underlying anger about having to constantly advocate for myself, and educate people who seem willfully ignorant, in a calm and even tone that makes it easy to manage it when I can feel it escalating.
But I shouldn’t have to always manage it; being queer in today’s society is still an angering experience.
As a content creator with somewhat of an audience, I often feel pressure to eloquently and patiently explain points, especially about being a gay man, to people who seem unwilling to put themselves in my shoes. I feel expected to always do it with a smile, and to never display any sort of anger, for fear that I will be labeled as a misrepresentation of the community. As queer people, we’re hinged to this idea that we have to work to deserve our rights, and politely advocate for a basic human experience, or else we will have it completely stripped away from us. Never mind the fact that trans people were banned from the military, and are getting murdered just for being trans; they have to calmly and politely explain why they deserve to live just as everyone else. Never mind the fact that gamers are outraged by the mere presence of a gay character in their video game, or that the whole state of Alabama banned an episode of a TV show for showing same-sex marriage; we have to calmly explain that gay people just, you know, exist. Never mind the fact that we are expected to give our time and energy to people to specifically educate them, as if it is our obligation to do so, as if we, alone, are encyclopedias on the experience of being queer, and nothing more. Never mind that I have a novel I’d like to write, friends I’d rather eat dinner with, and episodes of Dear White People I desperately need to catch up on; if I don’t carve time out of my day to do my sworn duty as a gay person by educating them on why I deserve to just exist in peace, then I become a bad gay who’s supporting divisive rhetoric. Because clearly, being a good gay means dropping everything I’m doing to tell a straight person why they shouldn’t use the word “faggot,” and being a good ally means wasting a queer person’s time instead of looking up the answer on Google.
And that’s only the very tip of the iceberg. I, alone, have enough stories about being a white-presenting (mixed race) gay man that could make for justifiable anger. Once you combine the intersections of other queer identities, as well as racial and gender identities, it’s impossible to tell us that we shouldn’t feel angry about how society marginalizes us, and tries to put us in boxes that hinder us from making any sort of progress.
When people say they admire how politely I can explain myself to people, I’m never quite sure how to react. Should I say “thank you?” Is it really a compliment that I’m able to suppress how I feel when I’m talking about truly angering experiences about being gay? Am I really being an advocate for my community if I’m not accurately showing just how frustrating it can be to be queer? I don’t think we serve ourselves well by showing that the oppression we’ve suffered has only made us sad. We have so many narratives about the heartbreak and the trauma we feel as queer people, but that’s not the only story. A lot of us are angry. Not all of us are simply crying and wallowing in our sadness about our families disowning us, society ostracizing us, and people killing us. A lot of us are shouting, whether in protests or on social media, to just let us live our lives. The oppression put upon us isn’t just sad; it’s infuriating.
And this isn’t to say that I’m lashing out and throwing personal insults when someone so much as says “I don’t get why you want gay characters in TV shows so bad.” It means that I might say something like “because it’s dumb that straight people think we need a reason to just exist in a show, Linda” instead of the calm and patient answer that includes me having to hold back the frustration I feel when straight people seem oblivious to queer issues. And when you have to deal with people asking things like this most days out of the week for the entirety of your queer existence…well, you can only have so much patience. We try, but goodness, it’s a lot of frustration to keep in. It’s just logical that gay people are a presence in this world, Linda. I shouldn’t have to be told that I need a reason to simply exist.
Take for example my most recent run-in with homophobia. I was at a party with only one other queer person, and while she was upstairs, one of the guys made the decision to call his friend a faggot. The more wild part about this was, just half an hour prior, he said that he loves hanging out with gay people because they’re usually more flamboyant and often know how to have a good time. Also, let it be known that I unapologetically made everyone at this party very aware that I’m gay. They couldn’t say that they unknowingly offended a gay person. What’s worse is that literally none of the other guys in that room stepped up to say “hey, that’s not cool.”
My immediate instinct was to say “excuse me?” and ask, in an impatient tone, why he even began to think that was okay, especially with a gay person sitting in the same room. I had every right to be upset, and in fact, I was better about this guy than I would have been in the past; I decided to leave the party after he said that. I did make sure to mention to him before leaving that it wasn’t okay that used that word, but I left the party wishing I would have expressed more of the anger I had at him using a word that straight people (especially ones who claim to be queer allies) should know damn well to never say. There was a part of me who wanted him to feel so ridiculous, so ignorant for saying something that’s been used against us in acts of violence, oppression, and general hatred that keeps us from even wanting to be around straight people. As a straight white man, he could have afforded the small amount of discomfort if it meant never saying that word, again. As a straight white man at this point in history, there’s no room to claim ignorance on what that term means to a queer person, especially coming out of a straight person’s mouth.
But I held back. I didn’t have to, but I did. I’ve heard so often that say that patience and polite education are the only ways to educate someone on what it means to be queer, that any time I feel the need to express my anger about someone displaying bigoted behavior, whether knowingly or unknowingly, I worry that my frustration will drive people away. I know I have every right to be angry, and I have every right to express it in a healthy way. If the person who’s listening truly understands, or wants to understand, they would know that the anger is justified. Him being so ignorant as to say that word in front of a gay person was infuriating; I should be able to express that without feeling guilty.
There are ways of showing your anger in a debate/discussion that can discredit you, absolutely, but when it comes to being a part of a marginalized community, we’ve received enough hate, oppression, and discrimination to the point where telling us how we should feel about yet another bigoted statement is wrong. It even feels wrong when people tell members of the queer community not to get so angry about homophobia. I’m not about to sit here and call you a dumbass and insult you personally for saying something offensive about queer people (even though I may want to), but you better believe I’m going to want to tell you just how upset I am about what you said. We’re allowed to be upset by it. We shouldn’t have to be emotionless about our oppression to have our voices heard.
Trans people are getting murdered. Queer people can still get fired for being queer. Same-sex couples still get beat up (and sometimes, to death) just for holding hands. People still get upset about us simply being a presence in this world. We have a right to be furious. It’s okay to be at least a little angry about a straight person saying “faggot,” whether they meant to offend a queer person or not.
So if you ever find yourself on the opposite side of this anger, just stop and think about what that queer person’s life must have been like in relation to their queerness, and what it’s still like, before you think of your response. If your impulse is to tell them to stop being angry instead of listening to what the basis of their emotion is, acknowledge that, and start listening, instead. Maybe we’re angry at you for saying something ignorant, but you don’t have to stay ignorant. We may get upset about ignorance, but that doesn’t mean we stay mad when people unlearn these prejudices and actually start stepping up as allies.
Listen. Learn. If you’re going to demand emotional energy from us because you can’t be bothered to do your own research on how to appropriately interact with the queer community, the least you can do is actually gain something from it. Dismissing our anger isn’t going to make us feel it any less.
Just remember that the movement for queer rights wasn’t started with a “pretty please, government. Won’t you give us equal rights?” It was started by a riot against police officers who wouldn’t stop literally attacking us for who we are. Sometimes getting angry is the only defense we have. If people won’t listen when we’re being polite, it’s only natural that we’d get angry.
“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”
— Assata Shakur