Hi, hoppers! Thanks for stopping by. The Hop Against Homophobia was one of my favorite events I participated in last year, and I'm thrilled to be part of this year's Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Today, May 17th, is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Check out the webpage for more info. Also, here's a link to the Hop's main page, from which you can reach the blogs of the nearly 200 participating authors, publishers, reviewers, and cover designers of LGBTQ fiction.
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During last year's hop, I looked at the subtle ways society lets LGBTQ people know that things would be a little better if we were straight. This year I'd like to talk a bit about that again, but also about how we view gender, especially in conjunction with sexual orientation.
I cook and bake a lot of vegan things for my friends and family. One thing I hear a lot is “You can’t even tell it’s vegan.” It’s meant as a compliment: I expected vegan food to be bland or full of lawn clippings or uncooked barley or something—but this actually tastes good.
“This tastes just like real food,” is another one. Which is amusing, because with some exceptions (I’m looking at you, Oreos) most vegan food is more “real” than say, hot dogs, or Easy Mac. But I know what people mean. The entire vegan/vegetarian marketing platform involves packaging veg food as something recognizable, familiar. Seitan becomes "Chik'n Strips," tofu becomes "tofu ribs," and so on.
The norm is our society's home base, its comfort zone, it's starting point, and anything that deviates from it gets assessed in terms of how close it comes to passing for normal.
A lot of times, I can taste the difference between vegan food and “regular” food. And I like the difference. It's why my two-month vegan challenge back in 2009 turned into four years of veganhood. I don’t mind if you can tell my stuff’s vegan. It is vegan. And it’s delicious.*
I was thinking about this in connection with the few times I’ve heard—directed at myself or at others and meant as a compliment—some variation on I can’t even tell you’re gay/lesbian/bi/trans, etc. I've even done it too, for friends who didn't want to be outed when we were younger: I can't even tell.
It seems like it's still considered a positive thing if LGBTQ people can pass as "normal." For those who fear losing a job or the love and support of friends and family if they come out, maybe "I can’t even tell" is a relief to hear. After all, we’re supposed to be able to identify people who don't fit the sexual norm based on their appearance and mannerisms, right? Remember the show Gay, Straight, or Taken? Yeah. Wow.
My mother, who I feel like I only mention on this blog when I’m talking about things parents say to kids that send mixed messages, which is unfair, since my mother is exceptional and 99% of everything she has ever said about me being queer, BDSM oriented, an erotica writer, and shamelessly obsessed with the Lord of the Rings trilogy has been exactly what I needed to hear,** told me when I came out, “Well, I think you look very feminine.”
I think when people say things like this, it’s not necessarily their own prejudices or stereotyping tendencies coming through. It might be a reaction to prejudices at work in society. In other words, it’s not I thought all lesbians had short hair and wore lumberjack shirts or I thought all gay guys loved fashion, or I thought all bisexuals were sex-crazed, but rather, I recognize this is a stereotype held by a lot of people in our society, and I just want you to know I don't think you fit that stereotype—in case you were worried about that.
It's a reassurance offered with the best of intentions, but the fact that it is offered as reassurance is a little troubling--as though every LGBTQ person's default state should be a fear of being called out on their sexual orientation because of deviation from traditional gendered behavior or appearance. Don't worry--you look like a real woman or a real man, even though you're something real women or real men aren't supposed to be.
There are really two issues here: the misinformed linking of sexual orientation and gender, and the assumption that LGBTQ people want to pass as members of the current sexual norm (as opposed to redefining it, doing away with it, or existing proudly outside of it). And that the way to do that is to dig a trench firmly on our assigned side of the gender binary.
I think we need to be cautious about when and why we praise adherence to traditional models of what's feminine and masculine. Not everyone is or wants to be one or the other. Our definitions of masculinity and femininity are outdated and limiting, and when we use the gender binary to create LGBTQ stereotypes, we open the door to potentially damaging messages: Don’t worry, you look so feminine/masculine no one will be able to tell you’re not normal. Or maybe if you looked/dressed/acted a little more like your ascribed gender, people would make fun of you less.
Once, a guy I’d just declined to go out with asked if I was a lesbian.
“Bi,” I told him.
“I could tell,” he said--not nicely.
That's still what some people reach for when they need an insult: you seem gay or I can tell you're gay. You're not a real man; you're not a real woman.
I'm happy to see traditional ideas about gender gradually turned on their heads, and to see an increased understanding that while we sometimes incorporate those traditional models into our identities by either embracing or rejecting them, the way we "do" gender isn't necessarily linked to our sexual orientation. But sometimes it is, and that's okay. It's not a compliment to be told I can pass for straight any more than it's an insult to be told it’s obvious I’m not.
We like to put people in boxes. I need to be able to tell at first glance that you’re a woman or a man or a woman dressed as a man or vice versa or gay or straight or bi or trans…
How about this? If you can’t tell, fine. Though hopefully it’s not because I feel I have to put on an act so you won’t be able to tell. And no need to high-five me about it.
If you can tell, fine. And don’t think it’s a) an insult to me or b) something you have to apologize for noticing.
My vegan cakes taste different from a cake made with three eggs and half a stick of butter. They’re delicious.
And they’re still cake.
*Except for that cucumber avocado soup. I don’t know what to say to the people who ate that except…I’m sorry.
**When you have a mother who says she saw some riding crops on sale and wonders if you want her to pick you up one, you lose your right to complain about anything else she says. Ever.
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