How NOT to Interact With Queer People in Public
by Laila Winters
Although I don’t suppose this will come as much of a surprise, I’m a homebody. A queer, anxious homebody who does not leave her apartment unless otherwise prompted by an equally as queer fiancée. But on the rare occasion that I do go out (and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve done so in the past three months), my queerness is usually the first thing people tend to notice about me, though it’s not the first thing I tend to tell them.
Jen and I don’t hide our relationship, least of all when we’re in public. LGBTQ+ activists have fought for our right to openly exist in this world, and we’ll be damned if we squander their hard work by locking ourselves in the proverbial closet every time we go out. And while we don’t go out of our way to make those around us uncomfortable (our general existence does that for us), we do have a tendency to hold hands, and that does have a tendency to make people very upset.
This past Saturday, Jen and I ventured to the Ohio Renaissance Festival with her parents. It was meant to be an excursion for Jen’s birthday, and it was pirate weekend. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you’re likely familiar with my obsession for all things pirate-y (I’m distantly related to Blackbeard). But for those of you who don’t follow me online, I walked around saying, “Arrrrrgh!” all day, and that alone should be telling.
From window shopping, to throwing knives at a wall, to visiting the Ren Fests’ wedding chapel, we had a great time, despite nearly melting in the heat. But for the first time in our two years together, Jen and I dealt with several instances of homophobia, an experience unlike anything we’re used to. Queers aren’t ostracized where we’re from.
But neither of us are naive—we know homophobia exists and that it likely always will. In a world as tumultuous as ours, where deviating from the social norm can often mean the difference between life and death, being queer is a frightening experience for many in the LGBTQ+ community. Jen and I have been fortunate (and our privilege likely has a hand in that; we’re young, white and white-passing, middle-classed Americans with relatively supportive family), and we try not to take that fortune for granted.
And thus, our brief experience with small-minded individuals has led to the writing of this article. If you find yourself to be of the straight, queer-hating variety, here’s a quick crash course in what we’ll call Basic Human Decency; in other words, how NOT to interact with us.
Disclaimer: this article is written purely in good spirits, and is in no way targeting the straight community, least of all the ones who consider themselves an ally.
1. Don’t Stare At Us
We’re not so unusual that we need to be looked at like the animals on display in a zoo. Our hair might be dyed a bright color, and we might proudly be brandishing our rainbows, but that’s no excuse to break your necks and stare at us. Children stare because they’re curious; adults stare because no one taught them any manners. Are we watching you eat dinner? No, so let us enjoy our own meal in peace.
Do: turn your head and look elsewhere.
2. Don’t Point At Us
Slightly more obvious than staring, but we do see you pointing, and we know you’re pointing at us. You can hide behind your menu or drop your hand the moment we turn to confront you, but it doesn’t change the fact you were directing unnecessary attention to us.
Do: I suppose you could wave if the need for a hand-gesture overwhelms you.
3. Don’t Laugh At Us
Being queer is hardly a laughing matter, especially when we’re not being funny. Did we tell you a joke? Stand on a unicycle and juggle fire and chainsaws? We don’t find your existence comical, so don’t stand there and giggle like we’ve purposely done something to amuse you.
Do: cough into a napkin if your sense of humor is that deprecating.
4. Don’t Cause A Scene
If the aforementioned “don’t do’s” on this list haven’t caused one already, don’t go out of your way to make a scene. We won’t infringe on your right to free speech, so if you truly want to shout about, “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” then do it. But I can promise you this: you’re not doing yourself any favors. In your quest to renounce us as sinners, you’re renouncing yourself as an asshole (am I allowed to say that?). (Editor’s note: HELL YES.)
Do: walk away or ask to be seated somewhere else if you truly can’t stand the sight of us.
5. Don’t Curl Your Lip in Disgust
There’s no reason to bare your teeth at us. Our “gayness” isn’t contagious. Furthermore, it’s also not a medical condition in need of being corrected, so refrain from suggesting that we seek out some kind of therapy.
Do: smile—it looks less awkward.
6. Don’t Insist We’re Confused
We’re not. We know exactly who we are (our sexual identity/gender identity), what our preferences are (who we are/aren’t attracted to), and what we like (which probably isn’t you). Nothing you say will ever change who we are, and alternatively, neither will anything you offer to show/teach us.
Do: enlighten yourself / make an effort to understand who we are.
7. Don’t Assume That Because We’re Queer, We Like You
Most of us have a “type,” and if you have to ask, you probably aren’t it. For those of us who are attracted to the same gender, or for those of us who are attracted to multiple genders, it doesn’t mean we’re attracted to every person who happens to fall into that category.
Do: not assume; it makes an ass out of you and me.
8. Don’t Ask Us the Following Questions:
- Who’s the man / women in your relationship?
- Who’s pitching and who’s catching?
- Who’s the top and who’s the bottom?
- Are you sure?
- How does your family feel about you being lesbian/gay/bi/trans/etc.?
- What was coming out like? (This is often a difficult story for some of us to tell, so don’t ask unless we offer to tell you; it’s different when we offer.)
9. Don’t Make the Following Comments:
- “All the best men are gay, taken, or both!”
- “You don’t know what you’re missing!”
- “You don’t look like a lesbian!” / “You don’t look gay!”
- “If I were gay/lesbian/bi, I’d totally date you!”
- “I am so gay for (insert celebrity)!”
- “I love having a gay best friend!”
10. Don’t Be An Asshole
We all learned this in school, and thus it should go without saying, but treat us how you want to be treated. It does not cost even a fraction of your time to show some humility and act like a decent human being. We’re not asking you to change your beliefs—we won’t change ours for you. But what we are asking for is to be treated with a modicum of respect, to be treated as something more than less than.
Dear straight people: please do be kind.