Sitting with a friend this week, I had my privilege checked and it stopped me in my tracks. This friend did not say anything intentionally to me to do so, but rather was discussing her own story and for one moment, and since then, I had the thought shit, I never considered that. I am a straight woman. Have always been attracted to men and I would suspect that I always will be. And although I would define myself as an ally for those who identify as queer, this week I discovered that I still have a lot to learn.
I was reminded that I never have to think about my sexuality. I never have to consider who I love and where I love them. This friend and I both work in the helping field and she pointed out that she tells her colleagues VERY little about her personal life. Not because she doesn’t like the people she works with or that they wouldn’t be interested in her life. Not because she had a hostile work environment or is not supported by her colleagues. Not because she doesn’t have good things to share about her life, which she does. Rather, she tells them very little about her life because she is gay. And for a moment, I didn’t understand.
I didn’t get why that mattered, because to me, it doesn’t. Love is love. And I see her with her girlfriend and they are happy. Happy with each other, happy with their lives and happy to spend it together. Nothing else matters to me. But, as this friend pointed out, she has to be careful. Careful that her personal information is not public, because although it doesn’t matter to me, for some people it does. It may matter to the father who doesn’t want his daughter been counselled by someone who identifies as gay. It may matter to the business who does not want a queer individual “representing” their agency. Or it may matter to that colleague who she thought was a friend but really wasn’t. For her, and I suspect for many others, it can, and does, matter.
And that pissed me off.
It pissed me off that my friend, and anyone from the queer community for that matter, is still having to walk on egg shells. Having to consider how they will be perceived or judged based on who they love. It pissed me off when I saw the news of another shooting at a gay night club in the states this week and no one seems to be talking about it. It pisses me off that people, ignorant people for that matter, assume, judge and dismiss people, my friends and family, for no reason. No excuse. And no understanding of what love is supposed to mean.
And I was also pissed off at myself. I was mad that although I thought I knew better, I still didn’t know. I didn’t get it. I didn’t know how the struggles for my friends was still a real thing. That its not “better” now than it was in the past. That although more individuals are openly queer, that doesn’t mean that society is openly accepting. I was mad that people still suck. People still have opinions. And people still judge someone for something that has nothing to do with them. Judge people for simply being happy. And it needs to stop.
Now, I am not naïve enough to think that my blog post is going to change the minds of individuals who judge. That it will do anything for those people who are part of the reason that my friend keeps her life private. Those individuals do not read my posts, and really, I don’t think I want them to. But rather, it was an important moment for me as a so-called Ally to have a reminder. A reminder that I am going to screw up, that I am going to need to be reminded and that I will continue to learn.
I will learn to respect the challenges my queer friends are experiencing and not minimize it. Ever. I will learn to adjust any assumptions of my own I may have and acknowledge them when I do make them. I will learn that I am privileged as a heterosexual white woman and that I need to remember that. Check that on a regular basis. I will learn to speak up when someone is being ignorant and teach them how to be an ally, while ensuring I am not speaking on behalf of any specific population. And I will learn to be grateful.
Grateful that I have people in my life, many people, who understand and know that I am a safe space. A space that is obviously still learning how to be more open, but one where being queer does not matter. Grateful to have people in my life who are patient with me as I figure out how to be respectful and understanding of their challenges. And Grateful that I get to see so much amazing love. Love that is TRUE and real and not hidden behind any preconceived notions of what it is “supposed” to look like.
Love is supposed to feed happiness. Feed possibilities. Feed sexuality in whatever definition of that which works for you. And most important of all. Feed a life that is full. And everyone, and I mean everyone, deserves that. Make sure you are one of those people that helps it to happen.
“Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts.”– Barbara Gittings