Are you gay? If so, congratulations. It’s a good time to be you. Any poll will tell you that the public is on your side. The Supreme Court is (mostly) looking out for you. Even the Pope thinks you’re pretty cool. Sure, there are still a few crusty old curmudgeons who think you’re causing tsunamis and corrupting children, but they’re quickly dying off and leaving behind more tolerant offspring in their wake. See? Even the Circle of Life is gay-friendly.
As for you straight people, or even the straight-curious, you might find this all a bit overwhelming, and understandably so. None of us were expecting the world to change this fast. Seriously, gay marriage in Utah? Who saw that coming?
Fear not. As a species, we must adapt to survive, but if we all keep a few things in mind, we can handle our new, post-homophobic reality. Herewith, I offer the New Rules of Gay:
“Gay” is a good word. “Fag” is bad.
If you’re one of those people who’s still saying, “That’s so gay!” when you think something is stupid or lame, it’s time to stop. Not so much because it’s offensive as because people are increasingly likely to misunderstand you completely. Gay is good now. When you say, “Those pants are so gay!”, people are going to think, “Oh, gay? Like Neil Patrick Harris? Cool! He must really like those pants! Maybe I’ll buy him a pair for his birthday.”
“Fag” is only going to get more offensive, though, because we gays need our N-word. We’ve all been called “faggot,” and it still stings, so now that we have a teeny bit of power, we’re out for blood. Don’t learn this the hard way, like Isaiah Washington did. GLAAD will so cut you.
Homosexuality is G-rated. No need to hide it from kids.
When you were growing up, you might’ve had a “funny Uncle Tom,” or maybe your parents would sometimes mention, in a hushed tone, “Aunt Jane’s special friend.” That’s if your parents would let you around Uncle Tom or Aunt Jane at all.
Well, Aunt Jane’s special friend has a name, and it’s Aunt Sharon, thank you very much. They’re married, and unless you’re a bigot, you were at their wedding and your three year old daughter was spreading rose petals across the aisle for them. That’s how we roll these days.
We don’t shove people in a closet any more for the sake of children. Instead, we let the kids share fully in the joy of knowing that Uncle Tom isn’t going to die alone.
Treating gay people like they’re R or X-rated only reinforces the notion that there’s something shameful or secretive about being gay. If your kid sees two people of the same sex kissing, be honest, and say things like, “Those ladies are married” or “Those two dudes are each other’s husbands.” Of course, the most important word to use is “love.” What could be more G-rated than that?
Don’t worry, ‘phobes. You don’t have to equate being honest with conveying approval. Once you’ve told your kids the facts, you’re free to interject whatever religious or personal discomfort you may have with those facts, or just to pout discontentedly.
The old jokes don’t work anymore.
You know that caricature of the catty gay guy squealing for Streisand and shuddering at anything even remotely masculine? You’ve seen him in a million movies and TV shows, although they don’t always come right out and say he’s gay, because characters like that aren’t usually allowed by Hollywood to have a love life. The whole concept of guys like that is stereotypical, it’s outdated, it’s ludicrous, and you know what…?
I don’t hate it.
Honestly, there’s some truth to it. There’s a great moment in the documentary “The Celluloid Closet” where a bunch of film historians are discussing the stock Hollywood character commonly referred to as “the sissy”, and Harvey Fierstein guiltily admits, “I liked the sissy!” When he was a kid, he related to that character, and it made him happy to see himself reflected on screen.
So yes, there are guys like that, and they’re awesome. In fact, the reason that caricature began is that, not too many years ago, those were the most visible LGBTQ people, the bravest ones most willing to be themselves, in spite of society’s prejudices. I love those guys, and we all owe them a lot for making the world a better place for all of us. (The same goes for that old stereotype of the butch, no-nonsense lesbian. It’s hardly a complete representation of gay women, but there are ladies like that, and they are 100% awesome.)
That being said, these days, queeny gay guys and butch lesbians are just one part of a very diverse community, and most people know lots of gays and lesbians who don’t fit some convenient mold. So if you rely on easy jokes we’ve all heard before, don’t expect to get the same laughs you used to.
This means anyone creating gay characters has to try a lot harder and flesh them out into full, three-dimensional people. They can still like Streisand, but there had better be more to them than that… and if they don’t have a love interest, they should at least have an interest in finding one. Everybody I know does.
Don’t assume everyone is straight.
It’s hard enough coming out of the closet. Please don’t ask me the second you meet me if I have a wife or if I think Megan Fox is hot. Until you know someone well, be careful to be gender-inclusive. Instead of “Do you have a girlfriend?”, ask “Are you dating anyone?” Thankfully, with gay marriage, this is easier than ever, because even “Are you married?” is a gender-neutral question these days.
Yes, most people you meet will be straight, but no one’s gaydar is 100%, so instead of making assumptions, let people tell you who they are. Most people are happy to do so.
By the same token, don’t get offended if someone dances around your sexuality until they know you better. You don’t have to panic that you’re giving off a gay vibe, and you don’t have to pretend like you don’t know what they’re doing. There’s nothing wrong with responding directly, “Just so you know, I’m straight,” then having a good laugh about it. At that point, you’re free to dance around their sexuality and have even more fun.
It’s still rude to ask people their orientation.
This may seem contradictory. On the one hand, we’ve gotten to the point where a person’s sexual orientation is practically irrelevant, unless you happen to be sexually interested in them. On the other hand, it can still be an awkward subject to raise.
When you ask someone straight out if they’re gay, you’re assuming they’ve figured it out and are comfortable with it. Bias still exists, gay bashers still exist and, sadly, shame still exists, so for that reason, the closet will continue to exist. If you want to know if someone is playing for the same team as you, you’re going to have to wait for them to offer up the information, or at least provide you with some very distinct clues.
You can also check their Facebook, because anything someone posts there is fair game to ask them about, and sometimes you’ll find they’re a lot more of an open book than you thought.
When someone tells you their sexuality, take them at their word.
You know that famous man who’s married to a woman but no one can refer to their marriage without rolling their eyes? Or the friend of yours who you’re convinced would be much happier if they’d just start dating within their own gender? Sure, those people might be gay. As long as there’s a societal cost to being gay, there will be people who aren’t willing to pay it. There will also be others who, bless their hearts, are just hopelessly confused. But you can’t shame people into coming out of the closet, not when shame is what drove them in in the first place.
Mocking and rumor-mongering, fun though they may be, don’t do any favors to people who are surely suffering through their own private Hell. When someone tells you they’re straight, just play along. The best you can do for anyone is to try to make the world a safer place for people to be themselves. Then, just step back.
Besides, if they say they’re straight, there’s a good chance they actually are. Most people are straight, after all, and some straight guys are actually cool enough to realize how awesome showtunes are.
Of course, this only goes for people who are at least claiming to be gay-friendly. An A-list actor who did drag in a movie musical isn’t hurting us, so let’s leave him alone. On the other hand, if you spot Ralph Reed or Tony Perkins in a gay bar stuffing singles in some hunk’s Speedo, then call every tabloid in town. It’s always OK to out people for being hypocrites.
The closet isn’t for gays anymore. It’s for homophobes.
I went to a pretty diverse and fairly progressive high school, but I have a distinct memory of a fellow white kid using the “N-word” one day in the locker room. It just so happened there were no African-American students within earshot at that moment, so he felt comfortable assuming we were all as racist as he was. He was a little surprised when someone called him on it.
Multiply that by a thousand, and that’s about how many times I heard the “F-word” casually thrown around that way in high school. No one realized there was a gay kid in the room, and unlike with the racist kid, no one told him it was uncool to talk that way.
People’s sexuality isn’t as easy to spot as their race, so for a long time homophobes had free reign to gay-bash in virtually any crowd. Not anymore. Straight allies are coming out of the woodwork to shut down the haters, and more importantly, gay people are standing up for themselves, too.
LGBTQ people are done living in fear of being themselves. Now it’s homophobes who live in fear of exposing their hatred in the wrong crowd. If you hate gays, keep it to yourself, because you’re not going to get a lot of fist bumps anymore. You’re going to be confronted by a lot of out and proud gay people who aren’t afraid of you anymore, as well as a lot of straight allies who think you’re a major asshat.
We know you used to be a homophobe, but we forgive you.
I like to imagine that the racist kid from my high school is married to an African-American woman these days. Or maybe an African-American man. Times change, and so do people. Rarely has this change been as swift or as dramatic as on the issue of homosexuality. It was just a couple of years ago that a majority of Americans opposed same-sex marriage, and now, I can’t even name a state where it’s illegal because by the time this piece goes live, it might be outdated.
Sure, there’s still a part of me that remembers every homophobic thing anyone has ever said in my presence, but what matters more is that most of the people who said those things eventually woke the fuck up. Like Barack Obama, they evolved. And like Barack Obama, their evolution influenced other people to do the same.
We haven’t come this far by holding grudges against people who used to be homophobic. And if that’s you, you’re in luck. It doesn’t matter to anyone what you thought about gay people in 1989.
If you still think that way in 2014, on the other hand, then wake the fuck up. It’s time.
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