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Lip Service: Homophobia in the Age of Pride

Lip Service: Homophobia in the Age of Pride

Mimi Nadia Chenyao | Fake and Basic

Update: A few hours after this was published, I found out that two lesbians were beat up by a group of men on a bus in London after refusing to kiss/put on a show for them. It’s another (terrifying) example of how much discrimination, harassment, and hate queer people face on the reg.

“It seems like there are gay people everywhere these days.”

My friend was referring to the rainbow sign that was hung outside of the Marshall’s store that we were in. The month was June, the year was 2011, and I was fifteen years old.

I’d been thinking of other things — the chemistry final I had coming up, whether or not I would be going to prom, the fact that I kind of respected Justin Bieber for looking feminine, but hated him on principle because the otherwise intelligent, witty girls I knew turned into irritating airheads whenever they talked about him (If only they talked about me like that, I’d thought enviously more than once) — but my friend’s innocent remark brought me back to the present.

Indeed, it seemed like times were a-changin’. In my social circle, the term “that’s so gay” was ceasing to be an insult. I had participated in the Day of Silence two months prior, pledging to not speak for a day to show solidarity with members of the LGBTQ community. On that day, I’d walked around with a card that had been handed out by the students organizing the whole thing. Please understand my reasons for not speaking today, it had read. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies in schools. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by harassment, discrimination, and prejudice. I believe that ending the silence is the first step towards fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What are you doing to end the silence?

“What do you mean?” I asked her now.

“It seems like they’re everywhere. All of a sudden, everybody’s gay. They’re on TV and in the news; there are all these rainbow signs popping up.” She shot me a confused look. “There seem to be so many more gay people these days than there were a few years ago.”

“That’s not true,” I retorted. “I think they’re just more comfortable being themselves and letting people know about it.”

“Or maybe it’s just cool to be gay now.” She wrinkled her nose. “The next thing I know, you’ll be coming out as gay, too.”

This is the part where I pause the flashback, and we all collectively laugh until we’re rolling on the ground with tears coming out of our eyes, because we all know just how fucking queer I ended up. [1] In fact, I would make it publicly known that I liked women only a few months later.

At that moment, though, part of me wondered if my friend was right. Every year after that, I would see more and more rainbow-themed adornments pop up. Pride parades got bigger and started getting backing from large corporations. Gay characters in fictional stories and TV shows became more mainstream.

Nowadays, as a trans person of color who is proudly queer every day and not just in June, I constantly wonder if Pride is actually a month to be proud of my gender identity/sexual orientation, or if it’s another display of virtue-signalling bullshit from people who would like to think that they’re more open-minded than they actually are.

It’s easy to look at all the Pride-themed decorations and events this June and assume that LGBTQIA+ people have finally achieved equal status in society. In many ways, we have — I had no problem coming out to everyone once I admitted that I was trans to myself — but this doesn’t mean that acceptance is guaranteed.

The other day, when I went to shoot a photo in front of street artist fnnch’s Pride Lips mural in the Mission District, I noticed that there was graffiti on the mural. Shit gets tagged here all the time, and I’ve long gotten used to Photoshopping out unwanted marks from my street art photos, but this seemed different. The mural was painted on the garage door of a lesbian couple who had lived at the house for around thirty years as part of the 2018 Pride celebration. It’s openly queer-centric. The fact that this happened in San Francisco, a supposed liberal haven, is not lost on me.

When Karen not only asks for, but terrorizes, the manager

Another queer friend of mine recently had a homophobic encounter at the store that they were was working at. They wrote this about the experience:

For pride month, the shoe store where I work put up a rainbow sign saying “Every pair is perfect”. I honestly hadn’t even noticed it until a sweet lesbian couple thanked me for having a publicly displayed pride sign. Most people said nothing about it, so I was shocked and unprepared when a customer reacted volatilely.

A woman came up to my register and handed me a bag with some shoes she wanted to return. As I was scanning her items for a return I asked her if there was anything wrong with them. She replied that she no longer wanted to give her business to us because of the sign on our door. She was smiling while she said it, and at first I thought she might be joking. But she continued on to tell me why it was offensive to her. I tried really hard to remain neutral and not react to anything she said, despite her bigoted rant. This woman preached to me about how being gay was gross, that she didn’t want to see it shoved down her throat like that, that bisexualitiy is wrong, and asked me when straight pride week was. I had tried to hold my tongue and just say nothing but finally told her that “straight pride is every day, ma’am”. She told me in reply, “No it’s not, and your comment was rude and unnecessary”. I finished her return, only speaking when necessary to the transaction. I told her to have a great day and she said she would. She immediately called my store to complain to the manager that I was rude to her, and then asked for the number to call corporate to complain about me.

My manager also had an encounter with a homophobic lady in our store. She approached my manager to complain about the rainbow sign. “Do you even know what the rainbow means?”, she demanded to know before reading verses from the bible to my manager. The customer followed her around the store, continuing to preach her opinions, reading from the bible, telling her that being gay is sinful and that my manager would go to hell for supporting it. The interaction left my manager in tears.

For context, I’m bisexual and I live in a predominately white, rich, conservative area of Florida. Most of the people who live here are straight and cisgender. Unfortunately, as long as we still have a rainbow pride sign on the door where I work, there will probably be more employees subjected to such homophobia and hate speech.

COME ON, KAREN!

STRAIGHT PRIDE IS EVERY DAY, MA’AM!

(Except when you’re secretly ashamed of yourself, then straight shame is every day, apparently.) [2]

To me, a lot of these expressions that “love is love” seem to be nothing more than lip service. I have never quite been able to reconcile the explosion of rainbow shit that happens every June with the subtle homophobia and transphobia that I witness on a daily basis. Yes, even in San Francisco during Pride month.

It’s easy to put on performances. I wonder sometimes if anyone cares about the real shit.

I can’t wait for — and I’m actively fighting for — the day where people’s identities are accepted without constant scrutiny or invalidation, when even the most conservative areas of the world will let people just fucking live as who they really are and love who they want to love.

That’s the day I’ll truly be proud. ♚

Notes

[1] Fortunately, this friend is no longer a homophobic piece of trash. I came out to her as bi, then gay, then pansexual, then transgender, and she was One Of Those Straight People Who Had A Queer Friend And Became An Ally Out Of Seeing My Daily Struggles. She still owes me an ice cream sandwich, though.

[2] One of my World Domination Goals™ is to have a very successful business that unapologetically trolls Karens. Like, some when she asks for the manager because you gave her a sassy remark, but the manager turns out to be even sassier than you are shit. I’ll call it Chick-fil-Proudlygay.

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© 2019 by Marty Noel Chenyao
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