Oh, #20GayTeen. The year that somehow taught us love, patience, and pain, all in the course of 365 days. Since the year isn’t quite over yet, I’ve compiled a list of four things I’d like to see members of the LGBTQ community stop doing as we ring in 2019.
New year, new me, right?
Engaging thoughtlessly in inner-community discourse squabbles on TwitterGIPHY
I will confess that this is somewhat hypocritical coming from me: Given the right circumstances or appropriate amount of after-work wine, I’ll gladly hop on the discourse train and flaunt my women’s studies minor from undergrad on Twitter. (Yes, I know, insert the “weird flex, but okay” meme here.) Does the lesbian community inherently exclude trans women? Nope—and it never has! Is pansexuality by default more inclusive than bisexuality? Um, no, not exactly! These are fights I’ve had time and time again. Hell, I’ve even waxed poetic about the complexities of language queer women use to describe ourselves on this very site.
But here’s the tea: Much of the discourse-y infighting LGBTQ folks engage in on social media doesn’t match up with the interactions we have with queer people in our day-to-day lives. When you walk into a gay bar—or a lesbian bar, for that matter—nobody’s checking at the door for your gay card. At Pride, nobody’s going to walk up to you and demand to know how you identify or why the person you’re holding hands with looks like a cis person of the “opposite sex.”
Is every Twitter tirade this trivial when applied to the “real world”? Of course not. Digital dialogues are still dialogues and can still be used to unpack issues that affect marginalized people in tangible ways. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that Twitter and other online spaces like it (RIP, Tumblr) are vital platforms for building community among LGBTQ people, especially those who might not be able to safely forge real-life connections with other queer folks. And the nuances of labels and identity are important to discuss—but we can’t let semantics hold us all back from uniting against actual, material threats to our freedoms and protections. In 2019, we owe it to ourselves to choose the battles we fight with thought and care (and, if we’re able, move them beyond the confines of Twitter’s character limit. IRL dialogues, too, please!)
Pitching (and publishing) thinkpieces that think way too hardGIPHY
As a consumer of media, critical analysis of queer (and queer-adjacent) pop culture is one of my very favorite things to read. As a writer and a journalist, I can also attest firsthand that cultural criticism is one of the most difficult genres of writing to do well. I love Into’s robust and ongoing coverage of LGBTQ migrants seeking asylum in the United States, but its now-infamous “Thank U, Next” analysis, which alleged blackface, homophobic bullying, and transphobia, was a poorly argued and horribly researched mess. (Former Into EIC Zach Stafford issued a heartfelt apology for the piece, and black writer Clarkisha Kent offered up an insightful and eloquent rebuttal.)
The proliferation of user-friendly blogging platforms and digital-first journalism has empowered anyone and everyone to offer their “hot take” on the pop culture moment du jour. This is well and good, but it also highlights why seasoned editors, pitching procedures, and formal editorial structures matter in the first place. As a member of a marginalized group (or two, or three), your analysis of a phenomenon in the cultural zeitgeist matters. But structuring your argument in a thoughtful way—including background research on the subject, a survey of similar cultural criticisms on the topic for reference, and feedback from an editor—can make all the difference between an op-ed that shines and a spicy, clicky take that totally misses the mark. Put simply, think before you thinkpiece.
Believing that being gay or lesbian somehow absolves you of racism, misogyny, biphobia, transphobia, etc.GIPHY
It would be an easy, cheap shot to target this bullet point exclusively to white, cisgender gay men. But, in the immortal words of the “motivational quotes” Pinterest board I made when I was 15, nothing worth fighting for ever comes easily. Here’s the TL;DR: Being oppressed in one way doesn’t magically negate any sort of unrelated prejudices you might have or act on. Should we be playing the so-called “oppression Olympics” in the name of intersectionality and stacking our marginalized identities atop one another like some fucked-up game of “who’s the most oppressed” Jenga? No. That’s not what I mean when I say intersectionality. It’s not what I’m arguing for because it’s not productive. (It’s also the exact sort of oversimplification of intersectional feminism that’s frequently weaponized against feminists and LGBTQ activists.) In fact, I’d argue that leaning so heavily and so rigidly into each and every facet of our identity is more divisive than it is unifying—and, to extend the Jenga metaphor, unstable AF. But that still doesn’t fix the problem(s) at hand.
White gays and lesbians can be racist. Gay and bi men can be misogynistic. Lesbians can be transphobic and trans-exclusionary. So can gay men. Gay men and lesbians can be biphobic. Your “gay” badge can’t absolve you of deeply held prejudices unrelated to your sexual orientation. But consuming the works and heeding the wisdom of black, Latinx, bisexual, and transgender writers, artists, and creatives? Actually listening to the suggestions of people whose lived realities exemplify the biases we so defensively claim we want to combat? Now we’re getting somewhere. Unlearning prejudice and actively fighting against systemic oppression is hard work, and we can all stand to do some of it as we move into the new year.
Asking for representation without considering what kind of representation we wantGIPHY
I’ll be the first to admit that for LGBTQ people, representation in mainstream media is a valuable tool for changing the minds and hearts of the general public. I’ve written about it again, and again, and again. I even wrote my 45-page college thesis in undergrad about it (women’s studies minor, journalism major—look, mom and dad, I’m actually using my liberal arts degree!)
But we tend to talk about “representation” as this monolithic fix-it, a one-size-fits-all approach to encouraging inclusion and acceptance of LGBTQ people in a cisnormative, heteronormative society. And that’s simply not true. We’re absolutely right to demand more representation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, and transgender characters from our favorite showrunners, filmmakers, authors, and creatives. However, we also owe it to ourselves to demand representation that actually honors the complexity of our community—and doesn’t perpetuate negative or potentially harmful stereotypes. All representation is not created equally. It’s a hard pill to swallow, for sure, but when the lives of some of our community’s most vulnerable populations are literally on the line, we need to think critically about when, how, and by whom we want to see ourselves depicted onscreen or on the page.