As someone who comes out and openly says things that sometimes challenges people’s personal beliefs or just generally can make people uncomfortable, I get called a lot of interesting and, at times, nasty names. Some of the common ones are man hater, angry bitch, uptight, over sensitive or overly intellectual.
Some people even hurl the word feminist around like it’s a bad thing. But I have one insult that is over and above my favorite, and it’s actually tied with man hater as the most common thing people say: lesbian. Some straight women would be really put off by being called a lesbian just because they believe in women’s equality. I have seen many a friend get flustered when some frat daddy questions their sexuality. But I actually really love it when people call me a lesbian.
It’s a particularly interesting insult to me because it’s not insulting at all. When people call me a lesbian what they’re really saying is, “Hey, you’re really involved with female empowerment and that makes me uncomfortable, so I’m going to accuse you of being someone of a sexual orientation that also makes me uncomfortable and hope it pisses you off.” Well, I hate to break it to anyone who was thinking of trying this little number out, but it just isn’t going to work. Ever. Feminism is very closely related to LGBTQ rights for reasons that are probably obvious, but I hope to make super clear by the end of this column. I think we can all openly admit that we have a serious homophobia problem in this country, particularly in this part of the country.
While women’s rights have improved dramatically since the 1970s, the LGBTQ community continues to fight a constant onslaught of opposition and direct discrimination. I think there are a lot of reasons why people are fearful or resistant to change when it comes to gay rights, and I’m honestly not going to take tons of time here to discuss why I think every single one of those reasons is crap. What I’m interested in talking about is the close connection between the discrimination of women in our society and the discrimination of the LGBTQ community. As a person who has never felt any degree of discomfort with anyone of a different sexual or gender orientation than me, I have often wondered what it is that gets people so fired up about people who identify within the LGBTQ community.
When I started getting into feminism, I realized that the people who were weary of me as a feminist woman happened to be the same people who spouted hatred for gay people. I noticed that most, but not all, of these people were men. And I also recognized that the way these men responded to both myself and the topic of being gay was very similar to the way that I react when I feel threatened. Their tone of voice became rushed and desperate. They were unable to formulate any real argument in favor of their discomfort. They just seemed scared, truly rattled. And then it hit me. The reason why people, straight men in particular, are so opposed to gay people and gay rights is because all that these people see when they think of someone who is gay is the way in which they have sex. They don’t see people.
They see what their values have told them their entire lives is an unnatural abomination. Their ability to so deeply internalize this anti-gay sentiment is because gay sexual behavior makes straight men feel like women. They automatically assume that any man whose sexuality leads them to an attraction to other men that they are feminine. There’s a reason why when little boys cry growing up they are insulted by being called a girl and being told to toughen up. There’s a reason why when a group of guys get into a fight their superiors tell them they look like a bunch of girls in a catfight. The reason is that the worst thing a man can be in our society is a woman.
There is a traditional Jewish prayer that many orthodox Jews recite every morning that goes something like: “Blessed are you, King of the Universe, for not having made me a woman.” When men are raised to internalize this kind of hatred for all things feminine, it is understandable that they are made uncomfortable, sometimes violently uncomfortable, by people who encourage female power or ignore their biological masculinity in favor of something that is perceived as inherently feminine. This sort of male privilege runs deep in our society. It’s going to be a long road to equality and acceptance, but I truly believe that when we fight for the rights of women and the LGBTQ community, we take a step in the direction of making our society a more open, accepting place. These are the civil rights issues of our time, and a lot of people are about to end up on the wrong side of history because they cannot step outside of their comfort zones and recognize those who are different from them as human beings.
If you’re not to that point yet, I hope that you can open your mind and your heart to people who are different from you. I promise that there’s a lot of amazing people that your prejudice is making you miss out on. And if you’re already with me on this one, I probably have a big, lesbian crush on you.