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Five things you can do during LGBTQI Pride Season to make an actual difference.

It's June! Which means it's my birthday and also Pride season, at least on the upper east coast of the United States. When is Pride season near you?

If you're hetero/cis (heterosexual and cisgender) and I lost you at Pride season, let me back up. 

Pride season is a term that (I made up and/or) is loosely used to refer to annual celebrations of LGBTQI Pride, i.e. parades, film festivals, parties, etc. If you suddenly see hundreds of rainbow flags flying all around, you know it's Pride season. It's a time of year where folks host events to honor the progress the LGBTQI communities (PLURAL, FOLKS. We aren't one big goddamn group) have made over the years to get more of the same legal and social rights and privileges that straight, cisgender people have been getting for decades. 

If you're not sure what rights and privileges you have been taking for granted, click here

And here.

And here

And here.

And you thought it was just about gay marriage! Well, you're not alone. GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) published their 'Accelerating Acceptance' report in January 2016 which "reveals a startling level of complacency and ambivalence among Americans on LGBT issues. The survey – fielded online from October 5-7, 2015 among 2,032 adults ages 18 and older – also shows growing levels of acceptance among non-LGBT Americans."

But maybe you're someone who isn't LGBTQI and you don't have to really think about things related to your sexual orientation or gender identity, but you DO want to know more or show your support for folks you know and love during Pride season. 

GREAT! Because... 

Complacency is the enemy of social progress.
— Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD CEO & President

AMEN. I actually think complacency is the enemy of ALL progress but especially if we're trying to get all human beings in all countries the same basic human and legal rights. Now, you might think you're one small person and you can't really impact the cultural shift we need to make a real difference. Trust me, I give over to cynicism and resignation about this stuff all the time. I came out for the first time as "queer" in 2001 and then again as trans* in 2012 and NOW AGAIN (surprise!) as demisexual in 2017. My sexuality is one ongoing, lifelong adventure and it's pretty awesome. What ISN'T awesome is how hetero/cis folks behave around me as someone who lives my life on the margins of what's considered "normal". People don't say or do unkind things but instead they infantilize or patronize or tokenize me. Please click on those words so you know what I'm talking about.

Many well-intentioned folks certainly don't mean any harm, of that I'm sure. But with all the videos and resources and websites and movies and tv shows and books and trainings available, folks still keep themselves pretty clueless and lean on people like me to help them catch up. I have to be 100% honest, it gets old. It's 2017 and there is a lot of information available and when you're someone who gets asked the same questions over and over, you get tired. And that fatigue leads to frustration which leads to anger and often deep depression. And depression is killing many LGBTQI folks for this reason and many other reasons (like all the rights and privileges we don't have). 

So, if you're someone who identifies as mostly straight and cisgender and truly want to help, here are five things you can do during Pride season to make an actual difference: 

1) Cease asking your LGBTQI friends and family to explain everything to you.

We know you're curious. We know you mean well. And we are tired of talking about it. Some of us make a living talking about our sexuality for a living. Most don't really want to. How many heterosexual/cisgender people do? 

Imagine yourself doing the same thing, day in and day out. For example, if you're a woman and believe sexism is real and pretty annoying and bad, imagine constantly explaining it to clueless men or non-feminist women, all day, every day. Imagine doing that for years. Imagine doing it for years and being tired and when you express being tired, people say, "well, sorry! I was just curious. This is new to me. We need YOU to explain it," and having to hear that over and over.

It's 2017 and we have the internet (yay!) and there are so many resources available and yes they say different, conflicting things and it's hard to know the "real" answer to things.

That's because there is NOT ONE answer for anything about anything regarding human beings.

Yes, there are some stereotypes and generalizations, much like the ones we can make for any group but the LGBTQI communities are made of millions of unique people with different stories. Each person you meet has a different life experience to share. Meet people and develop relationships with them and you will learn what life is like for LGBTQI individuals over the course of your life. 

2) Change your Facebook profile picture AND invite other heterosexual, cisgender people to have a conversation AND change your language.

Thanks for showing other people that you support LGBTQI individuals! Now, strike up a conversation or demonstrate why you're changing your picture. Engage people in a dialogue to change their minds (or open them)! Speak up on Facebook and in the checkout line when people are thumbing through a magazine and call Caitlyn Jenner by her former name. Three people did this at dinner the other night. I corrected each of them three times each in a span of three minutes. Be brave and vulnerable with your advocacy because while it's scary, it's less risky for you than it is for us to be alive sometimes. Ask questions of other heterosexual, cisgender people to question why things are still the way they are and ask what people commit to changing or doing to change things. Changing your picture is a nice gesture but to create real cultural change, we also need you to take action to actually move our culture forward a notch. Engage people in compassionate conversation and make them just a little uncomfortable. That's how we move people out of complacency. 

Another major thing you can do is change your language. If you see someone and aren't sure about that person's gender identity or sexual orientation, you can do what I just did. First, don't worry about it. Second, refer to that person as a person. For example: "hey, see that person over there? I like that person's haircut" or "yes, I asked for directions from that person standing over there in the blue shirt" or "I wonder if that person needs help, should we find out?" or "that person seems really cool. I wonder if that person would be interested in dating me!"

See? If you don't know, just refer to that person as a PERSON until you find out. Super easy. 

3) Donate to local or federal organizations working to support LGBTQI rights.

You are one person making a difference with your presence on the planet. It's not a small thing and in fact:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
— Margaret Mead

There are also MANY large organizations doing amazing work each and every day to help change things at a cultural level. Here is a big list.

Pick one or ten and donate to them. Or better yet, contact them and ask how you can get involved and help. Your actual beautiful face can make a bigger difference than your dollars can. But both are awesome. :)


4) Commit to openly supporting LGBTQI people all year, every year.

It's so easy to get in the spirit when something is in focus. It's fun to grab a flag or paint a rainbow on your face and say you did your part. But the need for LGBTQI pride and visibility is a year-round thing, especially in countries or even US states where folks face discrimination and harassment on a daily basis. And that is what most folks actually deal with, every day, in some form or fashion. Commit to educating yourself and attending events and showing your support or speaking up in whatever ways you can throughout the year. Interrupt homophobia. Correct people commenting about transgender people. Show up and be seen, mostly to bring more hetero/cis people on board to be more active and vocal. The biggest threat we have to make real change is the ignorance of other people. Many hetero/cis people actually think all LGBTQI issues are already solved. I know, it's pretty crazy that they don't know what they don't even know. It's ok. Help them learn by talking about things and engaging in activism (eek! now you're one of "us") on the regular. 

5) Experiment with your own sexuality.

Sexuality encompasses who you love or want to hook up with (sexual orientation) and how you present yourself to the world (gender identity and presentation). Explore your own sexual attraction and gender identity. Express different gender presentations and roles. Explicitly share what you come to learn and know about yourself. I'm not kidding. In my opinion, the biggest help you can provide to LGBTQI folks is overcoming your own fear and ignorance about your own sexuality. When you're aware of the full range of identities and experiences available (and there are many!) and you can say beyond the shadow of a doubt that you're comfortable and not at all unclear about what you like and what you don't, you help us all. Why? Because then sexuality becomes normalized. It becomes obvious. It becomes a non-issue. It becomes a no-brainer by virtue of it being no big freaking deal. Much of the violence LGBTQI folks face may come from folks who repress their own sexuality and act out from fear. And then there are well-intentioned folks who think they might be something of the LGBTQI variety but don't know and ask tons of questions instead of just jumping in and sampling things for themselves. Just try. Explore. Experiment. All of dating and loving is constant experiment anyway--I mean, isn't LIFE just one big experiment?!

Put yourself out there and help normalize the experience of evolving sexuality so we gradually move away from certain things being socially acceptable and others not. 

This short list contains just a few ideas to help you do something with your daily life that will actually help move us forward as a human race. If every person committed to doing one of these things, it would have a tremendous impact. Which one sounds most exciting or interesting for you? Leave a comment below and please share this article to inspire others toward doing something truly innovative this Pride season. 

Thank you! 

Signing up to be stigmatized: why it's so hard to come out and why we celebrate when someone does

I woke up this morning and heard the news that Ellen Page came out as gay, which was great because it left me wondering, “hmm, not a lesbian? ok. cool” and there was that question in my mind about her choice of label. Maybe it was intentional, maybe not. I also noticed the way her right hand shook and moved about, keeping time and meter with her speech, as if its motion provided her comfort that as long as it moved, she could keep talking. I’ve felt that same feeling, rather like facing a firing squad. It is exhilarating and horrible, in equal amounts.

ellen
ellen

And then all the People of the Land rejoiced that yet another person stood up on a stage and shared something extremely intimate and personal to “help others”. All the People of the Land celebrated another person facing and overcoming the decision to face a lifetime of being stigmatized based on one identity of many that made that person a whole person. And they applauded her courage and bravery and welcomed her into The Club--the association of people who lead the pack of being open, honest and vulnerable while others live their lives off the radar of dissection, opinion and criticism.

Ellen Page came out. Michael Sam came out. We see these headlines and then we see the backlash and the flag-waving supporters and it’s a media frenzy. I sit and wonder why we are still dealing with this issue of stigma. What are we being taught? What have we not yet learned about stigma and difference?

"Overcome the notion that you must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary."  

-Uta Hagen

Something that occurred to me while reading the post on Autostraddle about Ellen and the video of her coming out at the HRC event was the bittersweet quality of coming out. It prompted me to write this piece about what it means to sign up for a lifetime of being stigmatized, why it’s hard to take it on and why we celebrate when someone does.

First, I gotta say this. LGBTQ people aren’t the only ones living outside the lines and they aren’t the only ones being brave and outspoken. The big elephant in the room here is that there are no lines. We celebrate people coming out of the closet, specifically about sexual identity, because we think it signifies someone defying norms and not being afraid to be different. It’s a hoax, folks. There actually is no such thing as normal. There is nothing but difference all around us. We fool ourselves into thinking this isn’t the case and the truth is staring us in the face. Coming out moments are mere reminders that we aren’t honoring the reality, the pure, naked, obvious reality that this country (and world) is still a place that sees differences as differences instead of the truth about us humans. Uniqueness is the only true norm we share in common.

Coming out represents what it means to be stigmatized, to be separated from “the pack” based on something that makes you different in some way. It’s hard to do that, to expose this thing (or things) that make you different because often that becomes the only thing that people see. They miss the kaleidoscope of your complex identity because “the thing” blinds them.

It’s also hard when others get to play it safe and not be so brave because their identities make it easier to cheer from the sidelines. People, like Ellen Page who are "lying by omission", get to choose the level to which they open the closet and expose their skeletons, or whatever the heck else is hanging out in there.

It’s hard to come out when you know the things people hide, things that aren’t socially acceptable, and yet everyone does a great job of faking it. They hide it. They play the part so well that everyone else is convinced they are the broken, weird one and then no one feels comfortable to be authentic. And because no one feels comfortable, many people hurt the ones who DO step outside the lines (those lines that aren’t real, remember) to make an example out of those who dare to live out their difference. Sometimes, the brave ones get tired of being brave and take out their pain, called internalized oppression, on each other. The “community” can sometimes become anything but a safe place to be different.

That’s why we celebrate so much when someone does come out--about something, anything that is stigmatized. Divorce, abortion, rape, religion, weight, height, adoption, stay-at-home dads, mompreneurs, learning disabilities, to name just a few. When someone speaks up or comes forward we celebrate, individually and collectively, because it shifts the culture one notch closer to the reality we all seek and crave: a culture that accepts human uniqueness and complexity as a given and the only true norm. It reminds us of something we understand but is deeply nestled in our brains: stigma only exists because we’ve failed to make it obselete.

I look forward to the day that coming out becomes boring and commonplace and people don’t feel like they are facing a firing squad of their peers, who, ironically, would probably be facing a squad of a different sort.

But for now, every time someone comes out, we will celebrate. We will celebrate the surmounting of silence over the persistence of stigma. We will celebrate the liberation of a hidden truth and we will feel inspired to be a bit more authentic, ourselves.

In other news, how did I NOT KNOW about this HRC "Time to Thrive" conference? #signmeupfornextyear