“Just be yourself.”
The obligatory answer that most of us received at some point in our lives, when seeking advice. Any kind of advice. It’s an all-purpose phrase. Maybe when stressing about how to behave at a job interview, or when getting up the courage to talk to that person we’ve secretly had a crush on for months, or perhaps when summoning all of the cool and collected thoughts we possess as it comes time to meet the parents of that person we’ve had a crush on and finally spoke to.
Just be yourself.
It’s a cliche, yes. It’s also a lovely, wholesome concept. A good friend or a supportive family member obviously repeats it with the best of intentions.
When we grow up, especially when we grow up to be an outlier, existing somewhere beyond the boundaries of normatized society, we realize that being ourselves is vital. It’s also a continuous struggle.
I can only speak on my own behalf, and partially on the behalf of my wife Kayla, because we’ve spent many a conversation on this topic… Being gay in the American South is full of surprises. People can shock you with their unending love and they can shock you with the hurtful words that fall out of their mouths, followed by the phrase “Bless your heart.” For example: “Kayla, I pray that God removes the scales that Satan has placed over your eyes in the form of this wretched woman. You are lost, bless your heart.”
Kayla and I expect little from strangers or new acquaintances. In all likelihood, they have pre-determined opinions, one way or the other, on the validity of our relationship and we don’t even know their names. Maybe they have an equality sticker on the back of their car or maybe they cheered this morning when the Supreme Court agreed to reexamine the balance between gay marriage and religious liberty. Either way, we are a topic of conversation before we’ve even said hello. It’s odd.
I recall clearly, before marriage equality became the law of the land, that I could turn the radio or the television to nearly any station and hear complete strangers talking about whether or not I should be permitted to marry the person I love. It became exhausting and aggravating. I’m not a spotlight seeker and, in a roundabout way, I couldn’t escape the center ring. People cheered, people booed. I mostly wanted to be left alone.
Here’s a key factor to remember: the LGBTQ+ community is not hypothetical. We’re here, watching these publicized debates, just existing, while (generally speaking) individuals who do not bear our acronym, who have more status, more power, more agency, tell the country what it should think. And how it should vote.
Let’s not stop there, though. Remember this gem of a phrase? “That’s so gay.” Oh, the number of times someone spoke those words in front of me. I mean, it doesn’t even make sense. It’s mindless degradation. Of course, eventually I got sassy about it and would respond with “Really? In what way? That seemed pretty heterosexual to me.”
What I mean to say is, we’re told to be ourselves. Because that’s all anyone could ask of us. Right? Then, once we realize the power of that truth, we’re pushed aside.
“Be yourself, but please, can’t you conform just a little? And don’t be so obvious about it. I get that you’re gay, but do you have to hold hands? My kids could get the wrong idea! Keep it in the bedroom, you gay pervs! Meanwhile, I’ll tune in to watch news anchors and politicians speculate wildly about what you’re probably up to in those bedrooms. Oh, and if you haven’t noticed, you already have special rights, there’s no reason you need ‘equal’ rights, too.”
That’s the rough evolution of “be yourself,” for gays. I don’t think I’m unique in this subtext; I imagine there is a similar scenario for many minorities.
In particular, I’d like to draw attention to our transgender, non-binary, gender fluid, gender queer family.
I’m tired of the T getting lost in the LGBTQ+ movement. Yes, I do contribute to the L, and yes, I have certainly felt marginalized. However, I am also aware that I have privilege and the ability to use my voice.
If I am disgruntled by the legality of my marriage and my love serving as the talk of the town, then imagine how trans individuals feel when they turn on the news to discover a panel discussion on where they are permitted to use the bathroom. Seriously. This is too much.
As a society, we are far too focused on what’s in each other’s pants. Consider this situation: A person holds the door for you while your hands are full. You cannot decide upon a cursory glance whether or not that person is a male or a female. Would that information have any bearing on this small act of humanity and compassion? No, it would not.
And, I hope I’m not the first one to break it to you, but if I am, then here it goes: It’s really none of your business. Or my business. Our gender identities are personal and we are not required to explain them to the world at large, as they do not affect the world at large.
These are people, just being themselves. That’s a beautiful and difficult thing. Let’s not make it any more difficult because we’re uninformed or needlessly judgmental. And let’s not make it more difficult because we consider ourselves only the L, or the G, or the B, or maybe the Q. Our trans family stood shoulder-to-shoulder with us in the pursuit of marriage equality. Our trans family marched with us in January as we took to the streets of Washington. They have been there, holding signs that do not belong solely to them. They will be there for our future battles. We can’t simply choose to pass when it’s time to respond in kind. Let’s spread awareness and shut down anyone who dares to make “That’s so trans.” trendy.
To all my sisters, not just my cis-ters, I stand with you. And, of course, the same sentiment is true for my brothers or gender fluid family members. If you happen to find yourself in North Carolina, I’ll be more than happy to let you pee next to me.
P.S. If I should have used trans* as opposed to trans in order to be more inclusive, then my apologies. We’re all learning! I read lots of articles on the distinction, but chose to go without the asterisk, based on wise words over here.