by Libbi Gildea, Queer Educator for The Katie Brown Educational Program
“I don’t care that you’re queer.”
This response has been ubiquitous since the first day I clarified that actually yes, the poster of Alyson Hannigan I bought in sixth grade was kept on my ceiling “in a gay way.” In the months after I first came out, I heard it more often than “hello” or “how are you.” Often blurted out fast and hard like a gunshot; a defensive strike against the presumed imminent threat of my perceiving intolerance. “I don’t care that you’re gay or whatever.” “You can be whatever you want; it doesn’t matter to me.” “That’s totally your business; I couldn’t care less.”
I’ve since labeled this the “hot potato” ally response. People drop the subject when it’s introduced as though they’ve been burned. They’re usually attempting some equivalent of jumping up and down shouting “I’m not homophobic!” What they achieve is much closer to “I don’t value this part of your identity; it makes me uncomfortable. I can only accept it if I don’t have to hear about it.”
It’s almost always well-intentioned. But to tell me you don’t care is to divorce this aspect of my identity entirely from your perception of me, to put it in a box out of sight and mind and allow your preconceived notions to continue uninterrupted. To believe that saying “I don’t care about your sexuality or gender” is not paramount to saying “I don’t entirely care about you” is to mistakenly presume that my identity is not inextricably linked to my queerness.
To be perfectly honest, I care that I’m queer. I care a lot. Whether I want it to be or not, it’s a pretty substantial chunk of my identity, and will probably continue to be as long as there are old men at Denny’s to ask me which person in my relationship is “the man” in bed. It’s something that is constantly forced to the forefront of my mind while I navigate the minefield of sexuality and gender assumptions- people being more likely to assume that I’m dating my brother than my girlfriend, strangers defaulting to “pretty” when complimenting but never putting “handsome” in the mix, first dates at the park accompanied by hostile glances from mothers with young children, personal trainers who assume I’m striving for Kardashian no matter how many times I remind them that my ideal body type is nothing short of Hulk. I don’t have the luxury of not caring about my sexuality or gender when microaggressions and preconceived notions remind me of them upwards of twenty-eight times a day.
I care because I’m made to. I also care because it’s cool. I like having a wardrobe that consists entirely of clothes your retired grandfather probably donated to Savers, and I love the exhilarating feeling of making eye contact with the cute girl with the pan pride flag pin at the coffee shop and panic-checking whether I have something in my teeth. I am so, so glad that I am biologically equipped to appreciate Elizabeth Olsen to the extent that she deserves. I love the communities, the found families, the pronouns, and partners that I’ve had to fight for. I’d fight every old man in every Denny’s parking lot around for the parts of my identity I’ve learned to celebrate.
The allies in my life are people who accept my gender and sexuality- not at the other end of a thirty-nine and a half foot pole, but openly and as readily as they do their own. They’re my sixteen-year-old sister who, upon listening intently to my attempts at describing gender fluidity responded, “ah, so you’re kind of…gender slick” in an effort to understand. They’re my brothers openly mocking the women I match with on dating apps just as they would the men, clipping the dogs out from the profile photos to determine whether I really swiped right to meet Fiona or just Fido. They’re the friends who ask who I’m dating and want to hear the answer and the coworkers who remember my pronouns and include my existence and identity in their vocabulary, allowing it to color their perception of me along with the many other shades of my identity.
It would be simpler, perhaps, certainly easier to digest, if I could neatly package the formula for Perfect Allyship in Six Easy Steps. But of all the things in our lives that we’ve been able to dilute into six easy steps (training a dog not to bark or making homemade banana bread) human relationships have never been one of them.
And so we’re given one month out of the year to call out to the people struggling to connect with us, whose confusion and discomfort with such organic aspects of our personhood seemingly put layers of glass between us. I am not a different species. I am not a shadow of your straight existence. I am a person, a person who is different from you, and my identity should not need to be neutered in order to be palatable to you.
I want you to remember to say “partner” instead of “boyfriend,” not because a Pride themed Buzzfeed listicle told you to, but because my different experience is in your consciousness just as yours is forever embedded in mine. I want you to remember my pronouns; not because you want points for using the right words, but because you’ve taken the time to understand me as I exist outside of your assumptions. I want to exist to you the same way in every month of the year that I exist in June.
I want you to care that I’m queer.