Speed Bumps

There are little details of life that we tend to just take for granted. Little things that don’t quite fit who we are, but we accept them because “that’s the way it has always been.” And not just gay people. Like, do you have to check the “divorced” box on medical or legal forms for your entire life if you never remarry? When are you considered single again? What exactly is the length of time you are stuck with a label which carries such societal taboos?

I promise this isn’t just another column about gay marriage, but what about gay people? Are the majority of us destined to check “single” for eternity? Will we always have to check the “divorced” box because of one youthful effort to “de-gay” and please the family? That one error in judgment shouldn’t condemn a person to a lifetime of remembering a humiliating experience. On the other hand, it’s funny how one person’s pain can be another’s triumph; as Suzie longs to forget her married youth and just check “single” again, Chris crosses out the “married” and pencils in “partnered” in an effort to change his own label.

These little details plague our lives and chisel away at our self respect, well being, and feelings of self-worth. I have heard it called homophobia, but that is a misnomer. These types of situations are actually examples of heterosexism.

Heterosexism is defined by the American Social Workers Association as any system or program that values the aspects of a heterosexual lifestyle over a homosexual lifestyle.

As I write this, I wonder if it is just a load of crap. After all, we live in a world where 90% of the population is heterosexual. That is a strong majority. Shouldn’t we just adapt?

I don’t want to argue the pros and cons of that. There are valid arguments on both sides and anyone who knows me knows that I believe in true equality: all people should be treated equally – no less or more. So I should get all the same benefits as a married person, including marriage.

But heterosexism, often overlooked, can actually be a GLBT person’s best friend. Homophobic people know they are homophobic, or at least know they have a “conservative” outlook on “alternative lifestyles.” They choose to be homophobes. People who are heterosexists are usually doing it unconsciously. It isn’t that they mean to create a less welcoming situation; they are just doing things as they have always been done. It is an accepted part of life which requires no conscious thought for them. But call it to their attention and many of them see immediately that the old way isn’t the most inclusive way.

In an intelligent society we should welcome diversity into a warm and friendly environment. However it is everyone’s job, both gay and straight, to go out and rid the world of these “isms” that are not inclusive.

There are creative solutions to every problem as long as people approach them with an open mind. Though not everyone is willing to let go of their heterosexist norms (if they are even aware they exist), most people are (when the inequalities are pointed out to them).