I am active in the progressive, the lesbian, and the more generally LGBT communities, so I’ve spent a good deal of time pondering the risks and rewards of moving in the larger sphere versus those of staying within my own group.
Growing up in an almost exclusively Jewish environment, I was continually warned of the dangers of the outside world, yet I consciously chose to leave its security and insularity to take my chances with the outside world. As a lifelong out lesbian, my choice to reach out to a broader coalition comes from this same motivation.
But being out and actively participating in “straight” groups and organizations does take more effort and a thicker skin than that of just sticking with queer alliances. Coming out becomes a chore that must be done repeatedly and even when its not fraught with danger, it can still be exhausting. We still live in a world where orientation and gender identification are automatically assumed to go just one direction and gender outlaws are still outside the lines
Stereotyping happens automatically and it is negative even when the stereotypical qualities sound positive in and of themselves. Growing up I often heard the sentiment repeated that “Jews are smart.” I tried, and sometimes successfully utilized, this stereotype to my advantage. As a lesbian who leans toward, what popular culture terms “mannish,” I have also used this image presentation to lure employers to believe that looking more like a male gives me a better grasp of math, science and spacial interpretation. Did this deception help me land my first job as a drafting technician? I’ll never really know but my theory was just like the philosophy of Aikido, which works by turning the force that someone is coming at you against them.
However, this type of manipulation obscures individuals and serves to perpetuate inaccurate categorization. The only thing that call change these misperceptions is an interchange that includes honesty and self disclosure; in other words, friendship. And real friendship involves trust, and trust, persistence and work.
By far the most inhibiting factor in queer/straight friendship, after the initial period of breaking down stereotypes, is fear. It can be the fear of sexual attraction or sexual misunderstandings or simply the straight person’s fear of being mistakenly perceived as gay. As long as homophobia has the potential to damage lives, it will retain the potential to instill great fear.
Some fears have validity in the world and are grounded in reality. Much the same as with racial identity, there are genuine differences between a person who has had to think of orientation almost continually at all times and in every aspect of their lives and someone who has never had to give it a second thought.
The key to overcoming any kind of prejudice is both risk as well as communication. The process of reaching out is never easy but, no matter what the outcome, it is well worth the trouble. Yes, we must fight for equal civil rights for everyone but we must also learn to personally cross the bridges that divide us because, until we make these journeys, there is no hope of building a genuine revolution.