What did your family fight over at Thanksgiving dinner? If the answer is “Transphobia in the gay community and questions of when, if ever, it’s ok to out someone” then you were probably at the same party I was. If not, allow me to share the finer points of this debate, and maybe next year you’ll find yourself discussing gender and sexual identity issues as your dinner digests and the wine really starts flowing.
This year was the first time in 29 years I didn’t spend Thanksgiving with my family, but like many millennials living in an adopted city who grew up watching Friends, I have discovered that a group of wacky peers can be just as good. So, I spent Thanksgiving singing karaoke at my coach’s house with her family and any teammate who couldn’t travel home (including one Brit who was thoroughly confused by our holiday, but enjoyed the pie all the same).
Somewhere around 1:30 am, as the last of the people with a designated driver left and those of us too inebriated or sleepy to drive were about to turn in, the conversation turned to a discussion of a night that I had missed over the summer. Then, before anyone had any idea how it happened, we were screaming at each other about pronoun usage, political correctness and tolerance. Funny, because my conservative Uncle Jerry* wasn’t even there.
Here’s the quick version of the events that sparked this heated discussion….
Steve, a gay man met Mike at a party and was extremely attracted to him and told all his friends so. Much later in the evening, Steve discovered Mikewas transgender and reacted strongly. He felt foolish, he said, and that he perceived that everyone had been laughing at his attraction to this “man” (airquotes were his) all night. Then, in his flustered state, he couldn’t use the right pronouns anymore, despite having never actually known Mike as a woman. He wanted to know also: Why had no one told him Mike’s biological sex to save him the embarrassment of flirting with a woman? And then the screaming began…
Our host that evening is a VIP when it comes to issues of gender and sexual identity, trains other important people on how to overcome prejudice and bias, and writes books on what happens when people are shitty to each other and why they should be better. She and I launched into a tirade trying to explain to Steve why what he was saying was transphobic and why it is never ever ok to out someone. We talked about our own experiences with being outed, and homophobia we had all faced growing up, Steve compared the outing to telling a friend their potential partner is married, or bad in bed, we talked about the dangers of outing someone, and how gender expression or identity are not protected by many laws, Steve was hurt his friends wouldn’t trust him with that information. There was talk of cis-gender privilege (cisgender is when your gender identity/expression matches cultural expectations, e.g. no one gives you shit for using the women’s bathroom) and solidarity and trust in the LGBT community. We went round and round and round until eventually, a party attendee previously passed out on the couch popped up and said, “Steve, Mike didn’t want to have sex with you, he just wanted his cell phone back that you took!”
The point rendered moot, was dropped for the evening as we all retired. In the morning there were still some tender spots and hurt feelings, but the conclusions of the evening were:
1)It is never ever ok to out someone, no matter what. If you have been trusted with something as private and personal as a person’s gender identity, expression, or sexual orientation, it is your responsibility to keep it quiet, because when you don’t you take away all of their rights, their power over their own body and mind, and you can put them in danger. The world is still pretty shitty, don’t make it worse.
2) This stuff is confusing. Even for queer people.
All week I have been trying to come up with a way to explain this, to sort out all the confusing elements. Then as if by magic, a friend posted this picture from itspronouncedmetrosexual.com (For the record, she is also a VIP on LGBT issues; my friends seem to have a common theme of being amazing, I mean – guys I grew up with Jess and Becky and they are fixing all our love lives!)
This picture is so perfect I don’t even need to explain it. But, if you go to the accompanying website it has an incredible breakdown. Click around, look at the piece on cisgender privilege or explaining bi-sexuality. That way we will all be experts in this, or at least a get a little less confused and I can go back to writing about sex acts that make my friends blush when they Google them.
Thanks jmlawlor and itspronouncedmetrosexual.com for the images
*I don’t have an Uncle Jerry. I had to make one up, but that’s just because every one of my family members are nothing but open and tolerant…right guys?
Susan Bi Anthony writes about all things gay, straight, in-between, and outside of the box. You can follow her @SusanBiAnthony for snarky witticisms and updates on her adventures in non-monogamy.
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