Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Free To Be You And Me

In a conversation about gender the other day, a friend mentioned that she was glad we live in a time when, as women, we can do the things we want to do, dress the way we want to dress, and be the way we want to be.  I nodded in agreement, but later I started to question this idea. It seems pretty clear that we’re better off than we used to be, but are we indeed free to be who we are?  And what about other people who don’t fit the mold of the majority?  What if you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender?  What if you’re an immigrant?  What if you’re a straight girl who likes to drink beer and watch football?  What if you’re a straight guy who likes to bake cookies and sing broadway tunes at karaoke night?  I’ve decided to explore this question – are we free to be who we are - through a series of blog posts, beginning today with LGBT Americans.  

In January the US Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed new regulations that acknowledged that they “have a responsibility to make certain that public programs are open to all Americans,“ by including sexual orientation and gender identity among protected categories in housing discrimination.  Last month the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops officially took issue with the proposed changes and, as they have many times before, lobbed threats around cutting services.   

“... the ultimate effect of a rule requiring organizations to choose between adherence to their religious beliefs, on the one hand, and accepting government funds to carry out needed services, on the other, may be that those organizations with the greatest expertise and success provide fewer services (there being less money to fund them) or cease providing them altogether (if no money remains to fund them).” 

In other words:  If you make us house gay people, we might just stop housing people all together.  In the face of an epidemic of homelessness in the LGBT youth community, this threat seems heartless at best, and downright hateful at worst.  

So the USCCB doesn’t think we should get to be who we are (or rather, we should make damn sure we don’t need housing first)… but what about everyone else?  

Equally Blessed, a coalition of pro-equality Catholics, put out a statement pointing out the hypocrisy of USCCB’s stance on the housing issue, including this choice statement:  “It appears that the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development manifests a deeper appreciation of the Gospel than do the bishops of our church.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself.

 Perhaps we’ll count this one as a tie:  depressing that we still have to hear from anti-equality groups like the USCCB, but encouraging that the federal government is starting to consider policies that forbid discrimination against LGBT folks, and more encouraging still that all religiously-affiliated groups aren’t working against equality.  

How about LGBT youth in general?  We’ve heard a lot of stories about bullying and suicide in the past year.  But as Entertainment Weekly pointed out in a feature article last month, depictions of gay teens on television are becoming more prevalent and more real.  We’ve come a long way from My So-Called Life’s Rickie (“Bi?! Do you hear these words she’s throwing around?  -Angela Chase’s mother), to our beloved Kurt Hummel of the Fox sensation Glee (“You think it’s ok to come in my house and say “faggy?..My family comes first and I can’t have that kind of poison around here” –Kurt Hummel’s dad.)  LGBT teenagers now have myriad television characters and situations that mirror their own lives.  Not only that, but perhaps Glee star Darren Criss is right when he claims that these characters are causing people to reevaluate the way they think.  

There are other baby steps happening all over the country, including pro-equality legislation in nearly every state.  Yet only 85 out of 7,382 state legislators are openly gay.  Are we there yet?  Definitely not.  Are we better off than we were ten years ago?  Twenty?  What do you think? 

Photo credit:  ABC Television


  1. Hi friends, This is such a great blog post. And thank you for posing this question about "are we really free to be who we are?" There are a couple of things I'd like to share/say.

    1) I am an adult woman and yet I have not told my dad that I drink beer. But he knows I drink wine. So I think that there's been a progession in the sense that drinking wine has become acceptable for young women whereas it wasn't acceptable about a decade ago. But there's still room for improvement because we are stuck on beer. I also think that I've come far in my own thinking because even as a woman, at one point, I thought that it is wrong to drink beer and that means that you are not "good enough of a woman." And this brings me to my second point, which is...
    2) I just had an anti-oppression training, which included margin to center analysis (agents are in the center, and targets are in the margins. And basically everyone is trying to get into the center). Well, the question and brain expanding thinking is that, "why are we trying to hard to get into the crowded center when we can build allyship with each other in the margins and just be who we are?" or "who is telling us that we should be in the center? and why?" Basically, these are the types of questions that confirmed the shift in my own thinking about beer + women. I believe at one point, I started drinking beer, then I said to myself, "who really told me that this is bad? and why the heck do i want to fit into their way of living/thinking anyway?" I think in some way or another, this also confirms why there are so few openly gay (or pick another target category) legislatures. In order to be in the center, the folks in the center are implicitly asking us whether we can fit into their criteria, whether it's the way we behave, what we wear, or what we're drinking.

    Makes sense?

  2. Ankita, thank you for your excellent thoughts! We've been talking about self-editing around the office all afternoon. I come across all sorts of things that make me wonder why I have the impression that I'm not supposed to be doing something. Even as a lesbian woman, I think "if I admit that I don't really enjoy going to Seattle Storm games, will I be shunned by my community?" For some reason - and perhaps it's simply human nature? - our culture values people who are the same as we are, or those who fit in with the majority. I guess this is what makes us afraid of being different, and therefore why we pretend to be the same as everyone else, even when we're not. What I ended up saying to my friend is that I just hope that one day everyone can feel free to be whoever they are and everyone else can respect that, be they a beer-drinking woman, or a gay man, or an arugula-loving republican. And yes, it doesn't help anything that the people voting on our laws are a bunch of centrists. But maybe they're not. Maybe they're just pretending like the rest of us :-)