I’ve been struggling with how to express exactly why I despise two specific reactions to people coming out (or posting pictures of same-sex couples or sharing something about their same-sex relationship or talking about their identity or posting about issues of sex and gender). The first is “I don’t care! Why are you telling us this?” and the second is “Why do you even need an identity?” (A variant of the second one is “There are too many letters, LGBTQIAxzyzzzzzz…”)
Invariably, I have intense reactions to any of the above. Sometimes I just feel like raging; other times, I’ve ended up spending hours fighting tears. Interestingly, these are the same reactions I have to outright hateful statements as well as milder (but still terrible) reactions from Christians like “It’s not God’s best.” So instead of suppressing my feelings, I’m owning them and making one last ditch effort to explain why it’s not okay to dismiss people.
I’ll start with this. A friend shared Ann Rice’s Facebook status from May 28:
Let’s try to hold down the new anti-gay bigotry of the “I don’t care” crowd. If we post on a person with a gay parent, or a gay person coming out — and you really truly don’t care — then ignore the post. I post on many things every day. It’s easy enough for you to skip what doesn’t interest you. I’m not buying this new anti-gay “I don’t care” bigotry. Not a word of it. What you’re really questioning is that the rest of us care. Or that anyone cares. And that’s really your personal problem. Not ours.
In the comments, she adds:
Over and over the “I don’t care” bigots talk about sex and what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms. When we post on gays, gays coming out, gay experience we are NOT talking about what people do in the privacy of their bedroom. We’re talking about gays in society, bias against gays, negative attitudes against gays and how individuals deal with this. If “you don’t care,” move on. We do care! Big time.
First of all, I’m with Ann Rice. I do care! I care about the people who may want to know that they are not alone. I care about the young people who are living in fear that their parents may kick them out or make their lives hell. I care about the kids who already have been rejected by their families. I care about the people who are proud of who they are and want to celebrate that. I care about the people who have spent years figuring things out and now want to share what they’ve discovered about themselves. Let me repeat: I care.
Second, every time a person comes out, it makes it that much easier for the next person and the next person and the one after that. Little by little, it makes us all safer. All you “I don’t care” folks may truly not be interested in anyone else’s life (ha; judging by all the other crap circulated on the Internet, I doubt that, but whatever). But that’s only because you don’t seem to get the very real danger there can be in being out.
Third, think about it this way. You, cis-het people, are, in effect, “coming out” every day too. You post pictures of yourself and your sweetheart. You hold hands in public. You kiss in the airport. You use the restroom assigned to your gender and allow yourself to be sorted that way. You get out of bed and put on the clothes that you like, without having to bind anything or add anything to your body. You live your life completely “out” as a cis-het person. No one questions you on it.
This is not the case for everyone. Coming out isn’t some simple arrangement of taking to social media to announce, “Surprise! I’m not cis-het!” to the universe. Every single time two men hold hands in public or two women kiss goodbye at the airport or a person has to explain in the hospital why their driver’s license doesn’t match their stated identity or correct a relative’s use of the wrong pronouns, they are coming out. Again and again and again.
Fourth, the “I don’t care crowd” has the advantage of not having to care. Great for you that you’re uninterested in someone else’s life, but please try to keep in mind that lots of other people do care, and not in a good way. I could link you up with news report after news report of people who have literally died because of how they identify. I could remind you that while it’s perfectly legal for straight couples to get married, not only is it still not legal in many states for gay couples to marry, it’s not even technically legal for them to have the sex you say you don’t want to know about.
How many more people have to die—by their own hands or at someone else’s—before you stop pretending not to care? How many more teenagers need to end up homeless? Is there a magic number? At what point will you stop posting about how you don’t want to see same-sex PDA (while being content to not comment at all on straight PDA or secretly watching “lesbian” porn)?
Finally, for many of us, the identity isn’t just about who we are. Speaking from personal experience here, sure, that’s part of it. But for me, I needed to know I’m not alone. Whenever I hear “Why do you need an identity?” or “I don’t really care” or “Why are you telling me this?” it makes me feel alone again. Shoved aside, as though some vital aspect of myself as a person is so unimportant that not only do people not comment on it, but they actively have to tell me they don’t care.
Say what you mean, people. You don’t really mean “I don’t care.” You mean “This makes me uncomfortable and I wish you wouldn’t talk about it.” Because if you truly didn’t care, you would leave it alone, the same way you ignore pictures of cats and witty sayings and news articles you don’t find relevant to you.
I’ll admit, I’m not that interested in celebrities coming out. My usual reaction is something like, “Oh, so-and-so is [LGBTQIA]? Ok, cool” followed by scrolling to something I’d really like to read about, such as my friends’ awesome vacations or their kids’ recitals or their promotions at work. But if a friend posts a coming out story? I’m all over it. And not just sexuality/gender coming out, either. I actually baked a cake for my sister that said, “Congratulations, it’s Aspergers” (reminiscent of Ellen’s coming out cake). I screwed it up with a few friends back in my semi-fundie days, and I never intend to do that again.
The people in my life are important to me, therefore the things that are important to them matter to me. If you can’t muster enough love for your friend who made themselves vulnerable—publicly—to at least say, “Hey, friend, I’m here for you if you need anything” or “Hey, friend, I love you and I support you,” then keep your damn mouth shut about it. Just scroll past and look for something else to comment on. And for the love of pete, please do not make a passive-aggressive “I don’t care” post for the world to see. Trust me, your friend who just came out knows it’s about them.