Why aren’t gay men stronger allies for our lesbian sisters?
Since coming out, I always thought — perhaps naively — that gay men and lesbians were natural allies: We face similar societal disdain. We are often bullied and marginalized by heterosexuals. People use religion to ostracize and discriminate against us.
But it seems that lesbians and gay men don’t really get along all that well — or that we just do an awful lot of ignoring each other.
What is it that separates us? Beyond body parts and varying degrees of femininity and masculinity, what is the source of the divide among the predominant genders within the L and G of LGBT?
All of us were born of women. Many gay men have sisters, aunts, female friends — and some of us have even had wives. Although neither gender prefers to date the other, our non-heterosexuality should be the one thing that binds us.
And yet, it seems that in some ways it is actually what divides us.
I understand, to an extent, social segregation — the need and desire for “boy places” and “girl places.” (Neither of those places, by the way, make room for gender non-conformers and trans people; but that’s another article.)
I understand the need for gender-specific groups such as The Handsome Father, which was formed to help gay fathers, who are the minority of genders raising children and can get lost in mothers-only groups and spaces, find community.
But I don’t understand why men — straight and gay — are paid more than women. I don’t understand why men in power appear to be hell-bent on taking choices away from women. And I don’t understand why gay men aren’t naturally staunch allies for our lesbian sisters.
This isn’t to say that all gay men are unfriendly toward lesbians or don’t have lesbian friends. Though, this line of reasoning makes me think of when people jump to defend themselves against an accusation of racism or homophobia by saying, “But I have lots of [black/gay] friends!”
You’d think, knowing our history, we would have an undeniable reputation for supporting women; but we do not. When a generation of gay men was dying of AIDS, the women — lesbians in particular — cared for us when no one else, not even our mothers, would. Maybe we’ve forgotten that history or just don’t know it.
I do not believe, as Rose McGowan recently asserted, that gay men are misogynistic. But I do think we’re generally indifferent and disinterested.
We don’t have to deal with pregnancy. The majority of us aren’t raising children. We’re not victimized by men anywhere near the extent they are. And even though we experience discrimination because of our sexual identity, we’re still privileged in society over women with regard to job opportunity and pay.
Maybe part of the divide is being OK with the fact that without doing a thing, we earn more simply because of our gender and that no one is outright attempting to impede our right to do sexually with our bodies what we want. Maybe it’s because we unwittingly fall in with our heterosexual counterparts using disparaging words to describe women or things about them we don’t like.
Maybe we secretly feel guilty for our own complicity or because we don’t outwardly care more.
Since moving into Dallas’ “gay ghetto,” I’ll admit that I myself generally associate with my gay male friends more than my lesbian friends.
Part of that is simply adjacency; my lesbian friends don’t live in the gayborhood. And when we do go out to the bars — even with women in tow — we’re generally always at one of the predominately male establishments versus the single lesbian choice.
I understand that there are sociologic differences in how women and men form community, interact within it and relate to one another. I also understand more and more the role privilege plays in where men and women live, the choices each makes and the options available toeither group.
But what am I doing about it? And why should I care?
The National Center for Lesbian Rights exists to fight for the rights of all LGBT people while empowering lesbians in leadership. But the organization also covets the participation of those Executive Director Kate Kendell refers to as “the very best men.” In remarks she made in her recent visit to Dallas, Kendell suggested, “You cannot grow up in this culture and not be homophobic, racist, or misogynistic. … But you can fight [those attitudes], every day.”
Look. I know most of us aren’t “he-man woman haters,” but sometimes, I believe being lukewarm can be worse than taking no definitive stand at all. I can’t for the life of me understand — again — why one group who experiences oppression doesn’t vociferously come to the aid of the group that does.
And instead of using our privilege as men to separate, why the hell aren’t we gay men using it to empower and advocate on women’s behalf?
Some would call this attitude being a feminist. And I sure hope so.
I hope my gay brothers — many of whom naturally imbue a greater sense of the feminine than most of their heterosexual counterparts (something writer/activist Tyler Curry says we should embrace) — will become full-fledged feminists and exert their influence within our society for more than just their own rights.
And I hope the solidarity we can achieve brings our communities together in a way that hasn’t ever been seen — not the result of tragedy but the outcome of mutual respect and diligent support for one another.
A place where men listen to women instead of making excuses or getting defensive. Where gay men stand with lesbians on issues that are every bit as crucial to lesbians today as HIV/AIDS was to gay men in the 1980s and ’90s. Where we go beyond having a drink together at Sue’s or two-stepping at the Round-Up and become staunch advocates in every space of our society.
And when we do, what a marvelous thing we model for the greater community of women and men, regardless of where one falls on the gender spectrum.
I’ve said before that the LGBT community holds a lot of power to effect change in society at large. And here’s another way — by exhibiting a better way to be: equal, free from the impositions of gender that divide us, marching arm in arm, united, undeterred, unbreakable.
In Merger Poem, artist Judy Chicago wrote:
“And then all that has divided us will merge. ….
“And then both men and women will be gentle.
“And then both women and men will be strong.
“And then no person will be subject to another’s will.”
He-man women-lovers, unite!
Todd Whitley is a local activist and communications manager for Equality Texas. He can usually be found tweeting (@toddwhitley), holding a picket sign, thrift store shopping or eating Tex-Mex. Read his blog at tdub68.wordpress.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 14, 2014