A Cynical Queer Killjoy’s Mixed Feelings on the Rainbow Machine

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It’s June, which means that cynical, nerdy, political queer killjoys are spending the month rolling their eyes at the shiny whitewashed respectability spectacle of corporate-sponsored pride celebrations. I would know—I’m one of them.

But sometimes I fall off my high horse and remember: I didn’t start out thinking like this. Not even close.

When I sigh at the rainbow-themed sneakers and laptop ads popping up around the city, unimpressed with corporations’ willingness to co-opt symbols of a successful liberation movement now that it has been deemed more profitable than not.

But I also remember living in a time and place when public support of LGBT rights was more of a business liability than a strategy, and think of how much tweenage angst I could have avoided had I seen rainbow-plastered shoe stores then.

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True Hero: Jeff Doesn’t Have a Problem With People Being Gay or Whatever

As pride month parades and parties roll around, it is only fitting that we take time to focus on the true heroes working to make it possible to freely celebrate LGBTQ identities. Meet Jeff, the straight guy who doesn’t have a problem with people being gay or whatever.

A proud and vocal straight ally, Jeff is almost as eager to talk about his approach to allyship as he is to talk about the fact that he is straight. “I mean I’m not gay or anything,” he clarified, “but I don’t have an issue with letting other people be like that.” This bold statement came as a relief to the many individuals anxiously awaiting Jeff’s personal approval of their sexual orientation.

Jeff’s support for the LGBTQ community is not just pollitical, but personal as well. Jeff has a self-reported “lots of gay friends,” though the only one who could be referenced by name was Patrick From College. Speaking on Jeff’s memorable place in his educational journey, Patrick recalled, “Yeah, I remember him. We lived on the same floor sophomore year I think.”

Asked to speak about the personal impact of Jeff’s allyship, Patrick explained, “Having come from an environment people were openly hostile towards my existence, I guess it was nice to be around people like that who were pretty indifferent to it.”
“Yeah, that must be nice,” murmured Cara From Work, Patrick’s token trans friend.

Nearly unlimited in compassion, Jeff’s message of acceptance spreads to all except those who are making a big deal about it and shoving it in his face. “I mean you can be gay or whatever, but some people get all weird and make their whole personality about that,” Jeff explained before noting for the fifth time today that he is a heterosexual.

The community is lucky to have Jeff as role model to show what it means to be so open and proud of one’s sexuality. Nonetheless, as he is always willing to see beyond the labels and categories that divide us, Jeff doesn’t even let his heterosexuality stop him from making appearances at a local local lesbian bar.

For his modest-but-not-unnoticed efforts, Jeff can certainly expect to be a top ally award candidate with major advocacy organizations, as soon as his music career takes off.


Note: since the initial release of this article, Jeff has contacted the publication asking us to clarify that he is heterosexual.

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Checking the Left Column: Queerness, Normalcy, and Having “Problems”

Five years ago, I was sitting at the doctor’s office, waiting for my physical as I filled in a standard teen mental health checklist.

I’ve noticed that it’s generally not a good sign when a question requires me to check one of two boxes (seriously, I don’t even like true/false questions on tests). But this survey went a step further and ordered the “yes” and “no” options for each question so that they formed two obvious columns: the “normal” column–which included a “yes” to having friends and a “no” to drugs and suicidal thoughts–and a “problem” column with exactly the opposite.

And then I hit a kicker: a yes to “I have had sexual or romantic feelings toward a person of the same gender” would mean a big fat check in the problem column.

It was too clearly organized to believe that there were truly “no wrong answers.” It was made so that a normal person could make their marks straight down the right column, picking the right answers, barely stopping to read the questions if they so wished.

Because to stray into the left column would be a loud, clear, intentional statement that you have problems. That you need help. And as someone who could get along just fine, who could get everything done and answer “good” to “how are you? (and many times mean it), I had no reason to open up that box.

Besides, just because something was in my head, didn’t mean it had to be real.

I am fine, therefore I check the right column. And that was it.

———-

At this point in my life, I had mostly dismissed any concerns about sexuality being evil or sinful, as most of the people around me had too. But just as scary was the prospect of being troubled.

I could be queer, I guess, I had recently admitted. I could be that normal, happy, casually out queer with a girlfriend and snappy responses to people’s probing questions. I could be bi, I guess, as long as I wasn’t one of the slutty, cheating, attention-seeking ones who go through phases. But heaven forbid, I could never be questioning, confused, or struggling. I couldn’t have uncertainties or fears. I had to be queer perfectly or not at all.

The former option seemed impossible when I saw that my sexuality would automatically place me in the same column as depressed people and drug addicts–so I would have to pick the latter.

People around me, people like me didn’t have problems. They didn’t need help. At least that’s what I thought.

———

Clearly there was something wrong with this situation. What was, however, is less clear than it might seem. Was it just the fact that non-heterosexuality was placed in the “problem” column, the fact that there was a “normal” column and a “problem” column in the first place, or the fact that checking the “problem” column is made out to be such a huge, scary deal?

I’ve been thinking about this lately with the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage and the celebration surrounding it. In many ways, the marriage equality movement has showcased the epitome of queer normalcy: ads showing gay white picket fences and couples with 2.5 children; legal arguments centered around thoroughly non-pathological families, squeaky clean personal narratives, and “just like you” rhetoric.

And now the ruling has left a rainbow on every other profile picture and cell phone ad, in a display of mainstream (at least in some places) visibility and support that I could have never imagined as a kid. And that’s a beautiful, affirming thing in many ways. But what if people are only willing to see the rainbows and not the rain?

Where is this normalcy we’re aiming for, anyway? Even within the general population, more of us fall into that “problem” column than we like to assume. About half of Americans meet criteria for a psychological disorder within their lifetime. As you might expect, the numbers are higher within the queer population, particularly for bisexuals, trans people, and people of color. This stuff is harder to talk about than weddings and parades, and is fueled by numerous structural and social factors, with no one easy legal fix.

But if these numbers can remind us of anything good, it is that none of us is the lone “problem person” in a sea of normalcy, as we might believe. And if we started acknowledging that it’s okay to need help–including but certainly not limited to limited to the clinical sense–we might be better equipped for a world which is not all rainbows and sunshine.

Say it with me: I am a problem person. And that’s okay.