LGBTQ+ folks should never have to settle on conditional acceptance. We cannot splice or erase our identities to assuage the feelings of cisgender and heterosexual people.
By Briana Lawrence
Pop-culture and media narratives typically depict our grand closet disembarkment as a one-time event, but the truth is that we come out multiple times during our radically rainbow-themed lives. I first came out to myself when I was 18. Shortly after that, I confessed my queerness to the girl I would end up marrying 18 years later (I couldn’t make that up even if I tried). After that, I came out to my friends, my college roommates, my family, her family, coworkers…you get the gist of it.
Coming out is more like a Netflix marathon than a single episode, minus a pop-up asking are you still watching? Yep. Still here. Still queer. But it does get easier. Eventually, you reach a sort of nirvana where you’re truly unbothered by that Twitter user with 13 followers who wonders when heterosexual pride is gonna be a thing. At this point, folks know I’m queer. My social media was flooded with wedding pictures about a month ago and they were cute as hell.
But along with the notion of coming out is the desire to be accepted, and no matter how unapologetic I am, there’s a part of me that lingers on that concept. Folks like to throw around the word acceptance without fully embracing it, and with the alternatives being rejection, isolation, and harassment, we tend to cling to anything that resembles an “it’s ok that you’re gay.”
It’s fine, because it’s all acceptance. Right? Not quite. The following three examples of conditional acceptance can pop-up in a queer person’s life, and I want to break down what they look like and why the are harmful:
The Exception Acceptance
When I was growing up it wasn’t an odd occurrence to hear a gay joke, or two, or ten, be it from my personal circle or 80s/90s media in general. When I realized I wasn’t straight I hesitated in telling certain people because of the way they’d talk about “that guy with the sugar in his tank” or “that confused girl down the street.” When I finally did tell them, they responded with a question of their own.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
Because you laughed at us. That’s what I wanted to say, but I kept my mouth shut until I realized that the commentary had not stopped. I was now the queer friend sitting with people who found humor at the expense of my still-developing identity. “It’s just a joke,” they’d say, and I’d raise an eyebrow at them — you know, the way your mama does when she knows you’ve done something wrong, but you aren’t willing to admit it.
That’s when I heard it. Those words that would completely throw me off balance. “Oh girl, you know we ain’t talking about you.” I had become their exception, their absolution of their harmful statements. They didn’t have to answer to their closed-minded views because they were addressing some unseen queer person, not the one they knew personally.
They weren’t homophobic. One of their best friends was gay.
The Intersectional-less Acceptance
At some point, every queer Black or brown person runs into a Chad or Karen who proves that racism is alive and well in the queer community. Sure, they may have been warned about it, but if you’re like me you, unfortunately, chose not to believe it until Karen approached with her soccer mom haircut. Though she didn’t call it racism, it was treated more as a “you’re taking things too seriously,” “now’s not the time,” or “that’s for that other community to discuss,” making me feel bad for my black queer girl feelings.
It wasn’t a blatant “I hate Black people.” Karen wasn’t saying that the black and brown striped flag was a bad idea—she just didn’t see the point in it. And those gay men weren’t actually condemning black trans lives, they just wanted to have a good time at the bar. There’s a time and a place for addressing serious issues, and Stonewall… wait, this was at Stonewall? During Pride month?!
This is how white supremacy works — even within the supposed safety of another marginalized community. To these white queer folks, their queerness absolves them of their racism. They know what it’s like to be oppressed, therefore, they think they understand all forms of oppression, categorize them, and only discuss them in fixed spaces. To them, you’re not pointing out the flaws: you’re ruining their space by bringing up a form of discrimination they feel only exists outside the rainbow. They know racism is real, hell, they even support Black Lives Matter, so long as the conversation doesn’t enter their community.
Black lives to the left, queer lives to the right. They separate the issues, therefore, separating your identity.
The Yo-Yo Acceptance
So, the folks in your closet circle accept you, but what happens if they stop? Our coming out stories are usually painted in this black or white you do or you don’t scale. But there’s this whole grey area that isn’t often discussed, and it looks like temporary or momentary acceptance, put simply: Yo-Yo acceptance.
It’s a hard pill to swallow and one you could be ingesting for years. You feel like you’re around people who support you, only for them to take back their acceptance. It’s worse than flat out rejection because, once upon a time, there was love. So what changed? You find yourself trying to figure it out, as one does when a good relationship dissolves. Did you become too gay for them? Were they secretly against you this entire time?
That’s what happened with my in-laws. The relationship was rocky, at best, but throughout the years they showed signs of progress — so much so that I started using them as an example of your loved ones can come around.
And they did. Until they didn’t.
I can’t tell you how we fell back to square one. I can’t even tell you why. I just know that one day I felt like a stranger in that space, back to being the only one not included in mentions of significant others, back to getting Christmas gifts that didn’t have the clearance sticker peeled off, gifts that had been tucked in a closet to be used on guests they didn’t know. After 18 years this form of supposed acceptance really messes with you. You’re left wondering what you did to trigger the setback. I can theorize all day, but no answer will be satisfying. I’ll never know if I’m right and I don’t know if I want to be.
In hindsight, these are all faux acceptances, but they’re offered up under the guise of queer understanding. What’s worse is that we’re prone to go along with it in fear of dealing with full-on hatred, which is valid, especially for LGBTQ+ children and teens of color. Furthermore, people treat it as acceptable behavior because they could be treating you a whole lot worse. To them, it’s groundbreaking acceptance because they still invite you to the dinner table, but in reality, it’s the bare minimum and simply a form of tokenization to prove to those around them that they’re a supposedly good person.
The key thing for LGBTQ+ people to realize is that we get to define acceptance for ourselves. Cisgender/heterosexual people can say that they “accept” you, but you get to decide whether or not their actions are real acceptance. Just because someone’s reaction to you coming out isn’t as awful as it could have been doesn’t mean it’s as great as it should be. Don’t settle on someone else’s acceptance if it clashes with yours. Acceptance should look like unconditional support of your queerness, and should be ongoing throughout your relationship with another person. It should evolve as you progress and there should be no fear of addressing your loved ones if they happen to step out of line. And those loved ones should listen and be willing to learn alongside you.
Queer and trans folks should never have to settle on conditional acceptance. We cannot splice or erase our identities to assuage the feelings of cisgender and heterosexual people—we deserve to be ourselves without fear.
Briana Lawrence is a freelance writer and self-published author who’s trying her best to cosplay as a responsible adult. Her writing tends to focus on the importance of representation, whether it’s through her multiple book series, or the pieces she writes for various websites. When she’s not writing about diversity, she’s speaking about it at different geek-centric conventions across the country, as she’s a black, queer, nerd girl at heart. After de-transforming from her magical girl state, she indulges in an ever-growing pile of comics, marathons too much anime, and dedicates an embarrassing amount of time to JRPGs. You can find her work at www.magnifiquenoir.com