Regarding LGBTQIA+ civil rights, the Western Hemisphere has come a long way over the past several decades. No more section 28, no more guaranteed sackings after coming out, families are more likely than ever to support their children, and celebrities can come out as gay or trans without risking their careers on a scale once known.
It would be wonderful to say this shift in perception means the world is now wholeheartedly accepting of LGBTQIA+ folks. Oh how marvellous it would be to be able to go to bed each night thinking the ridicule, hatred, persecution and dangers of an alternative sexuality/identity no longer exist. Yet such a claim wouldn’t be true.
Despite so many accepting and tolerating the existence of those with sexualities or gender identities differing from the that of heteronormative ones, there’s plentiful quantities of toxic notions polluting the airways of western societies.
Growing up and living in such a world can be difficult for those within the LGBTQIA+ community . Many still consider them as different, as an “other” or as unnatural.
Stares of disapproval while holding hands with partners in public spaces, double takes when walking past strangers on a daily basis, unending glares from folk struggling to understand the people they are glaring at, plus irrational outbursts of outrage at the very idea of such folk having human rights so many take for granted (i.e using restrooms, getting married, participating in sports to name a few). All this because of the people they love, the sexualities they possess, the genders they identify as, the biological chromosomes they were born with, or the clothes they wear.
In such situations, LGBTQIA individuals are seen as subjects to be ogled at; no longer just people going about our day-to-day lives like every other. They are perceived as topics, talking points, political debates, and shocking news stories in the waiting
Not only are those with alternative sexualities and genders still looked upon as sensationalist subjects, but their existences and rights are also still debated as if the victims of homophobia, transphobia and other forms of prejudice are all somehow spoilt children demanding privileges they do not deserve.
The very thought of a trans person using a public toilet is so distressing that a few in the modern world still like to hold discussions about how dangerous this may somehow be to others. Even the notion of gay marriage is enough to wind the less tolerant up into an absurd frenzy. Then you have those who find the idea of referring to another with pronouns differing from the ones they were assigned at birth as so “unscientific” they’ll cry about their “freedom of speech” being at risk.
You’d think in 2016 we’d have grown beyond these petty “outrages”, and although the general population are no beginning to move forward and transcend beyond such ignorance, there are still some out there who want LGBTQIA+ folk to be denied legally recognised unions which they themselves take for granted; who feel letting an XY chromosomed lifeform pee in a women’s restroom (or vice versa) is dangerous; and who insist on taking ownership over another’s identity because “science says so”.
Unfortunately ignorance and bigotry haven’t been entirely eradicated by contemporary morals. Society may have moved forward and grown more understanding, yet we still live in an era where difference is perceived as peculiar, unsavoury and in some cases, dangerous.
There are still those out there who grow uncomfortable around gay people; seeing them as a threat to their own sexuality, less human, untrustworthy and overall different to themselves.
When it comes to trans people, attitudes still circulate in which they are depicted as deceivers masquerading as someone they’re not and challenging the sexuality of straight folk. Gender variant individuals may well be more accepted than ever before, yet they are still accused by the less informed as being liars, tricksters and individuals who don’t have the right to identify as themselves.
Intersex people also don’t fair all that well in modern society either. Despite all the progression and advancements in our understanding toward both intersex individuals as well as the overall differences between sex and gender identity, such folk are often either ignored entirely or treated as if they are medical stigmas.
It is still exceedingly rare to find many intersex advocates with a platform to voice their concerns upon and speak on behalf of the community they belong to. Surely if there’s anyone who can speak about the complex struggles they endure as a group, surely they are the ones to do so. Instead they are spoken by on behalf of non-intersex individuals and doctors.
When the media speak about intersex people, they are once again spoken about in a sensationalist manner; often portrayed as people suffering from a crippling disability as opposed to possessing ambiguous genitalia or chromosomes. Documentaries tend to have a habit of depicting them as unfortunate souls doomed to a dismal life of suffering and social ostracisation.
Never mind that most intersex folk go on to live fulfilling, complex and healthy lives; the narrative within the media tends to frequently focus on their genitalia and how that may “contradict” their identities or the ways others perceive them due to their medical status as an intersex person.
Furthermore, despite not being the same as transgender folk, intersex individuals are often victims of being forced into boxes by some in society. Peers, family members and even doctors are still known for trying to label them as “men” or “women” without giving them an opportunity to choose for themselves. Misgendering or pressuring into a gender role are still far too common.
As for bisexual and pansexual people, life isn’t all that rosy for them either in many respects. Those who are bisexual or pansexual still often find themselves in this day and age being ignored and demonised by both gay and straight people. Both orientations are often branded as invalid, irrelevant and in some cases, immoral.
Many have called into question the very existences of bisexuality and pansexuality, accusing such an orientation of either being a phase, an act of greed or even a ploy for attention. As is the case with attempting to erase any orientation, branding such sexualities as nonexistence can cause significant psychological harm, as well as funding cuts to bi/pan support groups.
Pansexuality has a significantly difficult time when it comes to public acceptance, largely due to the fact that so many misunderstand what such an orientation means.
The definition of pansexual is “a sexual orientation not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender presentation or gender identity”. This essentially means that pansexuals will find people attractive regardless of whether they are cis gender, transgender, intersex, non-binary or any other. Biology, presentation or identity do not dictate someone’s sexual appeal.
Problem is, there are still many out there who fail to comprehend the meaning of this; choosing instead to either lump them in with bisexual people, gay people, or even go as far to accuse them of being attracted to other species and even children. This extreme misunderstanding can lead to either others attempting to erase their orientation completely, or accusing them of illegal acts such as bestiality or pedophilia.
Again, the problem here is people attempting to take ownership over another person’s state of being; telling others what their identities and sexualities are. It’s an act of taking control of another and telling them what they are.
All too often you still hear of folks hiding the fact that they are bisexual or pansexual simply to avoid having awkward and complicated conversations with people who struggle to separate sex from gender, believe them to be greedy, assume their orientation is nothing more than a story or believe them to be participating in some radical new “trend”.
The word “trend” is a term bandied about more frequently than usual these days. This is yet another belief some have toward LGBTQIA+ people which causes more harm than anything else. The assumption here is that anyone non-heteronormative aren’t actually authentic individuals whose sexualities or gender identities are wired into their natural state of being, but are merely acting out some sort of lifestyle choice to appear “hip” or “cool”.
This point of view implies that alternative sexualities or non-conforming gender identities are more of a modern fashion statement. Such points of views are hugely damaging of course, as they render people’s existences as nothing more than fads. This undermines the struggles LGBTQIA+ people face daily, as well as their mental wellbeing and position as legitimate people existing within society. Instead of being perceived as individuals, they come across as caricatures playing a role.
It also runs the risk of governments and other members of authority taking them less seriously when considering policies and laws that affect them. For example, why bother taking the funding of gender identity clinics – clinics which save countless lives via gender reassignment programs – seriously when people are harping on about how those who are transgender are merely dabbling in a “temporary craze”?
Of course it isn’t just the stigmatisation, sensationalization and trivialisation of LGBTQIA+ groups which causes harm in contemporary society, but the more traditional forms of prejudice still occur in day-to-day life.
People are still at risk of getting beaten, murdered, verbally assaulted, disowned by family members, ostracised by friends or losing their jobs because of their gender identity or sexuality. The western world may well be more tolerable today than ever when it comes to such individuals, yet the old poisonous ways of homophobia, transphobia and non-heteronormative prejudice still exist to some extent in these supposedly enlightened times.
However alongside all of this, progress is still certainly taking place. Regardless of the ignorant fools and bigoted creeps still causing suffering for others, there are so many in this day and age who are supportive, understanding, willing to learn and entirely accepting of those who are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Families, friends, colleagues, employers, members of authorities and even strangers in plentiful quantities are more willing than ever to offer their support and respect for those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, pan, intersex, asexual, aromantic and so on.
Society is growing more accepting as each year goes by, which is something we should celebrate and cherish. Because having allies is the only way of ever making society truly accepting and supportive toward such matters. The fact that so many now stand up for their LGBTQIA+ kinfolk means fantastic feats are being achieved in modern times.
All of this is utterly fantastic, however there’s still work to be done. So many allies have been made in this long and hard journey toward acceptance, nevertheless there’s still some out there who continue to pollute our society with bigoted toxic notions which cause far too much unnecessary suffering and distress.
So if any allies out there see an LGBTQIA+ person receiving hassle or prejudice during their day to day travels, please, show your kindness and compassion by offering a helping hand.
There’s no need to put yourself in harms way of course; yet acts as simple as supporting victims of prejudice, reporting a hate crime to a member of authority, politely calling out hurtful comments made by acquaintances, respecting the identities of those who may not identify as their birth assigned gender or even offering to listen to an LGBTQIA+ friend who may well be suffering will go a long way in enriching the lives of so many.
We’ve come so far over the past couple of decades in the western world, nevertheless there’s still too much distress, suffering and hatred aimed needlessly at individuals all because of the people they love, the genders they identify as and the bodies they were born with.
LGBTQIA+ or not, if we are to address and overcome these obstacles which still remain, coming together and helping one another out is the way forward.
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Image by Debra Torrance
Written by Amber Heathers