Tuesday, May 17, 2011

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

May 17th is International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. There has been a facebook meme going around, apparently not very extensively because it has yet to show up on google, but I've seen it on 3 friends' walls saying

Today is International Day Against Homophobia. Donate your status for an hour to promote tolerance.

(note that transphobia is missing on this status, which says a lot)

So, what does tolerance mean? According to WordWeb (my usual choice of dictionary/thesaurus), the second definition is "a disposition to allow freedom of choice and behavior" which is good, but the first definition is "The power or capacity of an organism to tolerate unfavourable environmental conditions." Because of this part of the definition, it concerns me that people are still using this language.

I don't want to be tolerated. That sounds to me like being accepted despite my sexuality. Still, I am hoping that this doesn't sound overly critical, or like a personal attack on those that posted that status update. I think that, for the most part, people who talk about tolerance have the best of intentions, I am just trying to point out some of the impacts that the words we use could have on how we think about specific issues. I updated my facebook status to;

Today is international day against homophobia and transphobia! I've read several posts about tolerance, and I would like to say that it is a start, but I don't think the goal should be to merely tolerate queer people, but to fully embrace and accept diverse sexualities and end dichotomous thinking about gender and sexuality.

I'm not going to belabour this part any further, as I think it is rather self-explanatory. I will, however, mention a few more things about language.

I am torn on using the words homophobia and transphobia. On one hand, I think that the words are useful because they are easily understood. On the other, using 'phobia' still leaves the impression that the problem is a few hateful acts by bad people. Most people that I encounter on a daily basis are not homophobic, and homophobic acts are important to point out when they occur, but if that is all we look at, then things look much better than they actually are for non-heterosexual people. Because of this, I personally prefer the term heterosexism when looking at the ways in which the lives of queer people are affected by a culture where monogomous heterosexual relationships are considered to be the norm.

Until the late 1970s, the term homophobia was used to describe "irrational, persistent fear and dread of homosexuals." Using the word irrational implies that there are rational reasons to fear or dread homosexual people... I wonder what these reasons could be. That definition has since expanded to include more subtle attitudes and behaviours such as contempt or aversion. This allows us to see things other than violence or angry epithets as homophobic, but it misses a lot of what is going on. The term heterosexism looks at how society is organized around the premise of heterosexuality as the natural sexuality. It looks at privilege more than hatred. And, it allows us to look at ways in which heteronormativity is built into ruling relations.

On that same note, monosexism implies that people are attracted exclusively to either men or women, which leads to many stereotypes about people who identify as bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer, two-spirited, or any other label or lack thereof that implies that one might be attracted to more than just one specific sex/gender, including assumptions that there are only two genders. There are many stereotypes about bisexual people; that they are sex-crazed, they cannot maintain monogamous relationships, that they are just going through a 'phase', that they are really gay but haven't fully come out yet. I have included this because I am really working to bring awareness to this issue, as a lot of people have never so much as heard the terms 'biphobia' or 'monosexism'.
I did not include transphobia in the above paragraphs on language because I think it could be wrong for me to say that most people are not transphobic... I think that many people are. Transphobic jokes are told on the radio and that is considered entirely appropriate even when I pointed it out to the station and wrote letters to Rogers Media about it. Television programs, even ones I usually like (Big Bang Theory, for instance) sometimes make use of transphobic humor, which makes me think about not watching them anymore. I think that we need to problematize the duality of gender, as it is typically conceived of right now throughout much of the west, I still think that the negative connotations to the word phobia gives it a lot of power that might be useful if we want to come to a place where making fun of trans people is considered to be inappropriate, just as blatantly racist and homophobic jokes are largely (although not yet entirely) considered to be unacceptable throughout mainstream media.

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