Things have changed a lot since the 1980’s, when I was a teenager. Acceptance of being publicly gay, lesbian, or queer seems to be much more common now than back in the day. That doesn’t mean there aren’t issues to deal with, or some friction in our newfound ally community, but things have definitely changed for the better.
Just to put it in perspective, back in the 1980’s I went to a restaurant with some friends here in the Pacific Northwest. I held hands with my female friend whilst presenting as female. This instigated one of the ugliest scenes I’ve ever been witness to. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever been the target of.
Slowly, the packed Denny’s seemed to notice our little group. The people in line started talking about those “dykes” and “faggots” loudly. A woman actually held her baby up, and said, “Say dyke, baby, say dyke.” I’m not sure what scared me more, the outright aggression, or this woman willfully teaching a baby how to be a bigot.
We kept our heads down, and thought if we could make it to our table, everyone would calm down, but it got worse when we were seated. The men in the next booth leaned over to us and said incredibly insulting and inflammatory things. It spread from booth to booth, as each group seemed to be made bolder by the antics of the bigots before them.
It was one of the worst mob mentality situations I have ever seen, and as a group, we were terrified of walking out to our car. We were scared we would be followed and beaten. We did manage to retreat, but not without having a plate of bacon and eggs tossed on us. We retreated to my vehicle, and escaped. I didn’t have to fight. . . that time.
I’m not saying things back then were always that bad, but incidents happened regularly. When I dated a self-identified man, who preferred to dress as a woman, I was gendered as male, despite my girly teen face. Holding hands with him in public was enough to get death threats, and have folks pull over in their cars to make sure we knew they wanted us to die violently. There was more than one occasion, when we had to run.
This means that it’s great these days that things are moving in the opposite direction. It’s amazing to see LGBT+ folks on public media, and to see the public at large support us.
When I went into a Costco recently, there was a middle aged mother that gave my husband and I, with my new testosterone induced manly persona, a double take, then a huge grin. When I went to the grocery store afterwards, one of the workers made sure to go out of her way to tell me she thought my husband and I were “cute together”. It’s a definite difference to have these allies reaching out, and making sure my husband and I feel welcome.
I see in the queer communities I take part in, that there are some issues with allies. There is a bit of friction with well-meaning would-be allies, that just don’t get it. There is frustration at some of the well meaning cis, straight folks that want to take up our cause, and get a cookie for supporting us. I see some older folks, like myself, look askance at the new found support, because we have decades of emotional armor to put aside before we trust this.
These allies want to do the right thing, but sometimes use problematic terminology, or unexamined stereotypes. They might also not accept everyone in our communities. It’s easy for them to accept white gay cisgendered men, when that’s what we see over and over on TV. That’s just a small part of the LGBT+ community, though.
However, I like it in all it’s problematic glory. Maybe it’s because I’m older, and I remember not too long ago that we didn’t have this many supporters. There have been times in my life, when I would have taken a clumsy ally, and any acknowledgement of acceptance at all, in order to feel safe.
I definitely don’t speak for everyone, but I think the new, widening acceptance of LGBT+ people is generally more good than bad. We can welcome people into the fold, and work on ironing out the wrinkles later.
One of my fears with transitioning female to male, was that my accidentally gay husband would have to undergo some of these scary experiences for himself. I never wanted him to have to walk through life as guarded as I am. I am heartened to see that these days, he never has to develop his defenses like I have.
For me, knowing I can be in public with my very physically affectionate husband without having to put him through any experiences like I have dealt with, is a boon. Knowing that there are so many allies out there that have my back, makes me feel it’s safer in general. Not just for me, but for everyone I love and care for.
I guess for me, having so many random well wishing allies is a life changing experience.