This week, a taxi driver in Managua asked a friend and me why we weren't married. I responded that I'm gay and she is a lesbian and that marriage isn't an option for us at the moment. The taxi driver proceeded to laugh for the remainder of the ride, chortling with tear-moistened eyes even as we exited the cab, unable to muster a goodbye.
I know how I was "supposed" to respond in that situation, something along the lines of, "Oh, we're just friends," or, "I don't know, we're just not ready to tie the knot yet," or, "Gross! She's my cousin!" But every time we do something like that, we are conceding to the historic and systematized invisibilization of LGBT people, a system that relegates us to the shadows purely based on our sexual orientations.
So what can we do about it? The following are 10 easy strategies geared toward heterosexual men and women, who are key to helping dismantle discriminatory forms of communication that invisibilize LGBT people. The catch is that a few of them require straight people to step outside the heteronormative comfort zone and pretend to be gay. So if you are straight, comfortable in your heterosexuality, and ready to show your activism (or get your acting on), why not try them out?
Strategy 1 -- On Marriage: When a new acquaintance asks, "Are you married?" say, "It's complicated. Thanks to the heterosexist and homophobic patriarchy, I can only get married in 15 out of 193 nations and limited jurisdictions."
Strategy 2 -- On Boyfriends/Girlfriends: When someone of the same sex as you asks, "Do you have a girlfriend/boyfriend," throw them off with a counter question like, "Why? Are you interested?" or, "Sorry, you're not really my type."
Strategy 3 -- On Children: When asked, "Do you plan on having kids?" say, "Please specify. Biologically? Through adoption? Artificial insemination?"
Strategy 4 -- On Blood: If asked, "Have you ever donated blood?" say, "I'm a little confused by the rules. Supposedly if two men have protected sex, their blood is deemed impure. If I have protected sex, does that mean my blood is impure as well?"
Strategy 5 -- On Language: If you overhear someone refer to something by saying, "That's so gay," ask him or her to explain to you, in full detail, how a situation or circumstance without gender or sexual orientation can possible be construed as "gay." A nonsensical response will likely splutter forth. Offer gentle criticism, such as, "It's important to think before you speak," or, "Try avoid using an entire social group as the basis for your criticism of things you don't like or understand."
Strategy 6 -- On PDA: Start holding hands with your best friend of the same sex and walk around in a variety of public spaces. Take note of any differences you observe in others compared with when you hold hands with someone of the opposite sex.
Strategy 7 -- On Gender Roles: If asked to identify who plays the man or woman in a same-sex relationship, say, "Homosexuality is not heterosexuality. Social constructions have been historically created by the patriarchy to associate women with the characteristics of passivity, domesticity and subordination to men. Many same-sex couples would prefer not to let those constructions define their relationships."
Strategy 8 -- On Language: When you see someone raise his hands and say, "No homo," raise yours and shout, "Yes, homo! Yes, homo! Yes, homo!"
Strategy 9 -- On Egos: If a gay person "comes out" to you, don't say, "I wish you had told me sooner." This time it isn't about you, or any heterosexual desire, for that matter.
Strategy 10 -- The Sotomayor Smackdown: If you hear someone say, "I only support marriage between a man and woman," do what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor did by asking, "Outside of the marriage context, can you think of any other rational basis, reason, for a state using sexual orientation as a factor in denying homosexuals benefits? Or imposing burdens on them? Is there any other decision making that the government could make -- denying them a job, not granting them benefits of some sort -- any other decision?" You will likely hear a response of the same articulate and substantiated nature as Charles Cooper's, the attorney who argued against gay marriage for the state of California: "I... I do not have... uh... uh... any... uh... anything to offer you in that regard."
And last but not least, if someone communicates in such a way that is inclusive of people of all sexual orientations, give him or her a pat on the back. People who adopt this kind of communication are already part of the change and deserve to be thanked for their efforts.
Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive. All readers are welcome to expand upon these strategies or contribute their own.
A global revolution in the way people communicate with one another is vital. This revolution cannot happen without the deliberate action of heterosexuals.