Houston, we have a problem
Something I think we can all agree upon is that the LGBTQ community is pretty resilient when it comes to … well, basically everything. We’ve survived the AIDS epidemic; the fight for marriage equality; and “don’t ask, don’t tell,” among many others. However, the dust has not yet settled on one of our latest struggles — straight people in the gayborhood. Having allies is always a welcome sight, and who hasn’t enjoyed having that straight bestie in your life? After all, who else is going to tell you, grinning like the Cheshire Cat the entire time, that they have a friend that they’re dying to introduce you to, who also just happens to be gay? In fact, you’ve lost count how many times you’ve said, “Just because we’re both gay Karen, doesn’t mean we’re perfect for each other. That’s not how any of this works.”
Now, before you start thinking this is going to be yet another article advocating for the wholesale expulsion of straight people out of the gayborhood, I’m here to tell you that’s far from the truth.
Let’s set the scene. I’m out with some friends on a Thursday night. We’ve just had a few shots lovingly poured by one of our favorite bartenders (Scott Gomes) at Baja Betty’s, and we decide it’s time to head to Gossip Grill. There we meet this very effusive girl that we’ll call Tina. Now, let’s hold myself accountable here. My immediate assumption is well, she’s at Gossip Grill, and we shouldn’t assume she’s straight. As the night goes on, however, the telltale signs become impossible to ignore. Tina’s speech increasingly becomes dominated by incoherent streams of “Yass” every few seconds. She decides to join us at Rich’s (uninvited) and every time we, the gay boys, literally do anything, including breathing, we’re met with revering declarations that we’re sassy, we’re bold, we’re divas and we’re fierce. But what does it mean when every little thing that we say or do, Tina’s hung up on us? I know, that joke was terrible, but you get the gist of what I’m saying. Hillcrest’s scene has a little something for all of us, but what does it mean when the LGBTQ spaces are no longer just ours?
You might be thinking that this is just one instance, and it’s not always like this. Some would say that she’s empowering us to be ourselves, and perhaps we should return the favor. After all, we fought to have the right to do the same. I wholeheartedly agree that we all have every right to express ourselves, and people like Tina aren’t inherently bad. Nonetheless, this behavior can be alienating for someone looking to be with their fellow queer community members, yet everywhere they turn, there are heterosexual people telling them how much they love gay bars, interspersed with requests to not hit on them or to give them fashion tips. (As if the “gay gene” also bestows upon us a compulsive predilection toward converting straight men and fixing fashion).
Unfortunately, the rise of LGBTQ people in media has had the side effect of leading many viewers to very much believe that those media people provide a perfect window into how we exist in the world. Sure, many in our vast and diverse community may be well dressed, sassy, uninhibited, and confident. That said, while it is genuinely wonderful that so many people are becoming interested in our community, it is important for them to remember that we’re not a zoo for straight people to gawk at, awestruck at the exotic sights within.
For many in our community, the bars, clubs, coffee shops, and boutiques are just a few places that have made us feel like we have a space to just be ourselves. As the community becomes more accepted, it’s important to remind our heterosexual allies and friends that this space wasn’t made for them, and while their presence is welcome, in being here, they should be sure to respect us, our diversity, and the spaces created for our survival.
Here are my top five tips on how to be a better ally for the LGBTQ community.
- Trying to hook your gay friends up with one another when our only commonality is being gay is not allyship. Get to know your friends a little better.
- Just because you’re straight and you walk into a gay bar doesn’t mean everyone’s going to hit on you. Try not to make a scene if someone does hit on you, though. You’re in a gay bar.
- Watch something other than “RuPaul’s Drag Race” or “Will & Grace.” There is a lot more LGBTQ media out there with more realistic and humanizing depictions of our lives and struggles. A few examples:
- “Paris is Burning”
- “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson”
- Google is free. If you don’t know something, it’s not our job to educate you when we’re out in the club. That said, if you ask politely, your friends may be happy to help you navigate the different terminology and decorum.
- Lastly, remember we all may not have the same beliefs, but one thing that’s universal is wanting to feel accepted. Just be kind in spaces that were created out of a need for safety, not to gawk.
Bonus tip: Buy your LGBTQ friends a vodka soda. It’s low in calories.
—Korie has worked within the LGBTQIA+ community since coming out in college in 2014. With five-plus years of experience working with marginalized communities in various positions such as a peer educator at California State University San Marcos’ Gender Equity Center, a writer at the RAGE Monthly Magazine and as a host at Baja Betty’s. He currently works at University of California San Diego providing support to students. His journey as an undergraduate student at SCUSM provided him the skillset and depth he has in his current role.