Double Standards

This essay is in response to the following letter, which was originally published in the August 2004 issue of San Francisco magazine:

Lesbians with Attitude
After reading Diana Kapp’s “The L Weird” in your July issue, I couldn’t help but think how hypercritical the lesbian women in the story are. They struggle to tolerate “clueless straight people” in their everyday lives and have “perfected the eye roll” for dumb questions. They admit they socialize mainly with other lesbians, because straight people just don’t get it.

The women you interviewed come off as elitist and exclusionary. They want tolerance and acceptance, yet they offer none in return. What if straight people said how exasperated they were by clueless lesbians? You’d better believe those same lesbians would be crying foul faster than you can say “dyke march.”

If we want to be accepted, we have to practice what we preach. And yes, I am a lesbian, too.

Marie Taylor
San Francisco

First of all, I have to say that treating people equally does not mean treating them the same. Straight people are definitely in a different situation than gay people are in. If that weren’t the case, Ms. Taylor wouldn’t have to end her letter with the proclamation that she is a lesbian—messages would stand alone themselves. Ms. Taylor knows, though, that messages do not stand alone themselves. Messengers are often equally as important as the messages themselves. By extension, a lesbian woman rolling her eyes at clueless straight people is not the same as a straight person rolling her eyes at a clueless lesbian.

I’d be interested to hear just what would make a lesbian “clueless” to a straight person? I don’t think Ms. Taylor’s hypothetical scenario exists. It’s argument for the sake argument—it’s not rooted in reality at all. Ask any lesbian “What ignorant questions have straight people ever asked you?” and she’ll likely come up with a whole slew of them right away. As a straight person, I can’t think of a single ignorant question any lesbian or gay man has ever asked me relating to sexuality. Even though I myself am not gay, it’s easy for even me to think of some stupid questions straight people might ask lesbians: “So when are you going to get a boyfriend?” “Are you sure you’re a lesbian? Maybe you just haven’t had a real man yet.” “You’re going to have a kid? How? Lesbians can’t reproduce.”

The truth of the matter is—and if Ms. Taylor really is a lesbian, she would know this—heterosexuality isn’t just heterosexuality; it’s heteronormativity. It is the dominant sexual culture in America. And the dominant culture generally tends to be the one that asks ignorant and “clueless” questions of the marginalized cultures. As a man, I’m rarely asked questions that annoy me because of their ignorance. As an Asian-American, I’m asked these questions quite frequently. As a college-educated person (which means I’m numerically in the minority but also still in the dominant educational culture), I’m almost never asked questions out of ignorance. As a devout (i.e., not nominal) Christian, I frequently encounter ignorance and prejudice.

It’s only natural for marginalized cultures to want to make “safe” spaces for themselves from annoyingly ignorant questions, from misunderstanding and prejudice. Separatism has its benefits, just as integration does as well. I challenge Ms. Taylor to take a poll of straight people: “When was the last time you had to roll your eyes because a lesbian asked you a stupid question about your sexuality?” The fact of the matter is most lesbians, at one point or another, in an effort to fit in, tried “being” straight, but far fewer straight women have tried “being” lesbian.

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