What’s the role of straight people?

I’ve heard people say that the job of supportive straight people (heterosexuals) is to help gay and transgender people, that the work we do for equality is to benefit them. Similarly, I’ve heard supportive straight folks say that they feel uncertain how to act, because they’re not sure they have permission to speak.

It’s time to consider why heterosexual people work toward welcome and inclusion.

My own work for justice has long been informed by a saying attributed to aboriginal activists: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

When I finally began working for equality, it was after a long period of discomfort. Like everyone else, I had absorbed society’s homophobia (and transphobia, I later learned). I worked very hard to identify and deal with preconceptions and fears that I had learned since early childhood.

I work for equality because I don’t want any more children to learn such aversion, whether of other people, of themselves, or of aspects of themselves. I want children to be free to become fully who they are, to express gender in whatever way comes most naturally to them, to love whomever they’re drawn to, to pursue their own amazing gifts and interests and talents.

When one of my sons was 9, he went to summer camp at the community center, which consisted of all the kids taking a smattering of the classes that were held at the center year-round. So it happened that he landed in a co-ed ballet class with a wonderful teacher, whom he adored. But when he enthusiastically enrolled in that class in the fall, he was the only boy, and the girls began taunting him on the playground as “ballet boy,” after which—with many tears—he withdrew.

I tell that story, not because my son was terribly scarred by that experience, as so many gay and gender-variant children have been, but as an example of how our culture affects all children. Sexism—rigid gender requirements—drove him from pursuing something that gave him joy that year.

That’s not the kind of society I want to live in, much less raise a new generation in.

So what is the role of straight people?

I say it is to create a world that works for everyone, with no-one diminished or undermined, no-one left out.


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One comment

October 30, 2010
5:56 pm

Ann, this is a beautifully written and argued piece about why we all need to work toward a more open and accepting society. Thank you, Sarah Hoffman