COLUMN: The bags under my eyes are also queer

Being queer or gender-nonconforming shouldn’t mean that you have to lead the gay crusade, but that’s what it means right now.

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Abigail Ruhman is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.

This column is part two of Abigail Ruhman’s “Twelve Gays of Christmas: The Sequel” series. Twelve Gays of Christmas is a 12-column series about a variety of LGBTQ topics. During the holidays, members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to experience depression. By informing readers of the issues facing the LGBTQ community, these columns are meant to support the community this holiday season. This year is the second year of this series and shows that even though it can seem like things are fine, there is still a lot of discrimination and challenges facing the LGTBQ community.

Education is a powerful tool. As someone learns new information, theoretically, their views should adapt. This doesn’t mean that if you read something once, you should automatically believe it, but rather that facts don’t have feelings. No matter how much people try to ignore or challenge a proven fact, it is still a fact. Education supplies people with this knowledge, which means it carries power.

The problem is sometimes education isn’t allowed to carry or state the facts correctly. For the queer and gender-nonconforming community, this affects how its members are allowed to live. Only four states require public schools to teach history with LGBTQ individuals in it. Notice, it’s not focusing on it, but just stating that the schools should mention that LGBTQ individuals exist. The inverse of this is that six states have laws, so eloquently referred to as “No Promo Homo” laws, that forbid “schools from teaching lesbian, gay or bisexual people or topics in a positive light in health or sexual education classes,” according to U.S. News.

When schools fail to provide basic education surrounding the queer and gender-nonconforming community, it’s left up to the community. This goes deeper than just history books. Having your life as a debate topic is exhausting and frustrating. Katelyn Burns wrote a first-person account of the arguments in the transgender employment discrimination case that was debated in the Supreme Court in early October for Vox. The article was bluntly titled, “I listened to the Supreme Court argue about my rights as a trans person. I have never felt more frustrated,” but perfectly fit what a lot of queer and gender non-conforming individuals experience daily.

In 2017, WNYC studios asked LGBTQ individuals what their experience was like being gay in a workplace. Multiple responses noted how tiring it was to defend LGBTQ rights, educate on queer culture, balance the difficulties of being trans and survive coworkers who continuously act in an offensive manner. One individual made sure everyone was aware that they used they/them pronouns, but still dealt with constant misgendering. Others tried to stand up against bigotry but were shut down.

LGBTQ rights shouldn’t be a debate. As radical as that statement sounds, it’s exhausting to defend. Another person answered WNYC’s question by explaining, “I have never hid my sexuality at work, but I often have to hold my tongue when customers say things like, ‘I’m glad they don’t hire queers here, I need a man with muscle to help me with my lumber.” There’s a desire to respond. People within the community know that if they don’t speak up there’s a chance that no one will, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

The role of educating and defending is one with which the LGBTQ community is familiar. Lil Nas X, the record holder for most weeks at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100, had a similar experience on HBO’s “The Shop: Uninterrupted.” When the host asked why Lil Nas X felt it was important to come out when he did, Lil Nas X was ready to respond. Before he could respond, Kevin Hart, who stepped down from hosting the Oscars due to homophobic tweets and jokes, interrupted and asked why it mattered. While Hart was being abrasive, Lil Nas X remained calm, cool and collected. Hart pushed on wondering why Lil Nas X even thought it was necessary to have representation. In response, Lil Nas X pointed out that if Hart was sincere about his past, he should know.

The expectation that LGBTQ members have to remain calm isn’t fair. Had Lil Nas X been emotional, that encounter would have had a different undertone. This was after Hart apologized for being homophobic and deciding he was “over it.”

Celebrities aren’t immune to making the world exhausting for queer and gender-nonconforming individuals. Hart isn’t the only one either. Logan Paul, a Youtuber, casually decided he was going gay for a month. Self-proclaimed LGBTQ icon, Taylor Swift, recorded an LGBTQ anthem where she equated her experiences with critics to homophobia. The community now has to explain that this isn't how to be an ally. Being queer or gender-nonconforming isn’t a challenge people do for a month. Homophobia isn’t a bad experience with the press — it’s a systematic and structural component of society. It’s so bad it can be internalized.

LGBTQ individuals shouldn’t have to prepare lesson plans every time they leave the house. They shouldn’t have to be an encyclopedia that answers or knows every single possible thing about the community. Queer and gender-nonconforming lives shouldn’t be a debate. There isn’t room for a devil’s advocate here. Having to constantly defend a part of you is exhausting, frustrating and shouldn’t be a requirement.

Edited by Bryce Kolk | bkolk@themaneater.com

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