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 three 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.
Curiosity, or not knowing where to look for information, is a tricky thing. While it is natural to be curious about things you may not understand, there are questions that aren’t appropriate to ask sometimes, or any time. For marginalized minorities, these questions, even if they are asked with good intentions, can put the person in an awkward situation. There is a value to privacy, and that value still applies to the queer and gender-nonconforming community.
With how much the LGBTQ community has to advocate for themselves, people outside of the community can feel like they have the right to ask any question that comes to mind. For some members of the community, each question is a teaching moment, no matter how hard the lesson hits home. However, the emotional and intellectual labor of always being available to answer, even the worst intentioned questions, is a lot.
This isn’t to say that learning about the LGBTQ community is a bad thing. It’s actually extremely important. The issue comes when people ask these questions in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or about the wrong topic. When curiosities run the risk of outing someone, they aren’t worth answering. It’s not that that the person wouldn’t answer, but if answering puts them in danger, it’s not okay. If the question is asked when the person is already dealing with a lot emotionally or physically, they may not be able to offer an answer.
When you extend past more innocent questions, the community is put into an even worse spot. It isn’t uncommon for these questions to dig into the LGBTQ individuals’ sexual past, sexual likes or dislikes, coming out story, how they discovered that they weren’t cisgender, straight individuals and other things that aren’t other people’s right to know. Despite the sensitive nature that comes with explaining your experiences as an LGBTQ individual, curiosity seems to erase the fact that the person answering deserves privacy.
For transgender or gender-nonbinary individuals, these questions can get even more intrusive. The National Center for Transgender Equality, an organization that focuses on protecting and advocating for transgender individuals, released a document that covered why certain questions can heavily impact the trans community. It covers the bases of what questions to avoid and how to avoid them. They point out that asking for a condensed medical history or how far along in “the process” people are is inappropriate and invasive. Not every trans person will or wants to get surgery, but that doesn’t make them any less valid. Asking for that information is not only asking about someone’s private medical information but also plays into the idea that the only way to switch pronouns is to “fully” transition. The NCTE also said to avoid asking questions that imply that a person’s gender identity isn’t real if it differs from that assigned at birth.
While there are a lot of parts of the process that are confusing to some, that doesn’t mean that every trans person you meet is required to be your teacher. Requiring them to be completely open leaves them vulnerable to the transphobic conversations that can arise. The consistent request to enter places of privacy isn’t suddenly okay because their identity is something people have questions about.
In addition to being invasive, these questions are rooted in or clearly display offensive undertones. The fact that many people blatantly ask LGBTQ individuals questions related to if they have found God, if their sexuality is a result of greed or trauma or why they act a certain way.
Curiosity isn’t a dangerous thing on its own, but when it’s paired with ignorance or thinly veiled bigotry, it can become a danger to marginalized minorities. Questions aren’t inherently evil, but that doesn’t mean you should wait for a queer or gender-nonconforming person to be the teacher. Start learning on your own. Books, the internet and local LGBTQ centers are here to answer sincere questions. LGBTQ individuals want to teach, but the constant questions make it feel like a full-time job. Ask the questions, but think about what you are actually asking. Words have a lot of impact. What do your words say to those around you?
Edited by Bryce Kolk | email@example.com