The unseen, ubiquitous ‘isms’ of the LGBTQ+ community

I recently read an article titled ‘Gay Men’s Sexism and Women’s Bodies’, posted on the Good Men Project. The article discussed the sexism that exists among the LGBTQ+ community, especially the gay male population. Reading it, I began to reflect on all that I myself have seen and heard, which added yet another facet to my (rudimentary) understanding of the prejudice and discriminatory attitudes that exist within the LGBTQ+ community.

The article focused on the sense of entitlement that gay men feel over women and their bodies. This manifests itself in a number of ways, from critiquing the appearance of women to non-consensual physical contact. Through complex patterns of socialization and identity expression, facets of gay culture have become experts in the world of body image. To support this, one needs to look no further than the all-consuming fixation with musculature, gym culture and the sculpting bodies devoid of any fat that grips a vast number of gay men today. Throw into this mix an interest in the world of haute couture, and gay men become self-declared fashionistas. This by itself cannot be faulted in any way, but this social trend becomes problematic when gay men decide to make women their pet projects. It is far too common to observe gay men dishing out fashion advice to women, critiquing their looks or body image and advising them on how to lose “those extra few pounds”. From media to everyday life, this phenomenon is commonplace and pervasive. The all too popular concept of being a woman’s ‘Gay Best Friend’, for instance, grants gay men the license to censure women’s fashion and lifestyle choices, as well as their body image. Perhaps this form of behavior is to be expected from one’s friends, but what is most troubling is that gay men feel entitled to do the same to complete strangers. The second manifestation of gay male entitlement is the normalizing of non-consensual touching and groping of women. I have observed a number of gay men forcibly kiss unsuspecting women, while instances abound of women being touched by gay men in the most inappropriate manner. Yet again, this phenomenon has extended beyond a platonic context to interactions between virtual strangers. What is most disconcerting is that gay men tend to rationalize such behavior on the grounds that they are not sexually attracted to women, and thus, pose no threat to them. Women in turn have come to accept this justification. What neither party nor broader society realizes is that this is a form of sexual violence and discrimination. Regardless of your sexual orientation, one should not have the liberty to impose on another’s bodily integrity – physically, verbally or psychologically. Sexual violence – what gay men consider to be perpetrated by heterosexual men – is rarely about sexuality and more concerning power and authority. This is the exact same dynamic that exists between gay men and women in such instances. By forcibly touching a woman or imposing on her freedom to make choices concerning her body, gay men are exercising a form of authority over them. It is simply a unique manifestation of male privilege.

I’ve talked extensively about the sexism perpetuated by gay men, but we must bear in mind several things. Firstly, not all gay men are complicit in this regard, and I do not intend to blame the entire LGBTQ+ community. Secondly, this is not an indictment. Gay men who behave so are very much products of the intense process of socialization that occurs, which teaches them how to act, think and survive in a less than welcoming world. These values may very well be ingrained in their minds, becoming forces of habit more than premeditated action. Lastly, although I have focused on gay men, there are far more marginalized identities that play a role in furthering racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination from the periphery. For instance, I remember interviewing Pastor Judy Hanlon, a famed LGBTQ+ rights advocate, who spoke of how a group of LGBTQ+ refugees that she accompanied to a pride parade were heckled, abused, and ordered to “go home” by the largely white, middle class lesbian community that was present. Pastor Hanlon had no explanation for this hostility beyond the perceived racial otherness of these refugees (For more information, read this article and its prequel). We know of the hierarchical sense of social order that racial minorities operate by, deeming other minority groups to be lesser, more inferior to their own. And I do not want to get started on how socio-economic status becomes a salient factor for all minorities, as well as others, on online social spaces such as Tinder. Discrimination occurs along the lines of race, gender, sexual orientation and socio-economic class, and is perpetrated by marginalized communities as well as the majority. One explanation for this is that we, as human beings, draw comfort from this process of othering, in believing that there exist others who suffer far more than we do. This tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading us to discriminate and marginalize, and so ensure their misery.

Much of this discrimination that emanates from the margins goes unnoticed as we, as a society, tend to whitewash minority communities of their sins. For instance, the LGBTQ+ community is always considered in the light of victims of oppression, which precludes the ability to examine and correct the prejudices that may exist within. This article does not attempt to negate the suffering that the LGBTQ+ community has experienced. But this does not justify the sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination that exists within this group. It is time we look inwards and examine the deep-rooted biases we harbor. We must realize that being a member of a marginalized community does not catapult one to sainthood, and that all human beings are capable of holding profoundly discriminatory beliefs. Most importantly, we must recognize that there lies more intersectionality in identities than the public face of marginalized communities we are presented with. It is tragic that the fight for equality has such an exclusive face, but we have the power to change that. If we try.

-Themal Ellawala


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