There’s not a lot of coverage of LGBTQIA+ people in media (well, not mainstream media); that goes without saying. Any coverage is too preoccupied with “same-sex” marriage (or “gay marriage,” depending on who’s talking, which doesn’t take into account that not all gay relationships consist of same-sex people). No one really reports on world-shattering issues facing our communities like Queer youth homelessness or extremely high rates of suicide, for example.
Legalization of “same-sex” marriage is cool, it’s important to a lot of people. (Though I celebrated as much as the next Queer person on that day, I continue to wonder ‘now that we’ve achieved this, can we begin working openly on more pressing issues facing our demographic now?’) But looking at the rainbow-bright images flash across the TV screen, I did not see myself and I did not see my friends. When I see joyful images floating about the internet of couples down on one knee, or kissing at the altar, I do not see myself and I do not see my friends.
In the public eye, white cis gay men with thin, fit bodies have become the face of the queer movement. These men did not chose or ask to be the face of the movement, popular media simply gave them this unwanted title. These white cis gay men are certainly part of our queer community–however they can’t represent the entire queer community. No one can. Our community is diverse and full of people of different races, classes, abilities, sexualities, sexes, genders, and identities–to put one face on the movement or the community is to prioritize one and silence the others. The mass media, a prescriptive device rather than a descriptive device, has plastered a face on us. A singular face that does not, and never has, been wholly representative of all of us. A face that we did not ask for.
This is no mere coincidence. Media both reflects views of dominant culture as well as reinforces the views already held. (Even worse, it can infect dominant culture with—prescribe to dominant culture—views that it warps to fit an agenda, such as how #BlackLivesMatter is now considered a ‘murder movement.’) Because the ‘default’ human being is a heterosexual, white, thin, cisgender, middle- to upper-class, able-bodied, neurotypical man, the more an individual or demographic deviates from that model, the more marginalized and oppressed they become.
The Public Face forced upon us is one of assimilation. When facing assimilation into dominant culture, we don’t get to decide; everyone else besides us gets to decide what an ‘acceptable’ LGBTQIA+ demographic or individual is and what an ‘undesirable’ LGBTQIA+ demographic or individual is. Gay assimilation means certain people gain access to resources required to reach social equity while others—the ‘undesirables,’ such as Queer people of Color, Queer Woman of Color, Trans* individuals, Trans* people of Color, fat Queer people, Queer people who do not fit dominant beauty standards, disabled Queer individuals, Asexuals, and on and on—get left behind and worse.
Rhetoric that hinges on “we’re just like you” is non-inclusive, and results in this some-join-the-club, most-get-left-behind situation; “we’re just like you” is an assimilation tactic, whether those who promote it realize it or not, and the basis of assimilation is comforting cis-het culture, changing ourselves and our narratives to cater to what they’d prefer to see from us while leaving out narratives that are uncomfortable (narratives that are the most important to tell because they are uncomfortable).
Is that the kind of ‘liberation’ we want?