Straight and cisgender people being part of the broader queer community is good in a variety of ways, and the example from my own life is growing up queer in a small town with parents who were supportive before either they or I knew I was queer.
My mom and dad grew up in Berkeley CA and were involved through their youths in a variety of extremely nerdy things like the Society of Creative Anachronism, Dungeons & Dragons (and a Star Trek inspired sci-fi variation), theater, etc. Within those groups, and other parts of their lives, they had a lot of queer friends.
They moved around a lot as adults, and this was the pre-internet era so staying in touch was harder, and even when they stayed in touch they didn’t necessarily see people in person much. I wound up growing up in a small liberal town in western WA. Statistically, due to the small population, I just did not know any out queer adults in my hometown when I was growing up. There was no GSA at the school, either.
But for years I had stories of queer adults, long before I ever knew I needed them. I never once worried my parents wouldn’t accept my bisexuality, because I was so very used to my parents talking about queer friends of theirs who were giant nerds, with the exact same fondness and nostalgia as all their other friends. Stories of queer-specific shenanigans were told alongside all the other shenanigans.
We had semaphore flags in the costume playtime box because Dad’s a nautical history nerd, and we had big motorcycle goggles designed to fit over chunky glasses because Mom used to catch rides around the Bay Area with lesbian biker friends. That blend and casualness was just a normal part of my childhood.
I learned from stories of my parents’ friends that you could take stereotypes and turn them into in-jokes; gay friends playing backyard baseball or catch or other sports totally flubbing a throw, and heckling each other with “What’s the matter honey, your wrists too limp?”
I learned about the AIDS epidemic, of the loss, the grief, the stigma, and of the ways people fought back. Supported each other. I learned a lot more when I was older from queer adult survivors of the epidemic online, but I learned first from my parents, who were still grieving friends they lost.
This was not distant history, this was not something that happened to “other people” this was something that happened to their community.
My father’s mother’s brother is gay. My great uncle. He raises tropical birds. When he was a much younger man than he is now, the signaling style of wearing a diamond earring in one ear was starting. Now, at the time, most men to wear a diamond earring as a signal of their sexuality wore very small, discreet flecks. Just this little flash of light that might catch your eye, that might make you look again.
Great Uncle inherited his mother’s engagement ring, took that honking big “look at me and admire how I got engaged! Look at me, look at me!” diamond to the jeweler, and got that sucker turned into an earring. You could not fucking miss it.
And you know what? That’s how I learned about queer signaling as a thing people could do, it was presented as a fun family story, and I wouldn’t have heard it if not for my parents, because Great Uncle lives in a completely different part of the country from us and doesn’t travel much, so I’ve only met him twice, during which everyone was catching up on current life, not stories of his youth.
When my mom, dad, and their friends were all young adults who’d recently left home and were living in a different state from their families, one of their friends was a butch gay man who’d recently come out to his parents. And his mom wanted to be supportive, and she was a person who sewed clothes herself. So she made him shirts. She had his measurements, and she’d regularly mail him care packages with beautifully hand-made button up shirts in pink and purple fabrics. Because those were the gay colors at the time, and she wanted to make sure he knew she supported everything about him, that she would never want him to change himself to fit in society’s mold.
Now the thing was, pink and purple were not actually to his taste. They were not colors he’d normally pick out for himself. But he and his parents didn't live in the same state anymore, this was pre-Internet, if you wanted to share photos you had to take them, develop the film, and mail them. So she wasn’t seeing his style regularly, she was seeing the style of the out gay men back in the Bay Area, and doing her best.
He wore the shirts. He was running around the Oregon countryside as a butch gay man in the early 1980’s in pink and purple button ups, because his mom made them for him with love, he loved her too.
So I heard this story growing up, and I learned from it. I learned parents could love and wholly support their queer children long before I ever heard about parents who rejected theirs. I learned love is in the actions we take. That it’s going to be imperfect, but what matters is we’re trying our best, and accepting that from each other.
I’m bisexual, and I’ve got some weird gender stuff going on. I did not know any out queer adults in my hometown growing up. I did not find any writings until the early 2000’s when the Internet became more accessible. My school did not have a GSA.
But I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew pieces of west coast queer culture and history. I knew queer people could be giant nerds, could be outdoorsy, could be silly and serious and fully rounded people with rich, wonderful lives. That their friends and family could accept them wholly without hesitation. Because what was there to hesitate over?
I’ve said before my hometown is liberal, and it is, but it still had enough prejudice to keep me semi-closeted as a teen. I had peers insist to me that “a child needs a mother and a father”, had adults insist civil unions were fine but marriage equality would violate religious freedoms, heard peers use “gay” as an insult from late elementary school onwards (and the teachers just ignoring it).
I needed all those stories from my childhood. I needed them. And I had them. Without ever having to ask.
And my brother had them too. He’s straight and cisgender, and he has never been anything but 100% supportive of me. He was arguing for equal rights and refusing to use the derogatory language peers were before I ever came out to him.
When I see people trying to gatekeep the queer community, this is what I think of. I think of being a kid in a small town, without knowing any local out queer adults, hearing people around me say bigoted things, but having all these stories burning in the hearth of my heart, and I think…
You want to douse that flame?
You want to reach back in time and wrench those stories from the child I was?
You’d rather I grow up isolated, confused, lonely, and scared, than have my straight, cisgender parents in the queer community? You want me to be isolated now, you want my brother to abandon me?
Identity and community are intertwined, but they are not rigid, nor should they be.
Community being broader is good.
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