I’ve got a queer friend. In fact, I have more queer friends than I can count, and every year it multiplies. It’s my “Queer Magnet Effect.” This could be a product of growing up in an extremely liberal part of America, or perhaps it’s just because people feel comfortable around someone who won’t judge them. (Well, at least on the basis of their sexuality, fashion is a different story.) Either way, it has never bothered me that I have an overwhelming number of queer friends; sexuality doesn’t define who you are as a person.
Someone once asked me why I’m so passionate about gay rights because I am not “one of them.” That’s right, I’m not: I’m a heterosexual (gasp!). Yet that doesn’t mean I can’t care about something other than what immediately concerns me. Everyone should have the same opportunities, including the freedom to live however they choose without facing discrimination. Generally speaking, I believe that people here share my opinions (or if they don’t, they’re not so vocal about it). It’s one of the great perks of living in the Northeast.
However, not every region has the same liberal ideas. I knew that, but I didn’t actually understand it until recently. I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Jamaica last semester, and I loved every minute of it. The food! The culture! The people! The homophobia! Wait … what?
Jamaica is a very homophobic country. While there are a few places where it’s all right to be out, there’s a strong trend towards homophobic tendencies. Although my study group was warned about this beforehand (causing one of us to decide it was better to not go on the trip), it was an entirely different experience seeing it first-hand. I was taken aback after I got to know my flatmates. Once we were having a conversation about people who had lived in the halls previously. One made a comment that they heard a gay person had lived there before, to which another responded that they hoped it wasn’t their bedroom. It was said just like a general comment, as if they said they hoped there wouldn’t be a quiz in math today. The conversation continued to carry on like usual, but I couldn’t get over what my flatmate had just said. Why wasn’t anyone else insulted like I was? Why didn’t anyone say anything? It was then I realized it was because none of my queer friends were there with me, let alone other queers to befriend. I was an ally alone in a homophobic world.
Scenarios like this happened all throughout the semester. Without fail, if there was a conversation in lectures about illustrating something absurd and outside the norm, that thing was homosexuality. In a course on Gender and Development, where one of the sections discussed gender norms in society, queerness came up a lot, but for some reason it always, always focused on gays. Maybe it was because of the inferiority complex of males, or their perceived threat to their masculinity? Many times I had to interject, asking about lesbians (answer: still wrong, maybe hot, but not as immoral as gays) or bisexuals (they don’t exist) or transgender/transsexuals (gross). Forget about people who don’t identify as cisgender, because the concept of gender neutrality was completely out of their field of understanding.
I’m a pretty laid back person, but some things I can’t let slide. Despite being outnumbered in my opinions against the majority, I felt a need to inform people around me. At least if they were going to hate then they should do it with the right facts, instead of stereotypes.
I frequently wrote emails to my friends back home about the uphill battle to fight the good fight with only marginal success. It was frustrating at times, and incredibly depressing, but in the end I learned an important lesson. Not everyone is going to be as open toward queerness as I am, and sometimes no matter what I say (or how obviously right I am), people aren’t going to change their minds. But most of all, I learned that I can still be friends with people who directly opposed major views of mine.
I still want go back to Jamaica if I had the opportunity, because I’ve made a ton of wonderful friends. I gained more self-confidence and learned to be comfortable with who I am. There’s still going to be homophobia, there’s still going to be ignorance and there’s still going to be blatant discrimination mixed in with all the wonderful positives that made me love Jamaica. It’s just something I’m going to have to get used to. Until, you know, my growing entourage of queers takes over the world and turns everyone gay. Obviously.