The Phrase Gay People Need To Stop Using

The Phrase Gay People Need To Stop Using

Originally published on huffingtonpost.com

“I’m not defined by being gay.”

It’s time we retired this phrase.  There are a few reasons why it’s said, and a few (and much stronger) reasons why we need to no longer say it.

It’s a phrase used most commonly by those who are newly-out and/or by those who are living lives where they’re around those whose attitudes toward gay people might not be as inclusive, educated and/or understanding as they could be.  It’s used in this way to compartmentalize our orientation, as if to say, “Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean it’s the only thing about me” ― and while that is true, we are all “more” than Just Gay,  we also are gay. Even if we try to hide it in the many ways it can be hidden, it will always be a part of who we are.

This usage is meant to calm straight people ― to assure them that we’re “just like them,” and thus nothing to fear or look down on.

But when was the last time you heard a straight person say that they’re “not defined by being straight?” I’m going to wager never, as being straight is not something that society has or will ever expect someone to apologize for or explain away.  Straight people grow up with no negative stigmas attached to the heterosexual identity, and as such have no reason for language to compartmentalize it in the way that many LGBT people still do.

It is also a lie. Of course we’re defined by being gay, we can’t not be. We’re as defined by being gay as all straight people are defined by being straight. No gay person is more or less defined by it than any other; all gay people are defined by being gay to the exact same degree.

There are gay people who reject this idea ― and it’s most often those who want to distance themselves from others within the gay communities by appealing to an anti-gay attitude in culture.  It’s a way to deflect anti-gay attitudes away from one’s self and onto someone else.

This is something I’ve actually had an easier time explaining to straight people than to some gay people; usually those who still struggle with embracing a gay identity will try to downplay or compartmentalize their gayness.  They still feel a need to insist to others, and often themselves, that they’re not like those other gay people.  This insidious behaviour has been around for as long as we’ve been Coming Out and it still exists in 2016, where the only way some gay men can feel comfortable is to declare how “Unlike Those Other Gays” they are.  I understand that discomfort, I felt it myself in my first openly-gay years, but it can be overcome with honest self-interrogation.

Being defined by our orientation does not in any way mean that we are solely defined by it, nor that our orientation is the largest of our many defining characteristics or factors that make us who we are.  But it is a factor in how we view our place in the world and how we’re treated in it, regardless of whether or not one is even openly-gay ― we still view the world as a gay person, we experience it as a gay person.  We are never not gay.  It is also worth remembering that it is the part of us that we learned, from a young age, to keep hidden. People don’t intentionally hide small and non-important things for years.  We hide what we fear is so big and negative that our lives as we know them will collapse should the truth come out.

It is also the language of weakness. Rather than embracing a gay identity, saying “I’m Not Defined By Being Gay” is indeed apologizing for it. It says that being gay is a negative, and that to be seen and treated with dignity, fairness and respect, we want others to “not see” us as a gay person.

I’ve had variations of this expressed to me before by straight people, very well-meaning ones, who thought that saying “I don’t see you as a gay man, I see you as a friend” was something I wanted to hear.  Frankly, it’s not.  I worked too hard to overcome societal homophobia as well as my own insecurities and the internalized homophobia that plagued my earlier gay life to not want the Gay Man that I am today to be seen. I worked for that courage to be the openly-and-happily gay man that I am today. I want him to be seen.

When someone says “I’m Not Defined By Being Gay”, what they end up conveying is “Don’t define me solely and negatively by my being gay,” revealing that how they feel about being gay is still defined by a fear of how others may treat them as a gay person. It shouldn’t be surprising then that the phrase is touted with much frequency by politically-conservative gay men; it’s the censoring, editing and compartmentalizing of your identity to win entry into a still-anti-LGBT political club; your membership hinges on the conditional approval of anti-gay people. In turn, how you feel about being gay ends up being defined by the negative attitudes toward gay people that are expressed by those around you.

The openly-gay male who goes to gay bars and pride parades is not more defined by being gay than the gay man who is not out, or the gay man who is out but does not socialize with other gay men. The gay voter who cares about political candidates’ stances on LGBT issues is not more defined by being gay than the gay voter who chooses to support anti-LGBT political candidates.

As an outspoken gay man, I’ve been told before that I am defined by being gay because I talk about being gay and queer a lot, through my daily life and advocacy and activism.  The reason I talk about it so much is because I have the privilege to be able to do so. I came out when I was in high school, to parents whose first words when I came out were: “That’s wonderful, when do we get to meet your boyfriend?” My parents were both very active in PFLAG for many years; my mother was formerly the President of the Toronto chapter and was the Grand Marshall of the Toronto Pride Parade in 2013. I talk about being gay, and my parents continue to talk about LGBT issues, because too many people in culture still won’t, or are not yet in a space that affords them the ability to do able to so, safely and confidently.

We cannot command respect for ourselves as gay people when we continue to use specific language that compartmentalizes our orientation and identity.  When we apologize for being gay, we’re complicit in the culture that continues to see it as a negative.

I view being gay as a gift that has offered me the clarity of an outsider’s perspective. I not only have had to figure out who I am, but how I will fit into a world not-yet made for people like me.  That perspective has been invaluable in helping to see that the way things are is a transient construct than can and will be changed as more minds are opened.

The voices of hatred and bigotry against us will never be silent. The voices of equality and truth need to be loud and proud. And being proud means that we will no longer apologize for nor dismiss our orientations and identities as things that do not define us.

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29 Comments

  1. pete
    August 20, 07:06 Reply

    Crap. People say it not to be put in boxes which most people are guilty of. And as for heterosexual people not saying it, have you ever seen a heterosexual coming out or heterosexual pride?

    • Truth
      August 20, 12:30 Reply

      Coming from a bisexual-cum mgm, crap too.

      • TEA
        August 20, 22:42 Reply

        Sorry oh truth,how is it your headache that Unku Pete is married???keep your standards to yourself and let people live thier life biko!!!

    • Dimkpa
      August 20, 14:34 Reply

      Are you for real? Did you seriously ask “have you ever seen a heterosexual coming out or heterosexual pride?” Have you no clue as to the nature of the world or structure of society?

      Please read the second to the last paragraph again and if possible, meditate on it…smdh

      • pete
        August 20, 15:18 Reply

        Dimkpa, guess you misunderstood my comment. I said heterosexuals do not say ‘don’t define me by my sexuality’ because nobody puts them in a box cos of their sexuality.
        @Truth, you just proved my assertion by judging me based on a sexuality.

  2. Francis
    August 20, 07:17 Reply

    I concur biko. Quite a number of times in the past, I’ve wondered what my life would be like if I wasn’t gay and I’m happy to say I’d rather stick with the gay biko. It’s been a long hectic journey and I’ve learnt a lot about myself and I’m proud to say being gay defines me. It’s not just about the guy on guy sex but how you can easily relate to other people’s struggles *for those that can ???*.

  3. Absalom
    August 20, 07:38 Reply

    Ah…? Soon as I saw “Toronto” in the article, I knew it was Raymond Miller writing. He takes no nonsense. ?

  4. JoshDeity
    August 20, 07:47 Reply

    I’m so gay I can’t even think straight.
    I don’t think straight about anything.

  5. Silver Cat
    August 20, 08:25 Reply

    “…we still view the world as a gay person , we experience it as a gay person . We are never not gay.”
    *Holy Words, long preserved for our work in this world…*

  6. bruno
    August 20, 08:51 Reply

    just shared the link with a friend who is fond of saying this. i’m tired of explaining to him that his problem is internalised homophobia and that pandering to homophobes is pathetic

  7. Mitch
    August 20, 08:51 Reply

    Well, this is a two-way thing for me. As much as being gay is a major reality for me and colours by worldview, I most definitely wouldn’t want to be defined by my sexuality. I mean, you never hear stuff like “that straight or heterosexual Singer/actor” but let folks talk about San Smith. First thing you hear is not Singer or artist or great voice. Nah! It’s ‘gay’.

    So me saying I don’t want to be defined by my sexuality is not a crap or old line. It is a major identification struggle I go through daily and it’s something I don’t want. See me for me, for who I am not for my bedroom proclivities!

    • Francis
      August 20, 09:06 Reply

      I sometimes have a problem with the use of those gay musician/actor lines but in some way, it could be a means of highlighting the fact that gays are not write-offs. They are human and can be super talented with a lot to offer to the world unlike what some idiots think.

    • Jagz
      August 20, 15:58 Reply

      Amen bro!
      “Oh look, that gay actor did a great job in that movie”; emphasis on the label ‘gay’. The actor may or may not have been so good in the movie. Instead of a fair unbiased critique of his work he is either patronized or vilified primarily because of his sexuality.
      For instance, look at Tom Daley the British Olympic diver. For every 9 articles written about his sexuality, you find a token one written about his career successes or failures as a diver. The primary fixation of society is on his sexuality as if ‘wow, so gays can be olympians’. I argue that this is a mild form of homophobia that society has come to accept and perpetuate. By patronizingly lowering the standards for gay people as if we are disabled, society perpetuates inequality and intolerance.

    • Dimkpa
      August 20, 20:33 Reply

      Looking at things from another angle. Most things in life are defined based on sex or gender, which are basically surrogates for sexuality. This is because it is a very important aspect of a person. How many forms do you fill that don’the have a box for sex. Some countries now ask for sexuality to ensure they have a diverse work force. However being described as gay or by any sex doesn’t fully define anyone. I think we need to get that clear.

      For instance in these Olympics there are men and women events. Simone Manuel was said to be the first black, African American, woman to win gold in swimming. Look at all the adjectives used to describe her and no one is complaining. They are used because that is what she is. Does it define her in her entirety? Probably not because I am fairly certain there are other aspects to her life including family, academics etc which you can’t presume to know because of the above description.

      Saying someone is a gay musician or sports man or whatever doesn’t define the person in his entirety in the same way it doesn’t define Simone. It would be an absurd assumption to make and I fear it is the mindset from people who think everyone will judge them for being gay. Some people might but it is out of ignorance and I don’t think we should pander to it.

      It is possible to have associations of gay lawyers, doctors, etc like there are for women doctors, judges and the like. It only shows we are part of the world like everyone else.

    • Dimkpa
      August 20, 20:45 Reply

      In addition if I achieve something worthy of note in the world today, would I want it known it is by a gay man? Absolutely! It would help some people and even give me greater joy when it annoys the haters… 🙂

  8. Delle
    August 20, 09:06 Reply

    This is deep.
    Umm it is a bit dicey seeing as the writer had it easy, way too easy to be able to embed himself into his sexuality so much so, this statement ‘I’m not defined by being gay’ which isn’t terrible from my perspective (I’ve used it a couple times myself), is to him.
    I understand what he means though. Correction taken.

  9. Harry
    August 20, 09:32 Reply

    You don’t hear straight people saying not to define them by their straightness. They cease every opportunity to throw their heterosexuality on your face. They flaunt it everywhere they go because, of course, it’s the norm. But gay people battling internalized homophobia will tell you “I’m not defined by being gay.” Some will say “My sexuality is nobody’s business. It’s my private life.” Or you’ll hear “Why do I need to come out. Straight people don’t come out.” It’s all so very stupid.

  10. Handle
    August 20, 10:02 Reply

    One thing we should all stop is trying to tell other gay people how to “be gay”. There is no right or wrong way to go about this. You need to understand this is someone’s viewpoint, you might agree with it but that doesn’t make it any more true for everyone.

    I deal with being gay differently, we all do. People have been telling me how to do this or be that for as long as I could remember but I refuse to accept other gay people adding theirs to the list.

    I can go into a long charade of how I perceive being gay and how gay people should too or why other gay people that don’t agree are wrong but no, I’d just be doing the same thing the writer did. Telling y’all how ” to be gay”. Maybe I feel this way because I grew up not having a hard time with my sexuality. It was just what it was. My childhood wasn’t defined by the turbulences of trying to accept myself or finding other people to accept me. Being gay as a profounding effect on who I’m and how I view the world but that doesn’t still make me want to be defined solely by being gay, anymore than I want to solely be define by being neoliberal, antagonism and every single “ism” I identify with. And I understand I’m me because “all” of this complement who I’m thus making me me.

    But one thing I agree with the writer is ” that they’re not like those other gay people.” And yes I ll insist I’m not like other gay people the same way other gay people are not like me.

    So Bruno, when someone doesn’t agree with your shared perspective of the right way “to be gay” please refrain from using the term IH.

    I’m not defined by being gay doesn’t mean I want to distant myself from being gay. I love and cherish my non-straight sexuality.

    • Truth
      August 20, 12:38 Reply

      Except you only have a problem with being defined by your sexuality if somewhere in your heart you think it’s wrong. Even the tiniest bit of it is internalised homophobia.

      You only try to distance yourself from something or to not be defined by it if you think it’s something negative; Hello IH!!

        • Truth
          August 20, 15:06 Reply

          You lingered long in #FrustrationValley only to creep out to reply those who don’t give a rats ass about you and your convoluted opinions?

          *sigh*

            • Truth
              August 20, 17:13 Reply

              ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? go back to your dungeon of self loathing and take your silly comments with you.

  11. Lord Naughtiness
    August 20, 14:56 Reply

    One thing we should all stop is trying to tell other gay people how to “be gay”….. I just wish lots of people would see this… All straight people are not the same, they don’t all behave alike and so I wonder why some gay folks would have an issue with u when u don’t act like them and do things the way they do it….I may be gay but its my life and I would live it the way I want to….

  12. ambivalentone
    August 20, 18:26 Reply

    That’s how I went to eat jollof-rice and fish and small chops on another marriage based on lies and deceits and everything turned tasteless the minute I knew. I laughed when I saw this post and I caught my sub this morning and smh. I definitely cannot teach you to be ur gay o.

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