Author: Landon Lai (Social Libertarian)
When people think of gay culture, people tend to think of Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and probably Britney Spears for her infamous line, “Its Britney, b*tch.”
But, what people fail to consider is that awkward silence when your mom asked if the girl you hung out with was your girlfriend, that weird moment after your dad made a slightly (more often than not) homophonic comment when you guys were watching TV, or that split second of dead air when your “bros” made a lewd comment about that openly gay kid at your school.
Those are the OG’s of gay culture.
On June 15, 2020, LGBTQIA+ people in America celebrated a court victory as the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruled 6:3 against discrimination in the workplace based on a person’s sexual orientation. And although this marks a significant and irrefutable civil rights affirmation for LGBTQIA+ people, we still have to acknowledge the many ugly, unnecessary prejudices and impediments LGBTQIA+ people face in our society at nearly all levels, ranging from education to healthcare, and from military to commercial life.
Before we dive into today’s discussion, allow me to define the term LGBTQIA+: L for lesbian, G for gay, B for bisexual, T for transgender/transexual, Q for queer, I for intersex, A for asexual/ally. There are, of course, more to those 7 letters. There are gender non-conforming, nonbinary, cisgender, demisexual and etc, but for the sake of concision and overall readability, this article with use the term LGBT+ to refer to people who do not conform to heteronormativity.
Back to the topic!
LGBT+ people face severe discrimination in many facets in their lives, and these discriminations, no matter how big or small, create problems and perpetuate the idea of heteronormativity indefinitely.
But, “how?” you may wonder, “Isn’t LGBT+ people afforded rights and freedom equal to everyone else?”
A short answer to that question would be “no,” and a more in-depth answer would be “no” as well.
For starters, when has a heterosexual individual been fired solely* for being “straight”? When was the last time a heterosexual individual been denied healthcare needs solely* on the grounds of personal beliefs? When was the last time a heterosexual couple’s union been deined by the state solely* because it violates the “sanctity of marriage”? (Keyword is solely, and please don’t argue by stating egregiously unusual circumstances like incest. That’s a different discussion!)
The answer to those questions is “never” and “not really” because it was only a few weeks ago that the US Supreme Court decided LGBT+ people are worth just as much in terms of employment. Think about this: LGBT+ people are just as human as others–in terms of employment–only (keyword!) because the Supreme Court of the United States of America decided they are. (It is not that I’m not appreciative of this ruling for finally recognizing LGBT+ rights as human rights, but the fact that it takes the highest court in this country to validate and reaffirm LGBT+ people’s humanity is disheartening.)
The many rules and regulations we have, or the lack thereof, that protect LGBT+ people are insufficient and ridiculous.
On June 12, 2020, the Trump administration released new guidelines for medical professionals to allow them to discriminate against LGBT+ individuals. The new regulation allows healthcare providers to deny service to transgender individuals because according to the Trump administration guideline, the term sexual discrimination only applies when someone is unfairly treated for being biologically male or female–and not the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
This elimination of transgender rights protection is merely one hallmark this administration has attempted to deny the humanity of LGBT+ people. Even with minimal rights and protections, many find these anti-LGBT+ discriminations rules selectively enforced, especially in our schools.
With all these toxicities, how are LGBT+ people supposed to go on with their lives free and healthy? No wonder LGBT+ people have a higher propensity to suffer from mental illness than heterosexual people. LGBT+ teens are four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers, and more than 50% of self-identified transgender people suffer from anxiety.
The plethora of mental illness that LGBT+ people face is concerning, to say the least, and to renounce their humanity is pouring gasoline on the fire.
Many LGBT+ individuals have experienced a period of confusion when they first realize their sexual identity, preference, and/or orientation. In this period of incertitude where fear lurks in the shallow and consumes the mind, they need counsel to navigate the murky water that we call sexuality. But, unfortunately, and not surprisingly, many do not have anything to start with and no one to talk to.
The 2019 Trevor Project National Survey on LGBT Youth Mental Health reported that “71% of LGBTQ youth reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the past year,” “less than half of LGBTQ respondents (of the 34,000 total) were out to an adult at school” when struggling, and “2 in 3 LGBTQ youth reported that someone tried to convince them to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
(See here for additional statistics regarding LGBT+ teen lives in America)
And even when LGBT+ teens seek help and receive assistance, it is mostly through their primary care providers–who are oftentimes neither equipped nor educated in treating LGBT+ patients because most medical school curricula include little to no information regarding LGBT+ issues, reported the Center for American Progress. And even if they do, the training mostly pertains to basic population diversity in sexual orientation and/or gender identity when discussing HIV/AIDS. The lack of education and understanding may result in misdiagnosis or underestimation in the extent of emerging disorders in the LGBT+ population, the same article reported.
However, many teens do not receive specific treatment, even through their primary care providers, because they fear their discussion with the providers would reveal their LGBT+ status to their parents, who may be homophobic. And many LGBT+ individuals don’t seek secondary assistance due to limited accessibility, lack of transportation, lack of financial ability, and the lack of general information.
All in all, LGBT+ teens do not have someone to turn to, lean on, and talk with in most of the cases. As they bottle their issues and shun themselves from the outside world, these problems fester internally, transforming them into a walking timebomb as they wait for the imminent implosion.
Moreover, for LGBT+ teens growing up in conservative milieu, they face even more pressure than other LGBT+ teens growing up in comparatively liberal households. Conservative households are often found to have links or membership to an eclectic array of religious organizations providing reparative therapy services to members. And teens in these households are either to conform to heteronormativity or be sent to reparative therapy. Focus On The Family, for instance, is an American fundamentalist Christian organization that preaches “just as there are many paths that may lead a person to experience same-sex attractions, there are likewise multiple ways out.”
First and foremost, these services are innately erroneous because reparative therapy, by default, implies faultiness in LGBT+ behavior while it has been proven by World Health Organization scientists that LGBT+ orientation is not relative to health problems. Secondly, these programs tend to present incorrect world views in the name of religion in an egregious attempt to mask their flagrant misunderstanding of LGBT+ behavior. For example, Jeff Johnston, Issues Analyst for Focus On The Family, once claimed “molestation, divorce, dads who treated their daughters like sons, and rebellion against societal norms as causes of being LGBTQ,” reported the Human Rights Campaign. While these programs and their unsubstantiated ways of treatment are not only destructive to an individual’s mental health, they are also perpetuating the idea of heteronormativity, toxic masculinity, and misogyny even further in our societies.
(For a comprehensive list of actions or claims that Focus On The Family has made against LGBT+ groups, see here)
As boys become men and girls become women (or kids become adults for my non-binary peeps ;), many will find an increase in knowledge in LGBT+ behavior, leading to acceptance. However, we can still find raments of toxic masculinity, even in the gayest of them all. And these vestigial ways of thinking continuously affect LGBT+ individuals.
Internalized homophobia is merely one of the many ways in which homophobia manifests itself into our lives. Internalized homophobia is homophobic actions or ideals that LGBT+ individuals hold against ourselves, and it is essentially “self-hatred, shame, fear, anxiety, and depression” that an LGBT+ person may feel for being LGBT+.
The infamous Instagay phenomenon is the quintessential example to be cited when discussing internalized homophobia. The word “Instagay” takes root in two words in the modern English language: Instagram and gay. The term refers to gay men on the platform, with thousands of followers, almost exclusively posting pictures of their allegedly extravagant lifestyles, post-workout selfies with a lean and chiseled body, explained Khalid El Khatib, Brooklyn-based writer and marketer.
Instagays are glorifying internalized homophobia because they preach the notion of an ideal gay man: a masculine man with a toned body and chiseled abs, caucasian looking, and oftentimes paired with a similar-looking partner. The lack of diversity and glorification of a unified image of the so-called gay man misconstrues modern gay life and is detrimental to the sustainable development of the next LGBT+ generation.
The main takeaway here is not to prevent the use of social media to share your life, but rather to be mindful of the potential lack of diversity on these platforms and not overly project yourself into these people’s lives.
Khalid explained that “Instagays are algorithmically-calibrated thirst traps, a new kind of social media star whose fame is predicated on a heady combination of sculpted abs and the lavish trappings of ‘influencer’ culture.” And as their followers look up to them as role models and idols, “is the superficiality of Instagay culture really something they should look up to?” he questioned.
And food for thought: when people do look up to these standards, are they healthy, sustainable, and conducive to the overall development of the LGBT+ lifestyle?
Mental health problems, whether originating from outside the LGBT+ circle or from within, are detrimental to the success and advancement of LGBT+ people. We have to continuously advocate for better treatment under the law, raise awareness for LGBT+ issues, and create an inclusive, welcoming environment in all places so that LGBT+ people can work happily, achieve success, and live free from homophobia.
Of course, there are a listless amount of issues LGBT+ people face that this article has not mentioned. And that would be up to you, my dear reader, to go on Google and learn. As you continue to educate yourself, you might come across something called PRIDE month (aka every June). Many people ask why there is a PRIDE month and not a PRIDE day (like Veterans Day) or even a Straight Pride? The reason is simple. It is we, people of the LGBT+ community, in all different walks of life, have been told to be subservient to the norm, not to draw attention to ourselves, and masquerade our feelings at some point in our lives. PRIDE is not here to rub our rainbow-unicorn-glitter-cupcakes all over your face; PRIDE is here to let us and the millions of LGBTQIA+ teens out there, many whom are in the closet, to know that there is nothing to be ashamed of, but rather, everything to be proud because–at the end of the day–love trumps hate.
And PRIDE is the ultimate, most OG gay culture. Periodt.