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Are gay folks trying so hard to win the tolerance of heterosexual folks?

A Facebook friend posted on his wall about how he had been watching a film in which there appeared two men kissing. This had happened on a public transport and a woman who was sitting close to him saw this scene, much to her repulsion. “Lord have mercy on you”, those were the lady’s departing words to him.

We had an interesting conversation around this. Some of the responses to the post made me think about how, we, queer folks seem to be so desperate to garner the tolerance of heterosexual folks. I say tolerance, because if we have to do something to convince heterosexual folks to take us and our sexuality seriously, then the most they can ever be is tolerant. Being tolerant means they are OK (-ish) with us being queer but that comes with terms and conditions. I’ve had someone who I am no longer in touch with, tell me she would not judge me even though the Bible didn’t condone my sexuality. I asked her if she would attend my wedding if that were ever to happen to which she said she wouldn’t be comfortable. That is what tolerance looks like. Sadly, that is what we yearn for- tolerance, conditional and fickle.

Read also: Let’s talk about biphobia and transphobia within the gay community – Joyline

Heterosexual folks who ‘tolerate us’ do not want us to be in their face. In other words, we need not do anything that might cause them any slight discomfort. We need to try, by all means, to fit into the box of what is considered ‘normal’ by society. If you are a woman, tone your queerness down and put on some ‘girl’ clothes. Men need not talk funny, walk funny, dress funny. Stick to that and we might just co-exist; queer folks and those who tolerate us. Comprende! Public displays of affection between queer people are frowned upon by the tolerant lot (and the intolerant ones but we already know where we stand with them).

Tolerance only masks queerphobia which only rears its head when two people of the same gender are seen kissing or engage in any way suggesting romantic connectedness. The masked queerphobia rears its head when shows appear on TV that features queer characters. All of a sudden, folks are worried about the impact- on their children- of queer representation on TV as if queerness is a defect on the human species that must be kept from spreading. Though this idea can be co-opted by capitalistic businesses, queer representation is important because it helps ‘normalise’ our existence and if we get to see more LGBT+ folks in films (in a positive light), then we won’t make the mistake of thinking a ‘film’ with two men kissing has got to be porn. Who dares to watch pornography in public spaces anyway?

Read also: Safeguarding my mental health in a Homophobic Society – Joyline

In a heteronormative society, people- generally- do not bat an eye when two adults engage in any public displays of affection (read: kissing, holding hands). Of course, this depends on the environment. Let queer folks do the same and all hell breaks loose.  What makes this worse is how we seem to have internalized this bigotry. We find ourselves policing each other’s behaviors, the way we present ourselves to the world and what we watch, especially in the presence of heterosexual folks. We feel the need to tone our queerness and make sure heterosexual folks are comfortable around us. We can be sexual but we shouldn’t be too sexual because the heterosexual folks will not take us seriously if they see how much we talk about or love having sex. We just cannot be caught living our lives in pretty much the same way that heterosexual folks do. Yes, we are fighting for our right to exist but we also shouldn’t be ourselves. Confusing, I know!

If heterosexual folks can have multiple sex partners, talk openly about their crushes, kiss their partners in public, we ought to just let them be. That’s how it’s always been- it’s not called a heteronormative society for nothing. But, we should never try and emulate them because we are queer and queer folks are not supposed to do that because we need to win the tolerance of as many folks as possible. We should not make it obvious that we are homosexual (we need to be ‘Straight-acting’- that’s the term I see being thrown around on social media streets. Straight? Who comes up with these terms? Straight as opposed to…???”) Of course, this might be for security reasons in environments that are dangerously homophobic but it’s also an attempt to keep those whose tolerance we seek comfortable.

We need to contain ourselves!

Joyline Maenzanise is a writer. She is a queer Zimbabwean, an unorthodox human being and an incessant learner and unlearner.


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  • comment-avatar

    “Are gay folks trying so hard to win the tolerance of heterosexual folks?” Well hell yes, because currently we are being imprisoned for it in 76 countries and executed at law in 10 of those, all under Islamic jurisprudence. Acceptance would be nice, but tolerance is essential to avoid inflicting misery upon 350 million gay people (= 5% of the 7 billion global population).

    Meanwhile, in 26 countries LGBT people can legally marry the same sex, and in over a hundred more, have equal rights to the heterosexual majority. There is therefore a huge planetary disconnect on the treatment of LGBT minorities. Criminalisation of same-sex relationships alongside other mistreatment at law is in violation of the International Charter on Human Rights, to which many of these countries are themselves signatories.

  • comment-avatar
    edward george 6 years

    derek i hear what you’re saying, but i think the author has it locked down – if joyline is saying that tolerance is, in fact, a kind of limit, and a queerphobic one at that, then it isn’t really going to help us, not in the short or long or even short run.

    the sense i get from your very insighful piece, joyline, is that it’s part of a slippery slope of internalised hatred, shame and fear of ourselves if we invest in it, and it also gets in the way of the maximally necessary, non negotiable demand for an all inclusive equality before the law – local law, state law, national law, international law, scriptural law.

    that’s the sense i get from this text. tolerance is just one more prison, albeit with the disturbing difference that it is one that we oftentimes help to construct, and can only function on the condition that this construction, this building of a prison, must be completed by us, and that the location of this prison is, by mutual consent between heteros and queers, within us.

    and yes, our brothers and sisters are being killed, are killing themselves, quickly, slowly, here and there, so maybe even a minimal demand such as tolerance is a balm and as such ought to be aspired to, fought for, welcomed. the reality though is that the linear nature of tolerance is such that one only has to cross or trip over or become entangled in the all too many layered lines of tolerance to be the recipient of some kind of violence or other – can we call this violence the violence of tolerance, and take it to include the slow, lifelong drip of public and private degradations, the quicker but no less brutal physical assault, the grinding repressive force of always always always always having to keep oneself and others in check?

    tolerance might be a balm, a band-aid, a necessary temporary measure, but as a political or ontolgical or ethical demand demand it doesn’t come without the very conditions that undemine the unconditional , historical claim for eqaulity.

  • comment-avatar
    edward george 6 years

    oh, and as regards the ‘winning’of tolerance. isn’t it somewhat like accepting what comes with stepping out of, or over the line of tolerance, a kind of consensual knowing ones place and construing that knowledge as a reward for a very partial belonging?

    and one last thing: one could argue that in europe and north america, at least, tolerance is present in the recent phenomena of queer marriage and other institutionalising of equality within state and scriptural law – and sure, that’s a struggle and an ongoing one, at that. but think of the corresponding phenomena of the murders of our trans brothers and sisters, especially those of colour, particularly in north america, and its enough to suggest that even, or especially in countries where tolerance is present, this presence is not without its destructive aspect.

  • comment-avatar
    edward george 6 years

    could’ve corrected my grammar b4 posting, but hopefully the meaning is still there.

  • comment-avatar
    edward george 6 years

    Derek, just checked your website – very impressive indeed.

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