We Can’t Segregate “The Gays”

My brother and I don’t talk as much as we used to. Granted, I’m out of state in college for most of the year, but even when I’m home we have a list of subjects we cannot talk about.

  • feminism
  • gay rights
  • race
  • trans* issues
  • gender
  • politics

The list goes on. I love my brother, but we can’t talk about anything that matters and so we just don’t talk. I know I’m not the only one who has conservative family members and I need to ask if anyone has advice on how to have these conversations.

This morning I made the mistake of talking with him about gay rights. I haven’t been home since March 2013 and the last serious conversation I remember us having face-to-face since was trying to show him feminist frequency where he told me he didn’t have to listen because “she’s an ugly feminist.” That conversation blew up into a screaming match and, thankfully, we’ve both learned to much calmer.And we are very calm. We make it a point not to attack the other person only their beliefs. But that doesn’t matter when the subject matter is personal.

When we began the conversation this morning, my brother said how sometimes peoples’ lives are too different and therefore they cannot co-exist without fighting. He gave gay rights as his example. Though he said he believes “those people” are people too and shouldn’t be denied housing or employment, he also believes we should not exist in his line of sight. If a gay couple lived on a street where he was thinking of buying a house he wouldn’t move onto that block. He wants “those people” on one side of town and the rest of the world on the other side where there would be no contact. In his view a country that is homogeneous in race and ethnicity is the most stable country.

I told him that was segregation and he said “Yes, I don’t deny that. I’m honest about what I believe.” And he is honest, I have to admire that, but he kept saying “those people” and he knows I’m queer. That was the most hurtful comment. If he does not want to live on the same block as a queer couple, does he not want to live in the same house as me, a queer woman?

I do not mean to place myself as a victim or as a perfect person under attack, but I explained that separate spheres would inevitably be unequal. In the gay/straight binary, straight is valued more (rightly so, my brother claims, because straight people are the majority–as if having the majority is the deciding factor on what is valued). Because straightness is praised, straight individuals have an easier time getting and keeping a job, and straight (cis-gender) couples, if they are married, have an easier time buying a house and living their lives. Just by being straight, my brother has untold advantages he believes he rightly deserves. Even if he did not mean to cause direct harm to other people, that is what he is doing by protecting his privilege and believing gay people should be pushed into a separate sphere.

Segregation is never the option. I cannot believe this is a topic of conversation in 2014. But it is. And more importantly it should be, as I am well aware racial segregation is still a major issue, and I’m sorry I do not have the time to devote to that in this blog post. All the same, segregation based on sexuality is just as bad and just as prejudiced. Instead of having the conversations to overcome hatred and reach an understanding, my brother and so many others who share his views, would rather gay people go be gay and do their “gay shit” as he says where he cannot see it. There is no dialogue and no room to change this opinion. Straight is right. Gay is wrong.

He says that if he ever has children he does not want them growing up in an environment where they would see queer people. He hates “gay shit” and in his perfect world gay people would not exist. I am glad he knows being queer is not a choice, but it doesn’t matter if he wishes we wouldn’t exist.  Other than myself I don’t think he knows anyone who is queer and he is ready to pass judgment.

I have never felt more devalued as a human being than during this discussion. I was saying words and it did not matter. He was right. I was wrong. And I stood there and we spoke calmly like adults. I was screaming in my head, but I didn’t tell him that “those people” are “my people” and even more they are people and that should be enough!

Segregation is a form of hatred. And my brother acknowledged it as such. He said that “Well maybe it is, but at least I’m honest. Other people will lie and say they love everyone. I hate most people.”

How do you debate that? Please, if someone knows, tell me. How do you debate when the person is coming from a perspective of hatred and admits it? There’s nothing to win and there’s nothing to prove. There is no debate and I know I can act the adult if I must and remain under control, but why? If someone can tell me how to debate this please let me know.

5 thoughts on “We Can’t Segregate “The Gays”

  1. Sadly, I don’t think there is a way to ‘debate’ this. The core issue is this notion of ‘beliefs’ and how they become conflated with ideals of human rights. You’ll never be able to effectively debate something like gay rights with someone who is supported by a culture that allows them to reproduce and maintain social stratification through various means, such as segregation under the guise and protection of ‘beliefs.’ What may be effective is to take away this notion of ‘beliefs’ and ‘opinions,’ but I don’t know what to put in its place. For us in the queer community, it is not a ‘belief’ that we should be equal, it is a factual human right. But when that too, becomes ingrained within this idea of beliefs, we have no ground to stand on. How can we argue that we should have rights through this idea of ‘beliefs’ if the opposing side’s own set of beliefs are protected? Perhaps attacking the person is something that’s needed. When your brother says that queers shouldn’t have rights, he is attacking you, because you identify as queer. As you said, it is personal, and while trying to remain calm is very noteworthy, maybe you could redirect the position onto yourself. If what he says affects you, perhaps he may see it differently. Maybe something like “So you think that I should…etc”

    I encounter similar issues and I just try and get them to understand that hatred like segregation leads to torture, murder, rape and death, and I try to be as understanding as I can be, since their opinions are structured by a particular system and often, a lack of gender studies education. But its difficult, because they are protected within a system that ‘entitles them to their beliefs’ and like your brother, do not feel as though they have to listen.

  2. This story makes me sad, because it seems like your brother is important to you.

    Based on what you write, I don’t think there is any way to get through to your brother via logical reasoning, as his convictions seem to be based on emotions. I wonder why he has so strong emotions on this topic – he even freely admits he feels hatred.

    From my experience this could be the “standard” hatred produced by the fear of the changes the modern world brings, changes that can be overwhelming, changes that can shatter traditional morals.

    Or this could be a more interpersonal emotion. How much does your brother really know about you? Apparently you think he knows you are queer, and maybe that’s why his emotions come into play. Maybe he wants to change you, warn you, save you or something like that. And the way he tries to do that – maybe the only way he can communicate it – is by showing you that he strongly rejects everything that is queer.

    These are my thoughts from afar. I could be way off, but maybe there’s a grain of information in there that helps.

  3. When a person is this committed in their disapproval (and hatred) of a group of people, there’s not a lot that a person can do. When a person reaches this point, they’ve essentially incorporated their prejudices into the very fabric of their persona. It’s sad and terrible, but sometimes prejudice is a lifelong disorder.

    Speaking as someone who has dealt for years with stubbornly prejudiced relatives, do what you need to do to take care of yourself. Having people in your life with this much negativity can prove to be quite toxic over time. You have every right to set down the boundaries that are necessary for maintaining your emotional health. That might take the form of an agreement to not discuss these issues or even a decision to limit the amount of contact you have with your brother. Figure out what your needs are and remain faithful to them. Again, you have every right to protect yourself from this kind of negativity.

  4. You two have agreed not to talk about subjects that “spark debate”. However, this is not a real compromise. You are the one who is making a compromise, in not discussing what is important to you, especially where it concerns your identity. Your brother, on the other hand, compromises nothing. What he gets out of this deal is the privilege to not have to introspect and to no longer have to listen to what you want to say. What you get is feeling obligated to silence yourself in his presence. This agreement therefore does nothing to help you in your relationship with your brother, or your path in coming out as queer.

    I suggest that you take another tactic in how you talk with him, something that may lead to growth or understanding in your relationship. There are two things in your situation that really stand out to me.

    1. He knows that he is openly discriminating against you and your community.
    2. He may not know that his words are violating you and hurt you to extent that you feel hurt.

    You have bravely shared your story with the online community.But have you shared these feelings with him? I suggest writing to him about how you feel so that he cannot have a chance to internally deny the damage he has caused. He is heterosexual and for that reason may not truly understand how invalidating it is to be told that who you are is wrong and ought to be segregated from everyone else. He does not experience this kind of dehumanization; this is most likely why he may not understand how much he has hurt you.

    It is up to you to let him know how hurt you are and to establish boundaries. I would suggest letting him know that you do not want a relationship wherein he rejects your identity. You have every right to tell him that he is abusing you and that you do not accept it. You don’t need to be “calm”. You need to be honest and moral in how you show your outrage.

    • For some reason, the last part of my comment did not show up. Here it is. 🙂

      It is ultimately his choice whether he values his relationship with you more than his bigotry. I suggest that you let him make his choice, and letting him know who you are and what you can and can’t accept is the first step.

      I hope that this information is of value and help to you. I recommended establishing boundaries because in my experience, it has proven to force others to reveal who they are so that you can understand how to act in response.

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