My high school (from 2004 to 2008) was primarily composed of students from rural areas and a few subdivisions of Lafayette, Indiana. Like many communities across the globe, there were many hesitations from a friend that wanted to “come out” in this community. Interestingly, after declaring his sexuality, the prominent reaction from the student body was: “That’s great! I support you! See everyone, I don’t judge! I have a gay friend; therefore, I can’t be homophobic.” Many students, which were not even his ‘friends’, made exhaustive efforts to approach him to declare their support. It was not the response that he was expecting.
I am extremely happy that he didn’t face blatant discrimination with running for leadership opportunities in my high school as an openly gay student or have to overcome any direct homophobic comments or gestures by many peers, but I still question the reactions of the student body. It was worse, socially, to be the student that didn’t accept, but the dramatization of the acceptance of many students was unnecessary. They could not react with understanding without screaming their alliance as loudly as possible. Support doesn’t come from going up to a complete stranger and telling them that you will defend their identity. But this “acceptance” had its limitations.
After witnessing their complete support of him, I watched them simultaneously degrade the one person that was relatively gender variant in our high school. I will start by saying that I am not close friends with this person, and I do not know much about his inner thoughts and feelings. Therefore, I will characterize his identity. I will base my reaction solely on the observance of his outward appearance and the reactions of the students in my class.
He wore clothing and walked in a manner coded as feminine. He had facial hair, but he wore high-heels. He drew talented sketches and wrote beautifully. But, perhaps most importantly, this was not a daily occurrence. On most days, he wore jeans and a t-shirt; yet, if you ask almost anyone from my high school, they will only tell you that “he dressed like a girl.” He was unlike any other person in our high school, but he did not witness the “acceptance” like the openly gay student. Although I do not recall any direct discrimination, violence, or hatred toward him from the faculty or the administration, I cannot verify any direct support or understanding either.
I remember one specific dress that he would wear – it was purple. But more than the dress, I can remember the snickers, glares, and derogatory comments that followed him throughout the hallway. Aside from his group of friends and a few other classmates, most of my rural, mid-west, white, normative classmates degraded him constantly. This makes me wonder – why was homosexuality “accepted” and gender variance not?
Without any extensive research, I turn to popular media and culture. In popular reality shows, like The Real World, there is the one “token” gay person on the cast. We see this person struggle and overcome obstacles in order to be “accepted” by friends, family, and cast members. And after witnessing their trials and successes, it is “cool” to “accept” this person and their identity. However, we are not so willing to accept gender variance. There is no form of popular media accepting or normalizing the transgender community; therefore, it is not “cool” to accept their non-normative behavior in daily interactions.
I do believe that there is one season of the Real World that incorporated a trans woman, but one case does not seem to be strong enough to convince the outside world to accept them without questioning, examining, or criticizing their choices.
I am white. I am a woman. I am straight. I am gender-normative (according to social media). I do not claim to understand any individual’s experience fully. I cannot place characterizations or categories upon any person without them self-identifying themselves first. I wish only that others will come to a similar conclusion and stop demeaning and belittling any person that differs from their narrow perspective. And I hope that we can come to this conclusion without mandating that their life stories be placed center stage.