At some point I have to face it, no matter how hard it is for me to accept. I can deny it all I want and make jokes with my friends about the fact that I’m not a white man, but I am – even though I think I’d make a good Latino (well, except I don’t like guacamole). Having spent my entire life as a white man and often being perceived to be your standard WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant), there are certain privileges that have been bestowed upon me. I will never truly understand what it would have been like to have grown up a black woman. All I can do in that regard is try to understand and try to put myself in their shoes. It’s the best I know to do.
Though I’ll never know what it’s like to be a black woman, I’ll also never know what it’s like to actually be a WASP, particularly a heterosexual one. In spite of the fact that observers may think the person they see before them is a member of the majority, I know that I’m not. That shadow looms over me in most every situation. I find myself wondering whether or not someone will attack me or treat me differently once they find out I’m a queer. I find myself anticipating the gay jokes, the snide remarks or the outright repugnant label of “fag.”
Because of this, I sometimes want to introduce myself to newcomers by stating, “My name is Jay and I’m a queer.” That would get it out of the way and I’d no longer be concerned, right? Then I try to put myself in that black woman’s shoes. She doesn’t have a choice in the matter – people know right away she’s a black woman and I think how lucky she is not to have to wait to find out her fate in these matters. She’ll be able to know her friends from her enemies right away. She won’t have to be worried about the outcome any longer. But if that were the case for me, maybe I wouldn’t get to see for myself how people really feel.
In order to truly appreciate being a covert minority, a bit of my family story is necessary. I’m lucky to have a very unique group of siblings (a biker, a red-neck and me, the queen). It’s given me ample time to learn the politics behind their group of friends. The bikers, with there “I don’t give a damn, let’s ride” attitude and the rednecks with the “I’m macho and have boots” sort of life, generally speaking of course.
One night, after going out with friends, I called up my redneck brother and asked if he’d like to meet for a late-night weekend breakfast. He agreed and said he was inviting some of his friends to join us. My best friend, a short but very feisty lesbian, tagged along with me. Apparently though, my brother invited the entire redneck bar to come. I sat, cornered in a booth next to my best friend and a herd of cowboy hats and tight jeans, watching as several drunk cow-folk laughed and joked about things foreign to me.
Eventually, it happened. A good friend of my brother decides to tell a story about some “faggot” at the bar, apparently unaware that his friend’s brother, sitting only feet away, was [and is] a “faggot.” Being a covert minority, these sorts of things happen a lot so I responded in my typical way, silent observation. I like to know what is going to be said before I speak up. As he continued my brother intervened and asked, “Jay, do you want to tell him or should I?”
I turned to his friend and said, “I’m one of those faggots and my friend here is a dyke.” He responded simply by saying “ok” and continuing his story. At that very moment, he became irrelevant to me and I began gauging the faces of those surrounding us. For the most part, no eyes met mine. They remained diverted by feigned interest in the story about the “faggot.” One young lady was different though. She watched me as closely as I watched her as he progressed with his story. We had a brilliant, but silent conversation. I watched as she toyed with the idea of saying something, but what? I answered with a smile, and her eyes glistened with tears.
That was one of the many moments I wished I would have introduced myself as a queer. Perhaps that’s the answer to why we have to “announce” our sexual orientation – we just can’t stand the anticipation.
I’d rather be black than gay because when you’re black you don’t have to tell your mother. – Charles Pierce, 1980