Art featured by Kris Barbarys
NOTE: Gender and sexuality labels have been used to separate cis straight people from LGBTQ+ folks, as this issue concerns the way they align themselves with our cause.
During class on sexuality studies, a cis straight female classmate mentioned that gay people enjoy Carly Rae Jepsen’s music, referencing an academic article that discusses the relationship between pop culture and the LGBTQ+ community. I responded gleefully that yes, gay people adore her! I am one of those gay people!
Then, a cis male heterosexual classmate admitted that he, too, adores her music, particularly her album “Emotion”. This album is rather obscure to cis straight people because apart from one or two singles, the album was not a mainstream hit. Hence, it was expected that most cis straight audiences have not heard much of it.
Naturally, I was excited to talk to him about Carly’s legendary gay album, which is widely interpreted as an advocacy for the freedom to love sans the pressures of conforming to society. Lyrically, it resonates with LGBTQ+ folks as it centers upon unrequited love, being blindly in love, and immersing oneself into the idea of love itself.
Love on its own, which encompasses self-love and love for another, is a concept that many of us struggle to come to terms with and understand. Accompanied with 1980s melodies, the album reminisces a humbler time for the LGBTQ+ movement that evokes nostalgia and a sense of longing to realise love.
Most cis straight people do not understand how love is a privilege for us, but Carly’s album gave us something most cis straight people can’t — an immersive experience of love.
Coincidentally, the title track is also one of the male classmate’s most frequently played songs among other equally niche songs in the album. I laughed and quizzically remarked, “Congratulations, you are gay! You have great music taste!”, out of sheer amusement.
As a gay person myself, I found nothing wrong with this remark because a) there is nothing wrong with being associated with gay people and b) most straight people from my experience have horrible music taste. It was a compliment in my opinion, and I was aware that he was an avid supporter of gay and trans rights as he had criticised homophobia and transphobia publicly online in the past. He laughed and understood my humour.
Unfortunately, my remark did not translate well to the cis straight female classmates present in the table, including the one who mentioned how gay people adore Carly. One of them corrected me and said that “music taste can be anything”, and her supposedly progressive comment made me feel rather uneasy.
To be honest, it caught me completely off-guard and pissed me off. The energy shifted and I clarified with the male classmate if he understood my joke or if he had taken offence, to which he responded that none was taken and that he appreciated my humour.
The class ended and I was still feeling unsettled about what had happened. I asked two straight friends and three LGBTQ+ friends what their opinions were about my joke. One cis straight female friend (who were close friends with the other cis straight female friends mentioned earlier) told me that it was miscommunication that was mostly on my part, and that I should control my reactions towards what the girls had said to me.
The other four (who are my closer friends) agreed that there should not be any miscommunication in the first place, because the male classmate was genuinely fine with it, and that her side comment was rather homophobic. They asked me, “Why can his music taste be anything, except gay?”
Should I have said his music taste was queer instead? Either way, it does not solve the root of the problem — that people are still uncomfortable with associating themselves or other people with LGBTQ+ terms.
The term “queer” was coined for the purpose of welcoming and exploring varied experiences that people may have about their gender and sexuality, without identifying themselves in more rigid categories such as transgender or lesbian/gay/bisexual. Is being queer, then, a better alternative to being gay?
In theory, yes, this idea might seem that way. I would call myself genderqueer because I identify as neither a man nor a woman, so that term puts me at ease about my gender instability. I am also a bisexual as I am attracted to all genders. But in practice, it is a lot more damaging to my mental health because the way I perceive myself is different from how other people perceive themselves.
As a result, others may be confused about my identity and project their own opinions on what they believe I should be. And their ignorant comments or simply the way they look at me differently from others make me feel so ashamed of myself, as much as I hate to admit it. I am proud to be in the LGBTQ+ community, but it is so incredibly hard to face the world that is so committed to denying you the freedom to live truthfully as you are.
I think the problem lies with how internalised homophobia is to the majority cisgendered straight community. You have seen how LGBTQ+ people struggled to achieve acceptance, from having our own pride flag to cis straight allies wanting to create flags for themselves for being allies.
Somehow, the discussion has shifted away from the LGBTQ+ people themselves. While the LGBTQ+ community has become more visible, people have yet to unlearn the homophobia and transphobia that have been normalised for decades.
For instance, a cis straight male once told me that gay people should stay in the closet to avoid being murdered. He said this in front of nine other straight people (whom I had considered friends before), and not one of them defended me. Not even one.
Are LGBTQ+ supposed to accept these cruel remarks and go on about their day? Looking back, I never realised how messed up that moment was and how it is important to be careful of the cis straight people you surround yourself with.
I have accepted this, and so have other LGBTQ+ people. We hang on and tolerate the smaller and bigger instances of homophobia and transphobia in our daily lives. Because that is our reality. A reality that is hard for us to transcend on our own.