The other night, I attended a volunteer orientation for the Frameline queer film festival. (You get a voucher to see a film for every volunteer shift you take.) There were probably a hundred fellow volunteers, and most of them were men. But when the volunteer coordinator stepped up to address us, I was surprised – because the volunteer coordinator was a woman. A queer woman. As in, asymmetrical haircut, half a shaved head, totally tatted, hip young San Francisco queer woman. And after a few moments of being surprised, I became perplexed, because after all, it is a queer film festival. So why the surprise at the volunteer coordinator being a queer dyke?
It reminded me of the feeling I got when I first visited my women’s college campus as a junior in high school. Until I visited, I had been pretty vehemently opposed to attending a women’s college. I had thought it would lack diversity (which in retrospect seems laughable). But when I visited, I was suddenly struck – wow, this all exists for the education of women. The male professors and campus police and facilities staff etc., despite being men, were working at an institution that educated women. Women matter! Holy shit! And it dawned on me that it had been so internalized in me that women don’t matter that I was actually surprised and delighted to be confronted with evidence to the contrary.
And I got the same feeling at the very first Dyke March I ever attended in San Francisco, in 2006. I was with my ex-girlfriend at the time, and I remember holding her hand, processing down Valencia, feeling giddy from all the solidarity and empowerment I felt, due in no small part to the fact that there were gay men hanging out of windows, waving rainbow flags and hoisting banners that read “FAGS <3 DYKES” and the like. And I was all, “omg! Gay men love us! They care! Whoaaaaa!”
And somehow I got the same feeling while at this orientation – because here was a group consisting largely of middle-aged-ish white gay men and they were all paying attention to this queer-as-fuck dyke, who, by the way, was absolutely hilarious and cute and rocked her job. I felt somehow vicariously visible. And it struck me again, as it did at my first Dyke March and when I first visited my women’s college, that I’m so accustomed to women being invisible to men in any way that’s not sexual. And it’s so consistently ingrained in women that we’re only useful to men as sexual objects that it surprises me every time I find myself in a situation in which I’m being genuinely appreciated, as a woman (or in which women in general are being genuinely appreciated), by a man for a non-sexual reason. And it makes me wish that it would happen more often. Not just to me, on an individual level, but publicly, and in media, and in culture-at-large.
You see, gay men and gay women are natural “bedmates” (har har).* We are among the few combinations of adult human beings that (in general) have a non-romantic/non-sexual connection. And there’s something really special about this bond, I think, that goes largely ignored. And it’s different from the relationship between gay men and straight women, which, if judging by the connotation lent by the term “fag hag” alone, is largely a mutually objectifying relationship (and, yes, that’s a gross oversimplification, but fag hags are not the topic of this post, and the relationship between gay men/straight women has been addressed again and again elsewhere). Maybe I’ll write about my thoughts on that some other time.
No, the point is, I wish the common bond between gay men and gay women were more acknowledged and respected. When I went to Berlin’s pride celebration in 2007, I was struck by how different it felt from San Francisco’s pride. In San Francisco, there’s Dyke March of course, and then Dykes on Bikes lead the main parade the following day. In Berlin, there’s neither – and without the women-centric portions of the celebration, I realized how gay-male-centric the whole celebration felt and was. Specifically, how middle-to-upper-middle-class-white-gay-male-centric. At the time, I remember having conversations with the folks I went with (a mix of genders and sexual orientations) about how these men were taking up all the “space,” probably without even realizing it. Gay pride parade means gay (male) parade. Gay bar means gay (male) bar. Gay issues are gay (male) issues. Gay white men are the default Gay, just like straight white men are the default Human in our society. And obviously, yes, gay men’s issues are super important. Of course they are. It’s just a matter of gay women’s issues also being important. And being similar, yes, but also largely different. The problem is, though, that there have been so few studies on lesbian/queer women’s issues specifically that we don’t even know what our issues are and what distinguishes them from gay men’s issues. And this, of course, isn’t the fault of gay men individually or even as an entity. It’s the fault of a society that naturalizes maleness as the default human, and that renders women a sub-category of human. (Same goes for queer people of color – their issues are woefully under-studied too, and POC are always just sub-categories of a humanity in which White is default and “normal.”)
So, right, individual gay men are busy taking up their own issues and fighting their own battles and taking care of their own survival, which completely totally makes sense. And yet I think it’s really sad that the bond between gay men and gay women is so often overlooked, or dismissed, or undervalued. I think it has tremendous value, as we are perhaps each other’s best natural allies. Sex and romance doesn’t get in between us, not personally and not in terms of prescribed roles. When I see a gay man, I see someone who both understands what it feels like to be queer in this straight world, and who will relate to me inherently free of any sort of sexual tension or sexual judgment. We understand what it feels like to be otherized. The homophobia we each experience often looks and feels different, sure, but when all is said and done, it’s the same animal. We can learn a lot from each other. I have learned a lot from my gay guy friends, and I count one of them as among the best friendships I have. I hate this phrase, but it just is what it is. There’s nothing underneath, no undercurrents, no invisible social glue that’s trying to glue us together in awkward ways. We just get each other. And I wish this were more typical, not just on an individual level but on a socially recognized level. Because then, maybe I wouldn’t be so surprised by gay men holding “fags <3 dykes” signs, or laughing at a queer gal’s jokes.
Has anyone else felt this way? Or is this peculiar to me? Maybe in other communities, gay guy/gal crossover is much more common. But even if that’s the case, where are our friendships ever portrayed in the media (TV, books, news outlets…)? Right, exactly. Never. And why do I not know a single gay male blogger? Where are they all? I just want to be friends, guys!
What’s your experience?
*In this post, I’m addressing specifically gay cismen and gay ciswomen — and yeah, I know that leaves out a lot of people, including queer but not-gay-identified folks, as well as genderqueer and trans people… Sorry about that, this is just what’s most familiar to me.