Faux pas or not faux pas - that is the question.
June 11, 2011 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Please teach me about the LGBT community.

I don't want this to become contentious. And sorry for the details. I was brought up in a fairly conservative church. Christianity was basically a list of do's and don'ts. Since then, I've gone to more progressive and liberal churches and now there are conservative teachings that I don't agree with.

I have a family member who just came out of the closet. Most of us younger generation folk suspected that he was gay. I know that at some point, I will have conversations about said family member with my parents who are still very conservative. I have to admit, I haven't really come to any conclusions about where Christianity and homosexuality intersect. I refuse to believe that God hates gay people. I believe, this homophobia thing in the church is just downright wrong, but I haven't processed it all the way through. Help me understand the other side of the picture.

I have some questions. These are posed to the LGBT community:

What are some things that heterosexual (Christian or non-Christian) people say that completely piss you off? What are things that people assume about you that are completely off-base?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (50 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Not a part of community. Sending kudos for reaching out. Anyone would be blessed to have someone like you "having their back"

I was raised in a conservative Catholic family. The thing that still gets me when someone says "We'll pray for you"

I've been accused of devil worship, being a homosexual and other things. When my mother accused me of worshipping the devil, I responded back, "I can't believe you think this of one of your own children."

Lastly, if she now says anything like this over the phone, I respond back, " I just called to say "Hi" That takes her out at the knees and shuts her up real quick!
posted by goalyeehah at 9:25 AM on June 11, 2011

Any variant of "it's a choice" or "it's a phase." It's not a choice any more than being tall is a choice.
posted by KathrynT at 9:26 AM on June 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

What are things that people assume about you that are completely off-base?

That I have a lot in common with some other gay person that they already know. My dad had a girlfriend a few years ago who had a gay son of her own, and she was the most well-meaning person ever, but everything she knew about homosexuality came from her understanding about her son. And he and I were VERY different people. As sweet as she was, I began to dread talking with her.

Most of my complaints come from people assuming lots of details about my life (however well-meaning) because I'm gay. The truth is that I'm not a very typical person in most respects, let alone in THOSE respects, and I get very uncomfortable when n00bs to the gay world are only able to see me through that pin-hole, instead of absorbing the full view.

But I also know it takes time for people to learn and observe all these things -- I have an extraordinary head start. So it's not like I'm rude about it.

I think you should look into PFLAG meetings in your area, and once you've gone and know what to expect, consider inviting your parents to one.
posted by hermitosis at 9:28 AM on June 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

What are some things that heterosexual (Christian or non-Christian) people say that completely piss you off?

"Why do you have to be so loud about your sexuality? I don't mind gay people as long as they're not in my face about it."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:37 AM on June 11, 2011 [28 favorites]

If I can speak for a friend of mine, who's been with her partner longer than I've been with my husband, though she just got civilly unionized a week and a half ago after winning the right as of June 1 (yay!), she's really bothered when people assume that because she's bisexual she's promiscuous, uninterested in long-term stable partnership, or just looking for sex. (Her lesbian partner, who I know less well, gets the same sorts of assumptions made.) She's been an "old married lady" for more than a decade and there are people who just can't figure out settling down and growing old together isn't just a life goal for some heterosexuals. It's a life goal for some GBLT people too.

I think her broader point would be, GBLT people are PEOPLE, who are not defined by their sexuality but, like anyone else, by the totality of their personality. Which means get to know them as people and don't assume they like or dislike Lady Gaga, video games, football, the club scene, etc., because of their GBLT-ness.

(But while the constant assumption she loves Gaga annoys-but-amuses her -- she doesn't, it's not her kind of music -- the promiscuity assumption offends her.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:49 AM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

(Oh, people also say to her, "Well, if you married a woman, that must mean you're a lesbian, not bisexual, or you'd still be having sex with men too." That makes her want to punch people in the face. A lot. Like they know better than she does who she is.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:51 AM on June 11, 2011 [17 favorites]

Well, the usual stuff, which you may be well past: assuming that we're all child molesters; assuming that our very existence threatens heterosexual relationships; assuming that gay men are all effeminate flamers and lesbians are all hairy-legged manhaters; assuming that gay men especially want to sleep with anyone male. (I have also had this assumption made about me - I'm a lesbian - and after I picked my jaw up off the floor I had some strong words for the co-worker who said the stuff to me.)

There are as many different lgbt communities as there are heterosexual ones, and most of us move in and out and through them, and most of them overlap to varying degrees.

Seconding hermitosis re: all of us having things in common (the same things). I have less in common with a 20-year-old dyke than I do with my 40-something straight, married co-worker, for instance, since I'm also a 40-something married (to a woman) woman.

Also seconding PhoB's comment. Talking about the date I went on is not shoving my sexuality in anyone's face any more than a straight person talking about the date they went on.

I'm really glad you're doing this. Good for you.
posted by rtha at 9:52 AM on June 11, 2011 [9 favorites]

"Love the sinner, hate the sin." I would rather someone be openly homophobic than to say this to me. It says to me "I'll treat you like a normal person because I can pretend that you're straight." Which is a denial of my identity. How would you feel if someone said about an African-American person "love the person on the inside, hate the person on the outside." Umm, that's pretty shitty. Accept people for who they are completely.

I would highly recommend you read John Shore's blog.
posted by Craig at 9:54 AM on June 11, 2011 [17 favorites]

Bisexuals are not more promiscuous than anyone else. Just because someone is attracted to men and women doesn't mean they want to date both at one. That's like assuming that someone who is attracted to both blondes and brunettes needs to date both at once to be happy.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:54 AM on June 11, 2011 [10 favorites]

I'm also a Christian who's become more liberal over the years, and I've had this conversation with gay friends many times. Items that come up a lot:

Any suggestion that their sexuality is a choice.

"Hate the sin not the sinner."

Any attempt to reason the gay out of them. "But don't you want children?" etc.

Assumptions about sexual attraction, like matchmaking attempts based solely on mutual homosexuality or jokes about "stealing" a straight person's partner. Because, you know, gays are ruthless fiends who just want to bang everyone with the same gender. Or something.

For transsexuals, referring to them by their birth gender despite knowing full well that they identify differently.
posted by katillathehun at 9:54 AM on June 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

Anything that involves applying heteronormative assumptions to non-hetero relationships. For instance: here we have a hypothetical gay male couple. One of the dudes in that gay couple is not "the woman." That's kind of the point of the relationship. They might well be a top, or a bottom, or a switch, or goodness knows what else, and it's nobody's business. I hear people trying to guess which half of their gay-friend-couple is the bottom and I wonder if they spend so much effort wondering what their hetero friends' favourite sexual positions are.

(A saying I have become fond of: 'asking which man is "the woman" is like going into a Chinese restaurant and asking which chopstick is the fork'.)
posted by jaynewould at 9:58 AM on June 11, 2011 [39 favorites]

Also, assuming that all gays/lesbians engage in *insert deviant sexual practice (anal! fisting! enormous strap-ons!)* and absolutely no straight people have any interest in said activity. It's an orientation, not a sexual practice.
posted by jaynewould at 10:04 AM on June 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

And just one more (now I'm on a roll! An angry roll.): any variation on the phrase "oh, such-and-such person is gay/lesbian/trans/not attracted to my gender? That's a waste." Yes. Because, oh my, if they batted for your team they would be totally into you! It's just the gay thing. THAT IS THE ONLY OBSTACLE BETWEEN YOU AND THIS ATTRACTIVE PERSON. (This is a trope frequently applied to "lipstick lesbians". Oh, and Neil Patrick Harris.)
posted by jaynewould at 10:10 AM on June 11, 2011 [10 favorites]

If you can, watch the 2011 PBS documentary called Out in America.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:20 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Referring to sexuality as 'lifestyle' makes me crazy.

My making coffee and heading out to hit a bucket of tennis balls before I start work every morning is my lifestyle, not my attraction to people of the same sex. One is lifestyle, the other identity.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:33 AM on June 11, 2011 [20 favorites]

Any variant of "it's a choice" or "it's a phase." It's not a choice any more than being tall is a choice.

This is important but of course you want to be careful that you don't go too far in the other direction either. You don't want to medicalize their orientation, or imply (even inadvertently) that they are broken or defective.

Your loved ones are who they are regardless of the ultimate reason. They want acceptance, not permission or absolution.
posted by gerryblog at 10:34 AM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

(Oh, people also say to her, "Well, if you married a woman, that must mean you're a lesbian, not bisexual, or you'd still be having sex with men too." That makes her want to punch people in the face. A lot. Like they know better than she does who she is.)

On the other side of this one. Bisexual woman, married a man. Means I'm no longer queer or something. "So, you're bisexual, but you're married so that like, doesn't count, right?" I get this from both the straight *and* GLBTWTFBBQ communities.

Also: "Is your husband ok with that?" I sure as hell hope so seeing as how he married me. Also also: "What does your husband think about that?" He really doesn't. It's just as much a part of me as having a pancreas and he really has just as much of an opinion about it.

Also also also: Thinking all gay people are attracted to each other. "Oh, my cousin's gay! I should introduce you!" Yeah... no.

I recently saw a couple of straight women talking about how much they loved their gay friends and gay people in general, but that bisexuals were gross and greedy. "It's like, pick a side." Tsk.

Yeah, I've heard this SO MANY TIMES. "I'm fine with gay people, but I can't stand bisexuals - just pick one!" For me being bisexual means that the equipment in the pants of the person I'm attracted to is irrelevant - NOT that I want to bang all people of all genders all the time.

Being a bisexual married lady with a baby makes me pretty invisible, which is both annoying in some ways and in others a good example of how queer people are just totally normal people. It doesn't make you "special" or "different" other than it means you want to date people of the same gender.
posted by sonika at 11:11 AM on June 11, 2011 [18 favorites]

I don't like being "tolerated." Please don't "tolerate" your gay friends or family members. I tolerate dental work and romantic comedies.
posted by dchrssyr at 11:12 AM on June 11, 2011 [17 favorites]

For instance: here we have a hypothetical gay male couple. One of the dudes in that gay couple is not "the woman."

Or, as I once heard it stated, "Asking which member of a gay couple is the woman is like asking which chopstick is the fork."
posted by KathrynT at 11:13 AM on June 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

There are a lot of gay-friendly Christian denominations out there. I can't speak to the comparative theology, but that may be a place to look. Also, another cite for checking out PFLAG. They always get the biggest cheers at gay pride, too. :)
posted by rmd1023 at 11:15 AM on June 11, 2011

Also also also: Thinking all gay people are attracted to each other. "Oh, my cousin's gay! I should introduce you!" Yeah... no.

Of course, of course, it's annoying when straight people assume that because they know two gay people, those people are meant for each other. (Although, to be honest, this has never happened to me, and it feels more like something from a sitcom -- just saw it in "Happy Endings," for example -- than something that frequently happens).

However: a) these straight people are clearly still basically well-meaning, b) in some communities, there simply aren't many gay people, so being introduced to possible new friends can be great, and c) well maybe these two gay people are compatible with each other -- well-meaning straight people also sometimes set straight people up on blind dates.

So, eh.
posted by lewedswiver at 11:18 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, as for things that piss me off, an assumption that guy-to-guy talking about hot women works great for talking to gay-chick me. assumptions that I can and do speak for The Gays. If I talk about my girlfriend the way some other woman would talk about her boyfriend, that's not me pushing my sexuality on you. It's just me talking about my sweetie.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:19 AM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yes, your thoughtfulness is very commendable.

Not sure this will help but I'm recalling something Garrison Keillor, a good liberal, said when asked about his views on gay marriage. I'm paraphrasing, but it was something about believing that they should be allowed to marry, but down deep he felt that an important part of marriage is the dance between the opposites, I believe he used the analogy of baseball teams, in this case the need to be on opposite teams.

By extension, if we consider the amazing variance between individuals, one could say we're all on a different team to the degree that we're individuated. Personally I believe that everyone can and should dance in their own way.
posted by Mertonian at 11:24 AM on June 11, 2011

PS. Happy Pride :)
posted by schmod at 11:30 AM on June 11, 2011

What are things that people assume about you that are completely off-base?

Just because I have a loving heterosexual relationship with my husband and a daughter does not mean I'm completely straight and that you can make rude comments about "gay people". Sexuality is a lot more fluid than some homophobes are willing or able to grasp.
posted by sunshinesky at 11:44 AM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I should also add that bisexuality does not preclude monogamy. I think a lot of people think that I'm incapable of true monogamy because I'm attracted to both sexes and must need both. No, thanks. You wouldn't assume that a straight woman in a relationship would be a cheater just because they are attracted to men in general.
posted by sunshinesky at 11:48 AM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Speaking as the product of a huge gay family, the (still prevalent) idea that gay people can't have children, that the way these children are made is hilarious or unnatural, that the way they are raised is inherently different or broken, or that the kids come out totally fucked up, is still infuriating to deal with.

My dad is gay. My niece has one gay and one straight parent. While one of us is 39 and the other is only 17 weeks old, neither of us was deprived of a happy childhood or strong parental role models. I never found having a gay parent with a same-sex partner to be confusing. My gender identity was never unclear. My own orientation was never unclear. I was never bullied about my dad (or my uncles or my aunts or my godparents.) Growing up in a family where straight was the minority didn't fuck me up, make me sexually precocious or confused, subject me to weird sex games, or anything else. My family is made of awesome people but I swear to God, we're as boring as yours.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:52 AM on June 11, 2011 [11 favorites]

Something that annoys me (and I hope this won't offend you; I'm sure you have your own opinion on the matter) is the selective and sometimes (in my view) ignorant or hypocritical use of the Bible to justify homophobia. If someone quotes Leviticus, I hope they also judge those who eat shellfish and wear cotton-poly blends. If someone quotes Paul, I hope that they seriously considered remaining unmarried themselves. And so on. In my view, God and Jesus made very clear what they care about in placed like the Ten Commandments and the Gospels. They didn't mention homosexuality but focused on things like "do not steal," "do not commit adultery," "honor your parents," "love God," "love your neighbor as you do yourself," "sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor," "only those without sin should cast stones," and "judge not."

When I hear someone use the Bible or Christianity as a reason to condemn LGBT people, I want to go into a long explanation about all of this, but I would consider it impolite, so I just flag my disagreement. As someone raised deeply anchored in the church, it is very upsetting when I hear a religion that I believe to be about love and compassion used to justify hate.

Just my two cents. It sounds like you're thinking these questions through for yourself, and I respect that.
posted by salvia at 11:56 AM on June 11, 2011 [10 favorites]

I think it annoys a lot of gay people to carry the burden of representation, like any gay person automatically gets a Gay PhD in all things gay and are ready to give impromptu lectures in depth about any Gay Subject, being it religion, psychology, history, politics, sexuality, Madonna or Gay Gardening. In fact, even people who indeed have some sort of gay phd might feel a bit exhausted sometimes and want just to talk about anything that is not gay.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 12:15 PM on June 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

Not a GLBT person, but a friend and acquaintance of people who are, I'd say that the biggest thing to avoiding faux pas is to simply ask: "Is this a stupid thing to say/ask?"

Talk to the relative in question. Ask what is OK and not OK to say. It's definitely not his job to educate you, but he can certainly correct you if you say something ignorant or offensive. As long as he knows that you aren't try to offend, then correcting your mistakes should be OK and beneficial to both of you (i.e., you won't offend him or others, and he'll be able to have a decent relationship with at least one member of his family as a result).

For the most part, as long as you can avoid some of the common blunders that other people have already mentioned, you shouldn't really feel the need to treat your relative (or any other GLBT folks) differently than you would treat straight people in your life. People are people. The little things that make us different from one another are (mostly) irrelevant as long as we treat one another with some basic respect.

That said, you're going to make mistakes. While I had known gay people online for years, I still probably said or did some really stupid things the first few times that I interacted with gay people in real life. I probably still do, just like I occasionally say really stupid things to non-GLBT people that I interact with on a regular basis. Mostly, though, my friends are able to tell me when I'm being an idiot or saything something offensive.

One other thing, that I don't think was mentioned above (I admit, I mostly skimmed): make sure that you use the appropriate pronoun when talking to transgendered people. That transgendered woman you're talking to is a she/her/woman even if she is still pre-op (and even if she never gets gender re-assignment surgery). Just because she may still be biologically male does not mean that she is a he/him/man.
posted by asnider at 12:15 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

On a similar note, occasionally I have heard christian peeps frame it as being no big deal to them by saying things like "Hey, it's ok, we are all sinners", and they mean it in a kind way, that yes we are all imperfect in our own small ways. Bob doesn't go to church every week, Jimmy downloads mp3s, Jeff is gay, Maureen has parking tickets. Don't do that please.
posted by Iteki at 12:22 PM on June 11, 2011 [16 favorites]

You might find The Straight Person's Guide to Gay Etiquette helpful.
posted by Solomon at 12:24 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, gay couples are not a breeding ground for more homosexuals. My parents are both straight. So are the large majority of gay people's parents.
posted by Solomon at 12:25 PM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

When anyone takes the stance that because I have capacity to love in a way that they don't that it is *me* who is somehow wrong, broken, less than and therefore not deserving of the equal right to marriage and the protections and responsibilities afforded therein.

To be fair, today, this week - almost anything a straight person says that has anything to do with my queerness is bound to piss me right the F off. Generally I'm a bit more equanimous about things such as this and can accept that most people simply aren't thinking when they comment about my sexuality or my relationship.

And as rmd1023 says - my referencing my girlfriend in casual conversation is NO different than what 99% of the world does. I'm not pushing an agenda. I'm doing the exact same thing you are when you talk about your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, etc. The difference is in your perception and that is 100% your problem. Not mine.

I'm also not a fan of people assuming that because I have a somewhat masculine appearance that I'm a dude (I just like the comfort of mens clothes!), that my girlfriend must be a troll (she's smokin' hot by any standard), or that I hate men (like some, don't like others - kind of the way I feel about women. Shock).

And my all time favorite - when I show up on the web or my pic is displayed any where for any reason: "THAT'S a GIRL? WTF man, no wonder she's a fuckin' dyke!" If I overhear you - I will dress you down and humiliate the hell out of you, just for fun. Cause my vocabulary is bigger than yours.

Man, I've been crabby.

ps - think it's great that you're giving real thought to this and I hope your relative realizes what a terrific ally they have in you.
posted by FlamingBore at 1:57 PM on June 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

The main thing is the general assumption that something that they would likely consider the most private thing about their own lives--their sexuality--is, for me, the be all, end all, defining factor of my whole life, and absolutely everything I do or say--and the way I do it and say it--must be affected by it to a great degree.

It just isn't as important as they seem to think. It often seems that my being queer matters a million kajillion times more to straight people than it does to me. That's annoying. And more than a little weird.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:47 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

(IMO, the most acceptable reaction of a straight person finding out someone is gay is to say something along the lines of, "Oh, huh," and then immediately going about one's life as normal, because it's an utterly irrelevant piece of information.)
posted by Sys Rq at 2:54 PM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

What are some things that heterosexual (Christian or non-Christian) people say that completely piss you off?

The only thing - short of all-out homophobia - that really pisses me off is when straight people resort to "you people" or "those people" constructions. For example, "why do you people want so many special rights?" or "Well you know those people like to claim they want to get married and have families just like us, but we've all seen pictures from the gay pride parade..." In other words, speaking/acting as if all LGBT people are a monolithic group of Others. But ooooh, when I hear anyone use the phrase "those people" or "you people", it really makes my blood boil.

What are things that people assume about you that are completely off-base?

Well, I'm bi. So everything. Heh.

But more seriously, the only thing I can think of that has really bothered me about this sort of thing is the assumption that someone's gender expression necessarily matches up with their sexual orientation. There are plenty of bi women and lesbians who enjoy cooking, and there are plenty of bi or gay men who have a garage full of power tools. You really never know.
posted by Sara C. at 3:19 PM on June 11, 2011

As a (recent) Lutheran (previously presbyterian and catholic), I'll just tell you what I had heard before.

It's not "the Church"'s business to care what goes on in the bedroom. That is between every person and God.

And "LOVE the sinner, hate the sin"....of course, that sets it up for you to acknowledge that homosexuality is a sin and you're just overlooking it for the benefit of the person. It's up to you if that's how you feel. Me, I always come back to the bit in the Bible about getting the plank out of your eye before you criticize the splinter in someone else's. "Yeah, homosexuality may be, oh, wait a second, I'm still kind of an idiot in a lot of aspects."
posted by carlh at 3:34 PM on June 11, 2011

This message is brought to you by being a bridesmaid in a little Baptist church in a little Southern town a few weeks ago:

Do not assume my relationship is somehow less serious or real than any permanent straight relationship, possibly because I can't legally marry in this state and have chosen not to have a ceremony yet.

Do not assume that I am trying to be "shocking" by being a lesbian. Let me assure you, my life with my partner is utterly non-shocking. We're nerdy and quiet and we like to garden and make cookies and we talk about cats a lot.

Do not assume that I would be okay with not being out, in any situation, to make someone else more comfortable. Even if it's an old lady. This is my family, yo, I'm not going to pretend I don't have one.

If I comment on a guy being attractive, that doesn't mean that I really am straight and in denial.

Do not assume that I like women because I couldn't get a man.

Don't be so focused on sex when you talk about or think about my relationship. It's really weird.

It is okay to ask me questions about my life. Really. I'm not going to bust out the Satan and the dildos. There was a little weirdness around this down there. I think people were a little afraid to pry. Which, in a small southern town, is odd!

The thing is, you just treat gay people like you treat straight people. You don't ask rude questions, you do ask polite questions. For most of us, our lives don't revolve around being gay (not after the first year or two, at least, heh).

A note, too, on the choice thing. For some people, it is not a choice, sure. I know folks like that. I know just as many for whom it pretty much is a choice, however, myself included. I didn't come into this desperate and scared. I came into this going "maybe I like women" and learned that yeah, I liked 'em best. A lot of us are like that. The thing is that each of us should be able to live our lives as we choose, so long as we're not hurting anybody else. Even if I really really really like guys and still choose to be a lesbian, that's my business. There is no supposed-to, here, and homophobia is all about dictating what people are "supposed" to do.
posted by hought20 at 3:36 PM on June 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

if you were to start any conversation by acknowledging what incredible courage and risk is required for a 'homosexual' person to come out and live publicly, and that courage and risk is required because of prejudice from "fairly conservative" churches (and other conservative people and organisations), then I think you'd have a good starting point for your conversation with your homosexual family member.

As for your conversation with your parents/family, that is your moment to demonstrate the same courage and risk taking. Give your parents some succinct statistics and evidence that discuss human sexuality in all its forms as well as the negative impact of homophobic stereotypes and prejudice. PFLAG could help you with parent friendly resources. If they are disinterested in evidence, please hold steady with your arguments, it may be a conversation that takes a life time. But one that is worth it.

Ultimately anything you say that implies that I am somehow abnormal, unhealthy, etc is going to be annoying as you are degrading my (and your) humanity.

Please be courageous with your parents.
posted by MT at 3:39 PM on June 11, 2011

Read Eric Marcus' Is it a Choice?
posted by brujita at 4:45 PM on June 11, 2011

Good for you. I nth everything above. The thing I hate is how many people shit on "faggy" gay men (I myself am pretty vanilla).
posted by wooh at 5:33 PM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding to avoid reducing them to their sex life. A common question after coming out is "have you had sex with a [same-sex person] yet?"

Worse, a lot of people blithely launch into incredibly questions and opinionated commentary about very specific sex acts and scenarios under the guise of making conversation. It does not make someone seem "in the know" to reference some magazine article about how gay men do crystal meth in bathhouses and is that of interest?
posted by desuetude at 5:58 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

When it comes to conversation with your relative specifically, I'd just be honest and say that you're cool with it, it shouldn't be a big deal but you know that it could be tough with family, and that you're coming from a pretty conservative Christian background and so you might unintentionally put your foot in your mouth, but by all means he should call you on it if you're being an idiot. If he wants to talk about it more, that's fine, or you can change the subject and talk about something else. He might be really excited to come out of the closet and want to share that excitement with those relatives who are supportive, or he might view it as a relatively small deal and not have much to talk about it.

As others have said above, remember that the LGBT "community" is basically the same as the heterosexual community: a really diverse group of people with all sorts of preferences, lifestyles, and personalities. People tend to make certain assumptions about gay people, while they'd never make the same blanket assumption about all straight people. Just something to be aware of.

Honestly, I don't know whether you can change your parents. Some people are more open-minded and can start to come around, while some are just going to stick to what they were always taught. Personally, I'm not all that inclined to go into long drawn out arguments with people, but will do my best to call them out when they make comments that are out of line. Just a simple "That's inappropriate and I would appreciate it if you wouldn't say things like that" will suffice. If they protest and say more hurtful things, something like "He's a member of our family and a great guy. Please stop." The broken record technique can be helpful in such situations if they persist.

You really can't win an argument of the form "He's a sinner. No he's not. Yes he is. No he's not." In short, correct genuine misinformation the best you can and don't let bigotry go unignored.
posted by zachlipton at 6:47 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Good for you for asking this.

I hate:

- when people talk about "the gays." "The Gays." The GAYS." It's bad enough to generalize about any group of people, but this construction in particular drives me bats.

- when people assume I'm just confused. I've given this a lot of thought, and I'm good. I know what I am and what I want. They sure as hell can't know me any better than I know myself.

- when people think that the rights we'd like to have (marriage, two-parent adoption, hospital visiting rights, etc.) are "special." No, they're the same rights that straight people have. We're just tired of being at a disadvantage and would like to be equal, please.

- when someone thinks that being gay is somehow selfish. My own mother actually once said, "I think [gay person] is so selfish for not marrying and having kids." Well, the gay person realized her gayness, married a lovely woman, and chose to remain childless. And, for what it's worth, she works in a profession that involves giving a lot of herself to others, so, not selfish.

- when someone thinks that having once dated people of the opposite sex means that they should still want to. It takes many people a long time to figure out that they're gay. Sometimes it then takes them further time to come out. Those early relationships are not a sign that they're actually straight underneath it all.
posted by bassjump at 7:23 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

My favorite is when people assume pedophiles are gay & gays are pedophiles. There are *tons* of pedophiles who will never identify as gay, & even more gay people who couldn't imagine looking at a kid & thinking "HOT!"

There's also a great big body of people who identify as gay who've never had gay sex, and plenty of gay people who are out there having heterosexual sex.

Not to mention heterosexual-identifying people who've had gay sex. Or the heterosexual-identifying people who've never had sex, but can still tell you with confidence that they're not interested in same sex coupling.

And how about gay guys who just aren't into anal sex? It ain't about where you put it: They're still gay.

I'm just going to ignore everyone else in between on the gay-to-straight scale, since it's enough to make one's head explode trying to encapsulate all the variations on human sexuality.

But my point is, and one I think EVERYONE should understand, is that the sex itself doesn't define the identity. You can be gay with or without sex. And you can be not-gay no matter what uses to which your body, consensual or otherwise, has been put.
posted by Ys at 8:07 PM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Honestly, just treat your family member the same. I find huge "we still love you" statements to be irritating, though largely preferrable to the "you're going to hell" ones. Just act normal and they'll love you for it.

One of the things that pisses me off most is bashing individuals with atypical gender presentation, such as effeminate men or butch women. Saying they're "one of THOSE gays" or insisting that they're not such in a way that implies straight passing gays are ok but the more flamboyant are not is incredibly bigotted. Same as implying that gay men are women or lesbians are men in relationships or otherwise (such as assuming it's ok to nominate gay men for Prom Queen because hey, they're gay right?). General rule: if it's not ok to do to a straight person, don't do it to an LGBT person!

During your discussion with your parents, I'd implore you not to try to inform them of all things gay. Instead, stress that your family member is a person who deserves respect and that any sexual questions are inappropriate.
posted by buteo at 8:55 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Building on what other people have said: taking a detail about who I am and (often immediately) relating it back to my sexuality.

Oh you listen to the Spice Girls! But of course you're gay!
Look at you always going to the gym, gay dudes do that a lot don't they...
Wow you sure like to read a lot, but then I guess gay people are more intellectual.

Often it's not as blatant as the above, but no matter how well meaning: being told that what I do is 'just because' of my sexuality is belittling and patronizing. Of course, this isn't something that's limited to sexuality (religion, gender, class, etc)
posted by litleozy at 12:33 PM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Things that piss me off (to varying degrees), regardless of the religious perspective or sexual orientation of the speaker: assuming that there is a "lifestyle" dictated by my sexuality, assuming that my sexuality is up for debate or approval, assuming that because someone shares my gender and sexuality we probably know each other/ought to date/should be best buds/share the same opinions, and any attempt at justifying "separate but equal" as applied to the LGBTQI population (especially some stupid "marriage lite" substitution).

Something that's really helpful, though, is an understanding that homophobia and misogyny are really different facets of the same thing: fear-based policing of gender norms. The official societal position is that there are only two sexes (patently ridiculous, even if you base your definition of sex exclusively on genetics), that there are only two genders (one for each sex, biologically determined), that there are appropriate activities for each of those genders (such as mating with "the opposite sex"), that male is the default (hence why a lot of women will identify as "gay" but very, very few men identify as "lesbian" and they generally mean something very different from those women identifying as gay), and that there should be social sanctions against those who violate these cultural norms.
posted by notashroom at 12:47 PM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not gay, but I have gay family members. The big one I remember was the gnashing and wailing over "Oh, now you'll never be able to give us a grandchild/niece/nephew. How could you ruin my golden years/standing in the community/chance to be World's Best Grandma/Grandad?"
posted by vickyverky at 1:48 PM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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