One of the critical junctures of the marriage equality movement was the decision was to present those who do not identify as heterosexual as “just like you”. We’re all just like you, they said. We’re white, we’re middle-class, and we just want the right to be married, just like you and your partner have. Politically, it was genius. How can you argue that someone who is “just like you” shouldn’t have equal rights?
The issue with this line of argumentation is that it diminishes the very real and damaging issues that still exist for non-heterosexual persons in our society. In being “just like you”, it implies that nonheterosexuals are seen to have issues that are “just like yours”. Their role in society is “just like yours”; their subculture is “just like yours”; the norms that define them are “just like yours”.
Unfortunately, this often isn’t true. For many of us who identify as non-heterosexual, life isn’t yet “just like yours”. As a gay male, there’s still that feeling of desperation when (yet another) potential love interest turns out to be straight, and yet your desires are no less intense. There’s still that internal conflict of whether to be truthful when you respond to someone unfamiliar of an older generation, asking whether you’ve got a girlfriend. There’s still that sense of isolation when you grow up outside of the inner city, and you’re the only one “out” at your school for a good few years. There’s still that blossoming of self-loathing when, once again, you feel yourself falling for one of your male friends because the only other way you know of meeting gay men is through Grindr or at Cube. Often, in our lives, it’s the choice between a community rife with promiscuity and superficiality and the “normal”, oblivious world. You can dissolve into a gay community which, while accepting of your sexuality, often will not tolerate political divergence or deviation from its norms, or alternately you can pretend that you actually are “just like them” and live a lie.
The core of all of this is that it’s so often invisible to the majority of the world. So often, when many of these issues are mentioned with a straight friend, there is a degree of incredulity given in response. After all, weren’t our problems meant to be “just like yours”? In much of society, there seems to exist this belief that since you can no longer be fired for being queer, since you can be openly queer in the military, since it is rare to be beaten in the street for being queer, that somehow all the issues have gone away. There seems to exist this belief that when legal equity almost entirely exists and the issues are invisible, that there isn’t anything left to solve.
None of this is to negate the huge improvements that have occurred insofar as LGBTIQ* rights in the last few decades. We have so, so much to be proud of as a society in the changes in the ways that we treat gender and sexually diverse citizens. We have come a long way, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way yet to go.
Even with the overwhelming majority support for same-sex marriage, there is still a huge disparity between the queer experience that is seen and the queer experience that is lived. There is an understanding in the “normal” world of what it means to be queer, and often, that understanding is wrong. Supporting legal rights for LGBTIQ* people is noble, but to genuinely support the person behind those rights, we as a society need to understand that the experience of queer people isn’t the same. We need to understand those disparities of experience, and the normative differences. We need to understand that the queer population isn’t “just like you”, because it’s only after we as a society have this understanding that we can move past legal equality into genuine societal equality. We don’t need to be just like you, and you don’t need us to either. “Just like you” is a cliché. But us “just liking you”, and you “just liking us”? That we could all do.