Sunday, September 28, 2014

Five Things to Know About Being Around Gay People in the Horse World

I owe you guys updates on Mo and Red (sneak preview: they are both amazing and I love them). But in the meantime, a conversation with a new friend has me thinking about how much I don't say on this blog about being gay in the horse world.

Mostly this is because when I do find time/internet access to post, I want to talk about my horses. But there's also a small part of me that doesn't want to bore you guys or annoy you with it, and that part of me is bullshit and needs to go away. I'm obviously not afraid for people to know I'm gay (look at my blog header, or my professional life). But it's time to start talking more about stuff.

For the most part, I haven't had huge problems with being out in the horse world. Most horse people are pretty much fine with it, but not all of them, and the ones that aren't fine with it can be a huge pain in the neck. And here's the thing: you can't always know who is fine and who isn't right away. We all like to think positive thoughts about people and assume they'll be cool. But when you're queer, you can't make that assumption. It isn't always safe, or accurate. I lead by being outgoing and nice to people because that is my personality, but more often than not, my heart races and I get distracted by wondering what they're thinking. That's not always useful, but it's a fact, and you only need a few really horrendous experiences to shatter your confidence in humanity. It's like taking a bad fall and then getting on a nice quiet horse that you don't know. People tell you the horse is wonderful, but do you believe them, when you're recovering from a broken bone? Or do you wait and let the nice horse prove herself to you?

Most people are straight, including most of the readers of this blog. So here are some things I think might be useful for y'all to keep in mind. And you might have things to add.

1. If a new boarder shows up at your barn and he or she is queer, don't assume that everyone at your barn is cool with queerdos unless you KNOW FOR A FACT they are cool with queerdos. Each person is going to have to prove him or herself to the new queer person. This is a fact of life. No one is happy with it, but that's how it is. It is dangerous to be queer in many parts of the country, and it's not just religious nutjobs who cause problems. Some of the worst people in my life have been university professors. Sometimes people who are nice to you, straight person, are not going to be nice to a queer person with tattoos and "weird" clothes. So if you make friends with the queer person at your barn but they don't feel comfy around someone you like a lot, don't dismiss them or accuse them of causing drama. Listen.

2. Similarly, often the professionals we use are difficult people. I've fired more farriers than I can remember. And recently a horse dentist when on a homophobic rant at me, so he won't be welcome back. If the queer person at your barn is going to be filled with anxiety every time the farrier shows up, get their back. You can decide for yourself if you want to continue to use the bigoted person for your own horse, but if that person decides not to, be open about supporting that decision. Bonus points for bringing up the shitty behavior to the barn owner or to the person him or herself.

3. Basic stuff for any life situation: respect pronoun choices (not everyone goes by he or she, and sometimes people DO use he or she but not the choice you thought. When in doubt, ask: "Do you have a pronoun preference?" This will make you seem like a super enlightened genius. If they think the question is odd, whatever. You did the right thing). And if someone else asks you about that person's pronoun preferences, a simple, "Alex prefers 'they'" or whatever is all you've got to say. You can send them my way if they have questions you can't answer. Remember: Not ALL queer people see themselves as here to educate you. I'm putting myself out there explicitly AS an educator, which means I have to answer a lot of hard or shitty questions, but it's a role I've taken on for myself. The queer person at your barn might not want to do this work, and that's okay.

4. Another basic one: People are going to react differently to people going out of their way to let someone know they're cool with the queers. The easiest way to signal to someone that you know they're queer and you're fine with it is to mention a gay friend or relative in as off-hand a way as you can. But to be honest, it doesn't really matter to me how ham-fisted it is. If you want to just come out and say, "I know not everyone in the world is cool with gay people but I am," I will feel better around you than I would if you said nothing. Or you can tell them that you just love this blog about being gay in the horse world. :D

5. Checkity-check yourself: ARE you cool with queers? Ask yourself a couple tough questions. For instance, do you get weirded out when people are "too" gay? Feminine men, butch women, trans people, gay pride shirts, whatever? If these are a problem for you and you feel uncomfortable, figure out if there's a part of you that maybe DOES have a little bit of homophobic stuff and work on it. Gender differences are beautiful, but we're socialized to feel uncomfortable with people who stray too far from the norm. And even queer people can carry this baggage around. I know tons of gay people who aren't cool with trans people. That's still a problem. Lots of damage is done by "allies" who are fine with queer people within a certain bracket but not the more marginalized or open, etc., folks. "I like gay people but that just over the top." Problematic, not your place to tell people how to express themselves. I went to a protest once and carried a sign that said, "I don't mind straight people as long as they act gay in public," and that one made a lot of people laugh and, I hope, think. If this is you, and you want to work on it, send me an e-mail. I'm a teacher. Working people through this is gliterally what I do for a living.

Okay, now I want to hear what you have to add, or your questions. I'm sort of dashing this one off but I'm certain I'll write a follow-up soon, and I'd love to take your thoughts and insights into consideration when I do.

23 comments:

  1. Here's probably an obvious question that I should probably already know... but I thought queer was considered a pretty derogatory word? True? Untrue? Ok for you but not for me? I had pretty much wiped it from my vocabulary. Perhaps I am having a blonde moment ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. SUCH a good question, and one I get often enough that I should have anticipated it.

      Long story short, the word queer has been reclaimed. Since it was used as an insult for so long, queer folks embraced it and made it our own. It's also useful: it's an umbrella term for anyone who isn't straight. Finally, some people (including me) like it because it has a more provocative political stance as meaning "against/outside the norm." Does that make sense? I can retry if needed. :)

      Delete
    2. I hate the word queer. Not all lesbians and gay people have reclaimed the word queer. I think it's used for shock value and I long since outgrew the need to shock people with my life. I prefer the term lesbian, when needed.

      Delete
    3. Use whatever words you want for yourself. Makes no difference to me. But I entirely disagree with you about its use simply being to shock people. Many people use it because it is the most accurate word for them. Not all non-straight people identify as lesbian, gay, or bi. For some, queer is the best word.

      I've met A TON of lesbians a generation ahead of me who've given me a world of shit for calling myself queer and using the word in a general way, and to be honest, I usually find it condescending. I'm okay with--in fact, I cheer on--people calling themselves whatever they like, using whatever pronouns they want, and I'm not okay with people denigrating others' choices.

      Delete
    4. I was not denigrating anyone's choices or being condescending to you, I was answering Lauren's question from my point of view. I don't think that just because part of the LGBT community wants to identify themselves that way, it makes that word any less denigrating for those of us who were castigated with it. And just as you stated, that we should use what ever word for ourselves we choose, I also have the right to tell who ever asks that I would find it really offensive to be called Queer.

      I think I would feel the same way about the N word if I racially identified as black.

      Delete
    5. When you say that people choose a word for its shock value, that is condescending and denigrating.

      Delete
    6. More specifically, an word for their identity.

      Delete
    7. It is my opinion. Not condescending and I did not in any way say that you shouldn't identify however you wish. I do think it is used for shock value. Not all the time, but some of the time. And I would find it offensive if used toward me by anyone. Just like I don't like the term slut, even though many women have "reclaimed" that word.

      Delete
  2. I've never heard queerdos before but I've been out of the community for a while now. One of my grad school classmates is Trans and he's teaching me a lot of stuff I've been out of the loop from. I think educators are extremely important (heck we're still doing it for Race) Too bad acceptance and equality wasn't something easily downloaded in the brain right?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Seriously!

      Queerdo is just a silly slang word for queer weirdos, which many of us are proud to be. :)

      Delete
  3. Great post and thank you for sharing! I'm so glad there are people out there like you who are open and willing to educate and share your experiences! You are absolutely right about being careful and wary, though. I can't tell you the number of times some otherwise normal-seeming person shared absolutely vile, bigoted opinions with me because they assumed that since I was white and straight I must be " on their side". It can be really hard to tell who the bigots are now.

    Looking forward to more posts like this! This is part of who you are just as much as the horses are, never be afraid to share it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw thanks! I appreciate you reading and supporting the cause. I know a lot of white women, and whether they're straight or not, they're read that way, who've said something similar to me about people unleashing their gross opinions on them. My vet in FL is a lovely feminine white lady with a Southern accent and she'd hear the CRAZIEST shit. She assumed people thought she was on their side with that, and they learned the hard way that that wasn't gonna work for her at all.

      Delete
  4. I appreciate you sharing your view on things, it's always interesting to learn more. Personally, I think all of us horse people are weird so I'd accept anyone who treats their horse well! You have no idea how many times people give me weird looks or say I'm wrong because I don't want kids, so I can imagine the reaction to any other situation where people sense someone is breaking the "norm". Hopefully that's something that improves as the younger generations grow up and more states make gay marriage legal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And the funny thing is, plenty of gay people do want kids!

      You know what's weird? Gay marriage isn't making people more accepting. The rate of queer teen youth homelessness is going UP, not down, which means MORE parents are kicking their kids out than ever before. Sad and horrifying.

      Delete
    2. That is completely weird and sad. I do taxes for a living and was so excited to get my first same sex couple filing a joint tax return. I'm doing a leadership program in my city and I'm interested to see if they bring up anything on this subject during my course since a lot of it includes philanthropy and discussing city issues.

      Delete
  5. This is my favoritest post in all of blogger-dom right now.

    ReplyDelete
  6. An enlightening read, thank you! I have a handful of gay friends and love them all, it really blows me away how narrow minded much of the world still is:(

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am glad a question in the world of social networking reminded you, Jess, of your purpose here! I suppose it is testament that you are now so comfortable that you can "just focus on your horses"! That is a wonderful thing, but of course there are so many who are still hoping to arrive at that comfort in their skin and their lives, all aspects of their lives, and we all need to hear from as many people as possible what they appreciate, what they need, and how we can make the horse and greater world (is there greater than the horse world?? ;-) ) a much nicer place for everyone. Time for the bigoted to feel the pressure, the judgement and the hurt and exclusion they mete out if they are recalcitrant and refuse to accept everyone's shared humanity and individual worth. May no one pray for another's sexual identity, nor condemn it.

    ReplyDelete
  8. thanks for sharing this! lots of good insights here - it seems to really center around being sensitive and compassionate about the choices individuals make for themselves. some of it was a bit eye-opening for me re: giving people time to decide for themselves about new people. i kinda always want to get in there and just be like 'ooh trust me, she's cool' - but maybe that's not actually my place.

    also - not sure if this was a typo or not, but even if it was, i kinda love the 'gliterally what i do for a living' lol.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks for being open and willing to answer questions. Learning more about people's race/sexual identity/religion is how we get closer to understanding each other.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks for these tips, and for being so open to questions! I've been following you for a few months now, and I think this is the first direct "rainbow-colored glasses" post that I've seen. Tip #4 is particularly interesting. I've always thought it best to say nothing, since that's what I do with the straight people. People share personal life details if and when your friendship develops to that level, and commenting (even indirectly) on something so personal with someone new is tough.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'm glad that you wrote this post! I'm completely comfortable around my gay friends, however when I meet someone new that is gay I am uncomfortable initially. Not because of their sexuality, but because I am terrified of accidentally saying something that might offend them (I'm awkward around people I don't know well anyway). So, sometimes I don't say much and I'm sure that gets misinterperated. Once I know someone things are fine, but it's the initial getting to know them that is hard for me to do. I'm so worried about coming across as an ignorant asshole that I end up coming across as an ignorant asshole. Your tips help, but if you have anymore, please let me know :)

    *I've had my head bitten off for asking a question before that I truly didn't mean to offend the person. In all honesty, I don't think most people would have been offended. Since that, I'm not as comfortable asking questions or saying much.

    ReplyDelete