It’s Pride Week in Cape Breton. I live in a small city with an aging population and an island mentality which tends to keep residents thinking and behaving like they are about fifteen years in the past. And yet [does some quick math] that puts Cape Breton in 2003, which [does some quick history research] is the year eight out of ten Canadian provinces legalized same-sex marriage. In a roundabout sort of way, then, we’re ahead of our time when it comes to Pride. I feel all warm when I see the rainbow flags flying in front of City Hall, and the rainbow crosswalks at downtown intersections, and the rainbow stickers in shop windows. Plenty o’ rainbows.
I’m straight and cis, but I have long considered myself an ally. The first pro-LGBTQ button I wore said, “Straight but not Narrow.” I remember once bumping into a friend from high school who had since come out of the closet; she read the badge and (I think) misunderstood its implications, because she haughtily replied, “I’m lesbian. And narrow.” (You do you, Sunshine). I went to my first gay party in undergrad. In Montreal, I kissed a boy (and I liked it).
Growing up Unitarian, I was made to understand at a very young age that (a) gay people existed, and (b) this was not a big deal. These two maxims — so simple to accept for some, so alien for others — resurfaced when I chose theatre as my vocation. I remember once around 1995, I was in the long, long lineup to apply for the Edmonton Fringe Festival, and I overheard some dude joking about how “if the world ended and only the people in this lineup survived, we’d never repopulate the species.” It took me forever to figure out the joke. Finally, when it clicked — lots of theatre people are not breeders — it wasn’t really funny. I mean, yeah, maybe the human race would go extinct, but at least we’d see some really spectacular shows before we died.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the apocalypse, and I’ve come to the conclusion that queers stand a very good chance of saving humanity — although not through theatre (at least, not exclusively). This is in direct opposition to social conservatives, who are more likely to believe that homosexuality (or the general acceptance thereof) is hastening the collapse of civilization. I don’t happen to think many such people read my blog, so I won’t spend a lot of space addressing them here. But for the sake of completeness, here is a brief apologia for the “traditional values” crowd:
Folks, we’ve got bigger fish to fry. Your disapproval of LGBTQ lifestyles might stem from a religious upbringing, or a deep-seated sense of squickiness about butt stuff, or exasperation about the ever-expanding acronym (pro tip: put a “+” at the end if you’re not sure!). I’m not here to judge. But I am here to remind you that we live in a profoundly unstable world, where diminishing oil reserves and increasing climate disruption are going to make the 20th century model of society vanish, and soon. Unless you can find an ironclad scientific theory that connects homosexuality with global warming, you’re better off setting your prejudices aside for now, for the sake of your long-term survival. Maybe, if we can wriggle our way out of this and make it to the 22nd century, then we’ll have the breathing room to address your weird prescriptions about who ought to fall in love with whom. Until then, let’s focus on the big boss battle, okay?
(Unless you also don’t believe in climate change. In which case… is there any way I can convince you to log off the internet and stop voting? It would mean a lot.)
Okay, enough sass and sarcasm. Here’s why I think queers can save the world: they’re everywhere. I don’t mean to suggest that everybody is queer, despite what some of my undergrad professors tried to argue. I simply mean that LGBTQ people exist in every part of the world, and in every culture and subculture. Of course, over the last 50 years (give or take), gay culture has taken on a life of its own — if not, Pride parades would be a pretty dull affair — but every person who identifies as gay/bi/trans/queer/etc. also identifies in other ways, too.
This matters. It matters because in 2018, we are stuck in a rut of in-group identification. Men have always identified as men, and black people have always identified as black people, and Christians have always identified as Christians. But today, it’s getting harder and harder to get people thinking outside their identities. The internet encourages in-group identification across the board: if you are, first and foremost, a World of Warcraft fan, guess what? There are hundreds of thousands of other WoW fans out there who feel the same. They find each other online, and they entrench themselves, raising walls that isolate themselves from all the other in-groups… because who needs ’em? The more time we spend in our in-groups, the less we understand (or care about) the out-groups.
I’m oversimplifying, of course, but I don’t feel it’s an exaggeration to state that our ideological lines have created a social deadlock. If you doubt my hypothesis, spend an hour reading the comments sections of any CNN post. We are paralyzed by a lack of connectivity, and when horrifying, world-shaking events arrive (and they already are), we will desperately need consensus, as well as conviction, and courage.
Enter the queers. I’m serious. There are gay men and gay women; gay blacks and gay whites; gay Christians and gay Muslims. There are even gay Republicans, although the number who’ll admit they voted for Trump may be dwindling. And while queerness does not automatically equal consensus, it does tend to come with a hefty dose of conviction and courage, because let’s face it, being a proud LGBTQ person still takes guts.
The most salient example of what I mean can be found in trans identity. Think about it; before all those other divisions even existed, before we even thought of ourselves as human beings, there were male hominids and female hominids. Sexual dimorphism created the first and most deeply ingrained binary in our conception of ourselves. Ancient ideas about male and female identity remain thoroughly entrenched in our culture (again, Exhibit A: the internet). Progressive movement towards mutual understanding and consensus — and, with that, the capacity to solve world-spanning problems as a species — simply can’t occur without overcoming the most primal of prejudices: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.
So thank all the gender-swapping gods for trans people, and two-spirited people, and asexual people. Thank god for human beings who have lived part of their lives as male, and part as female — or who have evolved beyond the whole regressive business of gender, and acknowledge that pigeon-holing people based upon what happens to be between their legs makes about as much sense as segregating people based on eye colour, or Zodiac signs, or whether or not they play World of Warcraft.
I am genuinely grateful, and hopeful, for living in an age when we can finally acknowledge that sex and gender are not the cornerstones of human culture. Those foundations are weak, and they make us weak when we rely too much upon them. Be flexible. If we, as a species, are to survive the coming storms, we need stronger foundations: empathy, understanding. Love. And Pride.