Straddling the line -- being twice stigmatized

by Blake Kanewischer
June 1996

When you hear the words, "Hi, I'm gay," or "Hi, I'm mobility-challenged," or "Hi, I'm African-American," you don't think anything of it anymore. "Single" discretely identifiable characteristics are virtually all accepted by modern society, with the exception of the various sexual orientations.

Thus, when someone mentions that they are discretely identifiable via only one characteristic, or perhaps one characteristic and another that is so commonly-accepted that it is a virtual non-issue (such as eyesight deficiencies), it doesn't really bother Joe and Suzy Lunchpail. But why exactly is this? It's because they are only different from me in this one characteristic. They're 'normal' (ie, conform to the majority) in every other aspect, so they're okay.

Most people, fortunately, are now race-indiscriminate, gender-indiscriminate, and age-indiscriminate, in terms of how they treat a person. However, when it comes to things such as disabilities, traditional gender roles, and sexual orientations, they aren't quite so indiscriminate. In fact, they are downright discriminatory in many cases.

Visually-impaired persons are frequently cursed for their seeing-eye dogs, their dogs are constantly being petted, and so on. Hearing-impaired persons are constantly being spoken "down" to, as if they were "dumb" or "slow," in addition to which exaggerated articulation is practiced. Similar invectives are frequently hurled at those who (legitimately) occupy handicapped spaces.

"Feminine" males are frequently labeled "sissies", "pussies" or some derivative of those terms. Such pejoratives are frequently also flung at children who do not perform quite "up to par" in sporting competitions. "Masculine" females are frequently assumed to be lesbians and are called "butch" and "dykes".

Sexual orientations are the major thing that must still be resolved within our society. Gay men, bisexual persons, and lesbians are all far from completely accepted within society. Transgendered persons and persons of even more persecuted orientations, such as pedophiles, hebephiles, and necrophiles, are even more ostracized.

So, it's obvious that some things aren't accepted by "the majority". So, you would think that people who aren't accepted by the majority for whatever reason would all band together. Sad to say, it isn't that way. Some concrete examples that I can think of on a "news" type scale are the rejection of NAMBLA by gay rights organizations, Alan Keyes (a black Republican presidential candidate) campaigning on a slate somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, the rejection of gay people by the (historically-persecuted) Jews, etc, etc. It's not just sexual orientation that's being attacked, either. Many disabled persons are unable to work at "traditional" jobs without accommodations that many employers are unwilling to provide.

Okay, okay, so where's the "personal" in this column? As you may (or may not) know, I'm both gay and deaf, so I straddle two marginalized worlds: that of gay people, and that of deaf people. I'll start with the one that I have more experience with.

Deaf people ostracize me for two reasons: I'm gay and I no longer use sign language as a means of communications. When I go to functions with my deaf companions (it's hard to call them friends anymore), they all communicate in sign language and pointedly exclude me, leaving me to try to communicate via speech with other deaf people, whose speech is hardly the most understandable! Needless to say, that results in miscommunications and hurt feelings all around. I was asked to leave a class of my deaf peers just before Grade 1, because of my use of speech and their use of sign. They were the only friends I had known, up until then, but just because I was different from them and fit a slightly different category of person, I couldn't be one of them. To get to the gay thing, which (obviously) is much more recent, my deaf friends have called me a shit-packer, faggot, and a pansy, among other pejoratives, just because I made the mistake of trusting them with something important in my life.

Looking at it the other way, online as a gay deaf person, when I'm among gay people, I'm generally accepted. However, there was one night online in the middle of a huge fight on a popular IRC channel frequented by gay teenagers when suddenly, out of nowhere, I was called a "deafmute." My immediate reaction was to break out in tears. I didn't respond to anything for about three minutes while my many friends came to my defense. I remember being so pissed off at the perpetrator that I didn't even reply to /msgs from him for five more minutes...and when I did, I was still pissed off...It took me a good quarter-hour to calm down. To capsulize my feelings at that moment is difficult, but the words that come to mind include "betrayed", "stung", "shocked", and "hurt". I guess where I get really upset about this isn't that it's on a personal level...That I can put aside (after some time).

Where I get upset is when we as glb people reject or otherwise stigmatize other persecuted groups. The next time someone says that they're bi, don't accuse them of being "one or the other". The next time someone says that they're a pedophile, don't lecture them on their immorality. The next time someone says they're black or Latino, don't attack them on that basis.

Just remember, we as a persecuted minority must always stand on guard for our fellow persecuted minorities. Former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes expressed the view that free speech is NOT allowing just what you like to be said, rather, it is allowing what you don't like to be said.

Blake is an 18-year-old queer computer science student in his second year at Medicine Hat College in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. He cane be reached at bkanwisc@mlc.awinc.com, or visit his home page.
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