Tips for Navigating the Rainbow
As June is Pride Month I will be sharing many guest posts from individuals within the LGBTQ+ community. The following is the first of the post series, written by my dear friend V (he/him/his). Enjoy.
- G R A C E
For every nanometer spanning the rainbow flag there’s a gender or sexuality with some possibly complicated sounding prefix attached to it. There are hundreds of flags. There are many diverse types of pronouns. There are more than two genders. And there is a heck of a lot more to our community than just “LGBT.” So how can you as a singular person – whether you have extensive knowledge about, are an advocate for, or consider yourself within the queer community – navigate the shitload of information in a manageable way?
As someone who’s worked in a college resource center specifically for LGBTQ+ students and community members, here are some tips I have learned:
1. Names and pronouns are much more important than you think
Everyone knows how weird and frustrating it is when one person keeps getting your name wrong – even though they’ve known you for like 2 weeks already. For people that go by different names than their birth names, or different pronouns than what they may look like, hearing the name and pronouns they chose for themselves can be a small blessing.
When I am in the resource center, I ask new people their pronouns just after I ask their names because it is just as important. You can see the relief when they realize they do not have to explain the concept of pronouns to you. They are the most used forms of validation for people whose gender identities don’t fit the confines of “male” and “female.” Names and pronouns are no preference, they are mandatory. Using them is a form of respect.
2. It is okay to mess up pronouns…
…but don’t expect “I’m getting used to this,” to work forever. For anyone, even myself, calling someone the wrong pronouns can be stressful. The urge to apologize is strong. Do you keep talking just in case they didn’t hear you mess up? Will they call you out as a bad person for misgendering them? Take a moment. There’s one easy step to fix this: repeat your sentence using the correct pronouns. Now that person knows you did not forget their pronouns and you’re making an effort to change!
3. Ask the staff not the students
If you are the type of person who prefers to hear something verbally explained rather than reading up on the internet to learn things, that’s great! If there’s a resource center or something of the like near you, go there and ask the staff if they can help you understand things. A sore spot in the queer community is the feeling of having to explain oneself to others all the time.
Example: Think of it like if you cut your hair really short and everyone always asks you why you did it. But your reason was just that it felt good, and liberating to have short hair. Yet, all the time, not matter how long you’ve had the hairstyle people always ask. That’d get frustrating right?
Therefore, ask the people who volunteer to educate. (Otherwise the internet is always an okay spot to look around for information! )
4. Everyone is different
No two shades of the same color are alike, no matter how close they may be. Even though I identify as a trans-man, no other trans-man will have had the exact same experience as me. What you hear from a nonbinary individual’s life is theirs, and you should not try to apply their story to every nonbinary person you ever meet. Assumptions will make an ass out of you and me. But mainly you.
5. You can’t pick us out of a crowd
Contrary to popular belief, “gaydar” does not exist. That guy wearing makeup and skinny jeans? You have no idea if he’s queer in any way. Breaking the rules of gender and gender role constructs is not just for queer people, it is for everyone.
Even as someone within the community, I have friends that I did not know were trans until months into our friendship. Months. And I found out because they chose to tell me.
I have certainly made an ass out of myself by approaching people who “looked” like they were queer to me. These mistakes haunt me.
For lots of queer people, looking, acting, and passing as straight or cisgender are what our livelihoods, financial situations, and our support systems depend on. No one is trying to trick you. We are trying to survive.
6. Don’t feel pressured to know every nook and cranny of the community
Think about how many queer people are in your life. How many of them go by different pronouns? How many of them go by different names? Are they okay with you sharing their story with others?
I am going to make an example of this:
Someone – we will call them Stacy – has five queer people in their life, two of which go by different pronouns. Out of all the flags, all the pronouns, all the sexualities, all the different types of people in the community, Stacy only needs to know the detailed preferences, comforts, and identities of those five friends (assuming the friends were comfortable with sharing). For everyone else in the queer community? Names and pronouns will suffice.
Focus on the people close to you first and then branch out if you want to know more about the community. It will always be surprising when you learn about a new sexuality or gender you’ve never heard of. That does not mean you need to learn everything at once. That goes for people inside and outside of the community. You do not need to feel pressured to learn everything about the LGBTQ+ community at once.
If you are ever confused about stuff, you should ask! That person who looks like they could be a man or woman? Maybe they’re neither; ask them their pronouns!
Perhaps you are questioning your sexuality but don’t know where you fit in the community? Ask your queer friend! Ask the LGBTQ+ center near you!
You are not queer and want to know more about the community? Refer to tip number 3! But also ask the internet. Everybody in the queer community, no matter how much they know, started knowing nothing. Everyone starts there, there’s no shame in it.
People will always make mistakes and educating oneself is no different. Mistakes are a necessary part in learning how to best support different communities and all the different people within those communities. As long as you’re making a genuine effort, you deserve to have a little pride in yourself for growing.