May 17th is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. The date bears significance as it is the day in 1990 that the World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. This is only 31 years ago. This happened in my lifetime.
The LGBTQ+ community is still fighting against stigmas and for basic human rights. States and countries continue trying to make laws against the best interests of members of the LGBTQ+ community, like the recent bills introduced in 20 states to ban transgender youth from receiving medical treatment.
This got me thinking about the word “phobia” and what it means and implies. A phobia is defined by Britannica as an “extreme, irrational fear of a specific object or situation.” This suggests to me that homophobia is something one has no control over. However, the definition of “homophobia” is “a range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).” Are people actually afraid of members of the LGBT community? Is it more appropriate to label this behavior or aversion as intolerance? In 1993, a second definition for phobia was added: “an aversion toward, dislike of, or disrespect for a thing, idea, person, or group.” Is it ignorance of people “other” than oneself? Even if we buy into the supposition that this is a true phobia or irrational and automatic fear, there are effective self-help therapies against phobias. In order to overcome a phobia, people must understand it. The more we come to know those we perceive as “other” than ourselves, the more compassion and empathy we can build as humans.
We often hear about and highlight the trauma and the injustice perpetuated on the LGBTQ+ Community. I decided rather than asking co-workers to relive those painful memories, they share moments of acceptance and community, instead.
My own journey of acceptance is still ongoing. I have felt othered in so many aspects of my life, not limited to my gender expression nor sexuality. It took me a long time not to cover amongst various groups because my truth felt inconvenient for them. I found myself in many instances where others denied my truth out of what I perceive was their desire to be supportive. It took me a long time not to care if I would be judged for being “gender-full” or fluid and in being fine at correcting peoples’ assumptions.
Holly: “I've been very fortunate to feel a lot of acceptance in my life…I've definitely felt more acceptance working at IG and my last employer because I finally just started outing myself in the interview process. Typically, I don't talk much about my personal life in an interview… so.., especially when I had longer hair, there was this whole process of having to come out again. It's not that I hide who I am, but with some employers there was or maybe still is a heteronormative bias in place... Typically that meant a few weeks of me correcting someone when they asked about my boyfriend or husband.”
Claire: “When I was coming to terms with my gender identity, I was, for some reason, so terrified to "come out" (I don’t enjoy this phrase but have no other phrase at my disposal) to my two best friends from high school. They are the longest and steadiest relationships I have had in my life and I knew that nothing could change the love we have for one another, but still, there was this lump in the back of my throat that I couldn't swallow.
The three of us have a group chat, a hotline, that we have had since we started college that we have used for all major life announcements. First kisses, break ups, family drama, anything you can imagine. So, one night, I sat and composed my message to share my new discoveries about myself with them. I sat with the message waiting to be sent for hours before I finally slammed the send button and quickly exited the chat. I had to put my phone down and walk away to get my mind on other things.
Of course, when I finally returned to my phone, there was celebration and joy and a lot of heart emojis. I cried out of sheer relief and had to laugh at myself for having been so afraid. After that everything felt easier. Their overwhelming love and acceptance reminded me that I am enough.”
Mary: “The first person I ever really felt accepted by in terms of gender and sexuality was my partner through high school & most of college. They're pretty much the only person I ever told about my gender feelings (which I mean, at the time were very repressed) but my first time trying on a dress was in their room. We both ended up being trans and are still good friends, so it's been fun recently discussing some of this stuff I'd just totally forgotten.”
Holly: “In terms of a story of community, I've been throwing parties for pride for years now whether it be as a volunteer of the Savannah Pride Festival which I helped start in Georgia or for corporate affinity groups to celebrate pride month. I love coming together with others from the team and celebrating our community of diverse people from diverse backgrounds. It's one of my favorite things to do. Typically, there is a lot of love, joy, and gratitude in the planning and celebrating. It's simple but it's an awesome and often restorative feeling for me personally. I know pride month isn't perfect and we shouldn't just have a month but I will say that there has been something magical about the annual pride celebrations for me throughout the years.”
Claire : “When I was figuring myself out a few years ago… I was able to see friends and acquaintances I hadn't seen since I moved to Chicago. I reconnected with a close college friend who invited me to a game night with his friends. It turned out that most of the people at this gathering were alumni of my college that I just never spent time with for one reason or another. It was the first time in a VERY long time that I found myself truly surrounded by other queer people. Some of these people I had never met before and the group welcomed me in with open arms. I realized then that I had a serious lack of queer humans in my life. That night, surrounded by strangers, I had never felt more at home.”
Mary: “A little while after moving to Chicago with transition in mind, I found the group Gender Queer Chicago. This was my first experience being in community with other trans people. That group was really a huge help for me accepting myself. They helped me get through enough of my remaining doubt that I was able to share with them when I'd started HRT and share my 1-year HRT anniversary. I'm really fond of the memories of going out to get food with some of the group after and feeling completely safe in just being myself. I'm glad to still be friends with some of the people I met there.”
For me, a moment of acceptance happened at brunch a few years ago. I often used to go to breakfast on my own to get a little me time for the week. On one of these mornings, I met two people who had just had to cancel their trip to Amsterdam suddenly. We struck up a conversation and I eventually became friends with one of them. During that encounter and through that friendship, I never felt like the person made any assumptions about my sexuality nor questioned my gender identity. Discussions around these topics were incredibly thoughtful and open. It might seem small, but I'd never had an experience like that before.
(Some names have been changed at the request of the individuals)