Tamal is gay and our response is harmful

In an interview with Radio Times magazine this week, Great British Bake Off contestant Tamal Ray was asked about his relationship status and responded “I wouldn’t have a girlfriend; I would have a boyfriend, but I’m single at the moment”. It’s been described as him “coming out” (Attitude, Passport), or a “revelation” (Daily Mail, Digital Spy) – but it’s neither of these things, and it has been met with a response of dismay and disappointment from the straight women of twitter, contrasted nicely with a good deal of excitement from The Gays Of Twitter.

It’s all got me rather irritated.

All of the response – from the reporting of the interview, to the tweets from, well, everybody is indicative of a society that views heterosexuality as a default. We’re assumed straight until we specify otherwise [I’ve written about this before and how I’m not putting up with it any longer] and even our friends who otherwise oppose homophobia still view sexuality not established as meaning heterosexual. Heterosexual is default, so unknown means straight, not specified means straight, anything other than a widely announced public coming out means straight. We have to stop doing this.

We also have to stop referring to incidents of people making comments that indicate that they are not straight as “coming out” or “revelations”. In the case of Tamal, this appears to be him simply correcting an interviewer who mistakenly assumed he was straight, but it happens all the time – people correcting lazy interviewers or making comments to colleagues are referred to as coming out. This sucks because it puts the onus on us to be clear about our sexualities and to comply with society’s rule of Straight As Default. But even worse, because it shames us. It furthers the idea that when society doesn’t know details about us (mostly that we’re queer), it means we’ve been hiding it – but this is usually just not the case. With Tamal, but also with almost every other celebrity who is known to be queer, we haven’t seen a change of status (despite how it’s reported); we just have some new information. And we have to stop believing that we are entitled to this information. We are not entitled to this information.

But we are also not entitled to other people’s bodies, their affection, their love, and their attention – and that’s what I say to the straight women of Twitter who have expressed disappointment or heartbreak over finding out that Tamal is not straight.

Firstly, he was never available to you anyway. Same with Ricky Martin, Lance Bass, Neil Patrick Harris, the list goes on. They were never available to you – not just because of their celebrity status, but because they were gay before you knew. You haven’t “lost” anything except, perhaps, your sense of entitlement. And because your sense of entitlement instills within you an expectation for us to disclose our availability (or lack of) at our earliest opportunity, you feel disappointment when that entitlement is taken away.

Secondly, please stop making public announcements of your disappointment. What you are saying is that being gay is a bad thing. Maybe you don’t hold this belief more generally, but even when you express disappointment about a specific person being gay for a specific personal reason, you are coming from a position of regarding being gay as being a bad thing. So please stop that.

But think also about the people who read and hear your announcements of disappointment. Young queer people who are establishing their identities and how they want to present themselves. Do they care about your own personal celebrity crushes? No. But what they do hear is that you value people less if they’re not straight. That you cannot celebrate their lives unless they are straight. That their being queer will be regarded by some – maybe including you – as a disappointment. So please stop doing this.

There has been mentioned a contrast with gay and bisexual men expressing excitement or joy each time they discover a beloved celebrity is gay or bi or anything other than straight – but it really isn’t the same thing. Part of the excitement comes from the pleasure representation brings. Seeing ourselves represented in the world of celebrity brings validation and a sense of positivity. (It’s true for other underrepresented groups, but I’m not in a position to speak for those.) Having role models to in positions we can aspire to really does bring excitement.

But I shouldn’t shy away from the fact that some of this excitement does come from a sense of entitlement. We see celebrities who are known publicly to be gay or bisexual as (newly) sexually available to us, and we now feel entitled to their bodies and their affection. It seems odd that we appear to be contributing to the very system that tries to keep us down, but we must remember that we grew up in the same heteronormative society that everybody else did. We are not removed from that and our responses are influenced by that. We have homophobia built into us the same as everybody else does. It’s no different because we’re queer.

I suppose personal responses to finding out high-profile people are queer may seem little things that are mostly inconsequential, but they’re not. They come from, and further society’s insistence that heterosexuality is default. They come from and cement heteronormativity, and that is so much more harmful than we realize.

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The language of love

There’s a guy in my life. We sit next to each other and watch TV. We share a house, share a bed. We share some of our money. We’re invited to parties together. Sometimes we fuck.  We report each other’s incomes on our tax returns. We reported every last detail of our relationship to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship so that I could come and live here.

But I don’t know what to call him.

It’s a strange thing, not having a go-to word for that person; I think it comes from a few places:

Heteronormativity means that unless I make it explicitly clear, most of society will assume that the person I’m talking about is a woman. Sometimes this will be because, well, society just assumes people are straight, but bizarrely this will often be out of some strange, misguided ‘politeness’ where, based on gay stereotypes, they’ll assume I’m gay but pretend to assume my [whatever we want to call them] is a woman so as not to offend me.

(To be clear: this offends me.)

Internalised homophobia contributes to this dilemma in a huge way too. And it is, in a way, working with heteronormativity but in the opposite direction. Not always, but sometimes, I feel the desire to hide, and to keep the gender of him as ambiguous as possible. It’s absurd, and as I’ve discussed before I’m very much “out”, and it is a very rare thing that I feel a need to actually hide my sexual orientation out of fears for personal safety etc.

Put these two things together, and combine them with a desire for honesty as well as warmth, and I’m left with essentially zero good choices for what that guy actually is.

Partner is the one people like to use to sound inoffensive, and whilst it doesn’t necessarily offend me, it does make me want to vomit. It’s so sterile and bland, makes our relationship sound like a business arrangement, transactional. It is totally unrepresentative of a relationship based on love and mutual admiration.

Lover. Fuck off.

Spouse crops up on forms and official documents. The Immigration Department uses spouse and I don’t like it at all. Partly because it’s incorrect (yes, de facto spouse is correct I suppose, Border Force), but we’re not married, we have decided not to get married, and we don’t like the idea of marriage. Our relationship looks a little bit like a marriage, at least from the outside, but that is certainly not what it is. (I also really dislike the word, aesthetically.)

Husband is a word I sometimes use to piss people off, but mostly I don’t like it. Again, it’s too marriagey for my taste, and if I’m honest it makes me feel subordinate.

I sometimes use Other Half but I don’t like it all that much. It implies that people are not complete unless they’re in a relationship (and note the “half” – it could never be “he’s one of my other thirds”, which is another reason – even though I personally am not polyamorous – I dislike it). It’s slightly better than Better Half though, which makes me see red.

Related is Significant Other, which I suppose isn’t too bad, but it feels a bit glib. He’s more than just “significant”, but like other half, I feel it does downplay the significance of myself in my own life.

I used to dislike Boyfriend intensely. It seemed okay for young people, or people who hadn’t been in the relationship for a very long time, but for a co-habiting couple in a stable, long-term relationship, it always sounded a little immature. My feelings on that have changed a little now. Using boyfriend feels like a rejection of societal norms. It feels like an acknowledgement that marriage is not some ideal or a goal to aim for. And I like that it pisses some people off or confuses them (as I’ve said before, I’m over caring whether people are confused or not).

Still I don’t call him my boyfriend nearly as often as I’d like. Maybe it’s a feeling that I ought to hide something about him, maybe it’s a desire to be taken seriously. It’s all indicative of an urgent need to unlearn all this rubbish that surrounds relationships and society’s ideals when it comes to talking about them. But I’m working on it.


I’d be interested to know what words you like, dislike, use and avoid. Let me know in the comments or in a tweet!