This article originally featured in DIVA magazine in September 2018
One of the most difficult battles we have to face as a community are stereotypes. Hardened ideas of what we can and can’t be restrict us, write our stories and finish our sentences before we have a chance to. One of the most talked about Netflix series at the moment is ‘Nanette’ a standup set by Hannah Gadsby. She discusses this in a more powerful, succinct and intelligent way than I could ever attempt and I 100% recommend you watch it, if you haven’t already. Hannah’s experience and dissection of misogyny, homophobia and the short comings of comedy are at times uncomfortable to watch but simply because they are so true. True to her, true to many. Alone in the comfort of my own home I cried with her and absorbed her pain. Like the broken pieces of a shattered window, I felt like I had only experienced the smallest shards of what she has gone through but still, I could see and feel the destruction caused by others.
Recently, I was at Bristol Pride and took my sister in law and her husband to watch the comedy evening, with particularly talented comedians. We all very much enjoyed it, however time and time again ‘straight white men’ were attacked and dismissed as if they weren’t in the room. My brother-in-law shifted a couple of times in his seat and I decided to bring it up with him after the show. He said he felt powerless when given the label, reduced to something he didn’t identify with at all. I could see he was hurt by it but he shrugged it off a little, distancing himself from me. That’s what we have experienced as a community for years right? I know how dehumanising it was to be called a ‘dyke’ at school, to be told ‘you don’t look like a lesbian’ by strangers in clubs, to be made to feel like my story was already written. I wondered whether it was one of the first times in his life that he had felt powerless and misrepresented, a state of being that we are all too familiar with.
My question is, without attempt to create a volcanic rise of anger in anyone, knowing how distant and angry this has made us feel is it beneficial to do it to another population of people? Maybe it is. Maybe by identifying ‘straight white men’ and calling them out with a pointing finger is the way to make them look at themselves, their behaviour and think ‘how can I do better?’ Once, at my place of work I found out that the entire team had gone to watch a football match without inviting me or my male gay colleague. The group were comprised of only straight white men. Perhaps I should have called them out for it, highlighted to them that their actions were seemingly discriminatory. I didn’t because I think that would have reduced me in the conversation too. If they were discriminating that was either because I am ‘woman’ or ‘lesbian’ and I know I am so much more than that. My feeling is that if I reduce them, they reduce me back.
So maybe, the finger pointing, name calling, negative labelling is rising to play a game that no one can win. If I want people to see my story, then I have to be willing to see theirs. In the process of fighting to be able to write our own stories, we shouldn’t be trying to take it away from someone else.