Activism has become, in essence, an opportunity for virtue-signalling, and we seem to have lost it's true purpose: to change.
I had the most frightening realisation the other day.
As a visibly queer (maybe questioning is a more accurate term) person in a relationship (one in which I am no longer), and one during which (COVID-safe) public displays of affection are very much a possibility, both my girlfriend and I could quite easily be the targets of an attack — an attack directed towards us deeply “evil, truly disgusting, and potentially contagious” traitors to humankind.
I am, of course, talking about les homoséxuals — of which (I think) I am one.
These sorts of attacks that we could experience can be hand-picked from a buffet of homophobia: slur-calling, getting beaten up, correctional rape… the list goes on. And then there’s institutionalised homophobia — in other words, anti-queer mindsets encouraged by thoughtless words and insensitive philosophies: speaking only of ‘husband and wife’, parents refusing to acknowledge their child’s queer identity, and (arguably the most belittling) the indoctrination that, instead of tackling homophobes and their small-mindedness head-on, we’re forced to just accept that they will be around. Forever.
In texting my semi-closeted girlfriend, she mentioned a friend of hers, and I asked if this friend knew of our relationship. She said that if her friend did know, she probably wouldn’t speak to her again. One of the most important people in my life felt unsafe to talk about something as frivolous as myself. And the worst part? When I expressed how awful it must have been to know that a part of her had to be hidden from her own friends on the daily, she shrugged it off, totally unfazed, and claimed it was just a part of life.
To all the queer people out there: homophobia shouldn’t have to be just a part of life.
Yet it is.
I’m a criminal in over 70 countries, and so is someone I’m absolutely head over heels with.
If I revisited Oman, the country in which I was born, I could be sent to prison for up to three years.
Friends and family of ours could refuse to come to our wedding (yes, I did just corroborate a queer women’s stereotype by mentioning our wedding at fifteen-years-old — *rolls eyes and rearranges flannel*)
What if I become just another hate-crime statistic? Or worse, what if my girlfriend does?
The understanding that millions of people around the world think our existence (without ever having met us) is simply wrong is quite the wake-up call. And it’s even more heartbreaking that, as the queer community, we’re not the only ones born into a life of discrimination: women, POC, neurodivergents, those who follow certain religions, those who don’t speak English, disabled people, and so many more.
Anyone who isn’t a masculine-presenting woman has the privilege of never having to think about whether or not this will be the day they’re stared at in a public bathroom, or called “young man” in a mall, or being reminded in the changing rooms at Woolworths that “those are ladies’ shorts, hey?” They’ll never know how real — and how possible — discrimination and hate crimes are.
I am fortunate enough to have never experienced any form of personal discrimination in my life, but others aren’t nearly as lucky. People of Colour are taken advantage of because they’re people of Colour — like hardly ever getting addressed in class because their name’s “too hard to pronounce”. Having inferiority and powerlessness and alienation is ingrained into them from such a young age…it’s been normalised.
Women feel inherently weak and constantly afraid; our concerns seem insignificant and our pleas seem unrealistic; we’re told to just deal with it. We’re told we exaggerate issues, so we hardly raise them as such. Catcalling and threatening and groping is so real and is often not regarded as sexual assault, even though its fleeting nature can be the most traumatic.
Transgender individuals struggle to find bathrooms that they would feel comfortable using; nonbinary people are told that they simply don’t exist; and people who use neopronouns (for example, xe/xem/xyrs, ze/hir/hirs; etc.) are constantly invalidated.
Those with depression and anxiety are blamed for their uncontrollable feelings; self-harm is seen rather as an inconvenience than a cry for help; mental illness has been viewed as nothing more than a fault and a weakness.
Those who follow, for example, Judaism, are frequently persecuted and ridiculed from primary school ages, and are among the most stereotyped groups.
People in chronic and acute pain are ignored on the basis that they need to “toughen up” and to “keep pushing through”; disabled people are erased almost totally from representation in the media, and places of work and public areas are often not disabled-friendly in the slightest.
The main issue with discrimination, aside from the unimaginable mental health-related repercussions that microaggressions and blatant prejudice can cause, is that the recipients of these attacks see it as ‘normal’ (“I didn’t realise it at the time.”) Racial bias and anti-queer slurs, inaccessible areas for those with physical disabilities, and looking down on those with mental health issues and neurodivergence have become normalised to the point that even folk within these marginalised groups see it as simply another part of life. And, most importantly, the fact that these discriminatory utterances and systematic prejudices are so common does not take away from their significance or their ability to affect people’s lives in the long run. Small changes, like increasing POC representation in kids’ films, or educating primary school pupils about all religions, or teaching the importance of consent to young boys, or building a few wheelchair ramps at school… they can make the biggest difference to people. I can attest that feeling seen and heard and appreciated as a part of a marginalised group is one of the best feelings in the world.
Prejudices and acts of discrimination are so major, and can be life-altering in their significance, yet such small changes can be made to totally wipe out these kinds of mindsets in future generations.
As humans, after thousands of years of insensitivities and harmful, inaccurate preconceptions about groups of people, one would expect that we would have learnt our lesson about such things. One would expect that equity and equality would no longer be dreams of the marginalised, but rather parallels of our society. Evidently, it hasn’t turned out so.
I think it’s about time we change that. Don’t you?
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2021 Aimee van der Merwe