I received an anonymous question about homophobia in communities of color on my QuirkyRican tumblr and knew that I couldn’t be the lone queer answering it. Communities of color deserve better than one response; we deserve guidance from the many voices of our people. We should offer each other the best bits of our lived experiences, intelligence and emotional expertise. So I posed the question to the Speakeasy and received some tremendous responses. We decided to share the question and answers with you — please, feel free to share your thoughts and vibes at the beep. Here’s the question:
How do you deal with a white partner saying shit about how communities of color are somehow especially homophobic/transphobic? I’m a South Asian lady in a relationship with a white girl, and this is the thing that comes up most and that I’m sorry to say I struggle to counter and deal with.
I’m really hurt by this and know it’s some racist bullshit, but at the same time I think about all the people in my family and community who really have had a VERY hard time dealing with my queerness (in ways that have come out as those same people being shitty to my partner) and don’t know what to say or do. It also brings up this weird internalized racial shame that I thought I’d gotten past ages ago… has this ever been a thing for you?
Note: some answers have been edited for clarity.
Elisa P.: I think about this a lot because on one hand there is a lot of homophobia in communities of color, but a lot of that is tied to other forces (such as colonialism, imperialism, racism) as well as religion, as well as class. Intersectionality is real, you need to let them know.
But on the other hand, I’ve been meditating a lot on how a lot of society upholds this super dominant (and normative and neoliberal) narrative about LGBT identity that is of course white-centered, and I think in general people literally don’t know/can’t see the various cultural manifestations of same-gender love or sexuality period. Like, POC identities are already being judged against a system/narratives that don’t validate/value/understand those identities in the first place, so of course when it comes to the nuances of sexuality and sexual identity in those communities, especially since how anti-homophobic and pro-gay marriage a culture is has become a metric for civilization and progress, there’s going to be this added layer of scrutiny that in my opinion is rooted in blindness.
There has been and is queer sexuality within so many of these communities that does not utilize the dominant LGBT language. There may be prejudice against this language in those communities that reads as homophobia but does not negate the tolerated and accepted existence of those queer identities within those communities. Similarly, there is discrimination against those sexualities that is not coded as homophobia. I don’t know if I’m making sense but I think the first step is seeing how “homophobia” belongs to an ethnocentric body of language and discourse that is equally distributed or used across the board within POC cultures. And thennnn there is the amount of money white conservatives literally pour into certain institutions and the media to paint POCs as the homophobic army from hell, but that’s a whole other story.
Carolyn W.: It’s a complicated question because it has become a common deflector used by white folks. Communities of color do in fact deal with a lot of homophobia but not for the reasons white people think, and I believe that is the reason white people need to leave that shit the fuck alone and stop trying to make it like communities of color hold all the homophobia, and white communities don’t. It’s just not true!
White people couldn’t wrap their minds around how homophobia manifests in communities of color if they tried. It’s all tied into gender and power and how we have have to filter out ideas on these in a world that tells us black and brown bodies don’t matter. Queerness skews all the lines previous generations created for those readings.
Ask them how they think they got that way and if their answer is anything other than colonialism, coercive conversion during slavery, and imperialism, please let them know the truth.
Marisol B.: Ask them how they think they got that way and if their answer is anything other than colonialism, coercive conversion during slavery, and imperialism, please let them know the truth.
Someone just sent me a racism glossary from Canada — there’s some useful stuff in there. Their succinct definition of colonialism was “Colonialism Usually refers to the period of European colonization from Columbus (1492) onwards, in the Americas, Asia and Africa, and taking on different forms from settler colonies like Canada to non-settler colonies such as India during British rule.” — but it’s a fairly sterile definition. To me, colonialism is a process whereby a group [usually from a powerful country/space backed by military or other forces] plops into another country/space that’s already inhabited and says “MINE!” on behalf of their “mother country” through force and exploitation along many axes, usually for $$/power/land/resources. Colonization in the U.S. included the forced resettlement of many indigenous tribes, forced Christianization, putting kids in boarding schools and separating them from their families, not allowing indigenous children to speak their native tongues or use their native dress, slavery, systemic extermination, and the list goes on.
Allison B.: In my opinion, this person’s partner needs to be more respectful! And maybe learn some more about colonialism. Europe exported its ideas about gender and sexuality for a really long time, and that had/has a big impact on the whole world. The US is still doing it (see: African countries, like Uganda, where American evangelicals have spent millions to promote homophobia/transphobia).
Asha F.: Yes, Marisol B.! My answer was going to be about the respectability politics and the roots of those politics soaked in the blood of people killed by whites. Everyone’s just trying to keep their kids alive, even if it meant that parts of their spirits had to die along the way. But Marisol gets to that without the blood and tree pictures, so that’s cool too. Also the person who originally said this to their partner should please just shut the fuck up about communities of color. There are enough boards in white people’s eyes to keep them preoccupied for the full extent of any long term relationship.
Lisa C.: Cultural differences just mean that homophobia looks different everywhere and isn’t homogeneous. Even if some cultures came up with the idea to oppress LGBT people without a colonial hand forcing the matter, it still wouldn’t be appropriate to paint an entire culture of people as especially homophobic.
Aki M.: These are really hard questions to live, and this person is courageous for asking them. They’re not alone in struggling and trying to figure out any kind of internalized shame, and resolve conflict.
If we can’t actually force true, lasting change on individuals, how we interpret and act/react and engage the world are the only things we can try to do something about… So in the Speakeasy, we write, we share, we ask questions or for another perspective, we struggle, we fail, we try again, we rage, we embrace, we celebrate small yays, we laugh from our hearts, and sometimes we just say, “hey. you. are. not. alone. here.”
“hey. you. are. not. alone. here.”
Danii D.: This question immediately reminded me of a poem by Alok (from Darkmatter), called trans/generation. Read it here. It echoes what everyone here has said so amazingly already.
Natalie P.: I’m really glad you all exist and are helping to navigate this. I think about this alot and sometimes come up short but don’t know where to go past I BLAME THE WHITES OF OLDE.
Laura M.: Send them to Google with search term “ethnocentrism.” Tell them that conversation can only resume after they’ve clicked through the first two pages of search results.
(I always get flustered when trying to give on-the-spot, verbal explanations about racism. I’d rather make people read things.)
Ethnocentrism is a term applied to the cultural or ethnic bias — whether conscious or unconscious — in which an individual views the world from the perspective of his or her own group, establishing the in-group as archetypal and rating all other groups with reference to this ideal. This form of tunnel vision often results in: (1) an inability to adequately understand cultures that are different from one’s own and (2) value judgments that preference the in-group and assert its inherent superiority, thus linking the concept of ethnocentrism to multiple forms of chauvinism and prejudice, including nationalism, tribalism, racism, and even sexism and disability discrimination. (Oxford Bibliographies, 2012.)
Natalie: Ahhh wow, I’m a South Asian lady who yeah… I’ve heard that shit a lot from white people so I feel for the asker (that said, not from a partner, so different, and I imagine, very difficult). You end up in this weird position where on one hand it’s like you know there IS homophobia and transphobia in your communities so do you talk about that and then risk the white person putting you in their easy narrative of ‘communities of color are MORE homophobic/transphobic!’ or do you try and play it down to try and avoid that narrative and end up feeling like you’re doing a disservice to your fellow queer people?
You end up in this weird position where on one hand it’s like you know there IS homophobia and transphobia in your communities so do you talk about that and then risk the white person putting you in their easy narrative of ‘communities of color are MORE homophobic/transphobic!’ or do you try and play it down to try and avoid that narrative and end up feeling like you’re doing a disservice to your fellow queer people?
I don’t know really, it’s a tricky one, but I guess what I try and do is try and focus on a few things:
- The fact that white people are still as homophobic/transphobic as fuck today and in the recent past (I’m assuming the asker is from a Western country here). Who is it that makes the policies/laws, controls the funding….yeah mostly white people.
- A reminder that basically a lot of anti sodomy laws were introduced by British rulers in South Asia.
- Talking about the glbtiq movements/people in South Asia as well as South Asian queers in the west too… like the whole ‘communities of color are more homophobic/transphobic’ thing really ignores the fact that there are south asian queers and we ARE part of those communities as well.
Maryam M.: My two cents: it’s not like poor PoC have any leverage in creating oppressive systems. Do Imams think i’m ‘sinful’ for transitioning? Yes. But it was still a white radical feminist working with Ronald Fucking Reagan who ensured that trans folk had all medical access denied (except for the rich). Like, you can talk about how the inflexible nature of the local mosques has made my coming out to local Muslims impossible. But, funny thing, they’re not the ones making robocalls to lie to voters into passing anti-trans ordinances.
For me, it’s not about how you ‘feel’ about me being ‘queer’ or ‘trans’. I could care fuck all what most people think. What i care about is who is in charge of maintaining oppressive systems.
I dunno, I just get irked when i hear people talk about this as some sort of deflection. Like you expect everyone, in every situation, to have exactly your understanding of what equality looks like.
Even when I’m in the Middle East, the oppressive powers that be have so little to do with my religion and everything to do with their individual corruption. I know people who use Islam to try and invalidate me, but then I look at the mouth it comes from. It’s not my religion invalidating me, it’s you.
Al S.: Maryam I like all the other paragraphs in your post, especially the last one. Maybe it’s because of the Muslim and identifying as queer part. I really relate to how yes, my mosque has ideas about my sexuality, identity and me, but most of my hardships come from other places. Even when I’m in the Middle East, the oppressive powers that be have so little to do with my religion and everything to do with their individual corruption. I know people who use Islam to try and invalidate me, but then I look at the mouth it comes from. It’s not my religion invalidating me, it’s you.
Gabby R.: I’m cheating because I’m writing my response after everyone else said their piece and after this entire article has been put together. I’m last because I needed time to think. What everyone has contributed is spot on and honest: ethnocentrism, colonized mindsets, enforced systems of oppression and religions onto indigenous folks by white Christians, and lots of internalized bullshit.
For people experiencing this: none of it is in your head. The reason you feel weird/uncomfortable/angry is because your white partner is asserting their white-supremacist based notions of communities of color onto you. You don’t deserve that shit. It’s boring, insulting, and you don’t need to combat their issues while trying to figure your own life out. Your family isn’t a reflection of every South Asian family. And if you’re dealing with transphobia/homophobia in your family, you don’t need someone who’s going to throw an ethnic stereotype in your face. Like motherfuck that forever, bb.
In the full ask, the asker said they’d read my piece on microaggressions in interracial relationships with white people, so they already know there are some tips in there about how to enter into good dialogue or how to just take some space. But really tho…
Next time they say something about “All South Asians do X or all Black people do Y,” just offer them a mayonnaise sandwich. All white people like mayo sandwiches, right?