5 Shockingly Outdated Problems Gay People Still Face Today
There's no denying that coming out as gay isn't as hard as it used to be: We're not considered mentally ill anymore, which is rad, and in some places we're even allowed to have jobs. But this kind of obscures how incredibly backward things still are, even in the most progressive parts of the world. That's because a lot of the really weird problems gay people still face in their day-to-day lives never get talked about.
For example ...
There Is No Sex Education for Us
Sex ed classes are awkward and terrible for everyone, but all of that cringing is just the price we pay for the one chance to learn the crucial basics of sex. Well, for heterosexual sex, anyway. When you're gay, all of your high school sex ed classes are just an awkward set of anatomical IKEA instructions.
So while your classmates are all cracking jokes, you sink into your seat wondering what to do if your tab prefers a completely different set of slots, because while they get graphs and careful explanations, you're stuck trying to figure out the specific act that goes along with the slang phrases you've picked up, like "butt sex" and "carpet munching."
When I figured out my sexuality, I obviously wanted to go off and explore things, and by things I mean the crotches of other women. But while my cousins had access to The Joy of Sex and its impressive array of 1970s pubic-hair sculpting, all I had was some vague understanding about objects going into holes and a surprisingly helpful monotype-font guide from 1995.
In other words, most of my lesbian sexual knowledge had to be reverse-engineered from heterosexual sex, or acquired from firsthand "research" in the field. While that probably sounds like fun, access to even just some goddamned line drawings might have reduced the rip-roaring case of carpal tunnel syndrome I have now. Hell, the quintessential lesbian sex act is scissoring, and I thought that was an urban myth until I actually saw a picture (even now I'm pretty sure it's a practical joke designed by the gods of sex to see how many women will accidentally kick each other in the nose in the throes of bliss).
Sure, no one really knows what they're doing their first time, but while straight people can at least take some hints from that one time they rented Original Sin while their parents were out of town, gay people pretty much have to make it up as they go. Googling "sex advice for lesbians" is hilariously useless; all you get is tips for men on how to make love to women using lesbian techniques, because apparently the best way to learn to have lesbian sex is to have sex with a man who has learned how to have heterosexual sex from a lesbian.
We're Not Taught How to Take Care of Our Bodies
If you're heterosexual, from your teenage years on you've been hearing about two distinct dangers: accidental pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. But homosexuality leads to a whole host of different health problems that don't get their own chapter in the sex ed book.
I know what you're thinking: "But I hear gay dudes getting warned about the danger of HIV all the time!" Well, think about it -- if you're a sexually active gay teenage boy but haven't come out to your parents, you have to figure out a way to talk to your doctor about any sex-related health concerns without having a parent in the room. And you absolutely have to do this, because you could freaking die otherwise. Oh, and welcome to the world of routine anal Pap smears, because you're 17 times more likely to get anal cancer than you would be if that dude you're banging were a chick.
As for lesbians, sure, we have lower rates of some STDs than our boy-banging pals, but that generally translates into slacking off on the self-care front: Lesbians are 10 times less likely to get a routine Pap test, because they don't think they can get HPV (the virus that will give you a whole fuckton of cervical cancer) from another woman. But at the same time, four out of five lesbians (including those who have been man-free their whole lives) have HPV.
And, thanks to a trick of nature, not having babies and not taking birth control actually increase the risk of breast cancer, which means it's doubly important for lesbians to give a shit about their gynecological health. The problems persist for one simple reason: It's implied that if your lady bits aren't constantly exposed to penile germ warfare and aren't a potential staging ground for new life, you have no reason to run to the OB/GYN once a year to make sure that everything is moving smoothly under the hood.
Meanwhile, both groups are taking their problems to a doctor who probably had only about five hours of medical training on their needs. One study showed that a third of the responding medical schools spent a total of zero hours on LGBT medical training, because that's exactly how much of a priority it is. And those are the newly minted doctors -- the older doctors (the straight ones, anyway) probably know as much about gay sex as ... all other old, straight people, stereotypically speaking.
Everyday Paperwork Is a Nightmare
Every little thing involving paperwork becomes more complicated when your partner is of the same gender -- there are all of these extra fees we have to pay every time we want to get married, sign up for insurance, or just do our taxes. When my wife and I went on vacation, we brought along our marriage certificate to use as some sort of notarized shield against bigotry and stupidity -- because if, say, something happened to one of us and we had to go to the hospital, we can never be sure that our matching wedding rings and love/hate relationship will be enough to get us into a room together. Yes, we literally have to carry our "papers" with us everywhere we go, to avoid the "How can you be married when you're both women?!?" reaction.
And while everyone thinks their taxes are confusing, it's a goddamned nightmare for a same-sex couple. Until 2013, I had to file three sets of taxes to account for my being married in Massachusetts but not married according to the federal government. First, I'd create a dummy set of federal tax returns as a married couple, which I then used as the template for our state tax returns, which had to be filed as married. Then, I would file two individual federal tax returns for my wife and I, bringing the number of tax returns I needed to create to four, and bringing the number of hours I had to waste doing this bullshit to too damn many.
The next year, to save myself the agony, I went to one of the companies who do it for you, only to be charged twice as much as a straight married couple (but of course they didn't tell us upfront) because they too were baffled by the file two/file one thing. This gets undone under 2014's tax laws, but I still need to do some song and dance to get my refund from the last few years because of the stupid gay penalty. It's just one of countless little annoyances that you'd never think about if you don't have to deal with it yourself.
You Still Get Ugly Labels (Even from Other Gay People)
One misconception about being a young gay person is that you have to "come out" all at once, and then after that you're just openly gay to the world. But it's not like that -- you have to come out, again and again, to every person you meet. And there is nowhere you can go to be completely safe from an ugly reaction.
Since straight is the default, people will never stop assuming the wrong thing about my sex life, so I'm constantly faced with two options: Ignore it and pretend to be something I'm not, or politely correct them and risk completely derailing the conversation (or, in extreme cases, getting assaulted). And I make this choice all the time. Every new class. Every new job. When I meet friends of co-workers. Or people at church. People I used to know at another school. Siblings' friends and their (heterosexual) boyfriends and girlfriends. Cousins' friends. People at weddings, who inevitably want to know when I'll be getting married and who this nice lady I'm with is. In any given mixed social situation, I'm constantly double-checking the gender of my pronouns and then scanning listeners for accepting faces or sudden disgust.
And then comes the judgment. You'd be amazed at how often I've answered questions like, "How did you know you were gay?" and "Have you ever, y'know ... done it?" (with finger quotes). Then there are the constant offers of potential heterosexual "test" partners -- because nothing says acceptance like invasive personal questions and the uncomfortable "date" setups by the well-meaning listener. And if you think the gay community is a nice respite from this, well, here's the thing ...
Coming out publicly is a great way to break free from a box that has dictated what behavior is "acceptable" since birth. But as soon as you join the gay community, they're immediately like, "Here's your new box!" It might be a snappy shade of purple and have sharp sequins, but it's still a goddamn box. Let me out.
For example, my local lesbian community seems to have its own set of demands: that you be mildly androgynous, socially progressive, politically liberal, etc. A scientifically minded Zionist with a nasty sarcastic streak and a gaming habit wasn't exactly welcome. Plus, I'm expected to keep up with the changing terminology: In college, I belonged to something called the LGBTA. Now it's called the Queer Alliance, and that pisses me off, because when I grew up "queer" was a nasty slur.
Even worse, if you're happy to be bisexual, you can plan on being rejected by just about everyone. In a community where the "gold star lesbian" (a woman who has never so much as awkwardly kissed a guy) is seen as ideal, someone who finds penis and vagina equally appealing might as well give up on getting either (except from men who consider you the Fountain of Threesomes). The fact that bisexuals can "pass" for straight by dating the opposite sex creates resentment, and even the allegedly progressive show Glee dismissed bisexuality as not really being a thing.
Just to be clear, if you happen to be a stereotypical gay person, the community can be fantastic. But if you're not, the lack of acceptance hurts even more. The point here isn't that gay people are a bunch of judgmental assholes; the point is that a lot of the stress and anxiety from the oppression we all suffer gets directed inward in the form of bullying our most vulnerable community members. But again, I feel weird -- almost like a traitor -- just for pointing this out, because ...
We're Still Scared to Admit We Have Problems
Given all the discrimination against homosexuals, it makes sense for the community to assemble like a Roman Legion and lock together their rainbow-forged shields against the attacking bigots. Which is good, because like a Roman Legion, we're up against people who actually literally want us dead. But on the other hand, all of this focus on unification has forced us to ignore some major problems in our community for fear of exposing a weak spot to the other side.
For example, while straight culture has been pushing to adopt a more flexible definition of beauty that extends beyond the "clinically dead" section of the BMI, gay male culture has not: The public image of the gay man is still a perfectly sculpted slab of muscle-cake, which of course leads to an overabundance of eating disorders, drug addiction, and steroid abuse. But we're terrified to bring those things up because they point to mental unwellness -- and anti-gay-rights activists will shit themselves with excitement at the chance to use this as evidence that we're all messed up in the head.
Then there's sexual assault. A lot of people still have trouble believing that it's even possible for a woman to rape someone. Clarifying the reality invites comparisons to an evil, predatory lesbian, but ignoring it is doing nothing to battle the epidemic of gay people being assaulted. I have personal experience with woman-on-woman rape, and I can say flat-out that lesbians have no clue what to do with the concept. After all, it's a massive mental shift to go from "women's-only spaces as a lesbian utopia" to "women's-only spaces as potential hunting grounds for rapists." So victims like me are invisible to professionals used to handling male-on-female rape, and shunned by a community that will accuse us of destroying their glorious vision with our inconvenient victimhood.
And then there's the continuing nightmare of AIDS. Opponents of homosexuality characterize gay men as fabulous plague rats, which is a stereotype the gay community has had to battle tirelessly since AIDS hit the scene, forcing the community to all but ignore the batshit epidemic of STDs among young gay men for fear of agreeing with the bigots. Many newly minted gay boys believe treatments for HIV make the disease something akin to chronic jock itch instead of a virus that can kill everyone it infects. This leads to an at best lackadaisical use of protection, and since the gay community itself stigmatizes HIV/AIDS, things are even harder for HIV positive young men: They're being shunned from every direction.
Again, things are much, much better than they used to be. But the worst thing we can do is assume the fight is over. If it looks like that from the outside, well, that's the problem.
We'd like to thank Patrick Hopkins for contributing to this article. Lily Marx has a terrible twitter account and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. JF Sargent is a columnist and dick-joke journalist for Cracked, and you can contact him if you wanna punch the world with knowledge.
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