Some of my best friends are lesbians, but ...
Last week, to show our resolve in the face of harassment, supporters of gay, lesbian, and bisexual (hereafter, "gay") rights staged a "kiss-in" in Lobby 7.
Will Scruggs '92 ["Lobby 7 `kiss-in' turned off some heterosexuals," Nov. 4] argued that although gay people have rights, the kiss-in inflamed hostility between them and heterosexuals, because some straight people think kissing in public is offensive.
Many people, in and out of the MIT community, support gay rights with their brains, but reject them with their guts. This column is especially for those ambivalent straight people.
Our culture influences our attitudes toward alternative lifestyles. A nineteenth-century observer of the Crow Indians remarked, "Strange country this, where [some] males assume the dress and perform the duties of females, while women turn men and mate with their own sex!" In the late 1500s, a Jesuit missionary reported that Japanese men and boys would brag shamelessly about their gay relationships.
In our mainstream American culture, though, images of gay people are few and far between. If an evening sitcom shows a man and woman making out, hardly anyone bats an eyelash. If it shows two gay men in the same bed, the network loses $1 million of advertising. When we do see references to gay people, they are often degrading. Too many people assume that all gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals carry AIDS, for example.
Gay and straight, we conform, in part, to "prove" our heterosexuality. Few schoolyard insults are more severe than "faggot." American college women are afraid to call themselves "feminists," for fear that men would call them lesbians.
Many gay people want to support their peers in the closet, announce gay-oriented events, express their own sexuality, and strike back against heterosexual propaganda. In the process, they give the larger society positive and concrete images of homosexual love.
Such images contradict the model of sexuality that the mainstream media have constructed around us. They can help some people learn a more realistic and balanced model of sexuality. Others react with fear or resentment, asking why gay people must "flaunt their homosexuality."
I assume that most readers are against heterosexist violence. Such violence would include fag-bashing, police harassment, imprisonment, castration or electric-shock "therapy," rape, and burning at the stake.
Heterosexism takes other forms, though. Sexual minorities are subjected to a barrage of low-key hostility and suspicion, just as racial minorities, unpopular religions, and women are. Discomfort with homosexuality -- the gut feelings referred to above -- is a primary cause of this low-key hostility. I fear that readers underestimate its cumulative effects.
Imagine that your lover is a member of a different race than you, and interracial romance is as socially unacceptable as homosexual romance. (For some people, this is not far from the truth.) All of the pressure against gay people mentioned above, the denial and the demonization, is exerted against interracial couples -- against you. In recognizing your love for a member of a different race, you have to fight against that pressure within yourself.
Whenever you meet someone new, in the back of your mind, you wonder what they would think if they knew about your lover. Will they avoid, lecture, or patronize you? Will they be less inclined to be your roommate, give you a job, or grade your paper fairly? If you talk about your lover the way they talk about theirs, will they change the subject? Will they say, "white guys kissing Asian gals offends me and makes me sick?"
Every few months, you hear a story of thugs beating, sometimes killing, an interracial couple. You know that in the past, thousands of such couples were ostracized completely, or executed.
You are afraid to touch your lover in public.
In judging the kiss-in, we should be careful not to exaggerate it. It was less a homosexual French-kiss-in than a bisexual hug-and-smooch-on-the-cheek-in. In three years at MIT, I've seen plenty of heterosexuals display this G-rated affection, and nary a letter to The Tech in complaint. Gay people deserve the same standard of tolerance.
Granted, when straight people kiss in Lobby 7, fifty of them don't do it at once. Mass action, though, is the essence of many demonstrations. In such action, protesters can feel that they are taking power from the forces they protest, and simultaneously enjoy the security and partial anonymity of the crowd. Besides, we like to hug and kiss each other.
During the civil rights movement, some whites probably said, "Businesses and neighborhoods should be desegregated. But black activists should not have sit-ins at `whites only' lunch counters, nor should they march through all-white neighborhoods. That would offend some white people."
I concede that some were offended by the kiss-in. But this offense is not entirely the protesters' fault. The protesters brought people's prejudices to the surface. In the short run, this is uncomfortable. In the long run, with the attitudes made conscious, we can more easily analyze, discuss, and reform them.
Ironically, by contributing to the discussion about alternative lifestyles, Scruggs' letter proved that the kiss-in served a good purpose. After all, if not for the kiss-in, he would not have exposed his opinions. I encourage other members of the MIT community to contribute more, whatever they believe and whomever they kiss.
Seth Gordon '91, a junior in the Department of Political Science, is a former associate news editor of The Tech. He minors in the Women's Studies Program and is a member of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Friends at MIT.