Have you seen the latest hoax this week? Several articles- all copying and pasting the same thing, of course- claiming that Robert Mugabe‘s son has come out as gay. In case you’ve been under a rock for the last few decades, Mugabe has been either Prime Minister or President of Zimbabwe for longer than I’ve been alive. And I’ve got more than five or six grey hairs. As with most people who’ve been executive heads of states for thirty-odd years, his career hasn’t exactly been a wonderful golden age of prosperity and safeguarding of human rights. I’m no expert in Zimbabwean politics, though, so let’s just stick with one point: Mugabe is a virulent homophobe whose government has brought in laws making it illegal for two people of the same sex to as much as hold hands, and who has described LGBT people as “worse than dogs and pigs”.
He’s probably not volunteering to set up a local chapter of PFLAG, y’know?
Of course, the story isn’t real- Robert Mugabe doesn’t have a son called Chipape, never mind a gay one. But it did spread quickly before (and, it seems, even after) the inevitable 5-minute debunking. That’s not a surprise- it’s exactly the kind of story that people like to hear. Because LGBT people show up in all kinds of families, it’s never too much to hope that well-known homophobes will have to face up to people they love dearly coming out. And we all know that nothing crumbles homophobia to dust quite like knowing, loving and understanding someone who’s queer. Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone like Mugabe was forced to come to terms with having a queer son or daughter? Couldn’t it change everything? Wouldn’t it be the perfect combination of redemption narrative and schadenfreude?
Not really. No.
Where is your empathy?
Seriously. If that narrative sounded glorious to you, where is your empathy? I ask this in a very literal sense. Who have you empathy with?
It seems to me like the people being noticed here are you and the homophobic parent. The homophobic parent gets their comeuppance. With any luck, they learn a valuable lesson about acceptance and (eventually) come to love and accept their gay son or daughter, after getting the shock of their lives. You get to sit back and enjoy watching your enemy squirm, before putting on your most benevolent smile and welcoming them over to our side. Everyone has a great time.
Except for the kid.
You see, in this story you forget about that kid. The one who had to grow up knowing that their parents- the people who are supposed to love you most unconditionally- despise a basic part of who they are.
In the best-case scenario, it turns out okay in the end. Before that, though? The best case scenario involves that child growing up learning that anything other than cisgender heterosexuality is an abomination. It involves the dawning realisation on the part of that kid that they are the abomination everyone hates so much. Years of trying desperately to change themselves. Years of trying to hide. Years of fear of losing everyone that they love. Of knowing deep down, every single moment, that they have to pretend to be someone they’re not.
In the best-case scenario, this child- who has been unknowingly brutalised their entire life- finds support and love somewhere. They find a place to stay and a community to accept them when their family rejects them. Over months or years, their family comes around and, eventually, things are okay. Mostly.
Okay, except for the pain inflicted on that innocent kid in ways that never truly goes away.
That’s the best-case scenario. I don’t think I can stomach the worst.
We are not your punchline. We are not your punishment.
I’m going to say that again. Queer people? We do not exist to provide punchlines in straight people’s stories. We do not exist to punish straight people for the error of their ways. Life is not a fairy tale, and we are not supporting characters in someone else’s morality play.
I don’t hope that Mugabe has a queer kid. I don’t hope that the WBCers do- although it’s highly unlikely that all of their kids will grow up cis and het. For their sakes, I hope that they do.
I don’t want queer kids to be born into families that hate them, so that they can do the work of converting their families to our cause. I want queer kids to be born and raised by families who love and cherish them for exactly who they are. I want the to grow up knowing that whatever the rest of the world will throw at them for being queer- and it will- they always have somewhere safe to come home to.
And if you don’t agree? Put yourself in that kid’s shoes. Then get back to me.
- This Advice Columnist’s Response To A Homophobic Parent Is Just Perfect (buzzfeed.com)
- What To Do When You Discover Your Son Is Gay (lotusraw.wordpress.com)
- “Reformed Homophobes” And What It Takes To Be Forgiven: The Younger And Whiter The Better? (queerty.com)
YES this. And just pointing this out shows the real disconnect even allies have with the realities LGBT people face every day, the blindness that comes with privilege.
Yes! It’s closely connected to a major problem I have with people (yes, even me, when I’m in a relatively privileged group) identifying as allies. Because it’s a cosy, convenient label that makes you feel great about yourself and doesn’t do anything to dispel the inevitable ignorance of privilege.
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