Last weekend I came across this troublesome little gem on social media, relating to fake posters for a “Straight White Guy Festival” which were plastered around an Ohio town (during the lead up to the community’s Gay Pride events). “Everyone welcome,” the fake flyers read, “Come help us celebrate our enjoyment of being straight white and male.” The author of the post, Sean Brown, seems to think the stunt was not only funny but a legitimate shot at “leftists” whose only interests lie in protecting minority groups:
While it may be true that straight white men don’t face the same struggles as gay people do, the fact that they’re not allowed to celebrate their own sexuality in the same manner out of fear of offending someone is reprehensible. Everyone has the right to be proud of who they are, regardless of the color of their skin or who they choose to have sex with. It’s apparent whoever created this flyer did so to point out the hypocrisy in this debate.
True equality is not achieved by stifling others in order to uplift a minority group. It’s done by treating everybody exactly the same way, even if it means some people may get offended.
I hope Mr. Brown won’t mind being offended if a leftist who is interested in protecting the rights of minority groups calls his bullshit bullshit.
It’s bullshit. And this is why:
Straight, cis-gendered people like me get to celebrate and be proud of their sexuality everyday. We can marry whoever we want to and no one can say boo. We can arrange to adopt or foster a child without the extended birth family (who aren’t interested in caring for the child anyways) pulling out at the last minute because they don’t want the baby to be cared for by a gay couple. Western media constantly celebrates heterosexuality by using overtly heterosexual imagery to promote products and a “desirable” lifestyle (anyone seen a beer commercial in the last 20 years?). At home, at school, at work, our lives have been easier in every way imaginable because we were not born queer, or bi, or trans*. I’m sure if you asked an LGTB person, they’d probably take the lifetime of acceptance straight cis people currently enjoy over a pride party once a year. We don’t need a party celebrating our good fortune. Every single day we aren’t discriminated against is our party.
Funnily enough, I’m not shocked that the post’s author could acknowledge this privilege and still think that “treating everyone exactly the same way” vis-à-vis pride events for privileged people is a legitimate position. I remember once thinking the same way about a variety of issues surrounding equality (granted, I was in high school at the time, but still, it’s all part of the learning process). Why couldn’t someone formally celebrate being white/straight/middle-class, etc., I wondered. Fair is fair after all.
Here’s the thing (which I won’t have to tell you if you are interested and active in issues of racial, sexual, economic, or gender equality): fair is only fair if everyone starts from the same place and has had the same advantages.
Let’s say 10 people are running a 100 m race. 9 of these people are “straight white (cis) males”. The 10th runner is gay, a person of colour, and/or not a cis-male. All of the runners are required to start at the start line at the sound of the gun, and run 100 m to the finish line. Fair is fair, right?
Except perhaps the 10th runner was not able to attend track practice in the months before the race because the locker room atmosphere (which included their 9 competitors) was not a safe space to be. Perhaps the 10th runner did not receive adequate training during their formative years because they were overlooked by coaches throughout their life–overlooked for reasons that had nothing to do with their running ability. Perhaps for weeks prior to the race, the 10th runner was subjected to nightly death threats, and a daily barrage of “news” items and opinion pieces constantly questioning whether Runner 10 should have the right to run the race at all, or whether they even belong in polite society.
The other 9 runners, meanwhile, have been supported throughout their training by each other, by their coaches, and by society at large and are on equal footing with one another. As the competitors take their marks, one of the 9 runners gives the 10th runner a shove, completely breaking their focus as the race is about to begin. The race officials pretend not to notice because, you know, that 10th runner, always being sensitive about something, can’t ever take a joke, right?
The gun goes off. All 10 runners sprint towards the finish. Perhaps the 10th runner has managed to train on their own with the support of a close group of friends and allies and they manage to put in a decent showing. Perhaps the 10th runner has been mostly on their own and the stress of the conditions under which they’ve had to compete have taken their toll. Either way, can we really say the race was fair? Of course not.
And given that the race was not fair, can we really say that it’s tasteful for the 9 “straight white male” runners to celebrate the superiority of their circumstances? Of course not. (And don’t even get me started on the qualifiers “white” and “male” in terms of the privilege being fêted in this prank–they just add further insult to, well, insult. And injury.)
But if the 10th runner wants to party with their friends? Absolutely. They deserve as much, don’t you think?
So Sean Brown finds straight white guys “not being able to celebrate their sexuality…for fear of offending someone” to be “reprehensible”. What I find reprehensible is celebrating privilege achieved at the expense of another human being’s rights and dignity. And I don’t find my position hypocritical in the least.
Besides, are Pride events really that exclusionary? Unless you’re there to be hurtful or spread homophobia, the answer is usually no. If you’ve ever been to a Pride you’ll probably notice that people of all sexualities, genders, races, and economic backgrounds are in on the party. Even straight white guys.