When it comes to talking about LGBT rights, there’s a frame of reference that is simultaneously confusing and enraging. I’m referring to the concept of the “homosexual lifestyle”, or the “gay lifestyle”.
As this tweet from @TODAYonline shows, a recent survey carried out by the Institute of Policy Studies as part of Singapore’s “national conversation” found that Singaporean society “generally doesn’t accept gay lifestyles”.
Of course, if you read the article or look at the actual report, you’ll find that only 47% (dark and light orange) reject this “gay lifestyle”. So the term “generally” is used fairly liberally here. Right.
I don’t want to quibble over the survey results today. My major beef is with the survey’s framing, i.e. the use of the term “gay lifestyle”.
It may seem fairly innocuous, but the implications of referring to a “gay lifestyle” are significant. It ‘Others’ the LGBT community, suggesting that they aren’t like us straight people. It doesn’t encourage us to relate to people who are gay. It doesn’t encourage us to try to sympathise — because we can never empathise — with the challenges that gay people have to face throughout their lives. It allows us to comfortably distance ourselves from the discrimination that goes on all around us; after all, who asked them to choose this “lifestyle”?
But what, exactly, is the “gay lifestyle”? Do we honestly believe such a thing exists?
To those who might say “yes” to the above question, I have news for you: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was not a documentary (it is, however, a really good film). When the alarm rings in the morning, gay people do not spring out of their rainbow-striped gay-beds to pull on sparkly gay-leotards, nor do they gay-walk out of their gay-homes telling every passer-by that it’s time to “have a kiki”.
I know this because I have plenty of gay friends, and they don’t live their lives any different from the way I do.They wake up in the morning bleary-eyed and grumpy, they get dressed and squeeze themselves onto crowded public transport to get to work. They want to move out of their parents’ homes, to achieve financial independence. They worry about employment, bills and mortgages. They worry about relationships, lovers and partners. They worry about finding love, or spending life alone. Not all of them dress well, or give a crap about the latest fashion trend.
The idea of the “gay lifestyle” is nothing but a huge, steaming plate of bullshit served up by people who have made little-to-no effort to understand those different from them. And we need to get rid of this rubbish NOW.
Gay people don’t live a “gay lifestyle” in the way your teenage son might suddenly decide to dress as a goth and listen to The Cure; we’re not talking about a hobby or a whim, we’re talking about their lives and the people they love and choose to be intimate with.
When we stop thinking of it as a “gay lifestyle” and start seeing it for what it is — i.e. people who are being judged and discriminated against based on who they love — then we have a better shot at relating to one another, understanding one another and accepting one another.