Appearance-based profiling proves incorrect

DANUBE JOHNSON

The Temple News

Last week while I was walking down Walnut Street, an older gentleman clad in a signature Human Rights Campaign vest with a clipboard in his hand shouted to me, “Hey there young lady! Do you like gay people?” Before doing my usual “I’m sorry, but I’m in a huge rush” bit I do to every non-profit fundraiser I run into on the street, I was taken aback for a moment, for multiple reasons.

One, it’s my opinion that such questions are just obnoxious, no matter what the circumstance. Also, I realized that it was most likely another situation wherein I was presumed heterosexual, or at least not more appropriately addressed as a member of the GLBT community because of my rather heteronormative appearance. And this is OK. It’s certainly nothing to either praise or complain about. It’s just the way it is for me and many other gay men and women, I’m sure.

Before coming out, I appreciated the fact that it wasn’t obvious – that I didn’t look like a typical “lesbian.” This is was mainly because I wasn’t ready to be open about my sexuality. However, now that I am, I’m not particularly concerned with “looking the part,” if you will. I don’t have a short, swanky haircut (I don’t have the appropriate bone structure), I don’t own a leather jacket and tons of flannel (my shoulders are too broad) and sadly, I am not the care-taker of several large rescue dogs (my roommates would kill me).

How I dress and behave has not at all been affected by my openness, and nor should it be. The fact of the matter is there are many stereotypes that just don’t fit me. I’m proud that I represent my community in a way that puts a dent in stereotypical perceptions of gay women. I wish I was able to appreciate comments like, “You’re too pretty to be a lesbian.” Usually, this is meant to be a compliment but I can’t help but find it offensive and slightly irritating. I understand that it may be a little disorienting to meet someone who happens to break a certain mold in a particular group but it’s important to remember that in matters of sexual preference, the only unifying factor is, well, sexual preference.

Trust me, gays come in all shapes and sizes and there’s nothing that says that those shapes and sizes have to be different from the shapes in sizes that straight people come in. After all, no one ever really knows who’s gay, or how many gays there are. Sure, on an individual level there are rather subjective signs of one’s sexuality (like batty lashes for men and short, tattered fingernails for women) and on a societal level, the Census Bureau collects population data giving us a rough estimate but no one really knows.

It could be that that “young lady” on Walnut Street who appears to be indifferent to, and maybe even against, gay rights is actually a card-carrying member of club herself. Who says that the most visible, stereotypical, and subsequently, outspoken members of the community represent the majority, anyways?

As an openly gay woman, I feel it is my ethical duty to support and represent my community in the best, most honest way I know how. Struggles for gay rights and sexual freedoms aren’t just about gays being able to be as outlandish and flamboyant as imaginable. It’s about everyone, no matter where they lie on the spectrum, being able to be themselves, whatever that may be. Because there’s nothing more important than that.

Danube Johnson can be reached at danube.johnson@temple.edu.

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