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Assumptions and Disappointments

One of the more depressing stories of the last week was the death of a man in New York City who was attacked because people thought he was gay. In the early morning hours of December 7, Jose Sucuzhanay was on his way home from a bar when a group of men beat him with a beer bottle and baseball bat while shouting homophobic insults. His assailants were upset because Sucuzhanay was walking arm in arm with another man. However, the other man was his brother Romel, who was visiting from Ecuador. Because they were walking together and leaning on each other late on a Saturday night, the attackers believed they were a gay couple. Jose was taken off life support a few days later. As I write this, the attackers remain at large.

This incident is a particularly frightening example of the dangers of making assumptions, but we make assumptions and judgments about people every day. To an extent, they are necessary in order to navigate a society filled so many people and choices. Sometimes we use them as a safety mechanism, such as when we avoid certain situations, places, or people because we’ve heard something negative about them or we just have a “bad feeling.”

We use assumptions for entertainment purposes as well. What is gaydar but a finely developed set of assumptions? Without any factual basis, and sometimes without even meeting the individual, many of us claim to “know” someone is gay based on eye contact, their walk, clothing, appearance, or voice inflection. I think a lot of cruising done in the days when homosexuality was more underground was based on these kinds of “context clues,” if you will, although it continues today. Although our suspicions may be right in many cases, it can be very embarassing to play one of your hunches and discover your gaydar has failed you.

There are other negative sides to assumptions and judgments besides realizing the person you were sure had a thing for you was really just being friendly.

A frequent allegation levelled at the LGBT community is that there really is no “community” because its members divide themselves into various sub-groups who do not have much interaction with anyone else. There seem to be endless and ever-growing specializations in the gay world (drag kings and queens, granola lesbians, bisexuals, twinks, bears, butches, femmes, tops, bottoms, transgendered people who may or may not be gay, various racialized and sexualized fetishes, circuit boys, down low, faeries, lipstick lesbians, etc.), all with their own social networks, and it can seem like uniting all these communities is similar to herding cats. I even learned about a new group courtesy of Details magazine, the “A-list” gay, and I’m sure there are others I’m not familiar with.

I’m all for variety and diversity, but my point is that in a lot of cases it’s hard to get a truly inclusive community because people who claim one of those identities judge members of another group. For example, it’s not unusual to hear unflattering comments from bears about twinks, and vice versa. There could be great friendships and relationships that will never occur because people won’t step outside of their group due to them “knowing” how “those people” are.

Judgments can prevent us from finding allies as well. For example, it’s been suggested that the LGBT community needs to work with supportive religious individuals, but speaking for myself, many assumptions run through my mind when someone describes themselves as religious, and very few of them are positive. Because I bring my judgments to the table in any discussion of “church folk,” it’s difficult for me to have a positive interaction with religious people of any faith, even though I know there are gay-affirming religious figures and institutions. The situation works in reverse for people who use their beliefs as the justification of homophobic attitudes, as in the cases of people who disown their relatives after learning they are gay. In both cases, people fail to treat each other fairly because of assumptions.

Perception is a great tool, but it does not always match reality. Getting to know someone and giving them the benefit of the doubt is a way to learn someone’s true intentions, and you may be surprised at the results. It’s easier said than done, but I think the world would be a bit more pleasant if it was a bit less judgmental.

From “Blackout” for 12/14/08 by Anthony Rucker


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