This Professor's Viral "Questions For Heterosexuals" Expose The Problematic Ways We Talk To LGBTQ People
One prime example of privilege is that most straight, cisgender people don't know what it's like to have their sexual orientation or gender identity questioned. LGBTQ people, on the other hand, hear intrusive and invalidating questions all the time, and the "questions for heterosexuals" Powerpoint slide that one human sexuality professor put up in front of their class exposes how ridiculous some of them are. It's an important reminder that these microaggressions contribute to the continued oppression of LGBTQ people; the language we use matters. If something sounds absurd and insulting when you say it to one group, after all, you probably shouldn't be saying it to anyone.
The list of questions went viral after a student named Elise posted it on Twitter. (Bustle has reached out to Elise for comment and will update this post if we hear back.) It includes:
What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
When did you decide you were a heterosexual?
Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase that you may grow out of?
Why do you insist on flaunting your heterosexuality?
Why can’t you just be what you are and keep quiet about it?
Why do you heterosexuals feel compelled to seduce others into your lifestyle?
Have you considered therapy to change your heterosexual tendencies?
Just reading these questions reminds us what an enormous privilege it is to never have them (and others like them, like "Are you attracted to me?") directed toward us. They also illustrate the fact that our society still views being straight and cisgender as the default — that is, we don't ask straight, cis people these questions because their sexuality and identity are considered "normal" and therefore supposedly require no explanation.
The stereotypes that such comments reflect are both harmful and inaccurate. There's no consensus on what causes sexual orientation, but it shouldn't even matter in the first place. Usually, when people try to determine the source of someone's sexual preferences, it's because they're either trying to prove LGBTQ people are psychologically damaged (which isn't true) or trying to prove they're not (which they shouldn't have to). Being gay isn't generally a choice, but so what if it is for some people (Cynthia Nixon has said it is for her, for example)? Shouldn't we have the right to choose who we date?
LGBTQ people aren't "flaunting" their sexuality or trying to convert anyone just by being who they are. Sex between heterosexual, cisgender people is all over TV and the movies, and nobody complains about them rubbing their sexuality in anyone's faces.
Perhaps the most disturbing question of all, though, is "Have you considered therapy to change your heterosexual tendencies?" The idea of trying to convert someone to another sexuality is insulting to who they are, and accusing them of doing so contributes to an environment where they don't feel free to be themselves. Conversion therapy is a dangerous tactic employed to try to make LGBTQ people straight, and some people subjected to it have reported that it involves verbal and even physical abuse. It's been banned in a number of places, although it remains legal in a distressing number of states.
Seeing this script flipped makes us think about how messed up it really is that we're asking these questions of anyone. The Powerpoint slide is funny, but it also reveals very serious problems with the way we treat people based on their totally harmless qualities.