By Jason Markel
Associate Marriage and Family Therapist
In Gold River and Loomis
November 13, 2019
The Cycle of Marginalization
In The LGBTQ Community
“Othering: Treating people from another group as essentially different from and generally inferior to the group you belong to.” – Macmillan Dictionary
As a gay man who came out 25 years ago, I have been around the block and back again. For a long time I struggled to find a place within a larger group where I felt I belonged. The sad irony is that when I first started exploring my sexual orientation, I felt a slight sense of the belonging I was looking for as a 20 year old, bright eyed, fresh faced “kid”. Sadly, that honeymoon didn’t last very long and within a very short amount of time I started noticing a vigilant, intense amount of “othering” going on around me in the gay community I was just getting to know. I was too “straight” for my gay friends, and I was too gay for my straight friends (or so I thought). I didn’t fit.
If you aren’t aware, the LGBTQ community has a tendency to knick-name people into categories: Butch, Femme, Queen, Bear, Otter, Twink, etc. the list gets longer by the day. Nonetheless, when I went out my first gay pride event circa 1995, I didn’t see anyone like myself. It felt like if you were just a “regular joe” kind of person – you did not belong. You were either a sexy go-go boy in a speedo who worked out 7 days a week, a drag queen, or a butch motorcycle lesbian with a cigar and tattoos everywhere. But just a boy next door? Nope…no neat little category or subset to fit into.
Over time, I built up resentment at all the nasty comments I started noticing as almost a cultural requirement. In bars and clubs, judging people from across the room as either: “hot” or “a mess” or “a nelly queen” or “closet case” became the norm. Sadly, I took part in that too. It never felt right, but I’m guilty. I didn’t even really intend it, it just sort of started happening. I would get some laughs, feel somewhat included and didn’t stop to think I was marginalizing another person who was just trying to find their way like I was.
I started noticing a divide. One on hand, I was engaging with a community that was very vocal, political, and at times down right militant. People were still dying of AIDS and organizations like Act Up were very prevalent. They were necessary, don’t get me wrong. We might not have the lifesaving drugs we have today without that generation of warriors, so I am grateful to them. However, there was an underlying hypocrisy I was becoming acutely aware of, which was essentially “accept us for who we are…..but we won’t return the favor”. If this was just an occasional incident I saw here or there, I wouldn’t be writing this article. But it wasn’t then, and it isn’t now. The cycle of marginalization continues.
Recently, I’ve had two experiences that highlighted the cycle of marginalization and the continuation of “othering” within the LGBTQ community. One incident was on a social media forum that purported to be a community for members of the LGBTQ community and their allies. The theme of this group was to facilitate support, connection, and unity. A space for healing to help those who may not have access to such communities in their local area. The other, a quiet face to face conversation with a new friend.
The first incident that took place here involved someone posting a meme that “comically” (in cartoon form) depicted apathy and indifference at the shooting of six Philadelphia police officers. I attempted to engage in conversation about this meme, noting that these police officers were not robots, and that while there job is “police officer”, they are “people” at the end of the day. My attempt at conversation was completely lost on deaf ears. I was simply othered again as “Dr. Phil” and “the tone police”. Not too surprising and a bit of a rookie mistake on my part.
The second conversation I had was, thankfully, far more pleasant but highlighted feeling outcast within the LGBTQ community. I was on a hike with some friends one day and was getting to know a new friend a bit better. He is originally from India, having emigrated to the United States almost 20 yrs. ago and came out approximately three years ago in his early 30’s. He expressed a lot of confusion and deep disappointment at, who he referred to as “San Francisco queens” who he felt were “bitter”, “racist”, “superficial”, and “judgmental”. He kept talking about San Francisco in terms of being a “Gay Mecca” and described his idealistic view of what being gay in San Francisco should be like (but isn’t, for him).
As I listened, I heard the pain in his voice and his story of hopes that were dashed because he had an idea of a community that would help him feel accepted, and essentially feel complete as a person. I explained to him, with my 25 + years of experience in/around the LGBTQ community, why that was not going to happen. To quote RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?!” What I shared with him was that every individual he met online, or in bars in San Francisco had their unique story, which most likely consisted of them suffering through their own experiences of not fitting in. When our wounds are not healed, we often take out that pain on someone else. I liken it to being in an emergency room. If you have a cut on your finger, and then sit next to someone whose entire leg was mangled in a car wreck you might think “Well I’m not as bad off as that person” – and metaphorically speaking you other yourself from the person right next to you. It’s just continued bullying inside a container of already severely bullied people.
To make matters even harder, expand that concept and place it into an Instagram and Grindr world where we are removed from saying things to people’s faces directly, and can lash out from behind the safety of our phones. Bullying 2.0 When we base our value on 6-pack abs, fancy clothes and looking utterly fabulous online. We take not fitting in to an entirely new level. To a newcomer like my friend, what he internalized was rejection. I let him know that my extensive travels around the country and the world had showed me that this type of othering exists in every major (and not so major) city across this country and other countries as well. He seemed to have this fairytale image of the sanctuary of San Francisco. It might be a “sanctuary city” but it is just a place, and is not Nirvana.
So, what’s the answer?
Here are a few things to keep in mind when feeling othered, or recognizing that you yourself are othering.
ONE: You are not responsible for causing the wounds, but you are responsible for treating them. If you were hurt in a car accident where you were not at fault, the driver at fault can’t heal you – that is your journey.
TWO: Practice some mindfulness. Observe your thoughts about other people and try to just get curious, without judgement about what you notice. Creating a small gap between having a thought (…intentional pause…)… and automatically identifying that thought as true. Ask yourself: why do I dislike this person? Or this “type” of people? If your answer stops at “because they’re …(insert answer)” or “I’m just not into those types” – you’ve got some work to do. But first, you have to recognize automatic thoughts you deem as inherently true for, then create space between the thought and your inherent assumption of truth.
THREE: Find the exception. If you think that everyone in the gay community (or any other large community) are all examples of your opinion – intentionally seek out contrasts. In the case of my friend, what I would suggest is purposely looking for, and finding areas within the LGBTQ community where he didn’t feel othered. Maybe that could be a gay book club, or LGBTQ sports group etc. Intentionally focusing on what we do want to see helps us see more of it.
FOUR: Don’t take it personally! In his pivotal work, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz talks about the concept of “not taking things personally”. If we pause and recognize that all humans have wounds, and more specifically, marginalized folks may have many wounds, we can notice that we didn’t put those wounds there – and they are not our fault, which can help us remember to not take any hurtful comments they may make personally.
I belong to a spiritual center that has 4 main tenets of their practice. One of them is: Everything in life is either a call for love – or an expression of love, no exceptions. When I look at someone’s behavior that I automatically deem as undesirable in one way or another, I try to reframe it as “a call for love” – because at the end of the day, that’s exactly what it is. The reverend often jokes that “sometimes those calls come clumsy, sometimes they are downright ugly” (I sometimes make jokes like “that call was collect”, or “I’m sending that call to voicemail”). They can be very ugly calls at times. As a therapist, I recently had a call (literally) where I became the target, and the attack that came my way was very difficult to handle. But my peers and I recognize that I can’t take it personally, it’s an expression of that persons wounding – a call for love.
So, paying attention to what we want to see in the world, and noticing how we show up in the world can help us to stop the cycle of continued marginalization and move towards the healing the we need. Be human. Be willing. Be the change you want to see.
About The Author
Jason Markel is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist with nearly 20-years’ experience in social services and the counseling field. Currently he works at Authentic Counseling Associates in Gold River, CA and Heartstrings Counseling in Loomis, CA. Jason brings a wide array of professional experience to his work, including 4-years’ service in the U.S.A.F at The Pentagon. Ever the humanistic man, Jason embraces a wide variety of therapeutic approaches, but most vitally he strives for a deep, authentic connection with his clients. In his free time, he and his husband enjoy quality time with their 6 god-kids and their goofy, lovable young dog