I owe you guys updates on Mo and Red (sneak preview: they are both amazing and I love them). But in the meantime, a conversation with a new friend has me thinking about how much I don't say on this blog about being gay in the horse world.
Mostly this is because when I do find time/internet access to post, I want to talk about my horses. But there's also a small part of me that doesn't want to bore you guys or annoy you with it, and that part of me is bullshit and needs to go away. I'm obviously not afraid for people to know I'm gay (look at my blog header, or my professional life). But it's time to start talking more about stuff.
For the most part, I haven't had huge problems with being out in the horse world. Most horse people are pretty much fine with it, but not all of them, and the ones that aren't fine with it can be a huge pain in the neck. And here's the thing: you can't always know who is fine and who isn't right away. We all like to think positive thoughts about people and assume they'll be cool. But when you're queer, you can't make that assumption. It isn't always safe, or accurate. I lead by being outgoing and nice to people because that is my personality, but more often than not, my heart races and I get distracted by wondering what they're thinking. That's not always useful, but it's a fact, and you only need a few really horrendous experiences to shatter your confidence in humanity. It's like taking a bad fall and then getting on a nice quiet horse that you don't know. People tell you the horse is wonderful, but do you believe them, when you're recovering from a broken bone? Or do you wait and let the nice horse prove herself to you?
Most people are straight, including most of the readers of this blog. So here are some things I think might be useful for y'all to keep in mind. And you might have things to add.
1. If a new boarder shows up at your barn and he or she is queer, don't assume that everyone at your barn is cool with queerdos unless you KNOW FOR A FACT they are cool with queerdos. Each person is going to have to prove him or herself to the new queer person. This is a fact of life. No one is happy with it, but that's how it is. It is dangerous to be queer in many parts of the country, and it's not just religious nutjobs who cause problems. Some of the worst people in my life have been university professors. Sometimes people who are nice to you, straight person, are not going to be nice to a queer person with tattoos and "weird" clothes. So if you make friends with the queer person at your barn but they don't feel comfy around someone you like a lot, don't dismiss them or accuse them of causing drama. Listen.
2. Similarly, often the professionals we use are difficult people. I've fired more farriers than I can remember. And recently a horse dentist when on a homophobic rant at me, so he won't be welcome back. If the queer person at your barn is going to be filled with anxiety every time the farrier shows up, get their back. You can decide for yourself if you want to continue to use the bigoted person for your own horse, but if that person decides not to, be open about supporting that decision. Bonus points for bringing up the shitty behavior to the barn owner or to the person him or herself.
3. Basic stuff for any life situation: respect pronoun choices (not everyone goes by he or she, and sometimes people DO use he or she but not the choice you thought. When in doubt, ask: "Do you have a pronoun preference?" This will make you seem like a super enlightened genius. If they think the question is odd, whatever. You did the right thing). And if someone else asks you about that person's pronoun preferences, a simple, "Alex prefers 'they'" or whatever is all you've got to say. You can send them my way if they have questions you can't answer. Remember: Not ALL queer people see themselves as here to educate you. I'm putting myself out there explicitly AS an educator, which means I have to answer a lot of hard or shitty questions, but it's a role I've taken on for myself. The queer person at your barn might not want to do this work, and that's okay.
4. Another basic one: People are going to react differently to people going out of their way to let someone know they're cool with the queers. The easiest way to signal to someone that you know they're queer and you're fine with it is to mention a gay friend or relative in as off-hand a way as you can. But to be honest, it doesn't really matter to me how ham-fisted it is. If you want to just come out and say, "I know not everyone in the world is cool with gay people but I am," I will feel better around you than I would if you said nothing. Or you can tell them that you just love this blog about being gay in the horse world. :D
5. Checkity-check yourself: ARE you cool with queers? Ask yourself a couple tough questions. For instance, do you get weirded out when people are "too" gay? Feminine men, butch women, trans people, gay pride shirts, whatever? If these are a problem for you and you feel uncomfortable, figure out if there's a part of you that maybe DOES have a little bit of homophobic stuff and work on it. Gender differences are beautiful, but we're socialized to feel uncomfortable with people who stray too far from the norm. And even queer people can carry this baggage around. I know tons of gay people who aren't cool with trans people. That's still a problem. Lots of damage is done by "allies" who are fine with queer people within a certain bracket but not the more marginalized or open, etc., folks. "I like gay people but that just over the top." Problematic, not your place to tell people how to express themselves. I went to a protest once and carried a sign that said, "I don't mind straight people as long as they act gay in public," and that one made a lot of people laugh and, I hope, think. If this is you, and you want to work on it, send me an e-mail. I'm a teacher. Working people through this is gliterally what I do for a living.
Okay, now I want to hear what you have to add, or your questions. I'm sort of dashing this one off but I'm certain I'll write a follow-up soon, and I'd love to take your thoughts and insights into consideration when I do.