Sometimes internet strangers tell me that they don’t support my “lifestyle.” This is always a bit confusing to me, because while I’ll admit that my lifestyle isn’t the most exciting one in the world, it seems pretty agreeable.
I usually wake up around six in the morning. I try to listen to a podcast before I go to work or class. If it’s a Saturday, I take a walk to the farmers market to buy ingredients to cook dinner. If it’s a Sunday, I go to church and then I take a nap on the couch when I get home.
I drink a latte every day with two extra espresso shots and a honey drizzle on top. I have a couple of tattoos and piercings. I dyed my hair purple one time and that was cool. I take a multivitamin. I don’t eat meat. My favorite La Croix is the orange one and I have a weakness for bagels. Sometimes I go on runs, but I prefer bike rides.
I’m a student, and during the school year I spend most of my spare time in the library. I study. I read. I write. I watch a lot of Netflix. I try to keep my evenings free so I can spend time with my friends. Sometimes we go out for food and drinks. We really like road trips. Sometimes we go dancing, but usually we just stay in and watch movies.
My lifestyle has some faults. I spend too much time on my phone and too much money on my clothes. I don’t eat as healthily as I’d like to. Sometimes I stay up later than I should and then I’m grumpy the next day. I care too much about my hair. Sometimes I let my dishes pile up and leave my dirty clothes on the floor.
But the people who tell me that they don’t support my lifestyle don’t know any of these things. They never email me about my caffeine habit or my nose piercing. They’re never calling me out for buying another pair of shoes that I don’t need or for forgetting to clean my room. They just know that I’m gay.
I think the word “lifestyle” makes a lot of folks within the LGBTQ community cringe. Whether or not there is ill-intent behind the use of the word, its connotations are incredibly objectifying, and it carries with it a whole host of frustrating assumptions. Because here’s the thing…if we’re being honest, “lifestyle” is really just a thinly veiled euphemism for gay sex. When I get a message from an internet stranger who is concerned about my lifestyle, what I hear is this:
“Hi. I see that you’re gay. I am assuming that you’re having tons of gay sex. Maybe even with a bunch of strangers, because I’ve heard that that’s what gay people do. I have put a lot of thought into your sex life, and I want you to know that I do not approve of all the gay sex I think you’re having.”
Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but I’m not sure what else they would be so concerned about. The sex is the supposedly “sinful” part, right? I mean, a lot of us grew up hearing that that we could still be fully accepted by the Church and by God as long as we stay celibate. Some of us have been taught that it’s not a sin to be attracted to people of the same gender, it’s only a sin to act on it. But a lot of Christians who teach that kind of theology do not treat LGBTQ people as if they actually believe it. The reality is that if you are a person who cannot pass for straight, or if you decide to be openly queer, there will always be Christians who automatically assume that you are living in sin. We are so often told that we need to stop identifying ourselves by our sexuality, but straight Christians seem to be the ones who make the conversation all about sex.
Here’s where the miscommunication happens, and also what straight people really need to understand: A person’s queer identity is in no way dependent upon their actions. In the same way that a straight person is straight even when they are single or celibate, a gay person is gay even if they’ve never so much as kissed another person. This is not to say that physicality doesn’t matter. But identity runs so much deeper.
Reducing the LGBTQ community to what we do or do not do in the bedroom is not only gross and dehumanizing, it erases all the beautiful and fascinating facets of queer culture that have made the world a better place. It ignores the empathy, sensitivity to injustice, and heightened compassion so many queer folks have. It ignores our abilities to overcome hardship and to love in the face of opposition. It ignores all the creative ways in which we surpass binaries and challenge the status quo. It looks past our contributions to art, music, fashion, theater, and literature. It overlooks our rich history of civil rights activism. The word “lifestyle” does to gay people exactly what it accuses gay people of doing: objectifying and oversexualizing human beings made in the Image of God.
Straight friends, for the sake of intelligent, effective, and dignifying conversation, let’s go ahead and remove “lifestyle” from this particular lexicon. And let’s all agree to stop putting so much thought into strangers’ sex lives. Because, like… gross, you guys. Come on.