Stop saying “I bet the attacker was gay”

It has been a long time since the last high-profile case of violence against queer people, and while I hope that there aren’t any more attacks against queer people coming again ever, realistically, it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. So before it happens and in hopes that nobody feels targeted directly by this post, I would like to suggest a change in the way that many people typically respond to high-profile cases of violence committed against queer people:

Stop saying “I bet the attacker was gay.”

Please, can we all just—don’t. If you have no reason to think that the attacker is gay other than the fact that it’s a case of hate-motivated violence committed against a queer person, maybe we can all agree not to make this particular assumption.

You hear this all the time from straight people after anti-queer violence, and I understand where it’s coming from. You want to distance yourself from the attacker, communicate that you consider anti-queer violence to be unthinkable, even confusing to the point of not even being able to understand why any straight person would ever want to do this.

And while I understand that impulse, if the knee-jerk response to all anti-queer violence is to assume that the only possible motivation for it could be internalized homophobia, it implicitly sends a couple messages that aren’t great and that maybe we could be a little more careful about.

The first reason I’m asking you to stop saying “I bet he’s gay” when there’s violence against queer people is that it blames queer people for violence committed against us.

There’s a very long history of straights blaming queer people for violence they commit against us. The “gay panic” legal defence, for example, is not that far in our collective rear-view window, so to speak. (If you don’t know about it, look it up. It’s horrifying.) People still do the whole “what was he wearing/doing to provoke it?” thing when there’s violence against queer people, as if that was relevant in any way. Suffice it to say, we haven’t “made it” yet.

And when your first reaction to every gay person being hurt is to say “the attacker is probably a closet case,” you’re suggesting that violence against queer people is all a matter of queer in-fighting. “It’s just the gays doing that to each other again, not our problem.”

And yes, internalized homophobia is real, but it’s not like we have already ascended to some Star Trek future beyond the point where straights commit violence against queer people. We live at a time where the most powerful country in the world is exactly one election cycle away from complete surrender to actual fascism, and a right-wing reactionary trucker convoy occupied Ottawa for weeks. Some irresponsible straight people have been stoking that particular Nazi-adjacent fire for a good long time and when that happens, queer people get burned.

The second reason I’m asking you to stop saying “I bet he’s gay” when there’s violence against queer people is that it absolves straight people of violence that they commit against queer people.

Yes, some straight people hate gay people. I can already hear objectors asking, “but why would a straight person be that hateful if he isn’t gay himself?” I’ll give you a few possible reasons just off the top of my head: 1. Politically motivated fascist hatemongering, using queer people as an “other” to dehumanize. 2. Centuries of discrimination that has been in some cases institutionalized. 3. The insecurity and violence with which men in the West are socialized to punish any deviation from traditional masculinity. 4. Spillover from misogyny from straight dudes who hate women so much that they are also willing to hurt queer people. 5. Resentment from straight dudes who scream as if mortally wounded at the thought of any progress at all in the advance of the rights of queer people and take it as a sleight against their own privileges and feel entitled to violent retaliation.

Take your pick. It’s not a big mystery and feigning ignorance of all these dynamics does not make you A Good Straight Ally. It just makes you frustrating to talk to.

Hate and violence against queer people is mostly a straight people mess, and pretending it’s not doesn’t help to clean it up. I really shouldn’t have to explain this to you, but yes, straight people can be anti-queer and violent too, believe it or not! Nobody needs uninformed speculation about the attacker’s sexuality, and shifting the blame to queer people for violence committed against us doesn’t help.

Stop saying “I bet the attacker was gay.”

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The Grey Literature

This is the personal blog of Benjamin Gregory Carlisle PhD. Queer; Academic; Queer academic. "I'm the research fairy, here to make your academic problems disappear!"

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