There are two comments that are rarely far off when self-proclaimed allies encounter anti-queer politicians.
“I bet he’s secretly queer.”
“I hope he ends up with a queer kid.”
Naïve, ironic, and insensitive in the trademark way of ignorant would-be allies, these comments rankle deeply. Much has been written about how the first of the two effectively assigns all responsibility for society-wide anti-queerness on queer people and absolves from same the straight people who invented and perpetrate it, so today’s topic is the other one.
What these people picture when they imagine a bigot ending up with an immediate descendant who is gay, trans, racialized, disabled, or otherwise the object of their bigotry is immediate flailing. They imagine a scenario like how my parents took the news of my own queerness, where the parents in question rage directionlessly at the hit their reputation and community standing took when their child harmed them by being who they are. They imagine these parents being frustrated that their proverbial chickens came home to roost, and in particular that the bigoted sentiments they spread around their society are now negatively affecting their own family. They imagine that anti-queer sentiments operate more like fear than like hate, and so the response to their targets being near is horror and sadness rather than anger.
My parents’ rage wasn’t directionless, and still isn’t. It’s aimed squarely at me. What the people telling this joke never quite notice is that wishing a bigot ends up with the object of their bigotry as a child means wishing that child ends up with a bigot who hates them specifically as a parent. Whatever flailing these parents do is only the grace period before the emotional, financial, and physical abuse begins. For every bigoted parent who treats their suddenly-close consorting with the object of their bigotry as a learning opportunity, or at least selfishly recognizes that they can’t be that kind of bigoted anymore without harming their own, there are at least as many who berate, torment, expel, abandon, deny, and murder their way out of this enforced closeness. Nearly half of the United States’s homeless teenagers are queer children expelled from their homes by bigoted parents. It is routine for autistic children to be subjected to hours of psychological torture codenamed “applied behavior analysis” and which is increasingly illegal in its other form, “conversion therapy” for the gay and trans. Public sympathy for parents who murder their disabled children is so high that it is de facto legal to do so, and parents of disabled children publicly muse about doing them violence to elicit support from one another. People who keep their marginalization quiet long enough to escape their bigoted parents are rewarded with fractured and broken links to their own past, their cultural heritage, and the rest of their family, unmoored from ourselves.
These jokers insist that this isn’t the scenario they picture, that the punchline of their joke isn’t another Trans Day of Remembrance candle, and instead that they’re hoping that bringing the issue close to home will compel these parents to become more enlightened. The rest of us know they don’t mean it because that scenario isn’t funny. They’re no thinking past that initial moment of consternation wherein the bigot shakes their fist at the sky and wonders how and why this tragedy visited itself upon them, and imagining that child sharing in their schadenfreude. You worked to make life worse for people like me, they imagine that kid thinking, and now I’m family. How will you deal with having to hate me and love me all at once?
Too many of us know that, when it comes to that question, love is hard, and hate is easy.
Behind every “wouldn’t it be funny if they had a gay kid?” is “wouldn’t it be funny if a gay kid had that monster for a parent?” And behind that is an unfathomable body count.