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Is Acceptance Enough? The Implicit Heterosexism in ‘Acceptance’

Written by Daniel Clayton


We all want to be accepted…right?


We all want to belong. To feel wanted. To know that, despite our differences, we are valued. It’s part of the reason that such an emphasis has been placed on the performance of gender, ethnicity, and sexuality politics; people are, and have always been, tired of being the outcast. This is what most people understand acceptance to be.


However, when it comes to acceptance, it is not always as positive as it is portrayed.


Dorothy Riddle, American psychologist extraordinaire, is famous for her contributions to the world of metaphysics, feminism, economic development, and sexual identity politics. In 1973, Riddle developed a unidimensional interval scale known as the Riddle Scale in order to measure exactly how homophobic a person or certain actions can be. The scale itself is split up into 8 categories (4 negative, 4 positive):

  1. Repulsion: Queer identity is seen as a crime against nature. Queer folx are considered sick, crazy, immoral, sinful, wicked, etc. Anything is justified to change them: incarceration, hospitalization, conversion therapy, etc.


  1. Pity: This represents heterosexual chauvinism. Heterosexuality is considered more natural and is certainly the most pushed sexual identity in our society . It is believed that any possibility of becoming straight should be reinforced, and those who seem to be ‘born that way’ should be pitied as less fortunate


  1. Tolerance: Queerness is viewed as a phase of adolescent development that many people go through and most people grow out of. Thus, queer folx are deemed less mature than straights and should be treated with the same level of protectiveness and indulgence one uses with children who are still maturing. It is believed that queer folx should not be given positions of authority because they are still working through their adolescent behavior.


  1. Acceptance: This implies that there is something to accept; the existing climate of discrimination is ignored. Characterized by statements like, “you’re not queer to me, you’re a person!”; “what you do in bed is your own business.”; “that’s fine with me as long as you don’t flaunt it!”


  1. Support: People at this level may be uncomfortable themselves, but they are aware of the anti-queer or queer-antagonistic  climate we are in and work to safeguard the rights of queer people.


  1. Admiration: It is acknowledged that being queer/trans in our society takes strength. People at this level are willing to truly examine their homophobic attitudes, values, and behaviors.


  1. Appreciation: The diversity of people is considered valuable and queer people are seen as a valid part of that diversity. People on this level are willing to combat homophobia in themselves and others.


  1. Nurturance: Queer people are indispensable in our society. People on this level view queer folx with genuine affection and delight, and are willing to be their allies and advocates.


We live in a society where “acceptance” has become the norm. Though we live in times where ignorance and hatred are at an all-time high, it is now very costly to be openly heterosexist, cissexist, racist, etc. (unless you happen to be a Cheeto Puff sitting in the Oval Office…). Back in the 50’s, you would be praised for calling someone a “nigger.” Now? that’s almost a guaranteed way to lose your job and perhaps much more. We even use slogans that normalize acceptance, even in millennial spaces (which is supposedly more progressive):



On the surface, statements like “why be racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic when you could just be quiet” seem to be forward-thinking, but stop moving forward and THINK for a moment:


What good to the cause is a quiet ally? If someone is really and truly in support of people who are different, then why be silent about it?


What’s the difference between an overt heterosexist/cissexist and a passive heterosexist/cissexist besides the noise volume of their opinions?


Even we, as queer people, have a hard time with normalizing things that we shouldn’t because we are also unlearning and shedding off the crushing influence of cisheteronormativity and its far-reaching patriarchal standards. From events such as Pride to National Coming Out Day, we have the difficult decision between living with pride about the beauty of our identity while still othering ourselves and creating distance. We aren’t necessarily “different” than anyone else, so why should we be ok with being treated as if we are from another planet?


Robert A. Martinson dba RAM Photography

Growing up in a Jamaican household, where I spent more time in my Pentecostal church than in my own house, I learned very quickly that lukewarm opinions do nobody any good. The people I was around either loved someone/something or completely hated it (it goes without saying that loving queer people was completely out of the question). Something as baseless and weak as mere acceptance is the equivalent of realizing the garbage in your house smells bad but simply saying “well there’s nothing I can do about it so I’ll just pretend I can’t smell it and move on.” You consider an entity to be a source of discomfort and thus have to go through your own mental conditioning to be able to even enter the same space as whatever you wish to “accept”. If that’s the case, then why bother?


As queer folx, specially as queer people of color, we not only need to hold our straight counterparts to a higher standard, but we need to demand more than just acceptance. We need true support. It’s about helping others to understand that with or without their approval, we will continue to exist. If you remove the concept of the gender binary and erase cisheteronormativity from the equation, there is no fundamental difference between queer and straight people. It’s our responsibility to stop coddling straight allies, friends, and family by challenging them to love more authentically.


Our very survival depends on how well we can eradicate the concept that queer and trans identities are things to be “accepted”.


Do not mistake this article’s message as being: “Acceptance is unacceptable”; if you are able to get those around you to a level of acceptance, then the battle is half-won. However, you must feel the desire within you to push forward beyond mere acceptance. Challenge your straight peers and family. Expose them to the various documentaries, art, and history created at the hands of queer POC. Create a culture within your own spaces that celebrates the identities of all people instead of refusing to share the world you live in with them. Remember: if you do not challenge societal norms where you can, then those same toxic societal norms will continue to be the standard.


We belong. You belong. I belong.


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Written by

Daniel's the name, random shit is the game. 22 years young. A pansexual New Yorker who enjoys writing, creating digital art, and playing the string bass. I love writing about the things we oftentimes forget in this fast moving information age. Small ripples cause big waves. This is one wave you do not want to miss. Pronouns: He/Him/Zaddy

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