Consistently, I come across people who don’t support civil or equal rights because they believe that everyone already has access to all rights. Their story goes: People choose not to be normal and therefore keep themselves separated from their rights. Ergo, those who don’t support equal rights say, “We don’t need civil or equal rights; what we need is for people to stop refusing what they already have.”
Per this dangerous narrative, it’s easy to say, “If people would just choose to be normal, they’d access their rights.” It’s also easy for people who are ‘normal’ (sic) to believe their ‘normalcy’ is being threatened with replacement, as opposed to being known as one ‘normal’ among many.
- The terrible attitude is what underpins anti-gay-marriage sentiment: Gay people can already get married, people say; they just have to stop choosing to be gay and return to the ‘normal right’ to heterosexual marriage. (This misses that marriage is the right, and the heterosexual way to access it is one OK way.)
- The terrible attitude is what fueled the atrocity of forcing the children of first peoples into ‘normalizing schools’. Indeed, the sentiment of the movement was “Kill the Indian…save the man.” Such schools existed through to this century to ensure first peoples received certain education by becoming supposedly qualified for the right to it. In parallel, this is what allowed (and allows) sweeping anti-first peoples legislation; the terrible logic is “If these people aren’t going to become fully human, then the things we do to them aren’t really being done to humans.” Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s novel Hope Leslie explores this idea.
- The terrible attitude is what keeps anti-Black sentiment cycling in nonprofit services. The myth goes that Black staff en masse should learn to prefer, promote, and maintain a particular kind of ‘acceptable, professional normalcy’ to earn the right to fair employment.
I used to believe that those who promote a ‘normal’ must know that each ‘normal’ is not really something universal. For example, straight people couldn’t be so dense not to see that they prefer and promote heterosexuality, one of many ‘normal’ sexualities, right? The more I listen, though, the more I learn that people who promote a ‘normal’ actually do believe in a narrow type of acceptability. Some evidence of this is the chorus of questions that people ask:
- Why can’t Black people just act more normal at the office, like white people do?
- Why can’t transgender people just act normal in society, like cis people do?
- Why can’t first peoples just act more educated in school, like white people do?
- Why can’t people with mental health challenges just act more in control if they’re going to be seen in public, like the rest of us do?
- Why can’t people of lower economic classes just try harder not to be poor? Don’t they know they’re lazy? Don’t they want to be normal?
- Why should we have to make new buildings accessible for people who use wheelchairs? They don’t have to choose to visit every kind of building. We shouldn’t have to adjust everything for the exception to what’s normal.
Promoting a ‘universal normal’ is how people believe it’s OK to fight against civil or equal rights. Those who promote ‘normal’ believe that certain people want to be rewarded for choosing not to be ‘normal’. They also point to certain individuals who they believe ‘act normal’ — and say to a group that the individuals belong to, “See, these people who are like you can ‘act normal’; why can’t you?” This erases the ability of people from all backgrounds to live in many different ways.
Focus: Why Queer Pride? Some ways the broader queer community continues to remind the world that there is no normal in sexuality, gender, and more are celebrating pride month, promoting pronoun use, and asking for laws and court rulings that deny that heterosexuality and other identities are the only acceptable and expected ways to be.
Those who admit they promote one normalcy and try to stop doing so are doing great work, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t still promoting other normalcies. The work is to keep reflecting and realizing. Also, it’s imperative not to confuse and degrade this work with saying that it’s all just a promotion of anything goes. Such a claim is a distraction from the truth of honoring the specific civil or equal rights of people of a plethora of ways of being.
Read more about my nonfiction writing here.