You’d be shocked at some of the things I hear from people who are just downright ignorant. Just to give you a few examples… During Medea, I had a couple of people come up to me and say ‘it’s so amazing to see so many people of colour on stage! How great that you did this’. Sounds sweet doesn’t it? Then you think that Hamilton had been on stage at nearly a year at this point, a musical full of POCs that has more Tony award nominations than literally any other piece of theatre ever. Suddenly, the comment is revealed to be quite daft and outdated.
There are far more where that comes from. I once said to someone I had a weak immune system and their immediate response, without hesitation, was just “AIDS?”. Just the one word, ‘AIDS’, with no context, no questions, no mention of anything to do with AIDS but the words ‘immune system’… And they didn’t even ask if I had HIV, but jumped straight to AIDS? Then you’ve got the endless questions asked about being gay, and how two men can be in a relationship, and ‘who proposes to who’ etc etc.
You also get the wonderful – ‘Where do you really come from?’. I guarantee you literally every POC (that stands for person of colour by the way I realise I use that a lot) has been asked that question with that ever-irritating lean on the word ‘really’, as if I’m sharing some secret with them. I really am from here. Like really really. I was born here, got the passport… But you still get that deeply irritating question asked to you constantly.
Those are just a few of the questions asked to me. But when you start to hear the questions asked to, for example, our trans brothers and sisters, you really start to understand the depths of ignorance that people have about these issues. Being misnamed, deadnamed, misgendered, asked about gender-affirming surgery – these are just some of the incredibly invasive questions often asked to people in the trans community.
It sounds like I’m being harsh but here’s the thing. Now, at the end of 2019, there is no excuse to be ignorant enough to ask these kinds of questions. There is just no reason for it anymore. Not only have these issues been in the forefront of the media for over a decade now (though of course pioneers have been discussing these issues for much longer). But more than that, the Internet exists. Google, YouTube, news outlets, NHS and Gov websites specifically addressing simple queries, as well as numerous websites from minority communities themselves answer all the questions you can imagine. Just a quick flick through YouTube immediately brought up videos like ‘Things not to say to a trans person’, and ‘LGBT myths debunked’. Everything is there and ready and in literally a couple of ten-minute videos, you can watch on your phone while sitting on a train or other places, you can learn the simple answers to all of the questions you may have.
And I get it. It can feel like a lot to get your head around, especially if you’ve not been exposed to anything. Even I find it hard sometimes to work out what I can and can’t say, and what I should and shouldn’t ask. You may never have met a trans person (that you know of,), or been exposed to a lot of LGBT people, or even been around that many POCs in your life. And that’s fine! We don’t expect you to know the answers to all the questions, and you know what – I’ll go as far as to say we don’t even expect you to care (though we wish you would). But we do expect not to be faced with so many frankly offensive questions because you couldn’t be bothered to put in twenty minutes to stay in the loop.
So! Google is your friend. Blogs like this, along with so many hundreds of others, are your friend. Ask the questions you think may be offensive to Google. If you don’t understand what terms like ‘non-binary’ or ‘poly’ are, then Google them on your phone underneath the table before you blurt something out in conversation. Take responsibility for getting to know, just on a very basic level, how things have changed around you these last ten years. This will save some tired kid the effort, and offence, of having to deal with one of those ignorant questions. And believe me, it’ll make their day really that much easier…
‘Nothing in all the world is more dangerous that sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity’ – Martin Luther King Jr.