I’m old enough that a lot of people I know are married and/or have children. Even my younger sister is married and has a kid. The nuclear family (i.e. married with children) is so normative that western culture just assumes that everyone aspires to it. If you are married without children, it is assumed there is a problem. If you have children and aren’t married, it is assumed there is a problem. And if you are neither married nor have children, it is assumed there is a huge problem.
I consume a hell of a lot of media and the majority of media which isn’t made directly for children, is made for people who are married with children. And the majority of this media is made by married people with children. Consider the bajillion articles about marriage advice and the bajillion and a half articles about relationships which assume they will eventually lead to marriage. Consider the bajillion articles about children; concerns about the ‘right’ way to raise children, concerns about developmental disorders in children, concerns about the society we live in because of how it will impact children. Consider the many stories in movies and television which are about marriage and/or having children.
Marriage and children. Marriage and children.
Marriage and children are treated as huge rites of passage in western society. These events are seen as so important, they influence the rest of a person’s life. These events are considered to great, they are often considered sources for great insight. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had someone talk to me about how their marriage or their children have taught them universal life lessons about humanity.
And I cannot tell you how many times my own opinion and perspective on marriage and children has been ignored or invalidated because I ham not married and I have no kids. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me, “If you had kids, you’d understand,” I’d have a mountain of nickels.
I have consumed so many stories by people in married relationships about married relationships, and yet my opinion is treated as less valid because I have not experienced it. I have consumed so many stories written by people with children about having children, and yet my opinions about children are treated as less valid because I have not experienced it.
Now let me tell you why your opinion about being queer is less valid if you have not experienced it.
Consider, for a moment, the handful of people you know who are queer. Consider how few relatives you have who are out and proud. Consider how othered queerness is in western culture that even queer folks talk about it as something that couldn’t be helped, rather than something anyone would ever want. Consider how many folks out there would actually like to make queerness illegal. Consider how little media you’ve consumed which was made by queer people for queer people. Consider how few articles you’ve read about queer lives.
Even if you’ve consumed as much queer media as you possibly could and even if you’ve heavily involved in a queer community, I can tell you without a doubt that I’ve been more inundated with information about marriage and children than you have about queer lives. Marriage and children are everywhere; queerness is in the margins. And yet my opinion on marriage and children is widely considered ‘less informed’ than folks who have experienced them. And yet your opinion on queerness is widely considered equally informed as queer folks’ despite the fact that you haven’t experienced it.
I use these examples: queerness, marriage and children, to highlight something which is frustrating and applicable to a larger problem. You see it everywhere. Cis men (who will never experience being pregnant and the possibility of getting an abortion) have their opinion treated as more valid than the opinion of women & trans men who have had abortions. White people’s opinions on issues that communities of colour face are treated as more valid than the opinions of folks actually living in those communities. Rich people tell the poor how to spend their money. So on and so forth…
It is a double standard. The more normative a person’s life is, the more it is assumed anyone outside the norm couldn’t possibly understand it. The more marginalised a person’s life is, the more it is assumed that anyone in the norm can completely understand it. In fact it is often assumed that the only “true” understanding of a marginalised life is if someone in the norm validates it. All this despite the fact that the person with a marginalised life is far more likely to have been exposed to and educated about the normative life, than the other way around.
This is part of why issues of representation in television and movies are so important. This is part of why Piers Morgan’s dismissal of Janet Mock was so enraging. This is part of why issues of diversity in industries, leadership, etc. are so important. This is part of why Spivak‘s work “Can the Subaltern Speak?” is so important.
Marginalised folks are not allowed to be curators of their own stories. Not only that, but they are constantly told that they are unqualified to comment on normative stories.
This doesn’t mean no one is allowed to have an opinion on anything except their own lived experience. This doesn’t mean lived experience trumps everything else. This means marginalised people’s lived experiences should have at least as much equal weight when discussing marginalised lives, as normative people’s lived experiences do when discussing normative lives. At least as much. And right now, that is most assuredly not the case.