Breaking Through, Being Out in Politics, & Microaggressions

J and I went to one film from the Portland Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, “Breaking Through,” and it was really fabulous. It was about politicians and public figures who are out. There were a number of gay men and lesbians in the film, as well as one transgender and one bisexual. The point of the film, the filmmaker said, was to inspire hope in LGBTQ people of all ages (but mainly youth) that things can be better. It was inspirational and really well done. I found myself tearing up a number of times at the stories and experiences described. 

It was an important thing for me to attend because I had just gone through the whole day falling apart (which J can attest to). What am I doing? Do I really want to be a therapist? Is this a workable plan? Can I fully be myself and do this as a job? If it’s not this, what do I want to do?

Attending the screening was like the universe’s way of saying: Breathe. Be Yourself. Do What You Want. That’s basically how the filmmaker introduced the film: to anyone living on the margins of society, live authentically to live a joyous life. I almost started crying (again) right then.

So I really can’t say enough good things about the film, except there’s always something 😛

While I thought every person in the film was well-intentioned with their comments and articulations of their experiences, there was one sentence, that once I heard it, I had difficult truly experiencing the rest of the film.

Kate Brown, Oregon’s Secretary of State and bisexual, was recalling the story of how one constituent asked her about being bisexual and what that meant (something along those lines). In response she said something like, Well I’ll tell you that I am monogamous and that’s more than the rest of the guys [politicians] around here could tell you! It was meant to be funny, and many people in the audience laughed.

A microaggression is a brief and subtle way of indicating hostility toward a group and asserting power and privilege over that group. Microaggressions come in many forms:
Women are just emotional.
You know your life will be hard if you are gay, right?
I can’t believe you speak English so well! [to an ethnic minority]
Or, like what my first therapist told me (several times) in response to hearing about our open relationship: You know he (J) could leave you if he met someone else, right?

Kate Brown, although well-intentioned, committed a microaggression (or maybe she did intend it). I think the most common stereotype of bisexual people is that they “all are nonmonogamous” and I could see her wanting to ward off any further stigma. In fact, when J and I introduced ourselves and J asked her a question about the experience of being out as bi but in a straight marriage, she again reiterated “but I am monogamous.” In person, it felt like information (albeit not relevant to the conversation we were trying to have); in the film, it was an aggression toward people who practice nonmonogamy.

Although I do think her statement was made in the context of highlighting cheating/unethical nonmonogamy, she still asserted monogamy as the moral and social preference over not being monogamous. It was difficult for me, from this point in the film on, to remember the filmmaker’s introduction: that this film, while made for the LGBTQ community, was meant to inspire anyone living on society’s margins to live authentically and out.

J and I are going to write to Kate Brown (of course we are!) and just tell her how her comment impacted us.

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