We have all said things that have caused harm without intent, and it’s difficult not to. If something is normalized, our brains are going to sleepwalk towards the ‘norm’ unless actively discouraged. We are not brainwashed vessels unable to think for ourselves, but it’s hard to think otherwise if we’re used to certain thoughts and ideas. The issue that I want to discuss in particular is heteronormativity, a.k.a. heterosexuality being assumed as the default sexual orientation.
We grow up being told, implicitly or otherwise, that it’s ‘normal’ to be straight. No one ‘comes out’ as straight because it’s already presumed, straight-looking couples in the media are always present, and if a man and a woman hold hands on the street, no one stares. So of course it’s easy to automatically assume that people are straight, but that doesn’t make it dismissible.
On August 18 at a One Direction concert in Ohio, Liam Payne said something that could be read as totally insignificant and unworthy of this much attention, but it wasn’t: “This is my favourite song off the last album, and it is about trying to find that number one woman of your life, which none of you can relate to, because most of you are girls. Except for the boys in here, you know what I’m talking about”, he was quoted as saying.
It received a lot of negative commentary and encouraged everyone who cared to get talking, whether they were in support of Payne or not. People often say comments like this to try and appeal to a wide audience but… what about the girls and boys who aren’t heterosexual? Payne said that he was making a general statement, but that’s part of the issue: when you generalize sexuality like this, you end up excluding people who already struggle to see themselves represented by their own community.
A lot of people on Twitter were accused of blowing it out of proportion and that it wasn’t a big deal because he clearly didn’t mean to offend, but that isn’t the point. If I offer to carry a drunk friend home and manage to hit their head on a lamp post by accident, am I excused because I didn’t mean to hit them? Okay, I sense you thinking: so what? He made a mistake, but… why is it such a big deal? Because it contributes to the harmful notion that being anything but straight is less relevant, which can justify peoples’ reasons for exclusion or violence. Speaking as a bisexual person, it feels like my sexuality doesn’t really matter as much as if I were straight.
I’m not saying that Liam has to have every single person of every background and inclination in his head at all times, but since it’s been brought up and he knows that it hurt the LGB+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and other non-heterosexual identities) community, it makes sense to apologize and be more careful in the future. We are all born clueless and not even the wisest person on the planet is all-knowing, but it’s things like this that make us reassess our actions and evolve as people. The point is that blind assumptions can be unlearned, and it would have been better for Payne, and for the people affected, if he apologized without getting so defensive.
Disclaimer: it’s not easy to be in the spotlight with hundreds, maybe even thousands of strangers telling you that you messed up. Also, it’s not helpful if anyone insulted him without constructive criticism; calling people names will not encourage them to listen or rethink their actions. With this in mind, I understand why he got so defensive, but I hope that it made him realize that generalizations can hurt a lot of people.
Words by Shanade McConney