My issue with “Straight but Not Narrow”

If you truly support a community, why express that support through a phrase that begins by separating yourself from that very community?

While I don’t think I’ve come across it terribly often lately, one of the phrases that used to be common among LGBTQ allies was “Straight but Not Narrow.” I’ve used it in the past, as have other friends, and I have a CWU Pride shirt from a few years back that uses that phrase.

However, as I’ve thought more about it over the past year or so, I’ve become more and more aware that something about that phrase really bothered me. I’d started putting it into words a little while ago, and had talked it over with Prairie, but something I came across today brought it back to mind.

In this Reddit post (which is actually about problems with the HRC organization — problems I was not aware of before, and will want to consider in the future), a couple lines stood out to me as tying directly in to my discomfort with “straight but not narrow.”

[The “equal sign” logo is] the easy way to display your political stances without having anyone question your gender identity or orientation. It’s the physical embodiment of “I’m not gay but,” much like the rebranding of feminism to “egalitarianism.”

…it’s also extremely offensive, I think, to attempt to distance yourself from the movement with qualifications like “I don’t hate men, but” or “I’m not a feminist, I’m an egalitarian,” and “I’m not gay, but.”

While I know that the “straight but not narrow” phrase is well-intentioned as a way to express support for LGBTQ issues (“I’m an ally!”), the very fact that it starts with the “straight but” disclaimer lessens the impact of that support. If you truly support a community, why express that support through a phrase that begins by separating yourself from that very community? It feels like a socially-accepable way of saying “Well, you know I’m good with the gays and all, but I’m not gay. Uh-uh, man. Not me. No homo, y’know?”

I certainly don’t regret using the phrase in the past, nor having bought the shirt (I’m quite happy to support the campus LGBTQ organizations). Also, please note that I don’t want to sound like I’m censuring anyone who does use that phrase, or doesn’t have problems with it. As I said, it’s well-intentioned, and for many people, that will be fine. This is just a personal thing for me, and I don’t think I’ll be using that phrase or wearing that particular shirt again.

By Michael Hanscom

Enthusiastic ambivert. Geeky, liberal, friendly, curious, feminist ally; trying to be a good person. (he/him)