I've often wondered what the gay experience would have been like throughout history had all gay people been born with some distinctive physical characteristic that unmistakably identified them as gay. Black people are born with black skin. Asian people are born with slanted eyes. What if gay people, male and female, were born with, say, a small pink triangle in the middle of their cheeks, a mark that was obvious to anyone who saw it, a mark that couldn't be disguised or covered up in any way? How different would gay history have been?
While some gay people, male and female, are obviously gay, just by looking at them--because of unfortunate stereotypes that have been created and reinforced over the years--most are not, and they can pass for straight. Most gay people can identify each other in a crowd, but that isn't always the case. Sometimes our gaydar doesn't go off, and we're as surprised as any straight person to discover someone is gay.
But, in my scenario, even those who could pass for straight now would be undeniably gay because of the pink triangle in the middle of their cheeks. If they were men, they might be ultra masculine, but the pink triangle would give them away. If they were women, they might be ultra feminine, but the pink triangle would give them away too. Thus, whether they were obviously gay or not, just by looking at them, there would be no difference. ALL gay people, male and female, would be known to be gay because of the pink triangle. They might deny that they're gay, but the pink triangle would never lie. Then what?
Imagine how much easier it would have been throughout human history to persecute gay people, depending on the cultural mores of the time. Imagine how many more gay people would have been annihilated in Fascist Germany, when many of them, along with Jewish people, were rounded up and slaughtered. Imagine how many gay people would have been discriminated against, would have been denied jobs, housing, the same basic human rights as straight people, in North America and throughout the world. Imagine how many young, gay kids would be bullied and teased and taunted mercilessly in grade schools, their lives turned upside down, forced to learn to hate themselves at an early age because of who they are.
In some countries, where, even today, gays and lesbians are imprisoned, forced to work in labor camps, or, worse yet, put to death because of their sexual orientation, they would go into hiding, never to emerge on city streets. They'd be forced to rely on empathetic family members to help them survive since they couldn't go out into the everyday world to work or to live. But, even then, family members might be unwilling to protect their gay relatives because they could be imprisoned, banished to work camps, or put to death themselves for defying the law of the state. Imagine.
With pink triangles on their cheeks, gay people would be in the faces of straight people. There would be no escaping gay people. They'd be everywhere. It might be easy now for many straight people to deny that gay people exist, even to deny that they work with gay people, or that there are gay people in their own families. But, with the pink triangle, they would be forced to deal in some way with all gay people in their lives, distant and close.
Perhaps they'd unconditionally support their gay relatives, regardless of their sexual orientation, because their love would be stronger than any hate their culture might try to make them feel toward them. Or perhaps, regardless of their blood connection, they'd turn their backs on their gay relatives, having been convinced homosexuality is repugnant and unforgivable. It happens today, even without the pink triangle.
I thank God every day that I don't have a pink triangle on my cheek because I'm gay. I thank God that, if I'm careful, I can mostly pass for straight in a straight-oriented world, where being gay in some places is just as difficult now as it was decades ago. Or, at the very least, that no one pays much attention to me because I blend in to the general population that is always assumed to be predominately straight.
And, at the same time, I feel so sorry for all people who are different in some way, gay or otherwise, who will never be able to hide their differences, and who will always face discrimination because of who they are. I can't imagine what that would be like.
(As I worked on editing this post, it occurred to me that, if the pink triangle was evident on the cheeks of babies from the moment they were born, who knows what might happen? In extreme cases, given the way some societies feel about gay people, I have no doubt babies would be exterminated immediately. In that case, they'd never make it to childhood or adulthood, and the rest of the world--that is, straight people--would never have to deal with them.
In less extreme circumstances, gay babies might be allowed to live, because we are human beings after all, and, for the most part, we're not in the business of killing other human beings who are different ways we don't understand. But imagine the anguish of parents who knew from day one that their little boy or little girl was gay. Imagine potentially how different those babies would be raised in relation to straight babies. Imagine the lengths to which some parents would go to hide their gay babies, to disguise the pink triangles on their cheeks, to hope and pray that our world changed, so that being gay was no longer discriminated against, no longer one of the worst things you could be.
Playing with the pink triangle scenario is fascinating and opens up all sorts of possibilities that we avoid now because, thankfully, there is no single physical characteristic that identifies all those people who are gay. But imagine if there were....)