I look at a lot of photos as Editor in Chief. I look at a lot of strangers and I scroll through a lot of tags on Instagram. And I change a lot of cover photos. When you're this involved with the mechanics of media and packaging content, you start to notice little things about the world.
I noticed something this past weekend when I was choosing cover photos for a piece on marriage: when a cover photo has a gay couple in it, it's a gay piece, but when it has straight people in it, it's a normal piece.
Maybe that sentiment feels weird to you. Maybe it feels very normal. But if we break it down, I think you'll find that even the most socially conscious people in the most socially conscious spaces carry these implicit biases.
In this particular instance, I was editing a piece on marriage. The photo the creator had originally selected was of a woman in a wedding gown, so when I went looking for a photo on Instagram that was legal to use, I looked for one in the same vein. Looking at #brides brought me to a few photos of two brides kissing, two brides holding hands, two brides walking down the aisle together, etc. One photo, in particular, was so beautiful and I thought it would make such an elegant backdrop to the piece.
I saved the photo, copied the URL, did all of the super exciting tasks of a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed EIC. But after uploading the photo and looking it over, I realized that this wasn't something I could do. I couldn't put a photo of two brides kissing as a cover photo for a piece on marriage. It would make it a gay piece.
If I had left the photo as it was, it would add another layer to the piece than what it was discussing. Gender and sexuality were not at all relevant to the piece. It was a piece on marriage with not so much as a pronoun dropped throughout detailing a specific marriage or couple. But that means that it wasn't talking about a marriage between two straight people, either. And aren't the two supposed to be equal? A straight marriage and a gay marriage?
But picture this piece with a photo of a man and a woman getting married as the cover photo.
No one would bat an eye.
It would be a normal wedding photo behind a normal piece about normal marriage. Privilege is getting to be the default.
Little worries kept popping up, too. What if the creator gets upset? Yeah, I'm sure she's cool with gay marriage and everything, but what if she felt like the photo overshadowed the content of the piece? What if she thought that I was trying to make it a gay piece? What if she was worried about what her family and friends would think when seeing the piece? What if?
I wrote a piece about a first date a little while back. I didn't use a single gender-identifying pronoun throughout the piece. The cover photo was changed to a photo of a guy and a girl kissing. It didn't make it a straight piece. It made it a normal piece. But if the cover photo was changed to a photo of two girls or two guys kissing, it would make it a gay piece.
Homophobia and heteronormativity exist even in the most woke spaces. It exists inside of all of us. Even in 2018.