It is because the majority tends to forget that these invisible minorities exist.
I recently came across a “bash the vegan” joke that got me thinking about the issue at hand here. I’m paraphrasing, but the joke was:
The toughest part of being a vegan is keeping it to yourself.
I think there are several biases at play here. Let’s suppose for a moment that the observation holds, and that vegans are generally vocal about their vegan identity. Why would they be so vocal? Is it to annoy you, or to convert you? I don’t think so. They are vocal because they are an invisible minority. You wouldn’t know, unless they tell you.
Think about all those social occasions in which food may be served, and not be completely under the control of this vegan individual. What are they to do? Are they to remain silent, and hope against all odds that the food served is going to be vegan? Or should they say something to avoid being served food that they shouldn’t eat?
Let me point out here that these vegans sit between a rock and a hard place. If they talk, some people are going to be offended. If they do not talk, some people are going to be offended too when they discover that they forced their dietary choices on some hapless victim.
Think about all the occasions that come up where a vegan individual may need to speak up.
Let’s order in…
Let’s go out to…
Let’s do a potluck…
These are all occasions in which the vegan has to speak, and where the omnivore does not have to speak, because the omnivore is in the majority. The omnivore just assumes that their needs are going to be met, and, usually, is correct in this assumption. The vegan cannot rely on any such assumption. Note that I’m vegetarian, and this misconception applies to us vegetarians too. This also applies to people with food allergies. If Mary keeps talking about her celiac, it is not to annoy you. She just wants to avoid the real damage that gluten will cause to her digestive system.
I’ll note here that are always some oddballs in any community that decide to voice their choice proudly and loudly, and want, in fact, to annoy, and maybe convert other people to their choice. These, however, are oddballs. These exist among the vegans, the vegetarians, and among the examples I give below. I’ve not run into these often, and you shouldn’t judge an entire group by its few oddballs.
Do you know who else has this problem? Other invisible minorities. The queer community, for instance. I’m part of this community too. I called this community invisible because a lot of us do not wear our queerness on our sleeves. If you look at me, you’ll see an eccentric man with a fondness for Fedoras and suspenders. You wouldn’t guess that I’m pansexual.
For those of us who are invisible queers, the straight majority will do things that do not take our needs or our desires into account. It can be something as banal as which movie to pick. The straight folks will think nothing of seeing yet another straight romantic comedy, while the queers might want to see a queer romantic comedy for a change.
The queers that identify as queer do not do this to rub it in your face, but because if they don’t speak up, their needs and desires will be ignored. The straight folks do not have to declare their straightness because the world already caters to their needs.
Another invisible minority is those people who are polyamorous, for instance. I’m part of this group too. Again, you cannot tell at a glance who is polyamorous, and who is not. The only way for people to know is if you tell them. Otherwise, if you talk about your life, you’re likely to get unhelpful advice from the monogamous majority. If you have a partner who cannot be with you for an extended period of time for any reason, the standard monogamous answer is “ditch this partner!” However, when you are polyamorous, there is no reason to do this merely because they are taking a leave of absence.
The polyamorous people who identify as polyamorous do not do this to “steal your spouse.” They just do not want people to approach them incorrectly, or give them useless advice. The monogamous folks do not have to do this because, again, the world does take care of them by default.
Another invisible minority is the community of autistic people. None of us, no matter how we appear into the world, wear a label saying we are autistic. Some of us will manifest in the world in a way that may lead people to come to the conclusion that we are indeed autistic. Yet, a lot of us, behave in a way that people wouldn’t identify as autistic. Hence, the irritating declarations by well-meaning folks that “you don’t look autistic.”
Those autistic folks who tell you that they are autistic are most likely doing it to explain some aspect of their behavior that you may find problematic. I readily tell people that I’m autistic. This way, my stimming has an explanation. It also explains the situation if I leave an event early because of the noise. I also tell people that I’m autistic so that other autistic folks can feel at ease, and free to talk to me if they wish to do so.
Here too, the neurotypical people do not have to declare that they are neurotypical, because the world already accommodates them.
In my view, bashing the vegan, the queer, the polyamorous person, or the autistic person, merely for identifying as vegan, queer, poly, or autistic, all proceed from prejudice. The invisible minorities need to identify themselves so that they don’t get run over.
It is as simple as this.