Saturday, March 26, 2011

You Can't Tell Me How To Be Queer

Oh, man. Facebook, I'll tell you. Before I know what's hit me, I found I've been sucked down the rabbit hole of a conversation with a bigoted jerk and can't get out of it. But in this case, it works well for the blog, because I have something to say.

It all got started when my fantastic friend "Uncle Jesse" (this is the name he chose for himself. Don't ask) - who is a gay man - posted a status update about how he doesn't like the idea of the Pride Student Union at our university starting a blood drive to get "non-gays" to donate in the names of the gay men who are, by federal law, disallowed from donating blood. His status noted that there are other things Pride could do that aren't a blow to the community's ego, and said, "This is really offensive! It is almost comparable to when women had to vote through their husbands. Shouldn't we focus on a campaign to change the law and not be passive aggressive?"

This is a controversial statement, of course, and one on which I think people could have an informed, interesting debate. Unfortunately, that is not what happened.

One of Uncle Jesse's "friends," whom we shall call Mr. Phelps* - who identifies as a cis straight white man - jumped right in and said that "the gays" should "turn the other cheek." He argued that this is exactly the kind of activism the gay community should be doing, because the "unbiased middle" will "respect it more."

Shall we start right here? The "unbiased middle"? What the fuck is that? I've never met such a person. We don't live in an unbiased world, and this is exactly the kind of privilege Kyrie and I are trying to bring to light so we can smash it to bits. There is an assumption that people who are the most mainstream/privileged in society (usually, straight middle-class cis white men) are neutral and therefore unbiased. But women/queers/people of color/transpeople/the poor are too blinded by their own outsider status and therefore are just not to be trusted. This is an unacceptable position, because straight white cis men have bias too, as individuals - we all do, all of us earthlings.

Second: Are we supposed to care deeply about what tactics this apocryphal "middle" will respect? And should we trust Phelps here as the arbiter of that group's sensibilities?

As E pointed out, straight people don't have to run around holding marches and demanding respect as straight people, because they already have it. But Phelps doesn't think we should try to be heard: We should "live [our] lives on [our] own without the in your face attitude" and then we will be more respected. He argued that we only still have racism in America because there are still black people arguing that our society is not equal.

I'm going to let that sink in a minute, because we still have a ways to go.

So, obviously, this is a really stupid thing to say. There is racism everywhere, and if he's not seeing it in his extensive world travels, that's because, as D pointed out, his white privilege allows him to not see it. Instead of arguing this point with any intelligence, our buddy just repeats himself over and over again: world traveler, never seen racism, probably because only in America are the brown people gettin' uppity. His attitude is horrifying and misinformed. It also, as I pointed out to him, sounds like things people who have an interest in continuing oppression would say: Don't make too many demands, just stay calm, no sudden moves, and if you don't freak out your patriarchal overlords too much, we'll give you a cookie.

Our hero, Uncle Jesse, came back to the conversation and said, "Being silent will not promote progress... planned coordination and civil protest and education will. Gandhi wasn't silent; he wasn't obnoxious. He just gave a voice to those who did not have one, and it made a difference." Others chimed in to point out that civil rights leaders have long worked for the benefit of people other than those in their demographic groups. To argue otherwise is to ignore history.

Phelps's reply is that we queers can go show that we're better than everyone else by supporting groups that oppose us. He also had some things to say about transpeople. I want to warn you that what he says is extremely ignorant and has violent connotations, but the entire point of this post is to point out his ignorance and deconstruct it. Ready? Let's go.

Phelps not only argues that we should all "shut the fuck up" and stop being so "in your face" about stuff, but that the gays should disassociate themselves from transpeople. He claims that his gay friends (of COURSE he has "gay friends." I really think we should fine people for saying "I'm not racist, my best friend is black," and other derivations thereof) agree with him. And, furthermore, that "there is no dif between a man that lops off his dick because he thinks he’s a woman, and a dude that cuts his hand off because he thinks the devil is inside of it."

This is, of course, where I totally lose my shit.

I wrote a really long response on Facebook that I'm not going to post here, in which I called out his transphobia as serious bigotry, told him he doesn't know anything about anything if he thinks America is the only place with racism, and insisted that you can't change the status quo by being quiet. It has NEVER worked that way.

Sometimes, I think, when you take people to task on something they say that comes across as really bigoted, they rethink it, or at least walk it back and then go home and contemplate. Instead, he dug in deeper, and insisted that he doesn't hate "homosexuals," he only hates my "type" because of the "attitude that goes with being accepted." [I... don't really know what he means by that.] He said that he likes Uncle Jesse just fine, but would tell him to "fuck off" if he "wore a dress and blew in a blowhorn demanding respect and organizing marches in high school and protesting at the bus stop" because that "woulda been overtly annoying." Phelps thought my inability to see things from his point of view was ignorance on my part, and cited, again, his many black friends. I mean gay friends. You know.

He also insisted that is within his rights to hate transpeople, that transpeople are insane, that they degrade "homosexuals." Sexual preference, he believes, is a legitimate source of discrimination because it's a choice, so complaining about one's lack of rights or respect from sexual preference is like smokers complaining about getting lung cancer. And in the very same post, he claimed to be the most pro-rights straight person we know. And that is why I'm bringing this up at all - there are people out there who claim to be on our side, to be pro-rights, to be anti-homophobia, and who still hate us - they hate and fear anyone who makes them uncomfortable. My conversation with this asshole went on for quite some time, but it mostly boils down to me telling him that he seems to think his right to not be made uncomfortable or feel annoyed is more important than other peoples' civil rights or rights to be treated with respect in society. He had no effective counter-argument, of course, because there isn't one.

There are two things I get from this. One, as I said to TrollPhelps, you don't get to decide who is being gay/queer/trans correctly, or enough, or too much. If you try to, you're being oppressive.

The second is something my friend D [a black, straight, cis woman] said. She has a way of putting things really beautifully, so I'm going to quote her here, and let her have the last word:

Dear Folks,
Whenever you are tempted to think that the work of freedom is done, reread this. So many folks feel this way. We've got a long way to go. The struggle continues.

* Not his real name - he just seems to have something in common with another Mr. Phelps we all know and hate who has a church in Kansas you may have heard of.


  1. One more thing: If this (or anything) is something you want to talk about, but not in the comments, e-mail: If you know me, you can also call/Facebook/whatevs.

  2. Jess, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. You know it's bad and that there's a long way to go when guys like this are on "our side".

  3. I know, Dheeraj. I think that's why it's so upsetting, honestly. He is NOT on my side, I don't want him on my side, I want him to go away.

    He has a radio show somewhere. I've never heard it, and I'll never listen to it, but he has a voice in public. Terrifying. I hope he sticks to blathering about Top 40, is all I can say.

    Thanks for stopping by! ALWAYS good to hear from you!