I've been in a lot of spaces and meetings lately that are meant to talk about issues like privilege and queerness and that sort of thing. Inevitably, these gatherings draw a mixed crowd: Queer people, people of color, all kinds of gender identities and occupations and education levels. It's one of the best things about them. But there always seem to be people who have no idea what privilege means, even if they're talking about it.
A few weeks ago, Nic and I went to the TransCon Justice Summit in Miami. I would say that overall it was a good experience, and I met some pretty amazing people there. But there were also some folks who weren't so awesome. For instance, one cis straight-identified woman seemed to want a cookie for being able to be in a space with so many queer people and not freak out. She seemed quite invested in the idea that we'd all love her, but she struck me as disingenuous - as though she cared more that everyone thought she was a hero than about learning from the people around her. At one point, she and I were in a small group with a few other people and she, the only straight person in the group, immediately took it over and started planning our presentation. When other people spoke up, she was quite dismissive. It was gross. She had no idea that she is precisely the type of person who doesn't have to struggle to have her voice heard, in comparison with everyone else in the group, and she deliberately silenced the very people the conference was for.
So when I read this in the Bilerico Project, I was especially excited by this quote:
With a proper amount of decolinization, [sic] these two [straight white men] would have shut the hell up at some point and allowed someone else to speak. We cannot demand that others (Republicans, Tea Party peeps or whoever the "big bad" is this week) treat us with respect and then refuse to look at how race/class/gender privilege derails even the most progressive and well meaning attempts to institute change and determines whose voice gets to be heard.
Yes. This. One thousand times this. I have seen this happen so many times: in a critical pedagogy class this summer, which I helped facilitate and which focused on critical race theory and queer theory, the straight white people were either bent on talking about how they are oppressed, or actually pointed to the queer people and people of color in the room and accused us of oppressing them when we spoke our truths. I have rarely been so angry in an academic setting. Academia encourages this, though, and rewards the straight white people for talking about the experiences of marginalized people through the lens of peer-reviewed articles on oppression, in abstract academic language, and then telling the people who live the experiences that they're wrong, or not thinking about it the right way.
Another example: the head of Save Dade, an LGBTQ rights organization in South Florida, is a cis straight man. I've met him, and he's perfectly lovely. But I am unconvinced that having a straight person as the head of a queer advocacy group is a great idea. While I grasp the concept of straight people who are interested in seeing systematic oppression of queer people end, I'm not sure why any of them would think they have the right to be the head of a group for a community they are not part of.* Furthermore, it contributes to the problem of queer invisibility. We need more, not fewer, opportunities for queer people to be vocal. And it reinforces the idea that queer people are unacceptable to the mainstream and so we need straight people to speak for us. Fuck that. I'm way too radical to go along with that idea (although, to be frank, I don't really care if the mainstream accepts me).
So: Straight people, when you're in a queer space, let the queer people do the talking, okay? And when I, as a white person, am in a place with people of color in which we are talking about racial oppression, I'm not going to speak much unless specifically asked for my opinion. I think that if we can be aware of our own privilege and not wield it over other people in spaces that aren't ours, we'll actually be doing something to resist oppression. This is a step I believe we can take.
* Kyrie is extraordinarily sensitive about this, by the way. I would be interested in reading more about their feelings about these issues if they ever feel like sharing.