Thoughts on essentialization, rights, and hopes for LGBT Americans

29 08 2008

Throughout the coming year, I’ll probably be bouncing around thoughts on this space as I prepare for my Student Note with the Journal of Gender, Race, and Justice.  Tonight, I have some observations in three areas.

The first deals directly with gay rights, and it was a bit of an emotional crisis I had the other night.  I had been receiving some conflicting messages about the extent to which our Notes can pertain to an international issue.  That’s since been cleared up, but at the time I was asking myself – can I write a domestic issue?  Well I could write about a domestic issue.  So I started doing some searches in legal databases for the issues to see if there was anything interesting I could write about.  I’m not saying that there isn’t, but a lot of what was coming up were the same issues – marriage, adoption, IVF, the military, discrimination, hate crimes, immigration.  All important topics that I believe in.  So why do I find it hard to write about domestic issues?

It’s like putting a bandaid on a corpse.  I believe, and I am a pessimist and sincerely hope that I’m wrong, but I believe that each of these issues, though solveable, will not help the situation in this country all that much.  They will provide individual solutions for individual problems.  People will be able to get married, or serve in the military.  But this will not change the systemic hatred, intolerance, violence, ignorance, and annoyance towards LGBT Americans.  The discrimination is persistent, it is terrible, and it is real.  It may be more obvious in certain pockets of the country, but it exists everywhere.  Everywhere, young LGBT Americans are terrified to come out to their peers.  Adults experience the same fear, and with just reason.  When I started thinking about the possibilities, it only made me upset.  Of course LGBT people face discrimination all over the world, but this is so close to home.  This is my own experiences, my communities, my adolescence.  It’s hard to look in the eye.  Like other minority groups, I think this struggle will take us hundreds of years, and it may never fully be over.  That’s difficult to think about.

Another thought I had when thinking about my Note topic was how I wrote in my application for the Journal about the essentialization of identity.  I’m wondering if I haven’t started to essentialize my own identity.  The more out I become, the more I make myself a poster child for lesbianism.  I’ve been able to embrace being the gay one in the room.  I’m cool with that.  But it becomes “my issue,” and other parts of who I am – female, Southern, etc – disappear into the background.  It doesn’t change the fact that I want to write about an LGBT issue, but it does make me wonder what I’m missing by “zooming in” so much.

Finally, just a general observation about human rights.  I’m seeing two complementary views of human rights that I hadn’t before, and I’d like to share them.  One, which I’ve understood and held very dear for a while, is the concept that rights do not have to be enjoyed by anyone to exist.  People say “but if human rights are universal, there must be very few, since people don’t really have most of the rights on the list.”  My response is that they have the rights, they just aren’t recognized or enforced.  African slaves had the fundamental human right to liberty throughout their enslavement in the United States, but that right was violated.  Women have the right to be treated humanely and not discriminated against, but they do not fully enjoy that right in many places.  It doesn’t mean they don’t have it.  The second view, however, is an interesting one that I haven’t thought about as much.  That view is that rights can come from practice, even where they are not recognized by the law.  A scholar on Mexico, Speed (Sharon, I think?), makes this point in relation to the Zapatistas in Mexico.  They took over their communities and implemented human rights, and then told the government that they didn’t need to negotiate for legislation protecting them.  They had the right and so they were going to implement it themselves.  Interesting food for thought.

ps – Lesbian Book Club folks, I’ve posted my thoughts on Stir-Fry here.  Feel free to chime in if you’ve read it, and if you’re reading or planning to go at your own pace and post your thoughts whenever you get to it.  No pressure.  (Don’t forget to log-in to access the link).

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My dream dinner party

20 08 2008

So a couple of months ago, I was thinking about who I would invite to a dinner party, if I could choose anyone I wanted.  I started with women-only, but then decided not to sex discriminate after all.  The sad part is, when my to-do list program (aka, my brain) crashed unexpectedly one day (as if there is such a thing as expected crashing), I lost everything.  That includes the list of invitees.  But nevertheless, I’ve thought about it all over again, and now I have for you the magic list, as I chomp on my mock sesame chicken and listen to the lovely Miss #6 on Air America.

  1. Adrienne Rich 
  2. Greg Mortensen
  3. Viggo Mortensen (not related)
  4. Ian McKellen
  5. Christiane Amanpour
  6. Rachel Maddow
  7. Sarah Haskins
  8. Kofi Annan
  9. Howard Zinn
  10. Bridget McManus
  11. Jenni Ferrari-Adler
  12. Claudia Roden
  13. Azar Nafisi
  14. Jessica Valenti
  15. Clotilde Dusoulier




How I love typos…

19 08 2008

His top contenders are said to include Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Less traditional choices mentioned include former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, an abortion-rights supporter, and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential prick in 2000 who now is an independent.

From here, though they may fix it.





Book Club Update

18 08 2008

A few new people have asked about the lesbian book club.  We are reading Stir-Fry, by Emma Donoghue this round, and I’m happy to postpone discussion if a few new people want to hop in.  If you are at all interested in the club, I’d ask you to please sign up so that you can post on the message board at lesbianbookclub.proboards105.com, and then respond to this poll so I know who’s joining us for round one.





Book Club Update

18 08 2008

A few new people have asked about the lesbian book club.  We are reading Stir-Fry, by Emma Donoghue this round, and I’m happy to postpone discussion if a few new people want to hop in.  If you are at all interested in the club, I’d ask you to please sign up so that you can post on the message board at lesbianbookclub.proboards105.com, and then respond to this poll so I know who’s joining us for round one.





Recognizing and Working Against Internal Racism

18 08 2008

I would by no stretch of the imagination consider myself a racist, but like anyone I have internal prejudices, whether a product of socialization, education, experience, or whatever else.  When I was a teenager, I would say that “no!  I would never have a racist thought!” and then feel terribly guilty when I had one.  I do from time to time have such a thought now, and feel guilty, but I’m trying to figure out more productive ways to address and confront my own racist thoughts so that I can be more effective at fighting against racism externally, whether in the gay community or elsewhere.

I’d like to note, incidentally, that any racism on my part has nothing at all to do with my parents.  They raised me to be colorblind, and to respect everyone.  As I got older, I learned to go beyond colorblindness, and to embrace and respect and learn from everyone’s backgrounds, whether race, nationality, ethnicity, hometown, etc etc.  I’m sure I got some racist messages from school and the media, but for the most part it’s a couple of unfortunate experiences that I tried hard to block out, and wonder now if I should in some way confront instead.

When I was a kid, I went to a school in a neighborhood where I was in the minority, and I was a perfectly happy camper.  Most of my friends were black or Latina, and I didn’t really understand race in elementary school.  I told my mom that one of my friends was black, and the other was “brown,” because I was just analyzing how their skin tone physically looked to me.  My best friend in the neighborhood was also black.  Unfortunately, after that experience, I went to two schools that were probably 97% white.  One was a magnet school, and the other was a charter high school for academically gifted kids.  

One of the negative experiences I had was when I was eleven, and a fourteen-year-old boy upstairs who was black became my friend and then wanted to be my girlfriend.  I should point out that I said yes, so he wasn’t doing anything wrong, really.  Nothing was his fault, personally.  I just didn’t know how to say “no.”  So we kissed a couple of times, and I felt uncomfortable, and then when we were with another friend of his (that friend was white, incidentally), he touched my breast while the other friend smirked and the guy’s six-year-old brother looked rather embarrassed.  After that, I was extremely freaked out, and started having nightmares about rape.  Again, no fault of that individual whatsoever, I just didn’t know what I was doing and unfortunately it triggered a negative association.  I shoved the memory down into the recesses of my brain, but as a teenager I ended up having a generalized fear of black men.

The second incident involved a coworker, also a black man, who flirted a lot, kept trying to get rides with me, would occasionally attempt a grope, and also happened to be a cocaine dealer.  Now he did do something wrong.  He shouldn’t have been trying to touch me.  But that said, I do think it fed into my stereotype.  I have a bad habit, when I pass someone who has a certain look – usually but not always black or Latino, wearing certain clothes, smirking in a certain way – to be frightened.  I smile, but I walk a little more quickly.  I should note that I’ve had several great black male friends since that time, and one adult black male role model when I was an undergrad, and so it’s not so much that I’m afraid of black men.  It’s just a certain “type” that gives me the heebie-jeebies, and I want to try to get that out of my head.

So I’m wondering – any suggestions?  Anyone else been able to successfully combat this sort of internal racism, or do any people of color have any thoughts?  I’m starting to write and talk more about how lesbians of color have been marginalized in the gay community, but I feel that it’s unfair to accuse others of racism when I haven’t dealt with this problem in my own head.

Also, on a completely unrelated note, another slam poem, this one much more safe for work, and more on the humorous side.





Right to Pride

16 08 2008

I’ve been reading some great books about gay history, and more on that later, but for now I just wanted to re-post a comment I made on Queers United‘s blog about the question of what we say to straight people who ask us why we have to have a Pride celebration:

Like many things dealing with sexuality, it depends a lot on the individual. Some people center their entire lives around sexuality, or around the broader concept sexuality represent (some lesbians, for example, pride themselves on a woman-identified lifestyle, live in a self-sustaining all-female commune, create with women artists, etc). For others, sexuality is only a small part of identity. Some may consider other parts of their identity a bigger deal (nationality, race, sex, gender identity, etc etc). 

Personally, I consider my lesbianism to be a big part of my life. This is because I am active in gay and women’s rights, I think a lot about those subjects, I read about them, and I’m involved in the gay community to some extent. But I think the thing about the Pride question, specifically, is that there is a better answer than “this is just one part of our lives.” My answer would be that we have a parade because we have been attacked by the straight majority, and straight culture does not ALLOW many of us to celebrate on an average day. Most people do not have the luxury of kissing on the street or even holding hands like straight people do. Pride is also a celebration of our history, of our struggle. It grew out of Stonewall and a time where gay people said “we won’t take it anymore.” I don’t say to straight people “this is just one part of who I am,” instead I say “being gay is a more important part of my identity than being straight is an important part of yours, because I am forced to think about it.” Being straight is a default. It isn’t an issue. Sure, straight people can celebrate if they want to, but the fact is, they do – they celebrate in their weddings and anniversary parties. They bring their partners to events and no one asks any questions. All I’m asking for is one day of the year to feel normal. That’s what I’d say to a straight person who attacks our right to pride.