10
Nov
08

My spellcheck would be so much happier if it would just learn the word “heteronormative…”

I started to write an aside about same-sex marriage in the last post, and it kind of took on a life of its own. My asides tend to do that.

I’ve read some very eloquent arguments (including others I can’t find right now) recently by people urging Californians to vote against Prop 8, or infuriated by its passage. And I’m persuaded to an extent, and to an extent I didn’t even need to be persuaded. If we’re going to have marriage, I believe that couples of any combination of genders should be allowed to marry. Hell, I’ll go further, just like the anti-marriage people always fear we will: I believe that any number of consenting adults of any combination of genders should be allowed to marry, If an amendment to ban gay marriage is going to be on the ballot anywhere, I want it to fail, and I’m offended by what I perceive as the bigotry and hatefulness of the people who vote for it. I do not, however, think that marriage equality should be the main goal of the queer community, or the main focus of our energy and resources. And this is not only because I’m dubious of state-sanctioned marriage to begin with (for all I know, I’m dubious of state-sanctioned marriage to begin with because I was raised to believe it’s wrong that everyone who’s in love can’t get married.) I’ll freely admit to having my doubts about marriage, and wondering why queers want a piece of big, expensive weddings, government approval of their unions, assimilation, and heteronormative family structure. I’m not sure it’s something I’ll ever want for myself. But I understand why people who are denied those things, and who are also discriminated against, disregarded, and mistreated in so many other ways, would want the legitimacy they convey. I even believe that changing the law, by changing the ways people act, over time sways public opinion, and that any change in the law that will legitimate queer identities and queer love is a change for the good.

I don’t think it should be our top priority. I’m frustrated with the way it appropriates a disproportionate share of our advocacy and resources, to the exclusion of things I feel would be a much better use of those things. In many places we can still be denied housing and employment because of our sexuality. This is true in almost all places of those who don’t conform to binary gender norms (and those of the gender assigned to them at birth, thank you very much). People are still being harassed, beaten, raped, and murdered for their perceived queerness. Trans folks are still being harassed, beaten, and raped by the cops. Gay men are being arrested for the crime of having sex. Many medical professionals are still trying to counsel and medicate queers out of our sexual preferences or gender identities, and giving us less than their best care besides. And many, many of these things are happening disproportionately to queers who are young, old, outside of the gender binary, poor, and/or not white. The segments of our community who have the fewest rights and resources of their own. And we are, in my opinion, abandoning them to their fate so that middle-aged, middle class white men can push for their right to join the straight people at the top of the ladder of oppression. Save for the controversy over an ENDA that left out trans folks (and now that we have the kind of Democratic majority in Congress that even the people who wanted to leave trans folks out in the cold said we’d need to pass an inclusive ENDA, could we get on that, please?) pretty much everything I’ve heard about queer rights from mainstream sources in the past several years has been regarding marriage. I think this is a terrible misprioritization, and a gross misappropriation of our attention and energy. I rank marriage as less important than people’s lives and bodily integrity, and I don’t understand how the “gay agenda” doesn’t.

And no discussion of same sex marriage taking place right now would be complete without a mention of the appalling racism that’s currently dominating the discussion (I like Dan Savage less because of his unapologetic biphobia; if he keeps up the blatant racism, too, I will simply have to stop liking him). Everywhere I turn the past few days, I run into the statistic that 70% of black voters in California voted for Prop 8, and the associated opinions that it’s all of the new black voters Obama inspired who are to blame for homophobic legislation, and queers aren’t racist in nearly the percentages that blacks are homophobic. Never mind that simply phrasing the statement that way – with its assumption that all queers are white and all blacks are straight – belies the point. It is probably true that queers need to do more education in and outreach to black communities, but that is the point to be made here: we need to reach out more. It is not true that all or most black people are homophobic, or that black people are a monolithic whole as implied by the way the discussion is framed, holding one set of opinions and voting one way across the board. There’s so much “Shame on black people for getting their rights and closing the doors behind themselves,” but shame on white queers for believing everything we’re told about how another minority group thinks and acts and harms us. We’ve been on the receiving end of such smear campaigns, we should know better than to buy into them and turn against people who are themselves oppressed, and who could be our allies. And not only were the majority of people who voted for Prop. 8 white (the majority of Californians, after all, are white; and it was a close vote), but the people who financed the campaign for it and advocated heavily for it were almost entirely white.

For more information on how the election would have gone had all of the black voters in the country stayed home — teaser: Obama would have lost in a landslide, and all of the homophobic legislation that went through on Tuesday would still have passed except for Prop. 8, which would been defeated by the barest of margins — check out this collection of links and statistics.


16 Responses to “My spellcheck would be so much happier if it would just learn the word “heteronormative…””


  1. 1 Rachel
    10 November 2008 at 7:38 am

    Very compelling point about Gay Marriage. That perspective quite frankly hadn’t occured to me, but after reading this, I’m convinced you’re right. I will say that living in a progressive Northeast city, it is easy to lose sight of the bodily-harm angle, and start getting all hyped up about the marriage issue instead.

  2. 10 November 2008 at 11:13 am

    I agree that marriage should not be a top priority. Relationship recognition is important, but so are job discrimination, health care, and everything else you mention. I question how much the federal hate crimes bill would actually to do address the issue of hate crimes – it seems LGBT organizations have prioritized it mainly for symbolic value and wanting to be able to pass *some*thing – but its passage would at least bring more public attention to the problem.

    For all the talk about Blacks putting Prop 8 over the top, Black voters were only 10% of those who voted on it. But more importantly: what exactly is the point of attacking the Black community as a whole for being homophobic? Is it supposed to make straight Black folks like us more?

  3. 3 rkt
    10 November 2008 at 12:08 pm

    i am so tired of a statistic that is based on a sample-size of 170-something being used for much of anything. that makes for incredibly poor maths.

    and, i know i’m supposed to like newsome for being progressive with his yay-marriage push. but the man is all about the (white) business and has seemingly been more successful in making what had been (relatively) safe spaces for queer youth of colour into sanitized places for queers with money. for that, i have no love. bloomberg has been trying to do the same with the piers, again with no consideration of an alternative.

  4. 10 November 2008 at 12:42 pm

    I totally agree. While I do want to marry my partner, I want to exist safely first. I want to get the surgery I need to make my body match my mind with the same ease some bimbo can get implants instead of going through professionals who will try to tell me I don’t know myself. *sigh*

  5. 10 November 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Yeah, all very true.

    The queer rights fight, more than other fights for equality, I think, is fundamentally a fight for safety. The middle and upper class gender-conforming white people who fund the movement are correct in their assessment that marriage is the next level of protection… For themselves. Other people are worried about having a place to live, whether law enforcement will abuse them instead of protect, being able to have a job, not getting murdered or assaulted, etc.

    But, this is capitalism here. I’m worried about how the movement will ever change — the people with money are looking out for their own interests, and where will resources come from if not from the people with money? Given that those folks show no signs of suddenly becoming altruistic, it seems pretty grim to me.

    This is exacerbated by the fact that, as relatively privileged as they are, they’re scared to, and legitimately so. They don’t feel safe enough to help anybody.

  6. 10 November 2008 at 7:05 pm

    Thank you for so succinctly stating what I’ve been feeling but unable to express due to a roller-coaster of emotions since last Tuesday.

    As a queer-identified transman who fancies himself a radical, I’ve supported marriage-equality mostly as 1)a simple civil rights issue, and 2) a means to help bring about real equality in society. When a little boy can say, “When I grow up, I want to marry David Beckham,” and the response from other little boys is, “You can’t, he’s already married,” rather than, “Boys can’t marry boys!” I think it will bring about a sea-change.

    That said, I’d be the first to admit that I’m operating on the assumption that radical change–such as the uncoupling of privilege from the institution of marriage all together–is impossible in the America of today. I espouse radical values myself, but have given up that I will live to see those values become dominant in this country. Sad.

    Meantime, I’m sickened and angry at the racism being expressed by some members of my so-called community. It makes me want to distance myself, at a time when I should probably get more involved in order to help counter the ugliness.

  7. 11 November 2008 at 1:40 am

    I’d like to echo Daisy’s comments on capitalism vis-a-vis the funding of queer rights movements. As I’ve seen it, all queer people – not just white, not just men – who catch that whiff of dinero forget where they come from or what a holistic sense of values as a thinking queer person might be. Marriage, for these people, will be the transformative force that allows them to flee in droves to the other side of the political aisle, enshrining their ridiculous incomes behind a marriage license. Absent the element of truly affluent queers, there might have been time to have the necessary dialogue about why we want so badly to be included in another oppressive system.

  8. 8 Aviva
    11 November 2008 at 2:08 am

    Rachel – I think that’s definitely what happens. People look around and see what they need wherever they are – whether they’re there by virtue of location, skin color, financial status, whatever – and lose sight of how much danger others are still in, and how much work there is left to do to before marriage is the most pressing issue all queers face. And that’s understandable — it’s why the world need gadflies like me to remind them ;-)

    HJ – Why do you question whether the federal hate crimes bill would do anything? What is it designed to do, and why would it fail? Do you lawyers know something the rest of us don’t?
    But more importantly: what exactly is the point of attacking the Black community as a whole for being homophobic? Is it supposed to make straight Black folks like us more?
    Yup. That’s it exactly.

    rkt, thanks for pointing out the bad math of that statistic. I was ready to say that harping on it is harmful and misses the point, but I should have researched it first and made sure it was meaningful to begin with.
    What’s this about Newsome? I’m too tired to Google, remind me to ask you tomorrow night?

    Daisy – I’m not sure I agree that other fights for equality aren’t fundamentally about safety. They certainly all were to begin with, but I can’t think of any examples where safety is assured and there’s still a struggle for equality going on. I definitely agree with you, though, about the people with the money being higher up the hierarchy of needs, and not realizing or not caring that other people haven’t yet gotten to the point where getting married is their next need. I don’t have an answer to the conundrum, but it frustrates me that a community that’s trying to present itself as a united front would leave the people in the most danger out in the cold to tend to the needs of those who already have the most – even if those are the ones providing the money to fight. Ah, capitalism.

    Brynn – my pleasure! And I agree that the change you speak of would be really positive. I also have trouble separating which of my ideals actually have a chance in the world we live in, and which just don’t. It’s hard to know where to put my energy.

  9. 11 November 2008 at 11:25 am

    I’m not sure I agree that other fights for equality aren’t fundamentally about safety. They certainly all were to begin with, but I can’t think of any examples where safety is assured and there’s still a struggle for equality going on.

    You know, you’re right. It made sense when I wrote it — I think I was comparing movements that are at different phases.

    it frustrates me that a community that’s trying to present itself as a united front would leave the people in the most danger out in the cold to tend to the needs of those who already have the most – even if those are the ones providing the money to fight. Ah, capitalism.

    Yeah, it’s infuriating, hypocritical and hugely unethical.

    I just don’t see a way out of it. : (

    Though of course, talking to those privileged queers about what they’re doing and why it’s wrong is certainly a good way to start.

  10. 11 November 2008 at 2:01 pm

    HJ – Why do you question whether the federal hate crimes bill would do anything? What is it designed to do, and why would it fail? Do you lawyers know something the rest of us don’t?

    You can read the bill here: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:HE00364:

    The bill does three things: 1) provides for federal assistance to local law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes, 2) provides grants to local and state governments for programs designed to combat hate crimes, and 3) makes hate crimes federal crimes if they are committed on federal property, in a federal enclave, against a federal officer, or in a manner involving interstate commerce.

    The bill’s impact is, therefore, very modest; it generally remains up to state and local officials to prosecute hate crimes. Moreover, it’s not clear to me how much hate crime laws – which create sentencing enhancements for things that are already criminal – do to deter hate crimes. I thus regard it as a largely symbolic measure, but also one that will hopefully have some modest positive impact. It’s nice if it can be passed, and it may create a stepping stone, but it’s not worth expending a lot of resources, political capital, or whathaveyou.

  11. 11 November 2008 at 3:30 pm

    i was going to link to a basic news article on how newsome has pushed out queer youth (primarily of color) who hang out in the castro district via increased police presence, but found this still too relevent article by mattilda. and fell in love/lust all over again.

    also, there are a number of progresseive queer organizations that are neutral-to-opposed to hate crimes legislation because at the end of the day, it increases penalties to those most likely to be arrested/prosecuted/incarcerated = people of color – more so than it does anything to deter hate crimes.

  12. 12 Aviva
    11 November 2008 at 5:13 pm

    You can read the bill here:

    I can’t, actually (don’t ask me why), but I see what you mean. I was thinking about hate crimes penalties last night after reading your comment, and the way people argue against the way they presumably make some kinds of violent crime more seriously punished than others, when really murder is murder no matter the motive. But I wonder if, instead, they bring the punishments for such murders up to what they’d be if they weren’t hate crimes, since, as we’ve seen in the defenses of men who’ve murdered trans women, acquittals and light sentences are the norm when judges and juries too often sympathize with the murderer’s disgust and outrage.

  13. 13 Aviva
    11 November 2008 at 5:18 pm

    at the end of the day, it increases penalties to those most likely to be arrested/prosecuted/incarcerated = people of color – more so than it does anything to deter hate crimes.

    That’s also an important point, and one I sometimes have to be reminded of when it comes to criminalizing or increasing the penalty for anything. The system is not going to get less racist or otherwise fucked up just because it’s prosecuting homophobic violence. Would that it were.

    Oh, and Mattilda’s book tour is hitting Bluestockings next Tuesday. It might be a tight squeeze for me as far as getting there on time from work (although as of yet it doesn’t look like a problem), and I must go to my weekly dinner thing after because it’s also an important birthday, but I’d really like go to, so I’m still considering it. Will you be there?

  14. 11 November 2008 at 7:24 pm

    yay! now that i know about the event, yes, i will be there. i’ll check the time and may bring a coworker who’s never been to bluestockings.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 37 other followers

%d bloggers like this: