Bruce Parker

Why Doesn't This Feel Empowering?

Filed By Bruce Parker | March 17, 2006 12:03 PM | comments

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Becoming active in LGBT politics in Indiana was largely a mistake. I had just moved here from Yellow Springs, OH and was interested in becoming more involved in the queer or transgender social scenes. Having recently just broken up with my transfag boyfriend before moving, I missed interacting in trans-social spaces with "queer" people. So I sought out involvement in the transcommunity by joining the IndyBoyz listserve and had an embarrassing experience at the INTRAA/Indy Boyz pride booths(however that is a tale for a another probably drunken day).

After becoming marginally involved and new friends with one of the trans guys that was at the time very active in INTRAA, I went to an INTRAA board meeting as an observer. Brylo in all their glory saw me for what I was - fresh meat - and aggressively pushed me to get involved in the political side of INTRAA's work. Next thing I know, I am sitting at the table with Indiana Equality Region Eight and the rest was just an accident really.

Now, we get to my point - thank you patient reader. At this point, I was still getting much enjoyment out of my involvement in lgbt organizing efforts and only starting to understand the myriad ways that ego's, anger, political posturing, and personal baggage intercept to make this work not only about educating straight folks but also about teaching us (lgbt) folks how to work together in more constructive and productive ways. For the life of me after hearing the histories and personal stories about how we got to this point again and again, I still cannot make much sense of it.

Meetings should be places of hard conversations, hard work, congratulations, and celebration about coming together for common causes. We should strive to avoid such disgusting political pettiness as putting a private email correspondence on the internet for public correspondence. We should enjoy seeing each other even as we know that we are coming together to work for the betterment of all lgbt people and by extension all people. Email attacks that spew vile "truths" in public forums do not address the very real issues with organizing in this instance.

It is fascinating to hear educated activists talk about individuals as having all the answers to our problems. Movements must not be built on the image/ego of individuals but instead through our collaborative efforts and our intense focus on pushing the agenda of equality forward. It is disheartening to see people leaving functions less motivated than when they came.

Recently, I had the wonderful experience of having dinner with some of my INTRAA colleagues to discuss our work and where we saw ourselves going. This dinner was empowering in many ways. Sitting around a table sharing experiences and talking about strategies to not "beat" someone but to instead help "raise" people up, felt so different than the activism that I have been experiencing lately.

I am just left wondering - shouldn't this all feel a little better. Tired war metaphors will not convince me that this divided, angry, and uncommunicative approach built on egos and attacks is the correct way to organize for social change or fight perceived oppressive structures that exist within the organizations. It may be true that being nice doesn't win campaigns alone, but I am convinced it is an integral part.

I am left concerned that we are falling into the same traps that individuals fall into when trying to beat the system from within. Audre Lorde tells us, "the masters tools will never dismantle the masters house." I have been operating with bell hooks's strategy of 'talking back' as my main method of dealing with the dysfunction. She tells us that the act of speaking your individual truth to power in spite of the potential for negative reactions/responses is one of the only ways to carve out a space for different ways of living and being.


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Melissa Williams | March 17, 2006 2:39 PM

Did you read my mind? Are we cosmic twins, or just liberal arts products with plenty of Foucault and queer theory in our back pocket? Thank you for saying this out loud, succinctly and articulately.

"We should strive to avoid such disgusting political pettiness as putting a private email correspondence on the Internet for public correspondence. We should enjoy seeing each other even as we know that we are coming together to work for the betterment of all lgbt people and by extension all people. Email attacks that spew vile "truths" in public forums do not address the very real issues with organizing in this instance."

I've been accused of just what you've described.

Every time history repeats itself the price goes up. - Anonymous.

I hate being negative, and I don't want to start wars... but when someone puts something out as truth, in a very condescending, deceptive way, I feel it's my responsibility to respond.

I do think that many people in the community spend much of their lives in a defensive, reactionary mode in response to society's hatred and anger (and I'm not immune to that).

I don't hold any anger to people I've had heated discussions with.

Do I want to argue? No. But when you've been harassed, blackmailed, dismissed, and had your work deprecated, you get rather tired of being screwed over for something you're volunteering for.

Be well.

Bruce--

Love this post! I couldn't agree with you more.

It would be nice if people could put their egos aside. It would be nice if people could solve their grievances privately instead of publically. It would be nice if organizations gathered to talk about action rather than fundraising. It would be nice if organizations didn't take credit for things they didn't do. It would be nice if individuals didn't agree to work with organizations but then speak badly about them in private. It would be nice if community leaders earned respect instead of demanded it. I could go on and on and on and on.

Andrew Cullen | March 21, 2006 7:10 PM

Although I read about 10 blog sites a day, I can honestly say this is my first post. These comments have compelled me to make my first public blog comments. For those of you who don't know me, I serve on the staff of Senator Evan Bayh, and, among other duties, I handle many GLBT issues on the state level for him. Being an openly gay man myself, I have the unique perspective of being friends with many activists while also having the professional distance necessary from the work of advocacy in order to do my job effectively. Consequently, I often encounter folks who express much of what was expressed in Bruce's comments. That being said, I want to offer some words of encouragement to any of the GLBT activists who may be reading this. I have found the work of the GLBT activist community in this state to be highly effective, reasonable, and - yes - very unified in comparison to many other "constituency" groups in Indiana (which I shall not mention by name!). I realize that folks often get discouraged by the infighting that naturally happens in advocacy work, but I would just like to say that, overall, the GLBT advocacy community as a whole does a tremendous job from my perspective. Please keep up the good work, and keep your chins up. It really is paying off.