Rebecca Juro

Do We Talk About Ourselves Too Much?

Filed By Rebecca Juro | August 29, 2007 12:43 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Media, The Movement
Tags: LGBT rights, media, politics

I've been writing a book. Oh don't worry, I'm not going to bore you with the details of trying to create something readable out of a bunch of disjointed thoughts, ideas, and stuff I've already written. No, what I want to talk about is a question I keep asking myself as I write it, one I find myself asking over and over.

"Just how much of this stuff do people really care about?"

It's not self-deprecating as much as it is trying not dwell on uninteresting details, putting in the stuff that really matters and keeping out the kind of information that will cause a reader to have to painfully slog through in order to get to the good parts. The problem with writing a book is that the more you write, the closer you get to it, and the harder it is to look at objectively.

I also wonder if we transfolks, and really LGBT people in general, sometimes try so hard to educate straights about ourselves and our lives that instead of the result being people becoming more in tune and more supportive of who we are and what matters to us that we sometimes alienate straight folks by offering so much information that eventually even the average non-homo/transphobic person reaches a saturation point and finally says "Enough already!".

How much does the average straight person really care about same-sex marriage or LGBT employment rights, anyway? I wonder how many hets who might support our rights in principle get turned off or even antagonistic toward us for no other reason than they're just tired of hearing about it? We may consider these issues critically important, but does the suburban soccer mom really give a shit? Is it possible we're actually hurting our cause in the minds of average Americans by putting ourselves in their faces as much as we do?

Sometimes, of course, it can't be helped. You can't effectively advocate for equal rights by remaining invisible. Yet, most of the time when we plead our case for support, it's not to Mom and Pop America, it's to elected officials. That's a different issue entirely. Elected officials are being paid to listen to and represent the interests of the people who elected them. It's their job. Politicians, however, know and understand this going in. Even if they don't agree with us, they'll often at least hear us out. Unlike most people, these folks make their careers doing this kind of thing. Regardless of ideology, talking politics with an actual politician isn't even close to the same thing as talking politics with a cab driver or a waitress.

Let's be honest here, forget about the Queer issues for a second, isn't it always that guy at the party who never stops talking about himself who's always considered the biggest bore there? Can we really be sure that by heeding the popular advice we get from so many of our big-name activist organizations to talk to everyone we know about how important our rights are to us that we're actually making these people less like to stand up for us when the chips are down and we really need their support? Are we really so certain that we're not hurting our cause by talking about ourselves so much that straight people just eventually just get sick of it?

I'm not saying we should just shut up and hope for the best...that would be idiotic. Nor am I saying that we shouldn't be a presence in both straight and community-relevant media. My point here is that we are, in fact, all over the media now. We've done the ground work. The average American knows who we are, what we want, and the way we live our lives. Is it really necessary to bring these issues up as often as we do in our daily lives though?

Think about it: How often have you found yourself explaining some community-relevant topic to a straight person? And when you have, how often has it been in response to a question they've asked and how often has it been you who's instigated the discussion? How often is it we ourselves who are forcing the issue? Perhaps even more importantly, how often do we do this with little or no regard for whether or not the person we're talking to is even interested?

One thing I think we can all be fairly sure of that by now most people know us and our issues well enough to have made up their minds whether or not they support our goals or not. Given that, how likely is it that beating these topics to death person-to-person is going to cause a non-supportive straight person to change their mind?

Perhaps it's time for a different tactic. Instead of spilling our guts to anyone within shouting distance, maybe we should wait for them to come to us more often than we do? That's not to say that when we need them to act, to vote positively on a ballot question or somehow show their support for us on other ways, that we shouldn't make it a point to to do so. Yet, at the same time, maybe we should save the nitty-gritty details for the politicians and the media pundits more often than we seem to.

Of course, we talk about this stuff amongst ourselves all the time, as we should. We rightly put it out there in the media because media is a participatory thing. In order to hear what we have to say in the media, someone has to proactively watch or listen. It's not forced on them nearly as much as people come to it themselves of their own free will. The media is a chosen thing, and because it is, people are usually paying attention because they want to, not because they're in a situation where the topic is being pushed on them, possibly against their will.

The truth we all know is that if someone's really dead set against supporting what we want and believe in, no amount of pestering and browbeating is likely to do anything except give them more ammunition to use against us. Chances are, except maybe in the most unusual of circumstances, we're wasting our breath. Wouldn't it be better by far to expend that same effort on getting a Congressman to change his vote on an important bill or sitting down with your employer's HR rep to try to get them to adopt an anti-discrimination policy?

The fact is, we really do the vast majority of our most effective pro-Queer advocacy without saying a word. Just by being out there, visible, in the mainstream, day after day, we become inexorably more a part of the greater society, just another facet of that gigantic, multicolored jigsaw puzzle that is humanity. When we intentionally turn the discussion to Queer-relevant topics and issues with people who have no interest in hearing about them, we remove that piece of the puzzle from the whole and separate ourselves from everyone else just a little bit more. Sometimes, it's the only way to get what we want and need, but is that really the case as often as we seem to believe it is? Isn't it possible, maybe even likely, that we'd get more support from those who don't really have strong opinions about us and our issues either way if we didn't keep bringing them up when other people would much rather be talking about something else?

Part of it, I think, is just plain old selfishness. I mean, who doesn't love talking about topics they care about, the things that matter most to them? At the same time, though, shouldn't we be more willing than we often are to put our own issues on the shelf and discuss what's important to the other people we engage in conversation?

In this, I think we should take a lesson from racial and ethnic minority communities. Sure, there's plenty of information on issues relevant to these communities and no shortage of relevant media either, but none of these minorities have these issues in the faces of those outside of those communities as much as we do. We're loud we're proud, and, more likely than not, we're pretty damned annoying sometimes.

There's no question we should be speaking out about ourselves and our lives. The question is where, how often, and with whom. Even if our community-relevant issues are the most important in our own lives, they're certainly not the most important for the rest of the world, and maybe it's time we gave that reality a bit more consideration and respect than we often do.

We're now in a time in this country where the social and political winds are beginning blow our way. Let's try picking up speed by letting that wind carry us to our inevitable destination rather than insisting the entire fleet follow the course we've laid in for ourselves. With a little patience and a little trust, we'll probably make it all the more likely that everyone will get to our destination together. If nothing else, it'll almost certainly make the trip not only shorter, but also a lot more pleasant.


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Hey Rebecca...

For me, it's not so much about how much of what I might have to say is personal or self-serving. There are times and places in which folks are hungry for and open to queer stories and issues.

Awareness of the audience is the key.

The best teachers I've ever had weren't necessarily the bearers of the most facts, they were best at gauging where their students were at and calibrating their approach to move us forward.

The most captivating story-tellers aren't about their stories, they're about helping their listeners place themselves in the middle of the stories.

So, being effective in the queer community is less about convincing or teaching, more about listening and putting ourselves in the shoes of others. When we learn which aspects of our lives resonate with folks outside our communities, inviting them to spend a minute in our shoes in ways which might feel threatening yet familiar, we open doors which allow all of us to move forward together.

Take care...

I am the straight mother of a gay son. I try to educate my friends and family as much as I can. But I do understand that we walk a fine line.

I'm also a member of PFLAG. PFLAG is instituting a new program centered around "Straight Allies" - people who basically have no connection with the GLBT community. Their goal is to educate these people and hopefully gain their support, especially around election-time.

I think education is important because so many people out there aren't aware. They're not homophobic but they just don't know what the issues are. Once they've seen the light, they are more liable to walk with us.

Annette,

I agree that the vast majority aren't homophobic, but just uneducated, and very often just don't really care a whole lot about issues that don't directly affect them. I totally agree that education is important. The question I'm asking is how proactive should we be about that, and when should we be willing to simply be out there and available to those who want to know us.

I think ATB hit the nail on the head, awareness of the audience is the key. As a community, we could use significantly more finesse in that department.

Amen sister!

I think this is particularly relevant to the trans communities now and maybe the gay and lesbian communities a decade ago.

I think part of the issue is a lack of institutionalized or visible issues to discuss. Certainly "we" are all over the media, but not necessarily in a substantiative way. Most of the accessible images I see have to do with personal stories. And, although I work for an advocacy organization that, at times, works on trans-specific initiatives people only ever ask me for my story.

Personally, I'm sick of it. It feels exploitative and for the most part irrelevant. While people are curious about my hormone prescription and surgical transformations, this information isn't the golden key to acceptance. In fact, I would argue that all of the invasive minutae clouds perspective.

People easily fixate on the idea of grotesque, monstrosity, or altruism. I have no interest in invoking that for myself or my communities.

And, when I voice my discomfort with walking through the mundane details of my "story" I am met with a gasp WHY NOT??!!

So there is an artful balance that must be met here. My approach? Dignity. I'm tired of trans folk grabbing at unethical media exposure. This isn't feast or famine. But then again, part of my job is dealing with the media. I'm very well versed in how to take advantage of opportunities, when to say no, and how to create them when necessary.

Thus, in order to create that artful balance people like you and I need to work on training other trans folk on how to be media savvy. That way we don't come of as narcissistic space aliens.