Sara posted about this response to an email that the LGBT Club at Sloan Management School received this past week:
Last semester, on December 10th, the club officers at MIT Sloan Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Club (LGBT) sent an email to the entire Sloan community (via a Student Master's announcement) inviting any and all Sloan community members to an end-of-semester lunchtime meeting. An hour later, we received the following reply from a fellow student. Note that the author's nationality has been redacted.
"I don't care what you do among yourselves, and I am not going to teach you how to live. But I feel seek when you are trying to promote it or offer to join your events. It is not a dancing club or something that I can just like or not. You know that but in [redacted] beating gays is encouraged by the vast majority because they insult society and nature. Your email implies that I might be interested in your perversions, and such idea to me is one of most insulting things that I can ever hear. I didn't get used to enduring insults, though."
Oh my. I don't know where exactly to begin with why I have a problem with the fact that the Sloan LGBT Club redacted the nationality of this individual. But I do know that I should stipulate the following:
- I can understand why anyone who'd receive such an email would feel threatened, offended, and insulted.
- Whatever county this person was from, his words don't represent everyone from that country.
The Sloan LGBT club felt that they should redact it, and I don't understand why we can't accept that some cultures have a different interpretation of same-sex desire than ours does.
Redacting the country of origin of this individual was done, I suppose, under the mistaken premise that homophobia is a monolithic entity and a universal wrong. An American writing those comments is the same as a Cameroonian, is the same as a Frenchman, is the same as a Russian, is the same as a Japanese man. Where they come from isn't important - the words are a text on a page, their meaning is the same to everyone, and their interpretation is devoid of the author's cultural context.
They, of course, didn't feel the same way about the writer's gender; the letter refers to him with male gender pronouns throughout. Maybe that's just because our language makes it much easier to speak if we simply choose a gender and run with it, but the fact remains that revealing that part of the speaker's identity, by extension, that part of his cultural context, probably wasn't even a blip on the Club's collective radar while his nationality was something worth covering up.
While I'm not opposed to universals nor am I saying that we have to put up with homophobia, etc. because a certain context would let someone off the hook, I am opposed to addressing these problem as if culture is completely unimportant. What works for fighting homophobia in the US isn't going to work the same in China, in Iran, or really any other country (well, maybe Canada). And a queer accepting US is going to look different from a queer accepting Lebanon.
As much as we try to pretend that we're all coming from the same place, we're not. Homosexuality and sexuality are interpreted differently along cultural lines, and homophobia acts differently along those lines as well.
It's hard not to think that the implication in erasing this person's national origin was to (re)create an abstract ideal for queer acceptance. And, of course, that abstract ideal would be "whatever works for America."
And isn't that the exact thing that we're supposed to be working against? Is the idea that there's "one way" to do anything - be happy, have sex, work towards social justice, have a family, be queer accepting, view homosexuality - the exact antithesis of queer liberation?
Perhaps being on vacation this past week just made me light-headed with possibility.