Yasmin Nair

Why I won't Come Out on National Coming Out Day

Filed By Yasmin Nair | October 11, 2008 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living, Marriage Equality, Media, Politics, Politics, The Movement
Tags: coming out of the closet, gay community, Gay Conservatives, gay marriage, Gays in the Military, hate crimes legislation, International Gay Organizing

Public discussions around sexuality evoke simplistic narratives about gays versus conservatives. We automatically assume that anything gay is part of a leftist or progressive agenda. In this context, National Coming Out Day takes on the aura of a sacred rite of passage for an entire nation, a way to prove that its collective self is tolerant towards its lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender citizens (LGBT).

Well, I'm an out queer lesbian who sleeps with men. Clearly, there isn't a place for me in that acronym. But that's not my real problem with National Coming Out Day.

Consciously performing the act of coming out implies that I identify with a larger "gay community." I'm privileged enough to live and work among like-minded queers and straights (I use all terms loosely). But I've long felt disconnected from the mainstream "gay community" and its notion that "coming out" is a political act of great meaning and significance.

My friend B. once said to me, "We [queers] used to be the most interesting people in the room. Look at us now." Indeed. We're not just less interesting, but politically conservative. Let's consider the main causes of the "gay community/movement" today -- and why I won't come out on its behalf.

Gay marriage. I'm against the idea that marriage should grant rights and benefits, and I don't think couples - gay or straight - are special people who deserve to be rewarded for their "commitment." Gay marriage is an emotional, social, and cultural issue - by all means, argue for it if you'd like to have your relationship validated by whatever forces you deem important. But don't turn it into a social justice issue by pretending that it's about establishing parity and equal rights for everyone. When gays argue for gay marriage as the way to establish health care and guarantee benefits, they're essentially giving the finger to anyone - straight or gay - who chooses not to inhabit the institution of marriage.

Gays in the military. I'm a militant pacifist, so the idea that I should be able to fight in wars or to help establish the U.S. rule of law in other countries is repugnant to me. We now live in a war economy where recruitment into the armed forces is just another term for "job security," so I'm sympathetic to those who feel compelled to join for economic reasons. But I'd like to work on building a society where peaceniks, like a former student of mine who joined because she couldn't afford not to, don't feel compelled to join the army in order to pay off loans- whether they're gay or straight.


Hate crimes legislation.
Hate crimes legislation only serves to enhance penalties, and can even lead to the death penalty. The basic idea behind hate crimes legislation is that people who somehow demonstrate prejudice towards a group (by yelling "fag" during a robbery, for instance) deserve to be punished much more and that the threat of longer sentences or even death will deter similar crimes. In its support of hate crimes legislation, the "gay community" demonstrates its bloodthirstiness - it's not enough for us that someone should go to jail for murdering, beating, or robbing us (crimes for which there's enough punishment); we'd like to expand the prison industrial complex by forcing them to rot in prison for the rest of their lives or be hanged or electrocuted.

"Coming out," as defined by the U.S "gay community," has also become a dangerous export. We've recently decided that there's an international gay community that has goals and ideals in common across borders, and we have no qualms in asserting that "gay rights" are the same everywhere. In fact, what counts as "gay" in the U.S. may be same-sex desire that can't be defined as such elsewhere. For instance, some men in India might have sex with each other but still see themselves as "straight" and continue to live with their wives and children. According to our logic, such men just need to come out and be happy under rainbow-hued umbrellas, an attitude that's both simplistic and dictatorial.

There is, of course, a need to establish solidarity with queers in countries where homosexuality and same-sex desire can be punishable by law. But as gay activists and writers like Joseph Massad and Bill Andriette have shown in their nuanced work, asking for help for queers elsewhere is a fraught enterprise. U.S. feminist groups like Feminist Majority and women like Laura Bush ignored the needs of Afghani women by demanding that the U.S. bomb Afghanistan to help liberate them from the men of the Taliban. Similarly, U.S./Western gays put queers elsewhere at risk by defining acts of oppression as exclusively gay.

"Coming out" may be freedom for some here but for others across the world, it's either a non sequitur or a dangerous calling out that puts their lives in jeopardy. Coming out is increasingly part of a commercialised notion of gay identity to which a lot of us can't subscribe, especially in light of the mainstreaming of gay community.

So when you come out as either a straight ally or as part of the LGBT community, ask yourself: On whose behalf am I coming out? What, exactly, does this community represent?

If you're someone to whom a co-worker comes out, don't be content with simple declarative sentences like "I support you!" or "So am I!" Instead, this year, don't be afraid to ask them where they stand on the particulars. Ask: So, do you really think that married and coupled people deserve more benefits than single people? How can you be against the war and also for fighting in the military? Do you really think that putting people in jail for long periods of time for what they think or say during a crime is a good idea, especially since most people in jail are the already disenfranchised, including the poor? Does "coming out" mean the same in vastly different cultural and political contexts?

What if your co-worker tells you you're being homophobic just for asking these questions? Well, then - that just means that he or she is coming out as a jerk who won't engage with you on a serious level. And that's okay. The best thing about National Coming Out Day, if you ask these questions, might be your discovery that we can be just as nasty as the rest.


Related materials (click for links):

The Guide's interview with Joseph Massad, author of Desiring Arabs.

Bill Andriette's piece on the Iran hangings of, which is also an excellent analysis of US queer politics and its (often misguided) relationship to geopolitics.

My interview with Arsham Parsi, head of IRQO (Iranian Queer Organisation), which touched upon the issue of Western queers agitating on behalf of queers elsewhere.


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I have been "out" since the mid-1970s and, the longer I am "out," the less-important the gay community and its supposed ideals are in my life.

Although I have little in common with Yasmin, I identify with her opposition to the herd mentality in the gay community.

What a thought provoking post, Yasmin. I honestly had never thought about coming out day in this way.

Thanks, Holly, for your comment!

And thanks, Waymon - you're very kind to write that!

In one way what you say is true and very thought-provoking, but in another, well coming out is different for someone who is trans.

Our coming out is, by definition, a very public thing (unless we want to uproot our whole lives even more, move somewhere no one knows us, and start over there).
Transition is not something that can be hidden. People tend to notice when, one day you are dressed masculine, then the next you are feminine. We generally have to come out almost every day, especially early in transition before the hormones start to work their magic.

There is no political or social statement in our coming out, at times it is a statement of survival more than anything else. And you want to know something else, it isn't just straight people who give us problems when we come out. If you think you don't fit, try being a trans-lesbian.

Diddlygrl,

I agree with you that coming out is a rather different matter for the trans community. It's often a lot more fraught than coming out as L,G,B, or Q. I agree that it can be hard to come out as a trans-lesbian. But it's also hard to come out and be a tran person who doesn't fit everyone's normative ideas about what constitutes a perfect gender-role-fulfilling trans man or woman. You can be criticised if you're not butch enough as FTM or femme enough as MTF or, horrors, dare to use the female pronoun when you "still" have a male body - and the criticisms will be launched from both the queer and straight communities.

My piece asks questions about how "coming out" is used as a political framing device by the mainstream "gay community" It's used today by groups like HRC, and far too many individual gays and lesbians, to foist very homogenous; homogenising; and politically conservative ideas about "gay civil rights" upon a straight community that, in turn, feels compelled to act upon the agenda set forth by these conservatives. It's time for the rest of us to let people know that not all of us belong to this "community."

That being said, I'm really glad you raised the issue of coming out and the trans community; it gives us more to think about. Thanks for posting.

Yeah, I'm getting to the same place. The more I work with queers, the more it just seems that being gay is about falling in line. I'm working on another post along those lines.

And stuff like this, well, I don't know what to say. When did I sign up for a collective mind?

Hi Alex,

I saw your post on the Mike Tidmus blog and wholeheartedly agree (and thought your response was hilarious). All their nonsense about "Our dream, the unanimous dream of my all my queer brothers and sisters": This is what we dream of today? Marriage? Imprisoning others for life or giving them the death penalty?

I'll look forward to your blog.

Yasmin, I get your point, and I both agree and disagree with parts of it. Here's my take on it:

(1) Coming out is a political act --- and always will be as long as we have a need to openly oppose others who would like to re-institute sodomy laws and drive us back into the closet in many social and political ways.

(2) Coming out is not a statement that I agree with a particular platform of political and/or social viewpoints that some "GLBT mainstream" might consider to be its majority positions.

(3) No matter what major population group I might identify with, I will experience pressure to conform to certain opinions of others. This is true whether I choose to come out as GLBT, or stay in the closet, or be a Democrat, or be a New Age astrologer.

What you may have missed in your post above, Yasmin, is that the group brainwashing routine is not specific to the GLBT world: it is practically an existential given among civilized human beings. All groups, whether liberal or conservative, can fall into that conformist mode --- and it is the best of the best among human groups that introspectively and consciously institute mechanisms that guard themselves against allowing such behaviors to cross certain extremes.

And within those boundaries, I'm afraid that conformity pressures are just something that we all have to either find a way to live with, or to throw off and reject. Either option works, but imperfectly.

What you may have missed in your post above, Yasmin, is that the group brainwashing routine is not specific to the GLBT world: it is practically an existential given among civilized human beings. All groups, whether liberal or conservative, can fall into that conformist mode --- and it is the best of the best among human groups that introspectively and consciously institute mechanisms that guard themselves against allowing such behaviors to cross certain extremes.

I agree with a lot here. We definitely do have a choice as to whether coming out as something in the LGBT coalition means that we're going to buy into the group mentality or not.

Perhaps people like me are more wary about where language like "The gay community wants..." and "LGBT people support this legislation" and "That person is working against the LGBT community because s/he did X" because there was a large window after I came out and before I started to question the gay orthodoxy. And for that time, I do remember buying fully into legislative initiatives that didn't make much sense with the rest of my politics, mainly because it was one of those "If gays want this, then it must be something I want too" mentality.

Of course, I'm older and better for it now. But I know that there are quite a few gay people who don't question that orthodoxy who do eventually start doing so with some gentle prodding (like Yasmin's post). That doesn't mean we all have to end up turning our political wants upside-down, but that we at least know how the gay wants work with everything else.

A.J.,

Coming out *can* be a political act - my larger point here is that, today, it's denuded of much of its political impact given that the politics of coming out are so submerged within a larger mainstream movement. As I asked in my post, on whose behalf do we come out and what does our community represent? I know for a fact that the mainstream community, gay or straight, has no clue that there are actually differences of opinion within the queer community.

As for your point that "the group brainwashing routine is not specific to the GLBT world" -- I don't find such universalist points particularly useful in such discussions. For one thing, the post was written in response to the idea of a "National Coming Out Day" and on a queer blog. For another, the very idea of coming out as a singular act (HRC describes it as one of "bravery and authenticity")has gone unexamined in recent years, despite the changing nature of the queer community. We're not the same we were even twenty years ago, and neither is the process of "coming out" in its larger context.

Of course the LGBT crowd is no different from others, and of course the pressure to conform exists everywhere - does that mean we simply give up and resign ourselves to being represented in such homogenous terms?

There are enormous political stakes here - the issues I raise have to do with how we distribute benefits, who gets criminalised in relation to the gay community, who is determined as a fit or unfit citizen based on their patterns of affiliation - the list goes on. "Coming out" is, in that context, an idea that deserves to be thought about more deliberately.

I'm not advocating that nobody come out, or suggesting that nobody needs to come out, or that coming out can't be a relevant act - I'm asking what the act means in today's climate. Put another way: What do we do once we come out? Do we take responsibility for what our "community" does/perpetrates on our behalf? Or do we just stop at the point of coming out?

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 12, 2008 4:15 AM

Yasmin, while I agree with AJ I would have to add that the unique rights of relationship (by whatever means it is labeled) are pivotal to one thing that cannot be overlooked. I am 55 and live with and care for a 79 year old. Today happens to be the 'anniversary' of the day we met 32 years ago. I insist upon having full control of his medical care with no one second guessing me.

The *political* act of coming out? Long before you I came out politically and it insured me months of celibacy and isolation. As for there being a monolithic, lockstep attitude from Gay people? I have known better than to assume that since 1972.

The military does many things other than make war. Hospital ships, food aid, the National Guard, for instance, is for (and should be for) domestic needs of disaster ravaged Americans and we deserve to be part of that mission if we want to.

Hate crimes are solved by generational change in attitudes and cultural mores in other countries can only be expected to change in the same slow manner. If you need a wonderful example look at the present presidential candidate of the democratic party and calculate the distance in time that the last Jim Crow laws finally ended. Forty three years ago and much still remains to be done.

Robert,

With regard to: "Hate crimes are solved by generational change in attitudes and cultural mores in other countries can only be expected to change in the same slow manner." What exactly are those cultural mores that you've decided need to change "in other countries?" And for whose benefit, exactly? Who are we to decide that cultural mores need changing and fixing in the first place? This points to an issue around "coming out" that I touched upon: The sheer arrogance of (mostly) U.S. gay men in assuming that everybody around the world wants to live gay lives exactly like theirs.

In my original post, I included a link to a piece on kabobfest.com, which takes you to a couple of other pieces, and I highly recommend taking a look at those. One of the important points made there is that U.S military and cultural intervention has in fact made it harder for queer communities to exist elsewhere, not better. And I highly recommend Joseph Massad's book for more on that.

As for hate crimes: Let's distinguish between the concept of hate crimes (a topic of discussion for another day) and the practical effects of hate crime legislation.

I'm constantly struck by the fact that the gay community insists on talking about hate crimes, but avoids talking about what the law and order consequences are. So, if we're going to talk about hate crimes, let's be clear: we're not just asking that crimes be tabulated as such but that certain penalties be put in place. And we need to start asking ourselves what it means for us, as a community, to ask for those draconian penalties.

As for issues about hospital records and visitation rights: again, yes, we deserve those. And so do those millions of people who live in relationships/kinship groups that can't be determined through coupledom. Everybody deserves these basic rights - the solution is not to demand that only married or coupled people have them. The solution is that we should all be able to choose the people in our lives - friends, lovers, co-workers, husbands, wives, whoever - to make important decisions on our behalf when we're too incapacitated, and that we should be able to grant visitation rights to the people we choose. Those rights shouldn't be granted automatically to family or spouses - there are plenty of instances when that kind of automatic granting of rights to "kin" is counterproductive and even dangerous for the sick person.


Nancy Polikoff's, book
, which I've reviewed for Windy City Times (read the review here
http://tinyurl.com/3vw6ja), provides alternative examples of how to do this beyond the marriage model.

As for the army - we're living in times of war. Needless, pointless, brutal wars that noone asked for. I'm happy to support the idea of an army whose main function is to keep the peace and deliver relief, and I'm glad you point out that possibility - but I think you'll agree that's not where we're at. I'm responding to the state of war we live in, and it's fair to say that we're entrenched in it for far too long to come. And I think it's important, at least for me, to be critical of people who join in order to help expand a particular empire's dominion (and I've already made an exception for those who're compelled to join for economic reasons).

As for whether or not there is a monolithic gay community or not - my point is that there's a certain very powerful section of the gay community that's able to pretend that we all think the same, and convinces others of that. What's changed since 1972 is the enormous clout of the Gay Right/Gay Status Quo and we have to take that change into consideration. Those of us who've never agreed with its agenda need to speak up more loudly.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 12, 2008 11:24 PM

Yasmin,

The slow manner of change I refer to is that change that can be within the cultural mores of the society in question. Cannibalism ended when cultural mores changed, so can militarism. Do I presume you or I have all the answers? Surely not. Kenya cannot do (or progress at the same rates)as what India, Pakistan or Bangladesh can, dependent upon which topic you discuss. The only expectation I place on the world is a reduction in stupid violence (aka war) and isolation of those who would perform it. Not just Gay violence, but all violent acts deserve condemnation. And Yasmin, in that I live in Thailand is it not apparent that I do not wish to live a "Gay male American Life" whatever that is? I would like to see Americans look outward and try to figure out why certain parts of the world hate the United States. How can we change that perception? Yes, government, but it is also American cultural arrogance and requires generational change. There are still plenty of older American whites who will not vote for a person of another race even if it is against their financial interest.

The important thing is not to slice and dice anyone else, but the simple fact of continuing progress of all humanity. We have a long way to go, but much to feel hopeful about.

I just want to say that you're drawing some false equivalencies. I think that DADT needs to go because it enshrines injustice and homophobia in one of our nation's most visible institutions -- not because I like that institution or have any interest (like seriously, none) in ever joining it in a million years.

Jericho,

I appreciate your comment, but I want to clarify the point of my piece. DADT is plainly discriminatory in that it explicitly forbids gays from openly participating in an institution that's otherwise open to a larger citizenry. DOMA is similarly discriminatory.

The problem with where we are today as a "community" is that we don't communicate any complexity regarding our positions these issues. Instead, our repudiation of DADT is wrapped in a nationalist discourse around all gays only wanting to fight nobly for their country without any sense of the fraught position in which DADT leaves anti-war queers. "Our" position on gay marriage assumes that gays simply want to marry and show their love for each other just like straight couples, without acknowledging that a lot of us want no part of marriage and that many straights and queers live in complicated kinship groups.

So, my point isn't that DADT is right but that we queers ought to be having more public conversations (like this one!) about how we relate to the politics of the positions we might feel compelled to take on behalf of a "community."

I'm struck by the number of times people contradict my piece by insisting that a)the gay community is a lot more complex and b)there's never been a unified and monolithic gay agenda (Jericho, this isn't particular to you - I'm making a general point here). It's only now, it seems, that we grant ourselves the luxury of hindsight and insist that we've always been debating these points among ourselves. I know only too well, from my own years in activism, how brutal the monolithic gay machine can be when it comes to squelching queer dissent

So, please, everyone, let's not pretend now that we haven't allowed the Gay Right to present a homogenous view of who we are for nearly two decades now (and I fully realise that "allowed" is too uncomplicated a term - bear with me for argument's sake). I'm really glad to see these responses to my piece - there isn't an easy and quick way to cut through all these issues and this complicated conversation is worth having.

Thanks.

As far as hate crimes go, I actually avoided a confrontation by telling the person that, what they were doing was considered a hate crime here in Austin, and that I would call the cops if they persisted. The threat actually made him back off and stop harrasing me from that point on.

In some situations there can be a deterrent effect to such statutes, just the knowledge that the victim is willing to take the steps necessary to have the person charged and incarcerated can be enough in some cases to turn some people away.

This of course isn't true for every situation, but for many people just knowing they can get into trouble for expressing their prejudices can serve as a deterrent.

diddlygrl,

Your comment causes me great concern, but not entirely for the obvious reasons. I am, of course, happy to hear that you were able to avoid a confrontation and, perhaps possible harm (I don’t know the details, but let’s assume the worst could have happened.)

But I’d ask you and everyone else in support of hate crimes legislation to consider what it means to live in a society where we readily – and, increasingly, only -- use the threat of police force, incarceration, and *enhanced penalties* to stop harassment. Threatening and harassing a person is already a misdemeanour or a felony in most states– why do we want to enhance penalties because of the identity of the victim? Nobody can doubt that crimes against communities exist – why is hate crimes legislation the default solution?

Again, I ask everyone to consider why we think the identity of the victim warrants greater penalties. And to consider the fact that hate crime laws also involve greater surveillance and thought and speech policing. All of that has a detrimental effect on civil society.

Well, I think part of it has to do with the problem that, in our society some people see the laws about harrasment, assault and other such misdemeanors as applying to only "normal" people, ie. people who are like the person who is doiing the harrasing, etc. There is unfortunately, a cultural tradition behind this perception. Back in Jim Crow days, a black person who complained to a cop about being harassed or assaulted was likely to get laughed at, if not just outright arrested for being "uppity".

This also applied to the queer community. It was almost a rite of passage to go bash the "fags" in some quarters. Changing this attitude is hard, since there is resistance to the "normalization" of the LGBT community by such bedrock institutions like churches. It is not necessarily the added penalties, but the reminder that the laws apply for all, not just 'normal' folk.

Personally, I feel all crime is by it's nature some form of hate crime. I see the added statutes more as a reminder that it applies to everyone, not just white, straight and christian people.

You are putting too much baggage on coming out. Coming out means not hiding or lying about relationships, and being willing to state that one has non-standard sexual/affectional orientation.It is appropriate for some people and inappropriate (unsafe) for others.

One doesn't have to sign up for HRC or softball or whatever. Many people want to fit in to the majority of the gay community, and many don't care.

visit dneiwert.blogspot.com for another view on hate crimes (no, this isn't a gay site, this is a site of a journalist who specializes in covering right-wing movements). Hate crimes such as burning crosses on a black family's lawn aren't directed just against the family who dared to move into a neighborhood, but against any other blacks thinking about moving to the neighborhood or even driving through on their way to some other destination.

Nancy,

My point was to question an idea that we’ve all taken for granted. It’s perfectly within my rights and that of others to wonder whether “coming out” means the same for us as it used to. It’s always worthwhile to stop and think about where “we” are heading as a “gay community” and what beliefs and idea we subscribe to.

As for the issue of hate crimes and hate crimes legislation: I'm familiar with the liberal support for the same, and it's neither a progressive position nor a leftist one and it has nothing to do with larger issues of social justice. I’ll just paste in (below) the relevant section from my previous response, about distinguishing between hate crimes and hate crimes legislation, and I’ll repeat my previous question: Why is hate crimes legislation seen as the default solution?

“As for hate crimes: Let's distinguish between the concept of hate crimes (a topic of discussion for another day) and the practical effects of hate crime legislation. I'm constantly struck by the fact that the gay community insists on talking about hate crimes, but avoids talking about what the law and order consequences are. So, if we're going to talk about hate crimes, let's be clear: we're not just asking that crimes be tabulated as such but that certain penalties be put in place. And we need to start asking ourselves what it means for us, as a community, to ask for those draconian penalties.”

yasmin, i also find your post thought-provoking and i have to agree in many cases with your statements.
i am not out at all, but to a few other gay people. i am not enthused about coming out, either. some of the guys i have spoken with are all about telling me to come out right away. and, no matter what we might like to feel, of course there is a "gay agenda." you've just brought it out in the open with this post.
thanks for your thoughtful words. they are comforting to those of us to whom coming out is a major thing.

Thanks, George, for your comment! I'm glad you found the post helpful in any way.

Robert,
Could we please not start getting personal here? I have no interest in trading comments about people's personal lives - my point about "The sheer arrogance of (mostly) U.S. gay men in assuming that everybody around the world wants to live gay lives exactly like theirs" is a general one. I honestly have no interest in proving or disproving whether or not that's true in your particular case.

My point about the larger mainstream gay community's arrogance in assuming it knows what's best for others is perfectly relevant and is quite true given what we've seen from those who think they're advocating on behalf of LGBTQ people elsewhere (again, please see the readings I refer to in my original post).

I also think it's worth being careful about what we term "progress." Let's not use the term loosely.

Anthony in Nashville | October 13, 2008 4:56 PM

This was a very provocative piece. I will have to re-read it when I have more time to digest it and check the links at the bottom, since they all seem to be blocked at my job.

One thing did confuse me, and it may be a function of my ignorance and/or unfamiliarity with the site....but I thought a "queer lesbian" who had sex with men was bisexual. Since you said you didn't identify with LGBT, I'm wondering where you align yourself. That part kind of through me off.

diddlygrl,

a) You've neither responded to my points nor answered my questions. What do you have to say about hate crimes legislation (NOT just the concept of hate crimes) and the issue of enhanced penalties? Why is hate crimes legislation the default solution?

b) Regarding race: The vast majority of people in prison are people of colour. Why apply something like hate crimes legislation when the law and order system is already designed to weigh against the disenfranchised, including people of colour and the poorer among us?

c) Regarding Jim Crow laws: The Federal Civil Rights Acts (which aimed to rectify these) have been mistakenly seen as the first hate crimes laws. They were in fact instituted in order to authorise "federal prosecution of the [KKK} and others...who denied the newly freed slaves their civil rights...[and] did not aim to enhance punishment or to recriminalise conduct already covered by criminal law." For further history, I recommend the book Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics, by James B. Jacobs and Kimberly Potter.

d) "I see the added statutes more as a reminder that it applies to everyone, not just white, straight and christian people." So, by your rationale: We should continue to strive to live in a world where we have to somehow keep reminding people that the laws apply to everyone. Why don't we,instead, strive to make sure that they do consistently apply to everyone? How about some serious reform efforts, instead of the relentless push to greater criminalisation and extended jail time that's so popular these days? Again: why is hate crimes legislation the default solution to a flawed prison system?

Let's get out of the identity trap and ask ourselves: What's the best solution to these problems (and the fact that, yes, people do get harassed and even killed because of their identity) that can be applied/considered to all in the fairest manner possible?


Anthony in Nashville | October 13, 2008 5:24 PM

Finally re-read your article.

You do have a point in saying the leading gay organizations have become obsessed with painting this image of LGBTQ folk being "just like" straights. I've always disagreed with that because, for better or worse, I do think we are different from straights. Not superior, but certainly different.

I think what these gay "leaders" have done is make a deal with the devil: more official recognition (from the state and Hollywood), in exchange for a less radical LGBTQ politics.

Perhaps you can correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that Don't Ask Don't Tell and marriage became the major issues after HIV cocktails made it a more manageable disease for the (mainly) upscale white men who could afford it.

Wolfgang E. B. Wolfgang E. B. | October 13, 2008 5:58 PM

Yasmin, you've made some interesting observations, and I agree that it's important for all of us to think for ourselves rather than merely buying into the "Standard GLBT Rhetoric." But I must disagree with your points.

Gay Marriage: Yes, marriage in general discriminates against single people, and I happen to be single by choice myself. I have no problem with the idea of eliminating all legal and tax benefits for married people.

However, there is currently no push to do this, and it is unlikely to happen in the near future. Looking at the law as it stands today, gay couples, and some couples in which one or both is/are trans, are not treated as equal to cissexual heterosexual couples. This affects not only couples, but all LGBT people. It makes us second-class citizens.

Gays in the Military: The way the Bush Administration has abused our military power is despicable, and I agree that no one should feel he or she has to join the military for economic reasons. But the option of joining should be available to all qualified applicants, and having a non-hetero sexual orientation should not disqualify a person.

The military can be an excellent source of job training for people wishing to become pilots, engineers, doctors, etc., especially during peacetime. Again, this goes back to the issue of equality. It affects us all, even those of us who have no interest in joining the military.

Hate Crimes: When a person is murdered for no other reason than the fact that he or she is a member of a particular minority group, it is an act of terrorism, because it causes fear in all members of that group. This makes the damage more widespread--It extends well beyond the victim and his or her family and friends.

Also, those included in hate crimes legislation are groups who happen to be more likely to become victims of violent crime. Trans people are one of the most vulnerable groups. What's more, police officers in some jurisdictions ignore crimes against trans people, (and gays and lesbians as well), and in a many frightening cases, have even arrested the victims! Hate crimes laws send a message to both potential criminals and law enforcement that we are in fact human beings deserving the same protections as other human beings. If that requires the threat of harsher penalties, then so be it.

I am against the death penalty however. I also hope there comes a day when we don't need hate crimes legislation. We're not there yet though.

Coming Out: Of course, as Diddlygrl points out, we trans people have no choice pre and mid-transition, and sometimes even post-transition. As a gay transman, I do have a choice about whether to come out as gay. I agree that no one should be pressured to come out, especially those living in places where doing so could be dangerous.

I do applaud those who are out though. They make me feel much less alone in the world, and they also are in the best position to make this world a better place for us all. I view coming out as akin to going to the front lines in the battle for GLBT liberty.

Personally, I'm about two years into transition and just beginning to pass as male. I'm out to most of my family and friends, but only three co-workers. (I haven't started changing my identity documents yet.) So, I'm not nearly as out as I could be, and will have to be in the near future. I simply haven't worked up the courage yet. On the other hand, I'm told that most of the people I haven't come out to think I'm a lesbian because I'm so butch, (right down to the steadily thickening beard and mustache), and trans isn't on most people's radar yet.

All said, I believe in a united LGBT community. We have a lot of work to do to achieve that, but I think it is necessary if we are to gain true equality.

Anthony,

Thanks for your comment. I know you also sent another one, asking my identification as a "queer lesbian who sleeps with men." That one doesn't seem to have shown up yet on this page, but I'll respond to it anyway.

I don't identify as a bisexual because I find that label too constrictive. I use "queer" even though I've long felt that queer theory has failed to enact a radical politics (I wrote about that in a post titled
Angelina Jolie, Queer Theory, and the Gods of Neoliberalism
. Still, I find "queer" the most potentially flexible term I could use and cling to its radical promise (even if that promise has often failed!)

I find that the term "bisexual" doesn't go beyond sex and gender binaries; it implicitly and explicitly prioritises man-woman relations above all other possible configurations. I identify - politically and personally - as a lesbian. Hence: "queer lesbian who has sex with men" :-)

As for your point: "...but it seems to me that Don't Ask Don't Tell and marriage became the major issues after HIV cocktails made it a more manageable disease for the (mainly) upscale white men who could afford it." Yes, absolutely - I agree!

Wolfgang,

Thanks for your comment. I've addressed a number of your points in previous responses to others. Coming out is still a fraught enterprise for many, and even those of us who think of ourselves as "out" find ourselves having to "come out" on a daily basis because yes, most of straight society still sees us as the non-normative and insists that we keep our real and/or metaphorical identity papers in full view at all times. Ideally, we should be working for a world where noone makes any assumptions about anyone's sexual or gender identity.

But I have to say that I don't agree with the theory of "trickle-down" activism or of enacting horrendous law and order "solutions" while we wait for a better world. We should be consistently pushing as hard as we can for the best possible solutions. There's too much at stake to compromise.

Hate crimes legislation and marriage are not just short-term solutions -- for too many of us, they are *the* solutions. And it's easy - as the current bloated state of the prison industrial system tells us -- to forget the consequences of the solutions we seek. What's supposed to happen to the millions jailed for life or put to death while we cheer on idea of enhanced penalties? Do we magnanimously let them go once we've decided that, at some future date that might never arrive, there's no longer a need for hate crimes legislation?

While I value the idea of community, I don't believe in a united community above all else. I believe in a political and radical world. And sometimes that means we give up our idea of community in favour of solutions that can actually benefit everyone, not just the narrow interests of a few. In our case, the concept of "true equality" has become shorthand for privilege.

Bravo Robert.

But Yasmin I am confused about something. You said "Ask: So, do you really think that married and coupled people deserve more benefits than single people?

You make it sound like married couples get special priveleges that singles don't get. I may be a little naive, but I am not sure I know what bonuses are available to those couples and why. Could you explain it to me please?
Jacob