Alex Blaze

Hope and change

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 16, 2010 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: bisexual, Chris Hayes, lawrence v. texas, lesbian, prison, sodomy laws, the nation, transgender, transsexual

Even though it's not specifically about LGBT issues, I think that with the amount of disappointment people in the community have faced this past year that Christopher Hayes hits the nail on the head here:

American progressives were the first to identify that something was deeply wrong with the direction the country was heading in and the first to provide a working hypothesis for the cause: George W. Bush. During the initial wave of antiwar mobilization, in 2002, much of the ire focused on Bush himself. But as the decade stretched on, the causal account of the country's problems grew outward in concentric circles: from Bush to his administration (most significantly, Cheney) to the Republican Party to--finally (and not inaccurately)--the entire project of conservative governance.[...]

If the working hypothesis that bound this unwieldy coalition together--independents, most liberals and the Washington establishment--was that the nation's troubles were chiefly caused by the occupants of the White House, then this past year has served as a kind of natural experiment. We changed the independent variable (the party and people in power) and can observe the results. It is hard, I think, to come to any conclusion but that the former hypothesis was insufficient.

It's exactly the case for LGBT people, especially those in the community who are focused on DOMA, DADT, and ENDA. We saw Bush as a brick wall to beat our heads against, because, as both sides in the ENDA/GENDA/SPLENDA debate in 2007 acknowledged, he wasn't going to sign anything anyway and we definitely didn't have a veto-proof majority in Congress.

Obama was supposed to change that, and many of us invested an incredible amount of time, money, and talent to get him elected thinking that it would be easy sailing after he got in office.

Well, we were wrong. Homophobia and transphobia are deeper than political party or even political ideology, and there are reasons that they exist outside of "People are ignorant."

Hayes goes on to talk about why we work to make the US more just and democratic, even if we'll never get there:

Michels recognized the challenge his work presented to his comrades on the left and viewed the task of democratic socialists as a kind of noble, endless, Sisyphean endeavor, which he described by invoking a German fable. In it, a dying peasant tells his sons that he has buried a treasure in their fields. "After the old man's death the sons dig everywhere in order to discover the treasure. They do not find it. But their indefatigable labor improves the soil and secures for them a comparative well-being."

"The treasure in the fable may well symbolize democracy," Michels wrote. "Democracy is a treasure which no one will ever discover by deliberate search. But in continuing our search, in laboring indefatigably to discover the undiscoverable, we shall perform a work which will have fertile results in the democratic sense."

After a rather dispiriting few months, the treasure in this case may seem impossibly remote, but one thing the Obama campaign got right was its faith in America's history of continually and fruitfully tilling the soil of democracy, struggling against odds until, at certain moments of profound progressive change, a new treasure is improbably found.

Ultimately, even if we get everything on our legislative wishlist passed - an end to DOMA and DADT, ENDA, anti-bullying legislation at the state-level, fair laws governing gender markers on official documents - there will still be homophobia and transphobia. There will still be people fired for transitioning. There will still be gay folks in the military harassed brutally for being open about their sexuality. There will still be gender-bending kids beat up on the playground. There will still be families kicking their queer teens out of the house. There will still be straight exes denying their newly-out partners from seeing their kids. There will still be violence in the streets against two women who hold each others' hands.

Police officers are still finding ways to arrest gay and bisexual men for having sex even after Lawrence ended sodomy laws. States are still rolling back funding for anti-retrovirals that was won a decade ago. Transsexual women are still being tortured in prison in ways that our criminal justice system doesn't even impose on cissexual felons.

This stuff runs deeper than "Democrat or Republican," and there are plenty of people who support in the abstract what we want out of the political system who, themselves, are dealing with these issues and probably will their whole lives. And it's also deeper than "If people would just meet us, they'd like us." There are plenty of people who know us and don't particularly like us, and even still they find new, creative ways to love the sinner but hate the sin.

But does that mean that we give up? Absolutely not. LGBT activism is a huge, constant undertaking that has to maintained so that the water doesn't find its own level, so that people don't fall back on the comforting narratives, simplistic worldviews, and authoritarian impulses that led to queer oppression in the first place or finding new ideologies and epistemologies that subordinate people whose gender and sexuality don't quite fit into the pre-determined boxes centers of power make up to control populations.

In the words of Michel's fable, our choice is to till the soil, with the complete knowledge that we'll never find the treasure of a perfectly queer-friendly society, or we can let the field dry up.

via digby


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I for one need an insulin injection after that.

So we just have to hang on for another 14 years until the next opportunity comes along.

That's the earliest time we could have Democrats controlling both houses, a fillibuster-proof majority, and a Democrat in the White House.

The earliest. It could be considerably later.

I'm Australian, and in no position to criticise you. But I think your system is broken.

"There are plenty of people who know us and don't particularly like us, and even still they find new, creative ways to love the sinner but hate the sin."

Alex, what do you mean "plenty of people?" I think you're obsessed with the wrong side.

LGBT activism is a huge, constant undertaking that has to maintained so that the water doesn't find its own level, so that people don't fall back on the comforting narratives, simplistic worldviews, and authoritarian impulses that led to queer oppression in the first place ..."

It doesn't have to be a "huge, constant undertaking" if we let go of "politics and protest" and simply focused on the people. Without any of the "activism" you mention above, people still would have changed because we have matured. The World has changed - old ideas are fading away.

As a "movement" we are too focused on the enemy, instead of focusing on enrolling people in our equality. We demand instead of asking for help, we condemn instead of convince, we alienate instead of educate.

It is especially troubling when we invite our younger generation to fight, and angrily push forward with a singular focus on the (now vanishing) enemy. Young people didn't elect Obama because of anger, they did it because of hope. We need to give those same young people hope about our full equality.

People have the "power" you reference. Yet, we do nothing to do ignite their interest and support. Instead, we have this false idea that "exposing bigots" and vilifying people who disagree with us is a strategy, when it actually hurts our efforts. We continue to empower this small crowd and create the false impression that THEY are the enemy and that they are the majority. They are not. They represent less than one-third of all Americans and a real strategy would be to ignore them and eventually marginalize them. It is the other two-thirds of Americans that we should spend our time, energy and resources on.

We will be equal when people believe we are. They are waiting to be asked.

It doesn't have to be a "huge, constant undertaking" if we let go of "politics and protest" and simply focused on the people. Without any of the "activism" you mention above, people still would have changed because we have matured. The World has changed - old ideas are fading away.

To me it seems like convincing people instead of politicians is a much larger undertaking, which is why we tend to focus on the politicians. Instead of worrying about the 300,000,000 people in the US, we focus on the several hundred federal politicians and maybe a couple thousand state-level ones. It's a lot more focused, although it won't lead to massive change. We speak to the 300,000,000 in smaller, more disperse ways.

I don't think people are maturing, or, if that's what we want to call it, that it's happening on it's own. It's been the result of LGBT people coming out, media activism, small changes in laws, people talking with their families and friends, and huge, monumental shifts in the way we understand sexuality and gender that came with major events like the AIDS epidemic and second-wave feminism.

I largely agree with the rest of your comment, that we should be focusing on the moveables instead of the fundies (although pointing out where the fundies are wrong, IMHO, is part of that process).

Where we disagree, and this is entirely academic, is where you say that we will be "equal." My point is that we won't ever be (unless and until we move on to another way of understanding sexuality that erases lines between gay and straight, which could happen in a few centuries), because homophobia and transphobia exist for a variety of reasons that are hard to isolate and overcome (I could make my list of why I think homophobia exists, and it'd probably incorrect or incomplete).

Homophobia didn't just fall out of the sky because homosexuality didn't just start existing in the mid-1800's. Old ideas are being replaced by newer ones, and the newer ones will be replaced again, and on and on.

Now, if the point is to get some legislation passed and improve people's lives, that'll probably happen in a few decades (I have little hope for the Boies/Olson case, but that's another topic). But that won't solve all our problems.

Instead of worrying about the 300,000,000 people in the US, we focus on the several hundred federal politicians and maybe a couple thousand state-level ones.

There are 250 million adults in the US. On the issue of "equality" 150 million would support us. THAT is the majority, but we do nothing to demonstrate that fact. They don't need to be "convinced" they need to be enrolled. UNTIL we do that, you have NO hope convincing enough politicians to "grant" our equality.

I don't think people are maturing, or, if that's what we want to call it, that it's happening on it's own. It's been the result of LGBT people coming out, media activism, small changes in laws, people talking with their families and friends, and huge, monumental shifts in the way we understand sexuality and gender that came with major events like the AIDS epidemic and second-wave feminism."

It is easy to suggest that WE have created these changes, but they may have happened in spite of our efforts. The issue is beliefs," primarily religious beliefs. Most religious people have matured and are much more liberal and even progressive in their thinking. The truth is that for many "religious" people the Bible isn't as literal as it once was. People are much more "open-mined" - with or without our influence.

Where we disagree, and this is entirely academic, is where you say that we will be "equal."

For me, being "equal" means being nothing less or more than any other human being. For that to happen judgement must disappear. In that regard, perhaps we'll never be fully equal. But our fight is about equality and it is winnable within 3-4 years if we get our fellow citizens to join us. We are NOT doing that.

We continue to paint ourselves as an "oppressed minority" (needing faux protections, sympathy and special laws) instead of creating our own majority. Just imagine how well-behaved your politicians would be if the majority of Americans supported our equality. That should be our goal and it is something only WE can do. We should get started.

"We continue to paint ourselves as an "oppressed minority" (needing faux protections, sympathy and special laws) instead of creating our own majority."

In other words, we make ourselves into "professional victims" and then try to use this as our primary political tactic. I totally agree with Andrew W that "playing the victim" will only get us so far --- it is a tactic of diminishing returns, because it is a very transparent tactic and eventually people get tired of it, the effectiveness of the argument erodes, and finally for every person that still buys the line, there are ten who see through it. At this point, there is a potential backlash against the side that is over-playing "the victim card".

The problem I see with Andrew W's argument is that politicians tend to reflect new social viewpoints not when a slight majority is formed, but only when the new viewpoint becomes overwhelming and unquestionable. Take "global warming" for example. Reading in an opinion poll that 51% of his constituency believes in global warming does not mean that said politician will support efforts to control global warming --- it is only when a large portion of his constituency becomes activist about it, and in the absence of an opposition of similar size, will he begin to support emission controls, carbon caps and such. The pressure to change position must reach two thresholds: (1) it must become clear that it is the politically popular thing to do, and (2) the pressure for the new viewpoint must over-compensate for the political inertia, or "embarrassment", of doing a public flip-flop on the issue.

So ... Andrew W may be correct that 150 million Americans (about 50%) are willing to support us --- but that does not mean that the corresponding political representatives (i.e., Congresspersons and Senators, and corresponding state legislators) will immediately support us as well. The "tipping point" for the politician is different and more demanding than it is for the constituency.

Well said AJ.

The 150 million I referenced are just adults. They represent almost 60% of all adults in the US.

Thankfully, young people aren't a challenge. The majority of those currently under 18 (75 million) are likely to be similar (or better) than the 18-29 year olds - 70% of that age group supports our equality.

It appears from all the data I have obtained that we could actually get about two-thirds of our fellow citizens to support our equality. THAT should be our priority. THAT would change everything.

Plus, we can't convince politicians (certainly not without polling data) because that's not how they work.

The majority of politicians do what the majority of their constituents want or they're not politicians for long.

Changing the polls is really the only change we can believe in.

Gee, Alex ... there's not much I can argue about here ... but how did the preacher know that the field ... uh ... workers ... needed this lecture and pep talk?

While reading, I was thinking about which Negro spiritual should we be using as the background soundtrack? I'm no expert on Negro spirituals, but Swing Low, Sweet Chariot might get the point across that for the generation my age, the only Promised Land we're likely to see is in the sky. (BTW, for the sake of the record, I may be a theist but I'm not at all sure that there is an afterlife.)

The GLBT legislative agenda approximates equality only loosely, and similarly to the way of the civil rights laws passed in the 1960's --- some issues may be similar and some very different, certain holes in the system can be plugged, certain other things can be mandated, but neither an individual's nor a society's viewpoint can be legislated, nor can behavior be micro-legislated. Achievement of the current legislative agenda is not our gateway into a trouble-free existence. And my question is, What's new about this? Nothing, of course.

P.S. I should add ... at least someone should ... that the situation is not quite as bleak as this post makes it appear: Every improvement we achieve, if we can make it stick, it is an improvement for people like us in future generations. GLBT people of my generation are already able to see this --- in fact it is the major effect that makes our movement so generationally fragmented. The generational differences we suffer with are symptoms of our own past successes, a very mixed bag.

What should the strategy be AJ?

It seems most people prefer to continue to do what we've been doing for 40-50 years. With all the many efforts and tactics I see almost NO effort to change the minds (or demonstrate changed minds) and a continued belief that there is an elusive "political solution" to our equality.

Good question, and I don't know ... maybe we should try getting signatures on petitions more often, even when those petitions don't have any direct role in a legal or political process. Just a thought. Letter and postcard campaigns might be similar.

"one thing the Obama campaign got right was its faith in America's history of continually and fruitfully tilling the soil of democracy, struggling against odds until, at certain moments of profound progressive change, a new treasure is improbably found"

Blah, blah, blah. More hagiography centered on the Messiah for the Gays. YES, the "grassroots," as well as untold numbers of local and state office holders saw, some variation of that same vision...and, THEN, replicated the EXACT same mistake that supporters of the man they demonized to get there made in 1993: most gave up “tilling the soil” and abandoned their own responsibility to the fantasy that Barry was the dreamy hero who going to singlehandedly charge upon Washington on his muscular white steed and slay homo/trans hating dragons, in fact, all anti progressive dragons. Quite the contrary, under his fear of confrontation, under his lack of leadership, the Democrats in Congress have repeatedly acted as if they were the minority rather than the majority party, so thrilled to be in the ballroom they’re afraid to dance.

Yes, I still get e-mails from Organizing for America [read the Obama Jugend] wrapped in S'mores encouraging involvement [and $$$$ contributions to] some alleged united local and national front, but the fact is THEY don't give a flying fuck about LGBT issues either, as their suggestions of top issues in their recent poll of members to name their goals for 2010 left us out entirely....just as Candidate Obama's 80+ page blueprint for change did...a fact the majority of swooning LGBTs totally ignored.

But betrayal by St. Barack is but a micro example of the macro bankruptcy in having long ago decided to put most of our eggs in the basket of supposedly friendly politicians.

When I first became involved in gay activism [NO, Nixon not Lincoln was POTUS], "consciousness raising" was still very much in, and the road to gay equality [yes, Ts were almost universally ignored then] was seen as beginning with education, first of ourselves and, then, of nongays. I, as many others, spoke to every gathering of people that would have us, my experience from the rare high school class to organizing gay panels for Kinsey Institute conferences, and writing in university newspapers.

The purpose was actually two-fold, of course. The first, to create a more accepting community on the family/work/social level, and, the second, to create voter support for gay positive legislation.

That, of course, meant convincing legislators to vote for us because the majority of their constituents supported us.

BUT, it was not just time consuming, but resulted in all kinds of internal conflicts about image. Such efforts attracted a lot of people whose obvious purpose was to act out and freak out non gays. An actual example: the gay resident of a college dorm I was speaking to who, when asked what it was like being out there, bragged about the number of "trade" blowjobs he'd given to other residents [20 in a month as I recall].

Is there anything "wrong" with such a mutually satisfactory, consensual exchange of sexual favor? Certainly not. But that was not what the majority of our listeners thought, nor the majority of voters at the time.

In short, while continuing the occasional battle in the courts, national, then more localized groups, abandoned the education effort for the model that had worked so well for years with some other minority groups, particularly Jews and labor groups: curry a politician’s favor with campaign contributions and endorsements.

After a slow start [the first out gay speakers at a DNC convention were only allowed to speak in the middle of the early morning when few Americans were still in front of their TV sets, and some Dem Presidential candidates refused our money], this strategy demonstrably accelerated our support, and continues to, in urban areas with more or less "liberal" constituent majorities.

But the biggest flaw was not in trying to get politicians to ignore their constituents, and imagining that “fly over states” were irrelevant, but in ignoring the fact that all this time the Antigay Industry has continued to poison the public about us, creating and fertilizing constituencies that have repeatedly outmaneuvered or simply outnumbered us and our nonLGLBT supporters. After CA and Maine, is there any sane person still out there who believes we can neutralize such decades of brainwashing with a few months or weeks of touchy feely TV commercials?

As marriage/DOMA/constitutional defeats in state after state, and the surrender of Clinton on DADT and federal DOMA and ENDA, and the essential abandonment by Obama Inc., prove, our hope that every politician would ignore the homophobia of their constituents [the loudest ones anyway] turned out to be a fantasy…which it remains.
So, what’s my POSITIVE suggestion? To address the generalized underlying resistance, which still centers primarily around discomfort or outright hostility to defiance by LGBTs of traditional gender expectations, and, will, I agree, continue with many for many years even after being made legislatively equal, we should resurrect grassroots-based educational efforts.

In the meantime, to advance legislative equality itself, we need to begin a pro-active campaign to create the kind of engaged support from the nonLGBT community we’ve mysteriously never seriously pursued [except in acute defense against, e.g., Prop 8]. And we should begin with the two issues that already have the greatest support in public opinion polls: ENDA and repealing DADT.

Our national groups should be taking some of the millions we send them each year and take out well-reasoned, well-written full page ads in every mainstream, large readership newspaper…and not just the typical ones liberals go to such as the NY Times. I'd begin with "USA Today." And those ads should address not just the injustices involvement but how contacting the White House, Congress, their statehouses, to rectify them is in THEIR personal interest as well as ours. While not impossible, ENDA would be a little harder to build a resonating case for than DADT. Despite what voters tell pollsters, as Servicemembers United has been saying for some time, they will never become actively engaged in the effort to overturn DADT until they understand the national security risk, the risk to their own families of discharging “mission critical” gay servicemembers such as linguists.

If more nongay Americans knew that there is some chance that 9/11 could have been stopped had there been more linguists available to translate the message intercepted on 9/10 but not interpreted until 9/12 to read “Tomorrow is zero hour,” that the main reason we have a shortage of linguists is because of the number that are gay who have been discharged, perhaps they wouldn’t be sitting on their hands while their representatives in Congress ignore us.

I'm surprised by the comments. While I consider your posts almost exclusively brilliant, I found this one to be uniquely beautiful/inspirational/insightful. The fable was charming and your analysis illuminating.

I wanted to eloquently extend the fable, comparing your work on this blog to...some sort of fertility granting mechanism feeding the soil of my youth, but it gets weird. While this blog probs won't make the world perfect, it has notably improved the quality and direction of my life from growing up a gay kid in Mormon Utah to going to school in Oklahoma.

Mostly I wanted to comment simply because this outstanding post should have something identifiably positive said about it.

Haha. Thanks, Garrison, you made my day!

I actually meant it to be positive, a lot more positive than some of the other stuff I've been writing this past year that's all been gloom and doom. But I guess I was starting from a different place than most people!