Editors' Note: Guest blogger Susan Raffo lives in Minneapolis where she writes, is a bodyworker, parents, lives in communal housing, organizes and, when the weather permits, gardens. She is planning on going to Detroit for the US Social Forum. She'll see you there.
What's a queer to do? You're tired of the war, tired of folks being poor, tired of a lack of healthcare, welfare and general radical love. Showing up in your local park during the last weekend in June doesn't seem make you feel better as one corporation after another vies for your attention with rainbow key chains, cell phone holders and shopping bags. The orgy of plastic free things feels so much emptier than the orgies you used to remember. Less skin, more swag. What happened? Were did your people go? And how do you find them again?
In the old days, it was pretty easy. Being gay (the all-encompassing word back then for genderqueer/sexqueer) usually meant being smart about a lot of things. In particular, we seemed to understand more rapidly the ways in which our bodies were connected to every other body that had been and was being policed. When on June 28, 1970, the Gay Liberation Front of NYC organized a Gay Liberation March to commemorate the Stonewall Rebellion of the year before, the organizers aimed to free sexuality, transform the family as an institution, end anti-queer violence, and develop a new vocabulary for the erotic. To do this, it was understood that the march had to be organized against consumerism, militarism, racism and sexism. You couldn't do one without the other. That's what we used to understand.
It wasn't until the 1980s that "Gay Liberation" turned into the word, "Pride," which then evolved into themes like "Equality through Visibility" or "Proud of our Families." Not one of these themes points a finger, however politely, at those holding power. None of them talks about the differences among us, the ways in which being GLBT can sometimes be just one of your worries when you are also struggling with homelessness or a deported parent or a lack of accessible employment or the US government violating yet another treaty. None of those Pride themes imagines a different or better world. Instead, they just try and fit some of us more easily into the world we already have. That doesn't feel very visionary. Let alone hopeful. And it sure leaves a whole bunch of us out of the picture, particularly those for whom the current world just plain doesn't work.
So what are you to do with all if this? Where do you go in the middle of June? Do you just throw back your head and howl for the long gone days of the Gay Liberation Front?
Well, that would be fine if you did it really loudly and in front of a lot of people with some clearly written hand-outs that you can share, all about why you are throwing your head back and howling. However you do it, this June, please join with me to do something, really ANYTHING different from the cuddly gay approach. There are a lot of options.
- If there is a Pride celebration in your hometown, do something to stand out. While a lot of the bigger cities have "Queers against the War," and "Gay Shame" contingencies, a lot of the smaller cities and towns are largely protest-quiet. Gather some of your friends and, if you're feeling artsy, make a float with some queer fabulous approach to demanding universal health care, or recognizing the truth of queer homelessness. Really, anything that shows we are more than marriage, don't ask don't tell, and ending discrimination in (mostly middle class) jobs. If you're not the artsy type, then just get some big paper, scrawl words on them, and walk or roll down the street carrying those words. I'm particularly fond of things like: "We're a movement, not a market," and "Marriage does not equal liberation."
- Write an op-ed for your local LGBT media outlet, if they'll let you. There are all kinds of op-eds that others have written that you can try and get reprinted. Queers for Economic Justice, Bilerico.com and others have lots of great material that pushes hard against the assimilationist approach to LGBT organizing.
- Go to the US Social Forum in Detroit in June 2010. It's organized right before the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, from June 21 through June 26th and, like the Stonewall Rebellion, the US Social Forum is visioned and led by people of color, poor folks, young people - all of those most affected by the ravages of global capitalism and, dare we say it, heteronormativity - a big fancy word meaning the assumption that normal is straight-acting, straight-being, and yes, straight-buying. In this case, "straight" doesn't just mean heterosexual, it means big time power-status-quo. Some of the straightest people I know have a same sex partner. And like those Gay Liberation days, the US Social Forum is against consumerism, militarism, racism and sexism. And it's for a lot of love, connection and making beautiful communities.
Truth be told those early Gay Liberation days weren't perfect. Contrary to what I said in an earlier paragraph, gay didn't always mean genderqueer/desirequeer. A lot of times it meant gay men. And other times it meant gays and lesbians. Too often it meant white. Across our history, we have made mistakes, people were left out, and we've been very confused about power, about liberation and about individual versus collective strategies. But we were trying to do things differently.
And, even though it can be hard to see it through the haze of mainstreaming, there are still a lot of people out there trying to do things differently. People who want to honor the legacy of those fierce transfolk of color, those loud and visionary bodies who ran out of the Stonewall Inn, refusing to be pushed back one more time. Doing things differently means being committed to ending all of what was trying to push those fabulous queers back. Doing things differently means not forcing anyone to have to choose between their race, their class, gender, desire and cultural beliefs. It means recognizing that we are strongest when we build from our grassroots, when those who are most oppressed are at the center of envisioning what must come next. This is different from how things sadly most often happen, when it is the folks with the most money who are at the center of visioning what comes next.
Here in Minneapolis, the snow is melting. That means that summer is just around the corner. It's time to start planning. Start building your floats, making your signs and creating your street theater. If you go to a Pride celebration, get crowds of people to just wander past those corporate tables without picking anything up. Tell them our real friends don't worry if loving us is profitable. Don't be afraid to have the leatherfolk dancing next to the childcare space. Make out in public. Refuse to use spaces that are not accessible to people with disabilities. Demand all kinds of access. Go to the US Social Forum. Say things like "Open immigration" and "No more policing any of our bodies, including racial profiling." Do it with flare and drama or do it directly. Love all of those people who get mad at you and tell you to go back into your commie pinko closet. Love them, smile at them, and then flounce the other way. It's the queer thing to do.