Alex Blaze

Identity doesn't equal politics

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 24, 2008 12:56 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media, The Movement, The Movement
Tags: Broderism, feminism, LGBT, Out magazine, queer, Religious Right

I was going to post about that Out magazine article about closeted Republican staffers in the village that got a few responses from a few gay blogs like Gay Patriot, Chris Crain, and Box Turtle Bulletin.

I agree with them, the article is stupid, but I don't see the bias that they did. It just seems like another pseudo-wonkish article from a gaystream publication about a situation that the author doesn't really understand, didn't really feel like researching, and didn't even have the focus to make it about one subject for a whole three pages, so he haphazardly regurgitated established narratives on a handful of related-but-not-so-related topics and called it a day.

"Out can't do politics" isn't exactly breaking news.

But what it did make me think of was the vastly different politics many of us queers have, specifically about LGBT issues, about what constitutes progress and regress and hypocrisy and someone being on "our side." We need a word to describe this ideological diversity.

Do I even need to go into how not all women are feminists, and those who are don't necessarily believe the same things regarding women's liberation? Why is it assumed, then, that every gay person is for "gay rights"? Or that every trans person is for the same sort of trans rights (I've learned my lesson on that on this site)?

It's something that comes up fairly often, sometimes from within the community, sometimes from the opposition. I don't know how many times I hear a spin-off of "Let's stop this in-fighting and focus on the real enemy," with the assumption that we all already agree on the goals of this loose band of activisms and activists known as the LGBT rights movement.

It's a queer Broderism, asking that everyone just stop fighting and agree with the speaker. The arrogance in such calls is breath-taking, but it isn't surprising considering how much tunnel-vision there is in current queer activism.

It also comes from the Right - they call us all "Radical Homosexual Activists" and assume that we're all fighting for the same "agenda." According to them, I suppose, all this in-fighting and debating, like the recent one on trans-inclusiveness regarding the ENDA, is just a ruse (set up by the HRC, probably) to make it seem as if we aren't all working from the same hive-mind to criminalize Christianity, destroy the family, and make everyone hate America.

I think those marching orders come with the microwave oven we all receive when we've been recruited into the homosexual lifestyle.

Consider this quotation from Barney Frank in the Out article:

What [Michael] Rogers does makes some Democrats squeamish, because they think no one should ever decide for someone else when he must come out of the closet. But Representative Frank is not among Rogers's detractors.

"I think what Rogers does is legitimate," Frank tells me. "I think hypocrisy is something to go after. If you had pro-life people having abortions, or if Sarah Brady had a gun, there would be no hesitation. Think of any other context in which people would be allowed to blatantly violate the public policies they advocate and say, 'I have a right to keep this secret.'"

That "hypocrisy" claim only works if we assume that being gay automatically means that someone has to support same-sex marriage, ENDA, hate crimes legislation, and whatever else appears on our list of legislative goals to check-off in order to fulfill our truncated vision of what a queer-accepting society looks like. A pro-lifer getting an abortion is a direct contradiction of her stated position; a gay state representative who voted against same-sex marriage who hasn't himself married or tried to is not such a contradiction.

But I guess we all want to get married or something. Was that also in those marching orders? My copy is too cum-stained to read.

Remember this from pro-gay-hater Janet Folger on gays from an old Republican debate?

So now Mr. Thompson wants churches, Christian day cares, the Boy Scouts and business owners who are morally opposed to homosexuality to be forced to keep homosexual activists (how else do we know they're homosexual?) on the payroll - even if it violates their conscience, purpose and children in their care. Wrong answer; sit down, Tommy.

Being out means that someone is a "homosexual activist." While I agree that expressing oneself is a form of activism, I think that in this context she's setting the bar a little low.

But again, it's not surprising if one assumes that all gay people have the same politics on gay issues. It's the same assumption those who ask for the in-fighting to stop buy into, so I can't really blame the Religious Right for believing the same thing.

For certain gay activists, it's a great way to silence dissent by pretending that the herd is going in one direction, because someone says so, and then everyone repeats that observation to marginalize those who disagree. And for anti-gay activists, it's also a convenient way to demonize an enemy by associating each individual with whatever sins one person of that "side" commits.

This is why I think a word parallel to "feminism" would be good for the LGBT rights movement. Feminists discuss women who are and aren't feminists, who subscribe to radical feminism, liberal feminism, or post-modern feminist; first-, second-, third-, or fourth-wave feminism; white, black, or latina intersectional feminism; first-world, third-world, or fourth-world feminism; intersectional or essentialist feminism.

Such a word acknowledges the gap between identity and politics and takes political and theoretical discussions to another level by making such an acknowledgment assumed and then allowing the word to spin off to recognize that there's also a wide array of agreements among certain sectors of queer communities.

Because I've been rather clumsily using the phrase "gay rights politic" to mean pretty much that up until now. But it doesn't work since even my "gay rights politic" isn't focused on "gay" at the exclusion of other queers and doesn't focus on textual "rights" at the exclusion of material needs.

I haven't come up with a good word to describe that, though. Thoughts?

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FatherFaggot | April 24, 2008 5:01 PM

That's quite an article, Alex.
If I say I don't agree with you, I'll prove your main thesis to be correct: That not all gays have the same opinion.
However, I do agree completely.

I've had this window open for 25 minutes trying to think of something intelligent to say in response, but I can't come up with anything... which leads me to conclude that I only feel compelled to comment at all because I appreciate the thought-provoking commentary.

Alex, just for the record, it's not a prerequisite that a gay person want to get married himself in order for him to support marriage equality.

I've actually heard people say that they are indifferent to marriage equality or are actually against marriage equality simply because they don't personally want to get married and don't understand why others do. I find this reasoning to be strange and terribly selfish. I don't understand why people don't see the issue as an issue of general fairness and equality for gay citizens instead of a specific issue of gay marriage. It’s an issue of giving all citizens the same access to the rights, benefits and privileges that other citizens are offered.

It's like voting rights for African-Americans in the 60's. It would have been one thing for a black person to say, "I don't want to vote and I don’t know why any black person would want to" but it would be another thing entirely to say, "I'm against black people being allowed to vote".

As far as gay politicians not being hypocrites for voting against gay marriage as long as they are not in a gay marriages themselves, that may be technically true but it doesn’t mean that the person isn’t an ass for supporting legal discrimination against certain tax paying, law abiding American citizens and it doesn’t mean that people won’t and shouldn’t be more upset with a gay person for supporting discrimination against gay people.

Would a black legislator voting against the 1969 civil rights act not rightly be held to greater scorn than a white legislator? Would a Jewish Member of Parliament in the German Parliament of 1969 voting for laws that denied Jews rights not be rightly held to greater scorn than a non Jewish MP? I think so, regardless of whether their votes were technically hypocritical or not.

You spoke of the gay left and their hostility toward the gay right and you spoke of the anti-gay American right and their often hostile relationship with (against) the gay community but I don’t think you really addressed the gay right’s hostility toward the gay left. Let’s be fair here, gay conservatives are not the angels that they claim to be when they whine and complain about their abuse at the hands of “the radical gay left”. In the real world gay conservatives have just as much of an agenda as gay liberals and they are no more open-minded or civil to the left than the left is to them. One minute on GayPatriot makes that very clear. I don’t know how they manage it but somehow they find a way to complain about how much they hate liberal gay victim mentality out of one side of their mouths while whining out of the other about their victimization at the hands of gay liberals. It’s strange, and a little bit funny.

For the record, I used to be a Log Cabin Republican. I was even a big fan of GayPatriot.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 24, 2008 11:53 PM

Very thoughtful Alex.

May I suggest an oldie, but a goodie:

Progressive Human Rights Politic

In any country, movement, community, square block there are those who are "doers" and those who are not. Those who both lead and follow.

I grew up in an ignorant time and I fear for all humans have accomplished, they will throw it away over inconsequential differences. Some churches split over whether the organ is to the right or left of the altar. Some people believe that a benefit to one race, gender, or lifestyle is a cost to their own. In all our nitpicking we forget that, most of the time, the things that bring all people together are much greater. We also , too often, have fogotten to keep a sense of humor about it all. One of the most decent, accomplished and honest politicians was Hubert Humphrey who called himself: "a progressive with the brakes on." He was called by others: "The happy warrior."

All politics is about compromise.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | April 25, 2008 2:29 AM

It’s not a complicated question. I don’t think we need a new vocabulary as much as we need a clear program and a commitment to see things through to full equality. We can’t enter into the struggle weighted down by commitments to politics as they are. That’s what got us into this mess.

The concept of equality was the foundation stone of the French Revolution (although not of ours). The fight for equality has animated all our struggles since then – unions, the socialist movement, and fights against colonialism, racism, war, misogyny and now for GLBT equality. Inequality is the direct result of compromise with politics as they are and are a dead end.

Our fight for equality in employment, housing, medical care, education and even marriage rights may seem commonplace but they pose a fundamental challenge to politics (and society) as they are. The fight for GLBT equality is ultimately the fight for politics (and society) as they should be, for FULL equality, economic and political. Our society is not run democratically; it’s controlled by an aristocracy of power and wealth. Our movement is groping towards a perspective for the long haul and a commitment not to engage in tawdry compromises. Examples include the explosive growth of the Day of Silence movement and our furious reaction when ENDA was gutted.

They signal the development of a movement that takes itself seriously, that insists on FULL equality and that's willing to take on the powers that be. It may sound like a daunting task but it was one accomplished by Sam Adams and Ben Franklin, by the Sans-culottes, by Fredrick Douglas, by the union movement, the Russians, the Cubans, the Algerians and the and the Vietnamese. Now we’re up to bat.

BTW, Hubert Humphrey was a sellout, a sorry SOS who compromised and supported LBJ’s war that murdered Vietnamese and GI’s. That’s why the antiwar movement and the radicalization utterly rejected him and his party and why he lost to Nixon. In the end we forced Nixon to withdraw from Vietnam and the White House. A similar fate awaits Obama, Clinton or McCain because they support Bush’s war, bust unions and compromise with bigotry, racism and misogyny.

All compromise is about defeat.

Hola, Zeke.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 25, 2008 4:45 AM

Bill, it was Congress that passed the Bay of Tonkin Resolution. What amazed me then and amazes me still is that Nixon ran and won based upon his hateful McCarthyism anti communist credentials. He was "feared enough by Communists to end the war." His pro Mafia, wife beating, and paranoia were never considered and we know how his presidency ended don't we?

I think Humphrey was a better sellout and the 1968 Democratic Convention riots were certainly not the best press. Then, of course, there was the George Wallace candidacy if you wish to discuss appeal to bigotry, which was in responce the The Great Society progressive reforms brought about by the warmongering Lyndon Johnson.

Things like Medicare that you are either using or about to use.

Bill, my boy, you just took too many Timothy Leary trips in the 1960's.

For certain gay activists, it's a great way to silence dissent by pretending that the herd is going in one direction, because someone says so, and then everyone repeats that observation to marginalize those who disagree.

Or, it could be that the herd really is going in one direction without the nefarious "activists" brainwashing the poor gullible queers into following along like the Pied Piper.

I doubt that the average trans person struggling to get ENDA or the lesbian Hoosier that wants basic civil rights would characterize their work on behalf of all LGBT people and subsequent movement growth as "marginalizing those who disagree."

I'd say, like anything, some people come together to move things forward (or backwards, depending on the group). There are always people who stand on the sidelines and criticize and condemn without helping themselves. Constant sniping and non-constructive criticism doesn't actually do anything but piss people off.

And since Alex is making broad generalizations in this piece, I feel relaxed about doing it myself... If you're not part of the movement, you're actually holding the movement back by constantly pissing off those who are doing the work.

Right? If us "activists" have such nefarious reasons for reminding folks that there are much bigger community-wide enemies than each other, then it stands to reason that those who deliberately stand outside the community must have a hidden agenda as well.

No worries, Zeke, I see your point. But I think if we're saying that all gays need to support legislation that benefits gay people, well, we're casting the net rather widely for hypocrites. I think that universal health care is something that would definitely benefit the queers, would benefit queer people more than straight people because the current distribution of health care benefits (through money, a job, or marriage, all three of which we have less access to) disproportionately hurts the Q-folk. Could we then say that a gay politician who's against universal health care is a hypocrite? Is it worse?

I'm not saying that we have to be for or against marriage here, this post isn't about marriage at all, but just saying that we can recognize that not everyone buys into the same little list of laws that need to get passed that will somehow magically lead to queer equality.

As for gay Republicans, I'll just leave that on my list of things I don't understand. But I do scan Gay Patriot every day because they find things that I might otherwise overlook as a blogger.

Robert~ Yeah, but I was thinking specifically with regards to queer issues. I know that they're human rights issues, yeah, but there should be a way to talk specifically about queer issues.

Thanks Jere and FF!

Bill, as always, I look forward to your lengthy and solid comments. You're totally right about the French revolution. Of course, theirs was started by the poor, and ours was started by the rich, so maybe that legacy is still with us to this day.

And since Alex is making broad generalizations in this piece

Way to read what I wrote, Bil. Even the part you blockquoted used the word "certain," and this whole thing was about how we can't make generalizations about LGBT activists.

And that average trans person struggling to get ENDA? She is just rocking the boat and trying to hold back gay job protections! In your words, since she is "not part of the movement, [she's] actually holding the movement back by constantly pissing off those who are doing the work."

I disagree, though. I think that she's trying to make the changes she thinks need to be made to the legislation so that trans job protections don't get left behind. But it's a perfect example of how certain gay activists say that the herd is going in the direction of a trans-less ENDA just to marginalize trans and pro-trans voices on the subject.

People who disagree, like trans folks and their allies like United ENDA, aren't just "pissing off those who are doing the work." They're doing a bunch of the work themselves and have earned their place at this table.