Tuesday, March 18, 2008

THE COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY AND COUNER-PRODUCTIVITY OF PEJORATIVE SELF-LABELING AND CELEBRATION OF BEING "THE OTHER"

In my post of March 12th entitled, "The Truth, Denial, Revulsion, and the Reinforcing of Stereotypes," I wrote:

"Many LGBT people honestly believe that by appropriating degrading names given to them by their oppressors they are re-claiming their essence, and their very liberation, from the hurt that those names that have historically been visited upon them have caused them. They don't see, and many refuse to see, that their use of those horrible names merely reinforces in their psyches and in the psyches of others their 'deviant' and 'abnormal' status that is diametrically opposed to the status one must have, and demand, for full and equal rights to become a reality."

Had I written about the use of pejorative self-identifiers and assorted Pride Parades shortly after Stonewall, I would not have decried the use of pejorative self-labeling and social manifestations of Pride as exist in such manifestations as parades.

Shortly after Stonewall, the use of what are pejorative self-labels and Pride Parades did serve some positive psychological and social purposes. They affirmed the existence and legitimacy of Gay people, and they helped cement an in-group solidarity that was extremely important in the "emancipation" and "coming out" processes for many.

However, we are no longer in the immediate post-Stonewall era! What short-term gains that might have accrued due to using those denigrating labels as self-identifiers and the existence of celebratory parades in the midst of being treated as second-class citizens have long outlived their usefulness.

Moreover, such self-affirming post-Stonewall features have now become both psychologically harmful, self-defeating, counter-productive, and counter-revolutionary! They are hindering the meaningful activism needed to achieve full and equal civil rights by reinforcing negative stereotypes, as well as reinforcing "deviant," "outsider," and "abnormal" status in both all too many LGBT people's eyes as well as in the eyes of others; they are perceived by many potential allies as serving to further cement LGBT people into their respective communities and, thereby, LGBT people continue to be viewed as "outsiders," a status that is all too readily affirmed and embraced by many LGBT people.

All too often we hear LGBT people who use historically degrading words with which to identify themselves rationalizing and justifying their use as "neutralizing" those hateful words and also "reclaiming" those words by appropriating them as one's own. Regarding the second rationale, why someone would want to appropriate hateful words as a self-identifier bespeaks of either political naivete and/or a degree of self-loathing that might not even be sufficiently recognizable by the person using those words.

However, it is nothing short of a fantasy to believe that use of such words as self-identifiers is to "reclaim" them. My friend, Don Charles wrote to me the following regarding this matter that hits the nail on the head:

"We do not 'reclaim' slurs because we want to detoxify them. We 'reclaim' them because we want to use them in an ironic way, or we want to make ourselves appear 'radical' or tough. Those purposes would not be served if the slurs were rendered benign, and they'd have no attraction for us.

" We cannot 'reclaim' something that hasn't been relinquished. Bigots have not given up using these words to denigrate us, and there's no sign that they ever will.

"We cannot 'reclaim' something we never owned in the first place! LGBT folk didn't invent sexual slurs. They were invented by our oppressors. The most we can do is share ownership of these ugly words with them, and when we do, we either identify with the oppressor or demonstrate how oppressed our mindset is.

"Thus, the 'reclamation' argument falls flat on its ass!"

It's very important to distinguish what meanings pejorative self-identifiers and celebratory exhibitions have to many LGBT people, and what meanings they have to potential allies who are on the fence regarding having LGBT people acquire full and equal civil rights.

I'm not suggesting that there is anything wrong with any aspect or expression of sexuality, if it is between consenting adults, be it homosexual or heterosexual. Of course, there is a place for all of the sub-communities within the larger communities of Gay and Straight people. What I am arguing is that the public display of those words and activities, putting them as the public face that stereotypes LGBT people, and further confirms those stereotypes in the minds, rhetoric, and discriminatory rationales of homophobes, retards the acquisition of full and equal civil rights and, hence, is counter-productive and counter-revolutionary.

We will never win over strident homophobes to our cause, but we must win over reasonable people who must come to see LGBT people as deserving of every single civil and sacramental right that heterosexuals enjoy, and adding assorted fuels to the fires of homophobia by one's or by a group's "presentation of self" are not rational or effective ways to achieve this goal.

There are Straight people into leather, BDSM, fetishes, and the like, but these activities and their representations are held behind closed doors. Even if we do see certain Straight people defining themselves as bizarre and even celebrating what most people view as "deviant," it must be remembered that they now enjoy full civil rights. LGBT people do not!

For people who are already viewed as second-class citizens and are bereft of full civil rights to engage in assorted immediate post-Stonewall era self-definitions and celebrations has become anachronistic and self-defeating!

Just like in show business and politics, when it comes to political activism image is everything! Of course, I'm not suggesting that gay men march in shirts and ties and women march in dresses as was deemed necessary in the 1950's.

The fact is that such a public persona of Gay people was very necessary in the 1950's! Gay people largely received what modicum of credibility was afforded them by dressing and acting in such perceived non-offensive ways when demonstrating for civil rights when in the public eye.

Those who threw rocks at the thuggish police at the Stonewall Inn made it less likely that police wouldn't any further act as storm troopers at the Stonewall Inn or many other such establishments again, but we have yet to achieve full and equal civil rights, and what "rights" that have accrued to Gay people have been enmeshed with the indignities of still being treated as second-class citizens who appear grateful for the crumbs of incrementalism afforded them, and who are viewed by politicians and others as those who can be bought off with such incremental changes as Domestic Partnerships and Civil Unions.

One would think that after Plessy v Ferguson that said "separate was equal" for African-Americans was overturned by Brown v Board of Education in 1954 that said that "separate was not equal" in public accommodations our current crop of justices and politicians would not want to be on the wrong side of history again.

However, they apparently feel no such need or urgency, given the fact that so many LGBT people seem quite content with such incrementalism. Given the fact that LGBT people are still viewed as "outsiders," and so many LGBT people affirm that view by also viewing themselves in that way by manifesting that "outsider" status by use of pejorative self-labels and public celebrations amidst treatment as second-class citizens, there is no urgency or perceived need for politicians or jurists to officially recognize that "separate is not equal" when it comes to LGBT civil rights.

It would be a mistake to think that I am blaming the victim! What I am saying is that those who have been terribly and obscenely victimized must transcend their psychological and political victimization by recognizing that the poisoned fruits of that victimization are there in the first place; shake off the shackles of their oppression; realize that they are fully deserving of full and equal civil rights; recognize that being gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered are normal parts of God's creation, and meaningfully fight for equal rights.

And to do those things, one must be emotionally aware enough, and politically savvy enough, to realize that the public persona that is seen by others is crucial in determining the credibility that is needed to get the fight for those rights off the ground. Anything less is counter-productive and counter-revolutionary in today's United States.

And those who tenaciously and continuously maintain their right to use, and their pride in using, degrading self-identifiers and/or who persist in engaging in celebrations that show themselves off to be "the other," betray the fact that they don't really want to acquire full and equal civil rights either for themselves or for other LGBT people who do want and certainly deserve those rights.
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4 comments:

DON CHARLES aka "STUFFED ANIMAL" said...

Jerry,

This post is a reasoned response to all the folks who attacked you over at Pam's House Blend for suggesting that LGBT folk take responsibility for their own words and actions. Regardless of what kind of irrational responses it might bring, it should be posted as a Blend Diary. Anyone in his or her right mind can see that this essay is neither patronizing nor dictatorial. It comes from a caring place.

Jerry Maneker said...

Thanks so much, Don Charles. I will think about doing that.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry, Jerry. I still don't see your point. Nor do I see why it is so critical to you. There are so many other pressing issues before the GLBTQ community right now. Why is this issue so pressing to you?

Richard in Cherokee

Jerry Maneker said...

Hi Richard: I think that a lot of the pressing issues before the LGBT communities can be more easily handled when there is a unity of purpose for the acquisition of full and equal civil rights, and a fire in the belly to engage in meaningful activism to agitate for those rights.

And, for that to become a reality, LGBT people can't afford to stick their finger in the eyes of potential allies in this fight.

Moreover, the use of pejorative epithets as self-identifiers retards the acquisition of those rights, and serves no useful purpose, save to help cement some semblance of affirmation and in-group cohesion that did serve some purpose right after Stonewall, but has now, in my opinion, become counterproductive in that by further distancing oneself from mainstream society, and seemingly taking pride in being "outsiders," those with whom we are to contend to obtain equal rights have more fodder to give to potential allies in showing how their stereotypes are being fulfilled, and why LGBT people are "not like us," and don't deserve the same rights that "we" have.

Therefore, these epithets used as self-identifiers are harmful both psychologically, socially and politically, if there is a genuine desire to obtain full and equal civil rights in this society.