Wednesday, March 12, 2008

THE TRUTH, DENIAL, REVULSION AND THE REINFORCING OF STEREOTYPES

This post is an elaboration of the article I posted the other day, as I wanted to update it by including Don Charles' insights regarding the damage that the reinforcement of stereotypes by many LGBT people, many of whom view themselves as "liberated," has done in helping to retard LGBT people having all of the civil and sacramental rights that accrue to their heterosexual counterparts.

In a Diary on the blog, Pam's House Blend, a woman wrote the following as part of her post: "In a recent diary entry, a poster commented upon my styling myself 'The Old Dyke' by saying that he did not accept the concept of a 'Dyke.' You say that you do not accept the concept of a 'Dyke.' I am a Dyke. My Lesbianism was something that I was born with, that I choose and rechoose to live every day. It an evolving process, an organic thing of unending possibilities. My Dykeness was thrust upon me, suddenly, unwillingly. In the beginning it was frightening but it is something that I now treasure, that I embrace with pride." [See here for the rest of the post and the comments made on that post.]

The attitude of this woman is unfortunately shared by many LGBT people who have so internalized the messages of their historic oppressor that they not only use the oppressor's words as self-identifiers, but actually view the use of those hateful words as signs of liberation. The desire to sincerely debate ideas about how best to achieve full and equal civil rights is by far subordinated to the demand of many LGBT people that they be given the right to take pride in using those self-identifiers as a symbol of their "liberation" and as a consequence of their experiences of discrimination and oppression.

What is instructive in this context is the proposed origin of the derogatory terms, "Dyke" and "Faggot." My friend Don Charles sent me the following emails that deal with this significant issue of stereotyping that is doing immeasurable harm in the fight for full and equal civil rights for LGBT people:

"The epithets 'faggot' and 'dyke' both appear to have been derived from insults directed at women! Etymologists have traced 'faggot' to an older root word used to denigrate older women. It had the connotation of “hag” or “bitch” (a slur that modern Gay men share with women among working class people). Contrary to what’s widely believed, 'faggot' is probably not a reference to the wooden sticks once used to burn Gay people at the stake. The word “dyke” has been traced to a vulgar expression for a woman’s vagina. It may also be an abbreviation of the word 'hermaphrodite', meaning a person with indeterminate genitalia. Not the accurate definition of a Lesbian! One thing we can deduce for certain: Both of these slurs were coined by men for the purpose of insulting womanhood. Most, if not all Lesbians call themselves feminist. How can a feminist allow sexist language to issue from her mouth, much less define her identity? It was taken from the online etymology website http://www.etymonline/com."

Some stereotypes he mentions, and that are wittingly and/or unwittingly fostered are:

"The 'prissy faggot', a cartoon caricature born to do your hair, makeover your wardrobe and decorate your apartment.

"The 'depraved leather queen', a certified sicko with a fully-equipped torture chamber in his basement.

"The hulking 'bulldyke', a beastly figure who despises her own womanhood, sees men as a threat and is ten times more macho than John Wayne.

"The hedonistic 'lipstick Lesbian', a Victoria's Secret fantasy who loves it when men watch while she has sex with her girlfriend.

"The AC/DC/screw-anything-that-moves 'bi guy', orgy-loving, sex-obsessed and inherently unable to commit to a monogomous relationship.

"The outrageous 'trannie', another cartoon caricature who lives to model the latest in femme couture and trick innocent Straight men into believing she's a biological woman.

"The 'radical' Gay Pride marcher, a carnival clown with 'I'm here, I'm queer' placard in hand and pink feather boa slung 'round the shoulders, gyrating to a Disco beat, bare breasts bouncing, genitalia swinging free.

"Every one a sexual predator, an advocate of public sex and underage sex, a danger to children and the family structure.

"These images of LGBT folk are arguable more degrading than the Uncle Tom, Aunt Jemimah, Zip Coon and Stepin Fechit images that have plagued African-Americans."

Don Charles concludes: "I think those ugly myths hurt us, and we are not doing nearly enough to counteract them and insist on more diverse images of ourselves in the media . . . and I mean the Gay media, too. Pick up a Gay publication (fiction or nonfiction), and more likely than not you'll see a sexually provocative cover. Usually a naked or half-naked White man. Often, a cross-dresser whose make-up and clothing are over-the-top. Look at the recent crop of Gay TV shows and what do you see? 'Queer Eye For The Straight Guy', an insult. 'The L Word', sexual objectification of Lesbians. 'Queer As Folk', sexual objectification of Gay men. We're either depicted in a soft-porn context or played as a limp wrist joke. No way would Black people have stood for those kinds of portrayals of themselves at the height of the Civil Rights struggle! They reinforce the oppressor's bigotry. When I say stereotyping, I'm talking about the way we fail to challenge dehumanizing, one-dimensional images of ourselves."

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.

What is interesting about the source of one's identity when he/she is oppressed is that that part of that person that is used as "justification" for that oppression visited upon him or her rather quickly becomes that person's prism whereby he/she sees his/her very identity. For example, being Black is a mere skin color. It is no different than the size of one's feet or the color of one's eyes. However, since skin color has been used as a major criterion for discrimination and grinding oppression, that very skin color becomes the essence of one's perceived identity. If foot size were the major criterion for such discrimination and oppression, it is likely that foot size would become the essence of one's perceived identity. The counter-productive use of any one facet of one's multidimensional humanity, be it skin color, sexual orientation, sexual identity, or foot size diminishes the essence and dignity of any human being who reduces his/her identity to that one, or any one, facet.

Sociologists have a term for this phenomenon that is called one's "master status." That is the status by which others view that person and is the status by which that person frequently views him/herself. One's master status becomes the characteristic of that person whereby virtually everything that that person does is seen in its light. This phenomenon is most strikingly seen when one's master status has been stigmatized by others.

For example, if you found out that I had been in prison, it is likely that everything I would do and everything I would say and write would largely be seen as a function of my being an ex-convict. Similarly, if one is Gay, virtually everything is seen by others, and even by the person him/herself, as being a function of his/her status of being Gay.

When one takes a given characteristic, be it ex-convict, being Gay, being an ex-mental patient, being African-American, etc., that has been stigmatized by others, not only is that master status seen as being the most important part of that person, but that master status frequently becomes part of one's own very identity and concept of self. They have bought into the label placed upon them by their oppressor and, further, have so incorporated that label that it subsequently becomes viewed as the very essence of one's very identity and concept of self.

And that master status, that identifier, can frequently be tenaciously defended as part of one's identity, one's very essence, in order to preserve one's dignity in the face of a host of indignities visited upon that discredited, and potentially discreditable, characteristic of that person. Therefore, we find that among many people who have suffered stigma, in order to maintain their ego-integrity, their sense of dignity, they largely feel most comfortable associating with those who will validate their dignity. Hence, ex-offenders feel most comfortable associating with other ex-offenders; many Gay people feel most comfortable associating with other Gay people; many Transgender people feel most comfortable associating with other Transgender people, many African-Americans feel most comfortable associating with other African-Americans.

After being the recipient, along with my friend Don Charles, of much revulsion and antagonism for our pleas on Pam's House Blend (referenced in my post of March 2nd, and on Don Charles' last two series of posts) for LGBT people to stop using historically and contemporary demeaning names in reference to themselves and to other LGBT people, I came to realize that the work to achieve full and equal civil and sacramental rights for LGBT people is much harder than I had ever anticipated.

[The relevant posts that appeared on Pam's House Blend can be seen here and here.]

The fight for equal rights for LGBT people is very difficult because we are dealing with psychological issues and well as social and political ones, and the first one must be largely overcome before the latter two are significantly realized. When we throw into the mix the fact that one can easily be greatly resented by those we are attempting to help for our trying to suggest to them what needs to be done to become truly liberated and achieve full and equal civil rights, it's a mighty long and lonely road.

Many LGBT people don't even want to hear the message about the tactics that can be used to achieve those rights, and they could well resent me, Don Charles, and others for telling them about the means by which acquisition of civil and sacramental rights can become a reality. Indeed, even a meaningful discussion of the tactics and strategies needed to achieve equal rights was eclipsed by the frequent ad hominem attacks on Pam's House Blend leveled against Don Charles and me by most all of those who chose to comment.

Using pejorative epithets as self-identifiers is harming so many in the LGBT communities, and is doing inestimable harm in the same way as using pejorative epithets as self-identifiers is doing among some people in the African-American community. And the tragedy is that the mind-set that one uses to justify these words is the very thing that is going a long way to retard, and will continue to retard, achieving the living of a meaningful life, devoid of discrimination in both groups of people.

So, the Ken Hutchersons and James Dobsons of the world, and other assorted "religious" and secular homophobes, have not only done their jobs, but now have unwitting "allies" in their cause who are members of the very minority groups that they oppress and denigrate, and those members are frequently oblivious to that mutuality.

Basically, it may be seen that many LGBT people are victims not only of homophobia, but are unwitting and unaware victims of a slight variation of the "Stockholm Syndrome" where, "Captives begin to identify with their captors initially as a defensive mechanism, out of fear of violence. Small acts of kindness by the captor are magnified, since finding perspective in a hostage situation is by definition impossible. Rescue attempts are also seen as a threat, since it's likely the captive would be injured during such attempts. It's important to note that these symptoms occur under tremendous emotional and often physical duress. The behavior is considered a common survival strategy for victims of interpersonal abuse, and has been observed in battered spouses, abused children, prisoners of war, and concentration camp survivors."

The very fact that so many commentators on Pam's House Blend couldn't see beyond the sexual nature of their very being in their hostile reactions to Don Charles and me is undoubtedly because they have bought into the lie of the oppressor. The oppressor says that they are "hedonists," "promiscuous," "deviant," "abnormal," etc. and, despite their rhetoric to the contrary, they have come to believe that lie at a very deep level.

Moreover, they frequently reinforce that lie by viewing their own use of hateful epithets as self-identifiers with a sense of pride; viewing their own use of hateful epithets as being equivalent to "liberation," which is further complicated by their revulsion and antagonism to anyone who will tell them that they are fully human, as normal as any other part of the natural order, and that they deserve to be treated with dignity and have the same rights as everyone else. Clearly, the use of pejorative self-identifiers does grave injustice to that reality.

That's a horrible combination of psychic and social distortions and denial to overcome before we even get to the political realities that have to be confronted before full and equal civil and sacramental rights become a reality. So, we're not only fighting against religious and secular homophobes, but we are fighting against many people who clearly don't want, and even terribly resent, some people telling them that the use of such pejorative words as self-identifiers is reinforcing the very mind-set from which one must be freed before meaningful activism can occur.

I don't really know whether or not those who chose to comment to our most recent posts on Pam's House Blend are representative of those in the LGBT communities. However, what has been established is that there are many LGBT people who suffer horribly from the damage done by homophobia emanating from a host of sources, not the least of which are many pulpits throughout the world.

And a major component of this tragedy is that it is a level of damage largely unrecognized by those who have been homophobia's victims!
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6 comments:

DON CHARLES aka "STUFFED ANIMAL" said...

Jerry,

I'm almost speechless. This is not only a magnificent post, but a sermon, and one that you can give not just once, but many times. I hope that you will. It will open many Straight people's eyes to how deeply heterosexism can wound the spirit.

The excerpt of that "I Am A Dyke" post was exceedingly painful for me to read. It's even more heartbreaking than I expected it would be, like an extended sob. I made the right decision not to read the whole thing. If our essays can motivate even one Lesbian to see herself differently than this, then we can say we've helped God do His work.

Jerry Maneker said...

Thanks so much, Don Charles. It means a lot to me. Let's just hope and pray that LGBT people read our posts and see that they don't have to any longer buy into the definitions that homophobes have historically placed on them, or any longer fool themselves that they have neutralized hateful terms by appropriating them.

Anonymous said...

I am simply curious if you are aware that Del and Phyllis joyfully accepted the perjorative label "lesbian" ? In the 1950's and 1960's the word "lesbian" had the same meaning as you see the word "dyke" having today. Del and Phyllis and their fellow women in the Daughters of Bilitis, I am told by other Daughters of Bilitis, decided to claim the word "lesbian" as their own instead of allowing the heterosupremists to use the word as a hate filled term of derision.

An interesting bit of herstory I thought you should know.

Have you seen other good movies like "Torch Song Trilogy" with Harvey Firestein and Matthew Broderick; "Trick"; "Angels In America" with a host of known and wonderful actors (an HBO movie out of DVD. ?

I still maintain that Don Charles suggestion of calling all GLBTQ people "transgender" will split the GLBTQ community in a war of words. And that if Focus on the Family or Mr Peter LaBarbera looked at his website, they would have enough canon fodder to use against the GLBTQ community for years ... calling Christ's sacrifice on the cross a gay bashing would sorely insult them, I fear, much less the gnostic texts. But I hope they never come across his blog.

I hope that Rev. Bruce of Oroville is correct and you an OK guy, Jerry. I trust his word. Meanwhile I am much more concerned about the hate spewed by Rep. Kern of OK, revealed this weekend and how the GLBTQ community will respond. Locally and nationally. Time will tell.

Richard

Jerry Maneker said...

Hi Richard: I do remember Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. They've been together for at least 52 years, and I believe they were the first to be married in SF before the courts struck those marriages down.

I never remember the term "lesbian" being a hurtful or a hateful word or a word used in hate against a woman, unless the word was used by someone who was a hater. It never had the hateful connotations that "dyke" had and still has.

The major concern I have is that, although I do understand the desire to reclaim a word that has historically been used to demean people and appropriate it as a word of empowerment, I really believe that it is counter-productive to do so.

It doesn't really matter, except psychologically, what the motivation is for the use of that word, and other such historically hateful words.

What is important, however, is how the majority of people who are on the fence on this issue will view lesbians and gay men which is critical in the fight for equal rights. To be seen as "the other," "the threat," "the enemy," "the outsider," can do nothing but help retard the quest for full and equal civil rights.

I have seen "Angels in America," but I haven't yet seen the others. "Angels in America" was powerful, to say the least.

DON CHARLES aka "STUFFED ANIMAL" said...

Here is the etymology of the word Lesbian, taken from www.etymonline.com:

Lesbian (adj.)1591, from L. Lesbius, from Gk. lesbios "of Lesbos," Gk. island in northeastern Aegean Sea, home of Sappho, great lyric poet whose erotic and romantic verse embraced women as well as men, hence meaning "relating to homosexual relations between women" (1890; Lesbianism in this sense is attested from 1870) and the noun, first recorded 1925. Slang variant lez, les is from 1929; lesbo first attested 1940. Before this, the principal fig. use (common in 17c.) was lesbian rule (1601) a mason's rule of lead, of a type used on Lesbos, which could be bent to fit the curves of a molding; hence, "pliant morality or judgment": "And this is the nature of the equitable, a correction of law where it is defective owing to its universality. ... For when the thing is indefinite the rule also is indefinite, like the leaden rule used in making the Lesbian moulding; the rule adapts itself to the shape of the stone and is not rigid, and so too the decree is adapted to the facts." [Aristotle, "Nicomachean Ethics"]

Basically, "Lesbian" means a native of Lesbos, a Greek isle where erotic relationships between women were accepted. It's a romantic term that conjures up images of the poet Sappho, of Wonder Woman and amazons on Paradise Island. It has come to symbolize female eroticism, but that symbolism is a far cry from "dyke", which etymologists trace back to a vulgar word for the vagina, and "bulldyke", formerly a verb which literally means "a masculine woman who penetrates other women's vaginas". "Lez" and "Lesbo", corruptions of "Lesbian" in the same way "nigger" is a corruption of "Negro", are indeed offensive.

As indicated by the short-lived understanding of Lesbian as having to do with "pliant morality", there have been and continue to be attempts to attach derogatory meanings to this word and to the word Gay, but neither term is derogatory in origin. We can claim them without denigrating our identities. Not so the terms "dyke", "faggot" and "queer". Check the definitions and etymologies of those words if you doubt me. Richard, your attempt to paint all names applied to LGBT folk as derogatory is feeble and dishonest.

The idea of gathering LGBT people under a transgender umbrella is not suggested by me, but by the very definition of the word. Check Merriam-Webster Online. It means: "Having personal characteristics that transcend traditional gender boundaries and corresponding sexual norms." If that doesn't define who we are, I don't know what does. Journalist Gabriel Rotello also advocates for "transgender" as an umbrella term. And in case you haven't noticed, our community is already split and has been for a long time. That split was recently exacerbated by the ENDA debacle where the Human Rights Campaign kicked transfolk to the curb.

If you run a blog, Richard, and you use it to advocate that LGBT folk embrace insulting terms like "queer" and "dyke", God forbid that Focus On The Family ever sees it . . . but the likelihood is that they already have. Your confirmation of Gay abnormality reinforces their bigotry. They don't have to take it out of context in order to exploit it. However, they do have to take my writings out of context. Maybe they have done so. That's unfortunate, but I'm not going to stop speaking the truth just because some may choose to twist my words.

When I say Jesus Christ was Gay-bashed, I speak the truth! I will not soft-pedal the truth, not for any reason or for anybody. Christ, The Gay Martyr is directed at confused Gay people like yourself; I couldn't care less what the Religious Right thinks or says about it! If they don't like my blog, I shouldn't wonder why. I excoriate their ranks on a regular basis.

Richard, I think you use feigned concern about the statements Jerry and I make as an excuse to drop snide, catty and condescending comments. Jerry Maneker has a history of strong advocacy for LGBT people and issues! His many writings on our behalf radiate outrage at the justice denied us. How dare your ass fall up in his blog and speculate as to whether he's an "OK guy"? You, sir, are NOT an "OK guy"! You are a troll. A very SMALL troll! You need to grow up.

One thing I do agree with Richard about, Jerry: Harvey Fierstein's "Torch Song Trilogy" is an excellent movie that you should see. Unfortunately, the dignity message that Fierstein conveys in that film seems to have been fallen on stony ground.

Jerry Maneker said...

Thanks, Don Charles, for this information and for the kind words on my behalf.