Friday, October 8, 2010

A POST BY DON CHARLES: "THE DUMB DORA AWARD FOR ASS-BACKWARDS ACTIVISM"








Don Charles kindly allowed me to post his excellent article on my blog.  It is incisive and beautifully written, and deserves to be widely distributed by those who really care about full and equal civil rights for LGBT people, as well as their affirmation as being normal, just as God made them.

Here is his article:

The Dumb Dora Award for Ass-Backwards Activism 

"Last week, I wrote about Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old kid in Indiana who took his own life after enduring years of bullying for being Gay," wrote self-described sexpert Dan Savage in his most recent syndicated column. "(Then) I learned about another teenager (that) recently took his own life. Cody J. Barker was a 17-year-old high school student . . . countless other kids have committed suicide because they couldn't picture a future for themselves. That's why my boyfriend and I launched the It Gets Better Project . . . we made a short video about our lives and invited other LGBT adults to make and upload videos about their lives. The response has been overwhelming."

I'll say it has! This initative has swept through cyberspace like wildfire. Ellen DeGeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Kathy Griffin, Sarah Silverman, Anne Hathaway, Ari Gold and Perez Hilton are just some of the celebrities who've jumped on the It Gets Better Project bandwagon. The ACLU's Anthony Romero and other Gay staffers from that organization have also taped encouraging messages for Gay youth. The YouTube channel Savage created for these messages is reportedly getting hundreds of video uploads per day.

"It would be great to see videos that give Gay young people a picture of the lives they can have if they just hang in there," Savage suggested. "LGBT kids who don't know any LGBT adults need to see that Gay adults lead happy and rewarding lives." Many, if not most of the videos posted have followed his suggestion. Gay people have seldom looked gayer than they do now, painting rosy pictures of life after liberation from the homophobic torture chambers many of us remember as childhood.

The Liberal blogosphere is now awash with praise for Dan Savage. You certainly can't visit a Gay blog or website without finding numerous posts that sing his praises and/or spotlight a new "It Gets Better" video inspired by his example. As for Savage himself, he's busy promoting the campaign on as many TV and radio outlets as will book him.

Why is it that just about everything Dan Savage does has the effect of splashing his name and face all over the media? Not to call the man's motives into question(although I've done so in the past), but I suspect the It Gets Better Project will benefit his reputation far more than it will benefit terrorized and traumatized children. To illustrate what I mean, let me reach back into my own past, and call up some unfriendly voices:

"Dance, faggot, dance! Dance faster! If you dance fast enough, maybe I won't have to kick your skinny faggot ass."

"You want me to stop now, punk? Have you had enough yet? Then you'd better admit that you ain't nothin' but a b*tch-ass p*ssy! Admit it now, before I kill you."

"Donny, you just don't belong here."

The first quote comes from a grade school bully who was in the habit of thrashing me when I was seven years old. He'd force me to dance the Watusi while other kids watched and laughed. The second quote comes from another thug who used to meet me on the way home from high school. He thought I was his personal kung fu practice dummy, and he always brought his friends along to practice! First he'd karate kick me in the head a couple of times, and then the rest of them would have a go at me. I must've been about fourteen at the time.

The third quote comes from a supervisor I worked under at my former job. He had a mean streak, and my effeminate nature seemed to bring it out in him. His taunt wasn't nearly as crude as those I suffered as a child, but believe me, it still hurt! A few months later, another supervisor said the same thing to me(for the full story, read my five-part memoir "Diary of a Gay Wage Slave"). It was a little over a year ago that I got this dubious job performance feedback; I'm now in my 50s.

I've had much uglier things than that said to me as a grown-up. I've been made fun of while riding city busses. I've been verbally attacked by streetcorner evangelists. A vicious cyber-stalker is harassing me right now; but I won't bore you with any more sordid details. I shared these unpleasant experiences with you just to make this point: It doesn't always get better.
Much as we hate to admit it, gender-based bullying can follow us into our adult years. Most dainty Gay men, most butch Lesbians and most Transfolk(especially Transwomen) never break free from insults, ridicule, taunts, threats, stalkings, beatings, ostracism and humiliation, no matter how old they get. LGBT status for them, and for me, can seem like a life sentence at hard labor. What we labor so hard at is keeping it together under long-term duress. It's not a task for the faint-hearted.

We managed to stave off depression and suicidal thoughts past adolescence, but we can still fall victim to those things as adults; and by the way, suicide isn't just looping a noose around your neck or jumping off a bridge! There are much slower, much more painful and debilitating ways to kill yourself: Ways that involve pills, or needles, or bottles, or unsafe sex, or attraction to lovers who use your body for a toilet or an ashtray or a punching bag.
It only gets better for some Gay people, and generally speaking, they're the kind who are "Straight-acting." It's a whopping big lie that all of us can pass for heterosexual; a good many LGBT folk couldn't act Straight to save their lives . . . and I do mean that literally!

Surfing the Web, I've encountered dozens of mostly white collar Gay men who sit at their keyboards and brag about how easy life has been for them. Life's a piece of sh*t/When you look at it sang Monty Python's Eric Idle years ago, but such is not the case for these folks. They claim to never have been bullied. They say they've never been made to feel unsafe or unloved for being Gay. In fact, they take homosexual orientation so much in stride, they think it's a gas to go around calling themselves "queers". They exchange the Q-word and other vile slurs with their Gay buddies, and they even let heterosexual friends address them that way!

I'm always itching to tell them: You're nothing but a bunch of elitist blockheads! You live charmed lives that you don't even appreciate. Your rarefied "Will and Grace" existence is miles away from the reality most perceptibly Gay or Transgender people face in this world.

Most of us out here are getting screwed without lubricant! Speaking from an international perspective, we're getting the sh*t kicked out of us! We're facing taunts and threats when we walk down the street. We're being thrown in prison just for expressing gender the way we express it. We're being preyed on in prison. We're getting raped, tortured and murdered. We're getting deported from our home countries, or made to flee them. We're being forced into heterosexual marriages. We're being forced out of our jobs and homes. We're having our kids ripped out of our arms by authorities. We're either being driven away from our faith communities, or compelled to hide behind masks in order to maintain access to them. Writer Langston Hughes, who knew a thing or two about wearing masks himself, said it best many years ago in a poem called "Mother To Son":

Life for me ain't been no crystal stair!
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor . . .
bare.

Those of you who've grown accustomed to treading stairs of crystal find it so easy to say something like "it gets better". You've got one Hell of a nerve, peddling that crap to effeminate ten-year-old boys who get p*ssed on in the school restroom, or shoved down a flight of stairs, or chased home by teen thugs wielding baseball bats! You tape your lovely little "It Gets Better" videos, you post them to YouTube, and then you saunter off feeling pleased with yourselves. You're satisfied that you've "made a positive difference." What dedicated child advocates you are! Marian Wright Edelman would kiss every one of you on the lips.

I'll allow that setting yourselves up as role models for desperate LesBiGay kids might do some good, but let's not exaggerate the influence you have. Before they can aspire to a rosy future, they've got to survive their current circumstances; have you considered how very different those circumstances can be from your own? Not just in terms of personal security, but also opportunity: Did you forget that a lot of youngsters still don't have easy access to computers or the Internet? What about them? And what about those who do have easy access, but would be terrified to get caught watching videos like yours?

Suppose there were no access barriers at all: How would these self-congratulatory snippets stop Gay kids from getting bullied? Isn't that what you should be concerned about? Suicide isn't the problem, you know; it's a symptom of the problem. Exactly what have you made better by urging a homosexual or transsexual child to keep a stiff upper lip while suffering abuse? Be honest with yourselves. Instead of "it gets better," aren't you really telling them: "Others had to suffer before you did, darling, and unfortunately, it's your turn now"? How can you get any satisfaction out of making such an impotent statement?

This YouTube fad and all the talk about it being an effective solution to bullying underscores how poorly focused Gay activism is. We consistently go at the task of fighting injustice ass backwards! We brandish our weapons (such as they are) and make a lot of noise doing it, but somehow our weapons are never aimed at the enemy. For example, we train our sights on Capitol Hill and a political process that holds us at arm's length, but we ignore those mega-churches on the hill, where anti-Gay political power is concentrated. We leave our rear flank wide open to attack, and then we wonder why we make so little progress.

Similarly, we avoid engaging with a heterosexist education system that hangs LGBT kids out to dry. Instead, we target the kids themselves, as if the bullying problem were theirs to solve! Not hardly, sugar! It's ours to solve! Children depend on their elders to shield them from harm. However well-meaning they might be, bandwagon initiatives like the It Gets Better Project fail to shield them! At best, they apply a light balm to their wounds before sending them back into brutal conditions. In what other instance would it be OK to let kids keep suffering? What parents group would consider failure to protect their kids an act worth replicating?

The recent rash of Gay teen suicides signals that we're in crisis mode, just like we were during the AIDS epidemic. We need an ACT-UP group that acts up on behalf of LGBT youth safety. We need angry Gay and Transsexual adults who slam down their fists and say: "It isn't enough to tell our kids 'it gets better.' It f*cking isn't enough! We've got to make things better for them right now!"

Good intentions sure ain't enough/
If you can't keep them when the going gets rough/
Good intentions won't get you by/
They'll just become/
Another thing undone/
In your life*

Right now and not later, we must demand that school districts get off the damn dime and get busy transforming elementary, secondary and college campuses into safe spaces for blended gender students. Right now and not later, we must declare war on community insensitivity and opposition to anti-bullying programs. That means going to battle against the source of that insensitivity and opposition!
If we really give a damn about the safety of Gay and Transsexual children, we've got to have the knock-down-drag-out melee
with our religious Right Wing enemies we've been running away from for so long. Not only have Bible bigot groups like Focus on the Family, the American Family Association of Michigan and the Minnesota Family Council actively opposed anti-bullying measures, their demonizing doctrine is the very cause of rabid homophobia and transphobia in our schools! Truth be told, it's the cause of all societal                                                      heterosexism.

If we can subdue these "faith-based" manufacturers of hate even a little bit, a whole lot of what we need to accomplish politically will be easier to accomplish. Facing up to church, synagogue and mosque-based bigotry will better the lives of Gay kids in ways facing a webcam can never do! I daresay old warhorses like me will benefit, too.

I don't resent Gay people lucky enough to have had an easy time of it. I just want to see many more LGBT folk have an opportunity to climb that crystal stairway, and I especially want the youngest among us to have that opportunity. Dammit, people! It's time we started aiming at the right targets! If our aim isn't any good, then there's no sense in carrying a weapon at all.

*excerpt from "Good Intentions" by Nona Hendryx, copyright 1975 Gospel Birds, Incorporated(BMI).
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4 comments:

Jerry Maneker said...

genevieve said...
Though I personally have never been attacked or bullied, it doesn't mean that I am immune to what is happening to LGBT people. This is a concern for me and I'm seeking ways to be more vocal and active in these matters.

Too many in mainstream organizations really don't know what happens in the street. I have and it's not always pretty. I spend much time trying to encourage LGBT people that they are valued and loved.

October 8, 2010 9:30 AM


Jerry Maneker said...
Thanks genevieve. More people, LGBT and Straight, have to become far more vocal in both affirming LGBT people as well as demanding full and equal civil and sacramental rights! Best wishes, Jerry.

October 8, 2010 9:49 AM

Jerry Maneker said...

Leonardo Ricardo said...
How would we know the REAL LIFE personal experience of one another unless we shared openly? Your´s is different than mine, but not so different in all ways and I read your anger and frustration at being so badly abused and feel and ¨know¨ it as I identify. I understand/recognize your personal story and it´s as valid as mine and all the others that have been appearing around us this past week...thanks to Dan Savage, his partner and lots of supporter (and such as Dr. Maneker and Archbishop Desmond Tutu/others).

When I wrote my ¨it gets better¨ blog yesterday I drew from my own life experience. I didn´t much mention a part of my character that was/is self-destructive (although anyone considering suicide would probably have identified with the actions I took to kill myself).

I was an active alcoholic from age 18 to 35 and I didn´t know how to not drink/drug at 35. I was a late-teen ¨running¨ in San Francisco in the early 60´s...a desperate attempt to run fast/far away from many feelings of self-loathing eventually revealed to me the depth of pain/humiliation felt for the many secret abuses done to me as a ¨effeminate¨ child/boy into manhood. Most of my personal degradations were never discussed with anyone until I stopped drinking/drugging. I didn´t allow them to be viewed even by me.I wanted everyone to think I was ¨fine¨. I kept abuse, self and outside, to my shamefilled self and I didn´t write about them, in depth, yesterday as I wrote my story.

I also didn´t discuss my ¨sexual¨ transitions from drinking to feel free enough to ¨have sex¨ to finally being set FREE of the shame and blame sober.

I felt and thought that most everyone takes the ¨growing up¨ trip alone (LGBTI´s). I have NO IDEA what is pleasureable or acceptable sexual behavior for anyone else.

Sexual initimacy was my biggest challenge always. I felt shame.

I do know that abusing others by using others is quite common and some folks actually become accustomed to be ¨used¨ and even score ¨validation¨ by being a victim and partner with abusers. Some like being a victim as it removes the necessity to ¨do anything¨ except blame others for a unsatisfactory ¨state of affairs.¨ I´ve crept to that ¨falling off place¨ as a active drunk/drugger and thank God, literally, jumped back in horror. My ¨nature¨ did allow me to go along with the depth of ugliness ¨sexual masochism¨ circling like buzzards.

I have alway fought hard, effeminate or not, to be amongst those who would like me.I was always looking for positive people for a contact high.

I acted codependently while actively addicted. My codependency took me to places to find ways out from under fear, insecurity and unhappiness. Safe places that didn´t exist.

I needed to take my chances in life, just like everyone else and not see protection from life.

Self-searching mattered to me...I know what I have done, willingly and not so much, I know what the abusers have done, I can see all the pieces of that puzzle and now attempt to not hide with booze, drugs, food, sex, codependency/whatever.

I need to know what exactly is my part? What needs to change? Where do I lack courage to change?

I certainly can´t run my life expecting results with Gods ¨explicit guidance¨ (which is usually converted into my own wishful thinking). I can´t keep demanding solutions from God or ANYONE but I can Trust God that there will be solutions if I keep active/vigilant in my life.

I´ve also been lucky/blessed or whatever you want to call it but I´m alive. My loved one of 14 years came from a famous family, had lots of money, was superbly educated, polished, traveled, great looking, great job and he was murdered by scumbags ten days before his 35th birthday...even my sober/clear mind can never make sense of it all...but I don´t lack the courage to live my life ¨authentically¨...go figure...¨it gets better¨

October 8, 2010 8:05 AM

Jerry Maneker said...

Jerry Maneker said...
Thanks so much, Leonardo, for your witness to the courage it takes to live an authentic life. Needless to say, I'm so sorry for the loss of your loved one, and your tenacity in the face of adversity is admirable. Moreover, you have the insights and courage to articulate the issues so many LGBT people face, and what you wrote is bound to let other people know that they are not alone in this fight for authenticity and equality. Best wishes, Jerry.

October 8, 2010 9:29 AM

DON CHARLES aka "STUFFED ANIMAL" said...

While I appreciate all that Leonardo has been through, I feel it is highly irresponsible of Dan Savage's It Gets Better project to send out a message that 1)is often not true for the most gender-neutral of us out here, and 2) that does not lessen the bullying problem at all. It's just another high-profile way of avoiding the gritty, unpleasant but very necessary task of fighting bigoted forces that enshrine anti-Gay and anti-Transgender feeling in our schools. I'm tired of all the pussyfooting around and bandwagon-jumping and self-congratulating! It's time to make a substantial difference in the lives of LGBT youth. By ignoring the real problem (bullying, not teen suicide), the It Gets Better Project fails to accomplish what we need accomplished. It isn't even moving us in the right direction.