The following post is by my good friend Don Charles who kindly allowed me to cross post it here; it was posted the other day on the Diary section of Pam's House Blend.
It's a beautiful statement as to much of what has retarded the acquisition of full and equal civil rights for LGBT people, and it states points that have to be constantly reiterated until increasing numbers of LGBT people take them to heart and act on them.
"Ignorance Is My Oppressor"
by: Stuffed Animal
Sun Mar 08, 2009 at 14:37:12 PM EDT
The Vital Voice is a Gay newspaper operating out of St. Louis, Missouri. Much of its February/March edition is given over to guest columnist Maurice Tracy. In fact, his lengthy essay on race and sexuality is featured on the front page. Here's an excerpt from the intro, edited slightly for style:
"I see the Gay Rights struggle as part of the Civil Rights struggle. To miss that point is to allow the struggle for Civil Rights to remain fragmented, incomplete, and under the ownership of one particular group and makes that group monolithic in nature . . . the Civil Rights Movement encompasses Gay individuals, women, racial minorities, class struggles, citizenship issues, gender identity and many other varying categories. In this respect, the Civil Rights Movement is not a Black movement or a Gay movement, but a queer(sic) movement. The notions of equality, fairness and access are not queer(sic) values in theory; they are queer(sic) values in practice."
WTF? "Queer values"? Talk about a letdown! Dude kicked off his essay like gangbusters, but within just a few sentences, his argument went straight to Hell. I've seen this sort of thing happen countless times. I swear, we LGBT folk trip ourselves up so often, you'd think we were born slapstick comedians! Read the online edition of The Vital Voice at: www.thevitalvoice.com
It's so ironic. Maurice Tracy spends pages and pages raising the consciousness of Vital Voice readers about Gay racism. Yet he repeatedly denigrates Gay identity with the word "queer". He desperately needs his own consciousness raised! Mr. Tracy, currently a doctoral candidate at St. Louis University, isn't the only clueless Black Gay pundit I know of: Pam Spaulding, Irene Munroe, Jafari Sinclaire Allen and the regrettably named "Queer Kid Of Color" are also blind to the toxic nature of this "reclaimed" sexual slur. They don't care about what I'm going to say here. No problem; I'm not saying it for their benefit. I'm saying it for yours.
"Queer" is a word with much cruelty, shame and emotional devastation attached to it. Those who use it casually either don't know Gay history, or worse, don't give a damn about it. "Queer" is a relic of the awful years not so long ago when Lesbians and Gay men were forcibly committed to mental institutions. Forty years ago, the word conjured up disturbing images of depraved, predatory individuals raping animals or children. For many people, especially our culturally conservative adversaries, it still does.
"Queer" does not, as some mendacious activists claim, merely mean "different". Not by a long shot! Look it up in the dictionary, and you'll find several nuances, but they all boil down to a single concept: abnormally different and/or sick. Those who embrace "queer" haven't done anything to redefine it, so whether they realize it or not, they also embrace this definition. At best, it's a sexist term that insults Gay identity by defining it according to heterosexual standards. At worst, it's a dehumanizing stigma that justifies the doctrine of brainwashing "ex-Gay" ministries.
Believe me, I've heard every excuse for "reclaiming" the word. Most aren't worth the time it would take me to discredit them. One does warrant scrutiny, though: the argument that we should adopt hurtful terms like "queer" in order to "deaden their sting". The premise is that we can drain these words of their toxicity by frequent use. This isn't a new idea; Lesbians and Gay men were co-opting anti-Gay labels long before Stonewall. And we all know about African-Americans' ironic use of the N-word.
However, "everybody's doing it" and "it's always been done" have never been valid reasons for bad behavior. They don't make a bogus theory any less bogus, either. As I think of how prevalent public use of the word "nigger" has become over the last two decades, and recall how long some Black people have been throwing it around (since slavery), I note that it's lost none of its racist baggage. If ever a "shock jock" lets "nigger" slip into a broadcast, or a public figure like Jesse Jackson is overheard uttering it, howls of outrage are sure to follow. Obviously, this "deaden the sting" strategy don't work so good!
Even if it did work, I wouldn't want it to. I see the "sting" of words like "nigger" and "queer" as a necessary component of the Gay Rights movement. For our own good, we shouldn't try to deaden the pain it causes. Yes, it hurts, but it also makes us angry. Anger fuels activism! Adopting sexual slurs is a tragically misguided attempt to stifle our righteous anger. What's the consequence of this stifling? We settle for a discriminatory status quo.
Too many of us shrug off insults. Too many of us shrug off mean-spirited media portrayals of ourselves. Lord knows, too many of us shrug off demonizing propaganda from organized religion. Too many of us shrug off banning from national institutions like the Boy Scouts and the US military. Too many of us shrug off laws that deny our families legal status. And the list of smoothed-over indignities grows longer. At the end of that list, we're going to find a nation full of hopelessly docile LGBT folk. The self-described "faggots", "dykes", "trannies" and "queers" will lay prone, ready and willing to be steamrolled by the forces of bigotry, and when it happens, there'll be hardly a whimper of protest. I don't think that's what the activists who rose in the wake of the Stonewall rebellion had in mind.
We deserve our righteous anger. We deserve the motivation to fight back. We deserve far better than identification with the demeaning labels that bigots have hurled at us . . . and by the way, bigots are still hurling them! Our enemies haven't given up using "queer", "dyke", "faggot", etcetera, and they never will, so we can't possibly "reclaim" those terms. Nor can we erase their ugly connotations. All we can do is confuse society about what we mean when we use them among ourselves, and when we invite others to do the same. Isn't there enough confusion about who and what we are?
Evidently, there isn't enough for folks like Maurice Tracy. Later in his essay, he laments the fact that no Black actors had featured roles on the "Queer As Folk" TV series. I imagine he's also disappointed that "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy's" Fab Five don't include a Black makeover stylist. Those are two instances where I'm thankful African-Americans were excluded. I never get upset about not being invited to Stupid People Parties!
When radical heterosexists spread lies about my kind, I am being oppressed! When White pundits at The Advocate opine that "Gay Is The New Black", I am being oppressed! When Black or White pundits insist on calling the Gay Rights movement a "queer movement", I am being oppressed, too!
Make no mistake, though: My oppressor is not James Dobson. My oppressor is not Peter LaBarbera. My oppressor is not Tony Perkins. Nor is my oppressor The Advocate's editorial board, or even Maurice Tracy. Ignorance is my oppressor! The promotion of ignorance is injurious to me, and it doesn't matter who the source of that ignorance is. If my enemy blows my brains out on purpose, or if my brother blows my brains out by accident, I'm just as dead either way!
The lyrics of an old Stealers Wheel song spring to mind: Clowns to the left of me/Jokers to the right/Here I am/Stuck in the middle with you.* More often than not, that's how I feel about living in a world where there's no escape from racism and heterosexism. In the Black community, I get raw hatred thrown in my face like a stinking scumbag. In Gay circles, I'm either invisible, or a threat, or a crude "homo-thug" fetish. I seek refuge among my Black Gay brethren, only to be labeled a "Black queer". Lord, deliver me! I'm so very sick and tired of being stuck in the middle of ignorant talk about race, gender and sexuality.
*excerpt from "Stuck In The Middle With You", words and music copyright 1978 by Joe Egan and Gerald Rafferty, published by Music of Stage Three (BMI)