divide and be conquered

Recently I read the book Stonewall by Martin Duberman. It is, as you might be able to deduce, an account of the famous riot that changed the American movement for GLBT rights forever, but it's also a fairly in-depth historical look at the GLBT rights movement in the '60s and '70s. And a fascinating aspect of that movement, for me, is how splintered it has always been.

I'll enumerate the worst divides, not in order:
  • Gay men vs. everyone else -- the emphasis on issues particular to gay men, and the high probability that both insiders and outsiders will talk about those men first even in discussing general issues, breeds resentment and infighting.
  • Gay vs. bi -- bisexuals are subject to a lot of stereotyping and rejection within the queer community, leading them to be less willing to participate in the movement and culture, leading to increased invisibility and vulnerability for the bisexuals, leading to more stereotyping....
  • Gay and bi vs. trans -- the mainstream gay movement (e. g. the HRC) often ignores trans-specific issues and overlooks trans people when they are affected by GLB issues (in other words, most of the time); this pisses trans people off. Plus, stereotyping leads to nastiness from cisgendered GLB people, leads to fighting.
  • Conformists vs. non -- this takes multiple forms: there's the butch/femme vs. gender-role-rejecting split common in the lesbian community, the people who want to raise families and have "normal" relationships vs. the ones who reject these things as unimportant or trappings of the heterosexual world.
  • White vs. ethnic minority -- much as cisgendered men are the focus of the movement, so are white people, and indeed open racism may be more prevalent in the queer community than in the general one. I've addressed some of this here before.
  • Religious vs. non -- touchy subject, as many religions accept or actively promote homophobia, tempting people who've faced a little too much "God says I should treat you badly and say it's loving" to be hostile to all religion, while those who have found affirming belief systems or just reject the homophobia and embrace what they see as the important part of their church's dogma tend to object to this.
And now, in the Prop. 8 battle, we have the 2010 vs. 2012 debate, and we see the costs. We'll never know if 2010 is the right choice, because the "big guys" aren't willing to put money or time into it -- understandable, as they're convinced it would be wasted -- and so if the petition circulating to get it on the 2010 ballot gets enough signatures, that campaign will be woefully underfunded. This means that the 2012 campaign will be better-equipped, but of course more time changes attitudes in ways we can't necessarily predict, so that might not be enough, and the 2010 supporters/campaigners are likely to be discouraged and reluctant to invest as much. Both the 2010 and the 2012 campaigns, in other words, suffer because of the split in the movement. Meanwhile, Prop. 8's status is boosted. The anti-gay campaigners couldn't ask for better luck.

That's not the only big split around this specific issue, of course. The conformist vs. non-conformist fight raises its ugly head here, because marriage is a trapping of the heterosexual world and there are those who don't think we ought to want it at all. Now, I understand that the conformists are the face of the movement right now, and that this is doing nothing for the rest, who are still stigmatized; I strongly object to any "straight-acting" queer who tries to say that everyone should be like them if they want to be treated fairly. On the other hand, I think the aggressive non-conformists who think everyone should be like them are just as bad, and I'm tired of them telling me what I should and shouldn't want. I want a family; it's not the heterosexual brainwashing, it's just that I'm that sort of person. The inability to recognize that people may not conform (ha) to one particular idea of what queer people should be like because it's not their nature is hugely crippling the movement on all levels.

To get tangential for a moment, I'm tired of the idea that you either have to completely try to blend in with the mainstream or completely reject anything that came from it to be a good [insert group here]. My mother isn't a bad feminist for choosing the job -- unpaid and without resume value -- of main childrearer, nor would she be rejecting her womanhood if she had continued in a "real job" and left Dad home with us kids instead. What's antifeminist is the fact that childrearing (a job done mostly by women still) is an unpaid job without resume value, less societally respected than far less important tasks. Likewise, the most damaging thing to the queer community is neither the people who prefer to marry and have kids nor the ones who prefer to live wild sexy lives outside of societal norms, but rather the fact that society's treatment of us changes depending on which path we choose. (And, in both cases, the fact that there realistically isn't an accepted middle path is a problem.)

Anyway, back on topic. I remember when Prop. 8 passed there was a surge of racist reactionism based on what turned out to be inaccurate statistics; it was the black community, not the general public (or churchgoers, or seniors) that was scapegoated. Stephen Colbert, I believe, described it as "the gays versus the blacks, the blacks versus the gays, and the black gays versus themselves" or something similar. Despite the later statistics showing that it wasn't so, the divide persists in too many people's minds. It's a classic: let's you and him fight, divide and conquer. The sad bit is that it's happening completely inside of the community -- pure "gays vs. gays," no outside casualties -- and it has been for as long as there has been a community.

My challenge to my readers today, therefore, is to take a moment and evaluate where you stand on the divides I listed above. Seriously think about it, I mean. Then do as your conscience dictates.


California: what a mess!

Due to the power of the initiative process, California's people have the ability to directly fuck things up without any interference from our elected officials, but that doesn't mean the latter don't do an excellent job of fucking up things the general population can't or won't handle. Today, I'd like to take a moment to talk about some of those things, as off-topic as it may be here.

I've been a community college student since the fall of 2005, when I started taking classes part-time as a not-quite-seventeen-year-old high school student. As soon as I was eighteen, I started full-time. I've got an excellent record, though my performance has been impacted by my depression ever since Prop. 8 got through, and this summer was the first since I started that I haven't opted for class rather than relaxation. So it breaks my heart to see the troubles my school's facing.

I initially registered for three classes -- 13 units, slightly over a full-time load -- this semester. All three were full, and the waitlists for them were full too, something I had never seen happen before. I managed to add a class and drop one of the ones I had initially been in, and I think that I was able to do that mostly because it was a night class outside of general education requirements; the worst-hit classes seemed to be math and English. (There's a sign outside the English department's main building notifying students that all English classes are full with full waitlists and advising them to register as early as possible next semester if they need to take one.) I know quite a few other students weren't as fortunate as I; during the second week of classes, I saw a number of them sheepishly go up to my German teacher and ask if they could add the class, apparently desperate. The teachers are having to be tough and drop people they would normally try to keep, and are using various strategies to do so. Whole departments have been cut down to the bare minimum; at least one disappeared outright last semester when the budget problems started to hit. My department, computer science, got it pretty bad; the head of department says she's advising prospective CS majors that to get the core classes they need for transfer will take at least four years, when it's officially supposed to take two. This is all in spite of the fact that they raised the cost per unit this semester, which should have reduced enrolment considerably.

The problem's not just in terms of how many classes are offered, of course. Other services are also reduced. My sister has dyslexia and requires accommodations to do well: this semester, she's getting them, but only because her teacher is very understanding; the people who are supposed to process her paperwork so that she can get the necessary support and equipment to do well have been unavailable and not returning calls since the semester started, and she still hasn't been able to get a notetaker as a consequence (there's official paper provided by these people that she can't get, and which is prohibitively expensive to buy.)

Nor are the problems limited to the lower-class schools. One of my classmates is still with us, he told me, because the local UC told him they couldn't accept him because they had as many students as they could afford. I don't know so much about UC's situation, because I don't go there, but I do know that typically junior transfers are fairly popular with them and less likely to be turned away than, say, freshmen. I also believe that the classmate in question has fairly good grades, so he probably was actually turned away for the reason stated and not because he's unqualified.

So far, I haven't seen an impact on the bus system, which I use despite its limitations (it takes me 1.5 to two hours to get to school) and depend on, but I fear that's coming too, because I know they lost money as well.

The thing that drives me crazy about all of this is that in the long run, it's making the problems worse. The more cuts education takes, the fewer people can get a good education, and the more people will drop out at all levels. More uneducated people means that the work that requires a degree of some kind goes out of the state, which means that the people here make less money, which means that they pay less in taxes and can afford to spend less in their communities. Less tax revenue means more cuts are needed later down the line, which means more cuts to education, et cetera, ad infinitum. It's completely idiotic to operate this way. The trouble as I see it is that we're not a system that operates based on the long term. Companies look for short-term profits, and avoid investing in the long term because it will mean short-term losses; politicians look for reelection, and avoid the dirty question of raising taxes in favor of borrowing and cutting necessary programs. The trouble is, we kind of need tax dollars to pay for the programs that allow people to become wealthier. Argh.

I used to like my state, overall. In the past year, however, I've become increasingly interested in leaving it. This is saddening.

(Incidentally, signature-collection is under way to get a measure on the ballot to help combat the budget crisis -- by legalizing marijuana, taxing its sale, and releasing the people incarcerated for using or selling it. I approve of the general idea, because I see no logical reason to treat marijuana as worse than alcohol or tobacco, but at the same time if the people of California decide to allow me to smoke weed after what they denied me last election, I'm going to have a good bit of fun with the ridiculousness of it. Hallucinogen use: possibly okay. Affirming one's commitment to a long-term relationship: not okay!)