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.

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