Is the LGBT community a myth?

Hello kittens,

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about queer ‘mavericks’ lately – people like Azealia Banks, Bret Easton Ellis and Caitlyn Jenner. People who by various turns are othered by or other themselves from the “LGBT community,” and my thoughts keep returning to a common theme:

that the LGBT community itself may be mythological.

To wit: if you can be othered by or othered from an identity-based community despite having that identity, can that community be said to exist?

I will make the perhaps bold claim that there exists no organization or group which itself claims to represent the LGBT community, and will state with even more confidence that there exists no organization or group of which the same could be said.

This is perhaps both to our credit and our detriment. No organization or group could represent the LGBT community because it is so diverse.

For some reason, we understand this plainly when we say something like “the gay community” or “the transgender community.” For some reason, it is very easy for us to understand that these must almost necessarily be understood in the plural – “gay communities,” “transgender communities.” For what could be stated so facilely as to include all gay people? All bisexuals? All transgender people?

Virtually nothing.

And yet because an umbrella community might be imagined, we seem to share the common illusion that such a community exists.

One needn’t argue about whether or not an umbrella community should or should not exist, but one may very well need to consider that it simply does not.

What has ever been meant by “LGBT community?” It is most easily imagined as a contrastive collective identity.

It is very easy to argue that all people who are not exclusively heterosexual and/or cisgender and who do not comply with all social mandates therein have enough in common with each other to combine forces to fight certain elemental oppressions.

One may – and indeed I have – argued that things could or indeed ought to be this way until any manner of ungulates come home. But continuing to traffic in the idea of an LGBT community would seem to imply a belief that things are that way, which is a very hard belief to defend.

I contend that a more descriptive evaluation of reality leads to the conclusion that there are instead largely independent communities trafficking alternatively in money and/or limited ideologies, none of which are interested in representing or, moreover, even could represent something like an “LGBT community.”

This is not in itself an inherently bad or harmful thing. But continuing to ignore this reality is.

Instead of actively engaging in coalition-building, the mythological concept of an LGBT community continually enforces and reinforces the seemingly completely false idea that the coalition has existed, exists, and, a priori, must necessarily continue to exist.

And yet ask even two LGBT people what the LGBT community believes, needs, wants, or envisages, and the cracks in the argument are as plain as day.

Again, this is not inherently bad. In fact, I would argue that it’s fucking spectacular. But as a shared illusion, we have not as yet dreamt up a means of accepting a diversity of belief.

And so, what the notion of community lacks in objective reality is made up by dialectical reasoning.

[In fact: I would argue that most any conception of an “LGBT community” has been coerced into existence via dialectical reasoning.]

One of my treasured quotes in life stems ultimately from Terence, who wrote: “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”, or “I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me.”

A lot can be and has been gleaned from this. I personally first encountered this quote in a review of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel Zombie – a book in which a young man commits a number of gruesome murders in his attempt to create an idealized sex slave.

Where am I going? Somewhere, I promise.

By obliquely referencing this line from Terence, the reviewer invoked – in me, at least – the chilling knowledge that one could not simply other this murderer as something other than human. Different as he might be from me, I could not simply expel him from the human community. His actions were part of the possible actions of the human community, and as such reflected back at us all.

If you’ll pardon the extreme example, this thought has nevertheless had a huge impact on my beliefs about inclusion and belonging.

This is not the kind of inclusivity you get through dialectical reasoning.

In failing to wish an LGBT community into existence, the dialectic – or indeed dialectics – create the infallible and yet ephemeral bylaws of particular LGBT communities.

The money one makes. The books and think pieces one has read. The strict adherence to this platform or that.

The LGBT community could be an HRC dinner or a Gay Shame cabaret show – or for that matter, literally anything manifested by LGBT people.

But in failing to recognize our own virtually limitless variety, the “LGBT community” is argued out of existence. Either there is a correct way to be LGBT or the LGBT community exists, but you can’t have both.

I mean, you could. But this presupposes a world in which a transgender republican is left to her own wildly misguided devices. I mean, of course I’m editorializing. But I don’t have to like Caitlyn Jenner’s politics to see that they in a perverse way mean something wonderful about our so-called community:

I’d rather see a famous trans republican than live in a world where one pretends to be liberal because one is trans.

Likewise, I thrill to live in a world where Azealia Banks and Bret Easton Ellis take to Twitter to say bizarrely, wildly, perhaps ironically hypocritical and terrible things about gay people, because the alternative implies coercive silencing of LGBT voices.

On a personal level, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to genuinely consider oneself a part of this “LGBT” or “queer” or whatever community. As I’ve discussed at length in the past, I don’t feel like I’m represented by either the mainstream gay rights movement or by ivory-tower queerness, and I likewise refuse to represent the ideology of either.

Of course, I’m much closer to one than the other, but the passage of time doesn’t shrink my conviction that I am not merely a collection of the books and think pieces I have read, the slogans I have learned and the pins I have sported.

I am a person, goddammit.

And any notion of an LGBT community that I could really get behind would extend that opportunity to every person. There is no talking cure for the queer condition, because the queer condition is infinite.

The LGBT community could be a broad and deep coalition of people who stand opposed to a myriad of oppressions. But just saying it exists does not make it so.

The “I’m an ally, so” trope, redux

[content note for discussion and use of transphobic language]

Hello kittens,

Every time I think I’m done writing/talking/vlogging about this issue, the world reminds me that I will never, ever be done writing about it.

It thought I was done with it a couple of days ago when I made this video. No such luck.

The “I’m an ally, so” trope won’t die. That’s probably why it’s a trope. (*Ting.*)

[Note: the next six paragraphs are taken from this post.]

The “I’m an ally, so” (or IAAS) trope relies on your knowledge that the person with whom you are interacting is an ally of such and such a group, allowing them, in their minds, to act in any way they see fit. This trope is used to justify some very un-ally-like behavior. Because, hey, you know we’re cool, right?

The IAAS is closely related to “some of my best friends are.” “Some of my best friends are” is used to show that, because you have (alleged) friends among the group you are maligning, your words or actions are somehow acceptable. For instance: “I think gay people are a dangerous menace to society and they don’t have the same rights as us normal folk, because God said homosexuality is an abomination. But hey, some of my best friends are gay, so you can’t call me homophobic.” A similar trope is “you know I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic, but…”, which is always used to contradict itself.

The difference between “I’m an ally, so” and “some of my best friends are” is that a person employing IAAS has committed hirself as an ally to a community, but wants to share prejudiced, biased or hateful views about that community which ze thinks should be covered by hir ally status. Let’s take a look:

“I love gay people, and I fully support their rights, but like, okay. Why are lesbians so grumpy? And why do flamey gay guys act like that? Like, just be yourself! But you know, like, I really love gay people, so don’t get mad.”

You can see the danger this trope represents. The ally in this situation thinks ze can wrap all hir beliefs up in a bundle, making anything ze says ally-worthy.

It’s just not true.

When someone – or thousands of someones – tell you you’re being a bad ally, “but I’m an ally” is not a legitimate or even cogent response.

As others have written about at length, being an ally is not an identity. It’s a series of actions, and it is incumbent upon you to maintain those actions to continue to be an ally. (Or to work in concert with people, etc.)

One of the reasons this post is getting a redux is because I fell into a Twitter rabbit hole. It started (for me) with a tweet from Pandora Boxx thanking Kate Bornstein for her response to the current incarnation of the RuPaul’s transphobia clusterwhoops, and from there I spiraled down.

Kate Bornstein is standing behind RuPaul on this one. That’s her choice. Kate Bornstein has also stood behind, for instance, Dan Savage when people call him on his transphobic behavior. That is also her choice.

My initial reaction to *ahem* stuff like this is to be scquicked out by how gross it is that so-called allies run and hide behind their friends in the maligned community and use them like human shields.

I don’t begrudge Kate Bornstein the right to defend her friends. But I’m also pretty sure she’s far, far too smart to be used as a human shield. So she either doesn’t know or doesn’t care what people are getting away with in her name.

That is her choice.

I think it’s shitty beyond compare when we solicit harbor from our friends to avoid being called out. It’s gross to do that to a friend. And it’s gross to suborn in-fighting to deflect the fact that you’re (being) a shitty ally.

When a famous/prominent/wealthy/etc. member of a community says they agree with the person being called out, the person being called out uses that as an excuse to silence other people. “I can’t possibly be transphobic because this prominent trans person I’m friends with says I’m not!”

Woopty. Damn. Doo.

Last night someone was trying to tell me what RuPaul had in his “heart of hearts” like I was just too stupid to understand why RuPaul is above common decency. I’m not stupid. I disagree with you, mmk?

Some people seem to genuinely feel that “allies” should be able to get away with whatever they want because they say they’re allies. This so-called ally will say “how dare you come at me after everything I’ve done? You have much bigger fish to fry!”

Here’s the thing: if I can’t tell the difference between an ally and a bigot, then how the hell am I supposed to trust that you’re an ally? There are no ally laurels, so stop acting like you have something to rest on.

RuPaul says that he has been called a tranny, so he gets to use that word.

Ok: if, on his own time for his own self, RuPaul wanted to use that word? None of my business.

But time and again in my own life, I’ve seen people who have had hate speech “misdirected” at them turn against the oppressed instead of the oppressors. Straight men who experience homophobic taunts often grow up to be at least a little homophobic, because hating queers is easier than fighting the heteropatriarchy, at least in this society at present.

Ugh, blerg, TLDR: communities don’t have hive minds and don’t just follow whatever your friend who’s a prominent member of that community says. If people disagree with you about the extent to which you’re an ally, you can “pay them no mind” all you want, but your ally status is getting downgraded.

Please, GAWD, let me stop having to talk about this shit.

~Big Mama Schlomo

don’t like gay marriage? don’t get gay married.

and yes, I’m talking to you, queers.

Hello kittens:

Today seems like as good a time as any to state/reiterate my frustration with pretty much all leftist responses to gay marriage.

I don’t like marriage or something. Assimilation bad! Can I have my cookie now?

As I watch my little corner or the intertubes today, I’m struck that most of the people with that red HRC logo as their profile pic are straight allies – not all, mind you, but most.

My queer friends are far more likely to be linking to Against Equality’s website or posting that “progressive” alternative to the HRC logo.

This is admittedly because the people I associate with are more likely to be straight allies or radical queers than the friends group of your average American.

As I’ve hashed and rehashed so many times on this site that now I think you can order it at The Fleetwood, I used to be proud to call myself a radical queer – until I realized that radical queerness, in so far as I could see, was beset by the same racism and classism that it was nominally fighting.

No, I’m sorry; I will not support an ideology that hinges on perpetuating the myth that only rich white gay people will benefit from gay marriage/adoption. This is demonstrably false.

Rich white queers with access to lawyers and accountants figured out workarounds for marriage years ago. Their self-interest now lies only in avoiding that hassle and expense.

Radical queers do the worst kind of disservice to their argument by choosing to attack the message instead of the methods of the HRC set.

Gay marriage will actually most benefit poor queers who do not have access to legal/economic workarounds for marriage.

Not that this fits in with the anxious, hand-wringing worldview of radical queers, who insist that all queers live in exactly the same fashion – some Raspberry Reich fourth-wave utopia where queer culture can’t possibly survive without a narcissistic fascination with its own difference.

And the only comfort on offer from radical queers is the sleek, sexy possibility of not assimilating.

Because while radical queers (rightly!) point out that there are other more pressing needs, almost none have offered anything in the way of a plan to divest marriage of its privilege.

We’re all supposed to be dreaming so big, but no one has a vision of how to divest marriage of its privilege?

You have to hand it to rad queers, it’s a pretty good paradox – not giving you a way forward, but labeling you an assimilationist traitor if you’re willing to take the existing way.

Doesn’t choosing not to participate mean so much more when you’re allowed to participate? You’d think radical queers would be so damn jolly about not getting gay married even if they could.

And I know this will fall on deaf ears, but radical queers: I am not anymore interested in forced dis-assimilation than I am in assimilation. My life will not be dictated by anyone – be they beacons of traditional society or white queers with PhDs.

Was radical queer activism derailed by DOMA and the contemporary reorganization of the HRC? Yes.

Is there a long list of other things we could have spent the last 17 years talking about and working on? Yes.

But instead of responding to the racism and classism that allowed the HRC set to organize so fiercely behind gay marriage – because they could understand how it affected them, because it didn’t ipso facto make them need to think about us icky poor people – radical queers chose to fight what the HRC wants, not how it’s getting it.

The rejection of incremental change – and boldly lying to and about the people it will help – creates a self-fulfilling self-satisfaction with stagnation, matched only by deeply wounded shock and offense when the revolution doesn’t take the shape it has in the radical mind’s eye.

Here’s a shocker: the revolution doesn’t look the same to everyone.

I would have thrown in the towel 10 years ago if I thought my job were total and complete social revolution by the end of working hours today.

Everyone has a part to play in dismantling systems of oppression, and the time is nigh to stop attacking realistic progress.

The time is nigh to stop lying about marriage. The time is nigh to stop attacking those who live a different queer life than you do.

The time is nigh to build coaliti0ns to smash all of our oppressions. The time is nigh to foster a new generation of progressive allies. The time is nigh to build each other up instead of tearing ourselves apart.

Big Mama Schlomo

letting our idols off the hook: on fame and problematic behavior

Hello kittens,

As some of you probably know, I spearheaded an attempt to boycott the fourth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race due to RuPaul’s defense of using the word tr***y to hurt people’s feelings.

It’s an uphill battle to call artists to task for their problematic behavior, a fact that I learned long before I boycotted RuPaul for a year (or, more accurately, a season).

You would not believe – although maybe you would – how much shit I got/get for pointing out that a feminist megastar like Kathleen Hanna is guilty of exactly the same kind of hate speech that RuPaul was.

Here’s all the evidence you need (tw transphobic language):

Le Tigre – Keep on Livin’

You’ll note that KH – a straight cisgender woman – doesn’t use slurs for gay, lesbian or bisexual people, only for trans people. And she does it in the terrible guise of supporting queers, which might be the worst part.

So, so, so many people, including my dearest friends, have given me massive gobs of shit for calling KH out for her behavior. And it’s not just this one video. It’s about 20 years of misappropriating queer identity. Need I remind you of:

Bikini Kill – Rebel Girl

In which KH asserts that there is a hot lesbian she’d like to exploit for social cache. How cutting edge. (EYESPRAIN.)

Now, to be clear, I love pretty much everything Kathleen Hanna has ever done. I have all of Bikini Kill’s albums *and* all of Le Tigre’s albums. I hold KH as a kind of heroine.

But if I can’t call her out for her shit – how the hell are we supposed to change things?

And the only defense people can come up with is: “COME ON. SHE’S KATHLEEN HANNA!”

Well, ya know what? The exact same thing could be said of RuPaul. “COME ON! SHE’S RuPAUL!”

And it is no excuse.

The uprising against RuPaul was swift and blinding (and ongoing), while the uprising against me for pointing out KH’s problematic behavior is its only equal. “Come on! SHE’S KATHLEEN HANNA!”

Right. Because KH is a feminist superstar and RuPaul – what? Flies in the face of your anti-femme bullshit second-wave politics?

This called to mind the rightful outrage enacted against Sharon Needles for using the n word.

Sharon Needles shouldn’t be out there using the n word. That’s not her word. That’s not her button to push, as I like to say.

[Sidebar: Sharon Needles also got a lot of crap for appearing in a show in a Nazi uniform, although all of the said crap completely ignored the context of that performance. During that performance, Sharon was performing this song, and as a proud Jew, I wish I could have been there to see that performance. It sounds brilliant. And PS: I never heard one damn Jew who was offended by that. If we can’t use art to critique genocide, then we may as well go back to painting wheat fields.]

Sharon deserves all the crap she got for using the n word. But where in the world was the crap for Justin Vivian Bond (as Kiki) using the n word?

In a bit that can be found on the Kiki and Herb at the Knitting Factory DVD (which, for the record, I recently purchased), Bond says that v and Herb were declared retarded at an institution earlier in their lives. Bond goes on to say (to paraphrase – sorry, I’m not going to watch the whole movie right now to get the exact quote), ‘I know it’s not politically correct to use that word these days, but it’s like when black people say n***er: we own that word.”

To riotous laughter.

Although this hardly warrants saying, I bleeped that word, not the producers of the movie.

To my knowledge, no one has ever (publicly) criticized Bond for using the n (or the r!) word in v’s act. V was also not called to task (although v was hardly the first or the only) when v took to v’s Facebook page to defend John Galliano for his antisemitic tirade – barring a comment I made on said status.

The absentee crap lies (in my opinion, all too obviously) in the fact that Bond is a well respected artist – v was even nominated for a Tony! While all Sharon has done is win a reality show.

That’s the only difference, right?

They’re both white people using the n word. Both RuPaul and Kathleen Hanna are cisgender people using the t word. But one is vaunted in respected circles, while the other is not – that is the sole difference.

This is not a defense of RuPaul or Sharon Needles – this is a critique of the absence of criticism for Hanna and Bond.

Either art is an excuse for problematic behavior or it’s not (HINT: it’s not). But the uneven application of standards stinks to high hell of letting respected people get away with problematic behavior.

We have to be able to critique our own – and just like it is problematic for Nabokovians to deny psychoanalysis of Nabokov’s work because Nabokov rejected psychoanalysis, it is problematic not to subject beloved artists to critique just because they flout said critique.

~Big Mama Schlomo

it’s time for some herstory: now here’s the t

Hello kittens,

There’s something I’ve mentioned in passing a couple of times that I’ve come to realize really needed its own post.

Today I want to talk about the people who have a nasty, selfish, bigoted interest in preserving an artificial inviolate line between trans women and drag queens, even though clearly no such line exists.

It is transmisogynistic. It is a big ol’ mess of internalized misogyny. It is all around gross.

When you say, “drag queens do this and trans women do this,” you are making a whole slew of decisions for a whole slew of people, and it is none of your business.

It is disgusting the lengths that some people will go to to invisibilize the contributions trans women make to the drag world. There are many, many trans women who work as drag queens, and you erase them with your hate.

What it all comes to down to is the idea of the ideal trans woman: she who has had electrolysis and a series of surgeries so that she can ‘set it and forget it.’

Wait, I take it back. It goes further than that: what it really comes down to is the perverted notion of the ideal woman.

The ideal woman, so this worldview goes, should be able to roll out of bed and show her face as is to the world. She’s supposed to buy thousands of dollars worth of cosmetics but never use them, because then misogynists and women who have absorbed the misogynist worldview will call her a slut, a vamp, a temptress, a whore.

So then, the ideal trans woman is supposed to have her Adam’s apple shaved off and all the hair permanently removed from her face and she should never, ever try to enhance her appearance with makeup. Although here’s 15 hours worth of makeup videos we’re going to make you watch so that you can master techniques that we will call you a slut and a traitor for using.

[PS: if you’re over the age of 25, you have to know how to use cosmetics to cover up the fact that you’re aging without ever giving anyone the faintest hint that you’re aging and wearing cosmetics to conceal that fact.]

It’s not mysterious that these awful bigoted notions should arise. Cisgender women are constantly keeping each other in check, making sure they “don’t look like drag queens.” All you need to understand this tension is to walk down any makeup aisle in America: there’s all of this shimmery, dramatic makeup that you’re supposed to buy, but never use.

I’ve talked to my girlfriends about this. I hold up a shimmery purple eyeshadow and I say, “could I even pay you to wear this?” And even the women who wear makeup scream NO and laugh at the very prospect.

They make this makeup for somebody. And although I’m sure second-wave-style transphobes would have you believe otherwise, there are simply not enough drag queens in the world for companies like Maybelline and CoverGirl to benefit from making products just for us. Hell, maybe these cosmetics are designed to make and then fill a hole in your confidence.

But it’s gross that people should be penalized for actually wearing them.

I know the tide is turning, I know. The past few years have seen more femme acceptance than I’ve ever seen in my life. Although, 1) that’s not saying much, and 2) I’ve already enumerated some of the problems that entails.

The tide is turning, but darn it, it’s not fast enough.

The gross, bigoted ingrained notions that most people take for granted about this alleged hard line between performing in drag and transfemininity really came to a head for me during the Al and Chuck Drag Race Cruise debacle. After banning drag on this DRAG CRUISE, the involved parties assured everyone that this policy wouldn’t affect trans guests.

The obvious conclusion to be drawn was that this policy wouldn’t affect the ideal trans woman. There’s a notion lurking just barely under the surface (provided that you care to see it or can’t avoid seeing it because of who you are) that gender norms on this cruise will be strictly enforced. Don’t you dare do a smokey eye, you bad, bad trans woman, you: you’re a traitor, and you will be debarked from this boat at your expense! And don’t you DARE think about putting on that wig. There’s the plank, lady. We’ve decided you’re a drag queen now, ‘cos you didn’t live up to our rules.

While cisgender women are forgiven for the occasional flight of fancy – with a strong lip or a strong eye, NEVER both – trans women are not afforded the same leeway, even and especially if it’s their job.

When you whip up and/or reenforce this artificial line, you spit on the memory of pioneers like Marsha P. Johnson, a trans woman AND a drag queen who led the Stonewall Riots and fought equally to help the struggling street queens and trans women of NYC along with her sister in arms, Sylvia Rivera.

You spit on the likes of Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn, trans women artists working in the medium of drag.

You spit on the likes of Mx Justin Vivian Bond, a world-renowned and Tony-nominated drag queen and pioneer for people living beyond the binary. You spit on Candis Cayne, long famed as a drag queen before she became the first trans woman to play a trans woman in a prominent role on network TV.

You spit on my friends who are trans women and drag queens.

Cisgender and transgender drag queens don’t seem to find this hard to understand. So why is it so hard for everybody else?

Policing the gender expression of trans women is inextricably linked with the policing of the gender expression of cisgender women, and it plays out in the sick tension between the worldviews of advertisers and moralizers. Wear all the makeup, don’t wear any makeup – but make the choice for yourself, and don’t pretend that your choice is the same choice everyone else should make.

Big Mama Schlomo