Letter to HRC: Black Lives Matter

This is the letter I just wrote to the HRC. Feel free to send your own, or to modify for an org representing your community to ask them to increase their participation for Black Lives Matter:

To whom it may concern,

I am writing today to exhort the Human Rights Campaign to bring its leadership experience and resources to bear to advance racial justice in our society. As American LGBTQ+ people, we are glad to know that the HRC is “horrified and profoundly saddened” by police brutality, but that will not ultimately change a thing.

I am not going to make an appeal to intersectionality, because even though police brutality affects LGBTQ+ communities of color, the participation of the HRC and other LGBTQ+ organizations in this movement should not be contingent on “how this affects us.” It is the responsibility of those who seek justice to seek it for all. To stop short of supporting communities in immediate and pressing need is a wrong that feeds the cycle of injustice.

The HRC has been at the leading edge of gay rights for the last 20 years, and in that time we have made immense strides. In the era after the marriage ruling of last year, it is incumbent upon the most advantaged LGBTQ+ people – a core supporting audience of the HRC – to consider how best to direct our resources and time. We are faced with an injustice the HRC is equipped to fight, and so it ought to.

The HRC should immediately re-prioritize so as to stand beside and among Black Lives Matter activists. The incredible reach afforded to the HRC can have a strong and lasting impact for advancing equality for all. When we have the power to make change and choose not to, we have chosen the side of the oppressor.

Thank you for your time,
Schlomo Steel

There is no benign level of hatred

In the past week or so, I’ve dealt with hate speech directed at me in real life and online, and it barely blipped on my radar. That’s the gay experience I’m having right now; a stranger on the street called me a faggot, and I barely have time to think about it.

(By the way, I live in Ann Arbor, so I’m dying to here about how people don’t get called faggots in liberal urban America…)

Anyway, what I really want to talk about this week is the cascading nature of hatred. I am here to posit that there is no benign level of hatred.

Straight friends often in the past have expressed that I am being a killjoy for calling them out on their shit. Shit like playing music with overtly homophobic lyrics, monitoring each other for “faggy” behavior, making it clear they prefer gay men to be “manly,” and invoking the gender binary as a guide for behavior.

Nothing quite got to me, though, like the way friends reacted when a man outside a book looked me in the eye and said, “You’re a faggot, and I’m going to kill you.”

If you need the context – not that it should matter, but here goes – I was attempting to warn the young women he was creeping on all over town that he was lying about what drug he was giving them. I couldn’t tell what it was, but I had enough experience with what he said it was to know that wasn’t it. I was trying to be discreet, but I guess he found me out. Hence the “you’re a faggot, and I’m going to kill you” thing.

Also, in case you’re wondering, I got right up in his face and I said, “I am a faggot,” and then to the best of my recollection I swished the fuck out of Dodge.

Later when describing this to friends, a shocking number of them went out of their way to say, “well, he wasn’t being homophobic when he called you a faggot.”

Because, in case you’re wondering, straight people are in charge of when people are being homophobic or not. Wouldn’t want my big nelly feelings or lived experiences getting in the way of straighty’s truth bombs.

Maybe…maybe what they meant is that he had no way of knowing whether or not I were gay. Which is maybe true. And wicked so hard not the fucking point.

This reminds me of that straight guy friend you have who will say something homophobic and then bring up how he got called a faggot when he was a kid, so it’s all cool or something.

Straight guys who’ve been called a faggot and therefore think calling people a faggot is no big deal get to feel that way because nothing can take away how fucking cool it must be to be a straight white guy in this world. When some straight guy gets called a faggot he gets to laugh it off because he was the wrong target. He can’t hear that dog whistle.

I want you to really fucking think about what my friends were asking me to believe. They wanted me to feel comforted that he didn’t mean I was going to die because I was gay per se, but because attempting to stop sexual assault was faggy on my part. Because what a brotherly straight guy would have done, I suppose, is go along with his plan to lie to women about what he was drugging them with.

I was supposed to be comforted. I wasn’t a faggot, I was a “faggot.” Well, I’m so glad we got that all cleared up!

This is why I call you out on your acts of hate even when you think they’re benign. Because nominally liberal straight people in liberal urban America will look me in the eye and tell me faggot’s “just a word,” or some other such bullshit.

What you need to believe to make that true is far more insulting to masculinity than anything I could ever do. Thinking that a man ending up dead for trying to intervene in crimes against women is a faggy thing to do is why there is no safe level of hatred.

People do become desensitized to hatred. Our society is a bubbling cauldron of racism and sexism and homophobia. We live under constant exposure to personal and institutional oppression and marginalization, but privileged people have the privilege of not noticing the pervasive air or bullshit.

Singing along to that homophobic or misogynistic lyric means you will tell gay friends hate speech isn’t so bad. It means you will laugh at that next gay joke, and then tell you’re gay friend, “hey, but not you!” Then you’ll start saying things like “people are too sensitive these days.”

And then before you know it, you’re calling a woman who challenges you a slut and then complaining about how “nice guys” finish last.

There is no point at which you are liberal enough to be “just a little homophobic.” Or racist. Or misogynistic. You don’t need to let your hair down or blow off a little steam. And if you, congratulations, you’re actually a bigoted asshole. But if you’ve come to that realization, I welcome you, because you’re easier to combat when you’re not pretending to be the model liberal straight white dude.

Bottom line: I need to know you have my back when I’m not there. And if you think I’m a joke who can’t take a joke, well then I can’t fucking trust you. And if you don’t believe me when I tell you that hate is hate, then why do you even want to say you’re on my side?

Commit to stopping hate when you observe it. I’m tired of trying to infer whether or not someone’s a friend by the tone of their voice when they say something homophobic or sexist. You shouldn’t need your laurels to prove you’re a friend.

Make other straight men accountable to make manliness and masculinity better. That’s something real you can do now and every day.

Ever love,
Big Mama Schlomo

“Nothing to do with religion”

Oh good. He just became enraged by the sight of two men kissing. It had “nothing to do with religion.”

I feel so much better now.

Someone who becomes enraged at the sight of two men kissing already has a well established belief system about sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. Homophobia does not arise ex nihilo in the hearts of chosen people destined to be “homophobes.” Acknowledging individual homophobes while ignoring their culturo-political contexts is like ignoring the air and observing that many organisms breathe oxygen.

I’m sorry, but this did not have “nothing to do with religion.” It had everything to do with religion – just nothing to do with Islam in particular.

The world over, people are invested in systems of thought that address life’s big questions while providing a moral an social framework for a good life. Great. Beautiful. Stunning. Important.

The problem is that these systems are crafted by frail, fallible humans, and they weave their own frailties and biases into these systems.

We can pretend all we want that religion is just about internal moral guidance and sage advice from our forebears – but we are indeed just pretending until we uncouple the good from the bad.

Because you can’t seriously tell me that having your central moral compass approve of murder and slavery and rape and abuse doesn’t have an effect on people and cultures. And again, I address all the world’s religions, which between them manage to ban foods, most forms of human sexuality, blended fabrics and menstruation, and yet also devote great detail to the exact rules of how to murder and plunder and rape and enslave. Billions of people all around the world believe the fate of their soul is tied to their adherence to the sociopolitical mores of long-deceased people. And on the whole, our species had some pretty fucking troubling beliefs back when we were scraping our religious texts together.

There are no lone gunmen. There are no lone rapists! Attributing these crimes to lone individuals – whether we cite ‘insanity’ or ‘evil’ or ‘zealotry’ or what have you -, allows the real, pervasive causes to persist and grow. It is troubling not that certain individuals are violent – it is troubling that we live in a culture of violence with multiple marginalized foci.

The lone gunman fallacy lets destructive culture off the hook every time. Why do the hard work when we can pretend there’s nothing we can do? Why study peace when war will give you meaning? Why challenge flawed beliefs when holding them gets you by?

Religion must be challenged. The whole thing. Not your book vs. my book, not your social program vs. my social program, not your most prominent queer adherent vs. my most prominent queer adherent, the whole fucking thing. All religions have deeply troubling  beliefs based on ancient bullshit Рand yes, even religions invented in the last century. Religions are so big, purporting to account for life in all its variety Рand because of this, any religion can support or deny just about anything.

So? So what? Well, given all the time we’ve been here and all the proof we have of religion as a destructive force, it falls to us as a common human responsibility to stop pinning everything on our metaphysical friends and acquaint ourselves with the other beings on this place – our physical friends.

There is no special “right” hatred. You are not excused. If you adhere to a belief system that asks you to hate other people, then you are implicated. That also means you are responsible. Responsible not just to cleanse your own heart, but to find a way to counteract the hate you’ve been taught in order to better the world.

People have done the worst – and on occasion the best things in the name of religion. And now, knowing everything we do about ourselves and our history, religious people can no longer say religion doesn’t contribute to evil. We are accountable to make it true.

Ever love,
Big Mama Schlomo

New music video!

Hello kittens! 

There’s a new music video for my song Zombie Apocalypse up now on my YouTube channel.

Hope you enjoy! Happy Halloween!


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 Absolut Bargain

Hello kittens,

It’s pride month yet again, and this time around I find myself…pretty goddam whipped up. I’ve written previously about the un-nuanced ways a lot of people talk about pride. That is not what has me all frothy this time.

Or maybe it is?

Today on Facebook, I wrote:

I don’t mean to sound like a crank, but I’m glad I can remember homosexuality before vodka commercials.

And I feel like after that, a lot of the grumpy feelings I have been having lately lent themselves some context.

Do I hate pride now? No. But I am genuinely happy that, well…I remember being gay before Absolut pride floats.

Walking home tonight, this phrase came to me:

The Absolut Bargain: The contract between monied white gays, the corporations that want their money, and the allies most visibly associated with monied white gays.

It is, in effect, the widely promulgated belief that everything is ok because now there is gay vodka. Or gay travel websites. Or gay…I don’t fucking know, shrimp forks. … Maybe shrimp forks have always been gay, but I think you know what I mean.

The Absolut Bargain is a shared delusion that visibility and the ability to be marketed to means that we’re basically in the home stretch in terms of LGBT equality.

You’d be forgiven for believing that “the gay agenda” is basically cocktails and jet-setting, because corporations, the gay groups they prop up, and the straight people who have aligned themselves with either or both are themselves visible and invested in making you think this. The HRC and vodka companies and the Clintons can get their respective audiences all frothy about how two white investment bankers in the burbs can’t get married, and so you should make sure to give the HRC, vodka companies, and the Clintons all the *wink wink* *nudge nudge* support you can.

Marriage is an immediately understandable metaphor for what it’s like to be marginalized as a queer in this country, and I’m not prepared to have a shouting match about whether or not marriage equality is important, because, well…I think it is.

But only if you are in all other ways already enfranchised can you carry forth with the belief that everything will be wrapped up in a nice little package of full equality if and when marriage becomes the law of the land.

The Absolut Bargain is a willful misrepresentation of (many if not most) queer realities. Most LGBT people are not white millionaires. Most LGBT people are never going to book a cruise. Many if not most LGBT people cannot experientially believe that marriage or an attendant sliver of other issues are all that stand between them and full equality.

As LGBT people, our communities are fanned out among all other communities – and if we didn’t have the willful obfuscation of monied white gay concern activism to fight against, it would be so much easier to understand that LGBT equality is inextricably linked with the liberation of all humanity from all forms of oppression.

Queerness is not a quirk of rich white cisgender men. Every fight is an LGBT fight because we are everywhere. The Absolut Bargain is no bargain at all – unless you happen to be running a mainstream gay rights org, a vodka company, or a Democratic political campaign.

The fight is not over because of corporate sponsorships, or celebrities with talk shows, or celebrities on magazine covers. Refuse to believe economically motivated political messaging.

And for the love of god, don’t tell your queer and trans friends they should be happy because of all the ‘gifts’ of The Absolut Bargain.

The world is not healed by branded rainbow sneakers, and LGBT people are affected by every other form of oppression. Don’t confuse the narrowly defined agendas of a couple of mainstream organizations with a holistic worldview. There is no LGBT equality without full equality for all.

Ever love,
Big Mama Schlomo