The sand you can’t stick your head in

Hello kittens,

First off, have I mentioned I’m running this new thingy? JK, I know I have, but I do hope you’ll check it out!

Anyway…

I want to write today about the sand you can’t stick your head in.

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(It was a very descriptive title!)

Lots of (*cough* privileged *cough*) people make a point of sticking in their head in the sand when it comes to “politics,” asserting a kind of moral superiority that comes from rising about the fray.

The thing is, your friends’ lives aren’t “the fray,” and fighting for ourselves and each other isn’t “noise.”

Your standoffish attitude doesn’t prove anything but your ability to remain morally neutral in a time of crisis.

If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “it doesn’t matter, my life will go on the same either way,”

congratulations: you’ve just located your privilege.

You have to keep fighting, even when it’s not about you. That’s just Humanity 101.

It is a false equivalence to view Republicans and the people whose lives they’re trying to destroy in the same light, just as it is wrong to believe the truth lies halfway between opposing sides. People cannot overcome their oppression just by thinking about it less, or being less vocal about it, among things average people actually believe we should do.

“Politics” is not an escalating price war competing for your fucking soda dollars. You don’t have to spend 8 hours a day on Facebook. Lord, I hope you don’t! You don’t have to be on top of every situation and cross-post every article and care until your veins bulge out, but JESUS advocacy is not the same as targeted messaging!

No one has limitless fucks. Anyone who says they can absorb an infinite quantity of bad news without ever saying fuck it and acting like you’re never going to check the news again is lying.

But actually doing that is a choice that’s only for you. Own that. You’re agreeing with yourself not to participate in the forward motion of oppressed peoples. You haven’t fold the golden ticket to a clear heart, and your free mind full of bar trivia and fermented vegetable recipes can stew in its own juices for all I care.

You can check out. But don’t you dare act like it’s the “right” thing to do.

And THAT, my friends, is the fastest I’ve ever gotten to a point!

Ever love,
Big Mama Schlomo

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

Proudsourcing

There’s something about the perennial back and forth about pride that makes it seem like a holiday.

You know, your successful, established uncle in one corner saying it’s damaging to our community and we should, idk, grow up and be more like our straight brothers and sisters (who never act silly at parades, obviously). There’s just something special about it when we do it that makes nice good straight people we need to impress heads’ explode, so you kids stop that now.

And then there’s your Aunt Teresa and her girlfriend Biff and cousin TwinkStar3000™ in the other corner, interviewed right after they’ve taken coke and poppers. They normally say something like WOOO! or YOU GOTTA FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT TO PARTY! near a video camera, which makes the people your sophisticated uncle runs with shudder with horror.

Yes, these two sides are like the fruit and nuts in Aunt Gerty’s rum cake that no one really wants to eat. But, just like the rum cake, they’re going to show up for Christmachanukwaanzika next year, and they’re going to be fruity and nutty as though this year never happened.

Those of us who are indeed out, proud, and prepared to hit the pavement (and pay $8 for water) could stand to be more intellectual in our approach to the telling, and anti-pridesters might benefit from remembering that the QTBGL community isn’t a monolith meowing for heterosexual approbation.

For my part, since I’m one of those who has paid and probably will again in the future pay $8 for water (it’s fucking hot this month!), I’d humbly like to proffer a couple of points:

1) You’ve been there and done that, but a lot of people haven’t.
A lot of people will and do roll their eyes at the idea of blue-clad Human Rights Campaign volunteers flirting for donations, the house music, balloons, and speeches which rarely seem truly original. “I went to Pride and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt and a sense of disenchantment.”

But you know what? That’s just you. And every year, at every Pride, it’s hundreds or even thousands of people’s first Pride. Dan Savage like to rail (see your uncle above) that Pride used to be important because queer people used to experience shame. But people drive for hundreds of miles to get to Pride from places where they get nothing but shame from their neighbors. Not everyone is from a city of a million people or more. And for those of us who grew up in Bumfuck Hicktown America, being around that many people who don’t hate you (at least not yet) is magical and a truly formative experience. Maybe even life-changing. And it gives us perspective on who we’re fighting for.

2) It ain’t my revolution if I can’t dance.
I don’t remember signing a contract when I came out that said that being gay would only be about hard political work and no play. Pride is maligned for emphasizing fun. Which is in part true. To which many of us can only respond: so the fuck what? Many people who let their hair down (or put it up) for Pride spend the rest of the year in the trenches making change. I fail to see the connection between shaking your buns and maybe kissing your partner in a safe public space – maybe the only one you get the whole year – and the misled destruction of all queer progress.

Besides which, many people are invigorated or reinvigorated at Pride every year to take part in the political process of being QTBGL. Local and state political organizations are major presences at Pride, and most anyone behind a microphone will be delivering, at least in part, a political message. At Pride, you can have your politics, and eat them, too.

3) We’re not all worried about what straight people think.
This may come as a shock, but not all queer people think it is our daily mission to make straight people like us. Some of us have examined the failed tactics of The Mattachine Society and The Daughters of Bilitis as well as the straight-laced vision of the the modern gay marriage movement and decided, actively, that acting like straight people isn’t effective in swaying their opinions. To borrow a phrase from Shakesville, a lot of QTBGL pride dissenters are being concern trolls when they caution that pride doesn’t advance the movement.

Whose movement? is a question many of us are asking.

***

This push-and-pull narrative about Pride is probably here to stay. I do hope it will become more nuanced, though, over time. Us queers – we grow, we change, and we try to respect each other. Isn’t that alone something to be proud of?

Ten Years Out, Why I Call Myself a Faggot

10 Years Out, Why I Call Myself a Faggot

I was going through some…stuff around November last year, and somehow at the time it completely escaped my attention that it had been ten years since I came out of the closet. (Well, I count forward from the time I told my father I was gay, despite the fact that I had been coming out slowly to friends for about a year before that.)

I was mystified. And I felt old. I had never marked this occasion before, and it seemed like I should have had some sort of real hootenanny to mark this round-numbered anniversary. Oh well, I thought. There’s always eleven.

This year, when I remembered that I was going to forget the anniversary of me coming out, it occurred to me that I was celebrating a different kind of tenth anniversary this year: ten years out as a self-identified faggot.

Shudder. I hate that I have to use the euphemism “self-identified” to describe one of my identities. So here’s the breakdown on why.

Faggot is a word used starting from the time kids are old enough to parrot their parents’ prejudices to the time they push these prejudices on their own children to dehumanize gay men & boys at large and, in particular, c/overtly gender-variant gay men and boys (although more of us used to remember and honor the gender variance inherit in being homoerotically and homoromantically inclined).

There are lots of folk mythologies about why the particular word faggot has come to mean what it does. The most popular of these follows that the word relates to a kind of bundle of sticks, linking the word to medieval punishment for homosexuality. However, the word faggot in its present use as an epithet actually descends from the obsolete English word faggot, meaning fat and lazy woman. (Words spelled faggot and fag have a long history in English: for instance, the totally unrelated [obsolete] fag, meaning a poor boy who does menial labor for a rich man.)

Go and figure that the word faggot is at the heart of the connection of sexism, gender policing, body fascism and homophobia as we know them.

The reason none of this matters is, even if the word itself doesn’t represent a painful history of being burned at the stake (or being used to start fires to burn other people at the stake, suggested by faggot’s relationship to kindling), it represents the heterosexist, misogynist, homophobic, gender-is-as-we-say-gender-does playground and grownup vitriol, beatings and killings some gay men experience as gender outsiders.

I would never want to suggest that other people’s experience of the word faggot is less valid or important than mine. I honor the experience of every person who has ever been called a faggot – regardless of actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression [as faggot is also used to enforce gender against rebellious straight men and applied just as quickly to some lesbians and transpeople of all sexual identities].

This is why I do not call other people faggot, in the same way that I do not (or at least always try not to) refer to anyone as an identity which ze has not specifically expressed in the past. It would be inappropriate, colonialist, universalizing bullshit of me to assume I know anything about how another person identifies or wants to be identified. If your name is Whenyouwishuponastar and your preferred pronoun is gadinkitydonk (catchy, huh?), I and everyone else in your life owe you the human respect to use those words in relationship to you.

Names and pronouns are an imperfect analogy for my loud, proud self-identification as a faggot. I recognize this, and I own it, but I think it does get me somewhere in discussing every person’s right to self-identification.

It’s an imperfect analogy because of the difference between I and you. No, that wasn’t a grammatical mistake. What I mean is that “I am a faggot,” but, ninety times out of a hundred, “you are [not] a faggot.” I use Joe Jackson’s rule: “Don’t call me a faggot, not unless you are a friend.” Joe Jackson, of course, is a heterosexually identified cisgender male, but a gender outlaw nevertheless for daring to “wonder who the real men are.”

Chances are I don’t want you to call me a faggot. But if I tell you I’m a faggot (which I do, in fact, frequently tell people), I don’t see why you have some choice in the matter of whether or not that is true. I have been isolated, lionized, castigated and even physically assaulted – by another out queer person – for identifying myself out loud as a faggot.

Faggot is an oppositional identity. Maybe I didn’t choose to be one, but I choose every day to identify as one. It’s fuckin’ dangerous and lonely as shit out here, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m hardly the first person/queer/artist/queer artist to point it out, but, if I could be non-offensive in my natural state to a wide array of people – in my case, say, both Joe Solmonese and Dick Cheney – I wouldn’t be living my life in a way that worked for me.

There’s a reason gay man pretty much doesn’t cut it as an identity label for me, and it has a lot to do – in case you haven’t guessed it yet – with my continued stress on the connection between misogyny and homophobia.

I do not see myself as just like other men with the exception that I sleep with other men.

I have no desire to be seen as just like everyone else with the exception of this thing I can compartmentalize really successfully behind the closed doors of my tidy bedroom.

I don’t want to jump headlong into institutions that oppress all of humanity and call them less oppressive if I finally convince the gate-keepers to let me in.

I disagree that getting straight people to like us is a worthwhile goal.

I was a faggot the day I realized that I was never going to be a real boy, and that my parents, I, and my culture/s had no right to expect this of me.

I was a faggot the day I realized I didn’t need to be a woman to not be a man.

I was a faggot the day I realized I like shoes that make noise.

I was a faggot the day I stood in those shoes in front of a man who said “you’re a fucking faggot and I’m going to kill you” and I said “I am a fucking faggot.”

I was a faggot when I got myself to safety wearing those same shoes.

I was a faggot the day I realized there was no such thing as the same or opposite gender of me.

I was a faggot the first time I said I was, when I was a fourteen-year-old punk bassist with a blown amp and a sore heart.

I am a faggot who put that wiggle in his walk ‘cos he likes it that way.

I was a faggot when I saw the misogynist gender-perfectionism (cf. Kate Bornstein’s pyramid of gender & power) that makes the word “dyke” okay in a way that “faggot” isn’t.

I was a faggot when I realized gender is drag and it’s up to me whether or not mine is/are a good show.

I am a faggot who will seek out & embrace all the other faggots, sissies, fairies, nancies and nellies in this beautiful world before I take one more moment with a gay man who needs to use his masculinity to hurt other gay men – and himself.

I am a faggot who won’t stop using the word faggot ‘cos other queer people want me to. Another’s desire to prove hir sameness – hir blend-ability – to the bouncer at the door of gender doesn’t have any more to do with me than I let it.

I am a faggot because I’m finally starting to feel like there’s nothing left I need to pass as.

If you can meet me somewhere on this playing field/cupcake kitchen or even find yourself asking lots and lots of questions, maybe you can call me a faggot. ‘Cos maybe you’re a friend. But you can’t call me a faggot with hate, and you can’t call me a faggot if you’re going to put it in air quotes or hold the word to the side like a turd. And I do ask you to remember the following: I call me “me,”  while you call me “you.” Two different, equally valid titles for the same person, right? We’re both right and neither of us are wrong. So I’m gonna keeping on me-ing, and I hope you will, too.