This has been an on coming subject to blog about because it will hit very sensitive issues. On things I have come across a lot in conversation with other queers, masculine vrs femme guys, gay vrs bi, trans vrs cisgender, men vrs feminists, and even racial minority vrs white. There is a tendency in many of these discussions to jump to conclusions about privilege and who is the bigger victim in the given circumstance. We as marginalized people have the gift of sensitivity because of the marginalized stress we face, but the curse of victimhood mentality. It’s very easy to allow our conversations about privilege and power to turn into a dogmatic rhetoric that becomes a repetition of an angry self-referential script instead of a real conversation that reaches a goal of mutual respect and understanding. I am not targeting anyone person when I say this, indeed I have been guilty of it from time to time. But one thing I have begun to change in myself is how I approach conversations about marginalized intersectionality. When exclusion is necessary (such as women only groups aimed to empower women, or a gay mens retreat, or a trans support group, the list could go on indefinitely) and when inclusion is important. We need to be intersectional and aim for inclusion with our empathy, but respect the need for uniqueness and the things that do make us different.
I have seen this debate role on many things. When gay bars for example end up becoming over populated with a presence of heterosexuality and lose their status as a gay space. When trans individuals interact with gay culture and encounter hostility and ignorance. When bisexual and pansexual individuals feel excluded in a largely monosexual world (not entirely accepted by heteronormative society, not entirely accepted in gay spaces). These debates and conflicts have an on going struggle back and forth, conversations about who is the bigger victim and so on. But many of these debate lack a practical proposal about how to create fair and practical solutions. I haven’t walked the journey most gay men have, in some ways I have enjoyed privileges a supportive mother that went to PFLAG when I came out and did everything she could to support me upon coming out and onward through my gay experience to present. But in other ways I have experienced being marginalized, growing up with an alternative background not really belonging to a main stream religion, being bullied for being queer and a “faggot” long before I even accepted that about myself, being heavily dyslexic and struggled through school eventually and climbing those obstacles to eventually find academic success in college (still struggling with study skills and reading/spelling/grammar skills). I had my suicidal years in my pre-coming out days, because the bullying was just a bit to much to handle sometimes. I understand and empathize greatly with the struggle of being the odd one out, with being bullied because you’re different and can’t fit in. Yet when you encounter a discussion between queers all trying to establish legitimacy in their identity suddenly an honest expression of feelings becomes a competition about who had it worse. I won’t deny nor avoid owning up to the privileges I did have, because even though I did face a lot of adversity from peers and family outside of my new age alternative mother, I did have her support and still do today and though it didn’t take away the pain of being called “Elliott Fags” and being thrown in lockers by jocks, that made a big difference in my resilience to make it through the adversity I encountered. I realize there are many queers that don’t even have that, and even worse families that kick them out on top of it all. I don’t think a competition about who is a greater victim helps much though in building community and mutual support for each other.
One thing we are seeing today is clearer and clearer divisions between queers. I know many people like to call this “labels” and labels are bad right? I will have to disagree. My experiences organizing and student run LGBT organization in my college days was one of great importance when it came to learning about diverse queer perspectives. You can’t build effective advocacy and sensitivity training for institutions (like a college) without educating people about different queer identities and what makes them unique. Sure you could say “labels are the problem, we are all human and deserve equal respect no matter who you are.” Yes this is true, atleast in that we all have innate value to be treated with equal opportunity for success and respect. but the problem is most people are ignorant towards another’s experience that is unlike their own. A cisgendered individual does not know what it’s like to undergo the journey of being trans, nor can they appreciate the challenges that are unique to that experience from personal experience. So erasing a trans identity and dismissing it as a “problematic label” makes it difficult to educate someone that enjoys a cisgendered privilege on why gender neutral bathrooms are important. A cisgendered person could think they are progressive and would be “gender blind” like they could be “color blind” on issues of race, but if they do not acknowledge that trans people face bigotry and assault over something as simple as needing to go to a bathroom, while cisgendered people never even have to think twice about their comfort being able to relieve themselves…then are they really being good advocates for equality and a better and more fair world for all? No we need to define the things that make our experiences unique, so we can communicate our needs, educate others when we are in roles of advocacy, and form solidarity and even kindred bonds with those that relate to our experiences.
But here is where things began to get difficult. I learned a lot about checking my privileges and how important that was being a cisgendered gay male who was president and founder of an all-inclusive LGBTQIPA (A-Z alphabet soup community) organization. How could I be a good advocate for bi students if I did not take off my blinders as a monosexual? Or a good advocate for trans students if I did not try to respect and educate myself about what was unique in their experiences and needs? Yet I began to come up against the frustration that there were very, very few cisgendered gay men in my life that I could share a sense of comradery with. Sure there was some kindred bonds one could find in the generalized umbrella of “Queerness.” We all after all broke a mold of heteronormative gender binary expectations in society and could all relate to existing outside of that…but could I as an exclusively homosexual cisgendered male find many dating opportunities with lesbians? While a trans man was just as man as I am, could he fully relate to the specific things I went through in my linear experience constructing my identity as a gay man? While allies were welcome and appreciated, how much “gay community” could I find when the majority of the club were heterosexual? Can a bisexual/pansexual individual truly appreciate what it’s like to be limited to homosexual relationships and not get any romantic dating opportunities from heteronormative society? After leaving the community college where I founded the LGBTQ club, I transferred to complete my BA in a university and slowly began to focus my research on the uniqueness of a cisgendered gay experience and seeking common bonds with other cisgendered gay males. A trans individual could try to call “transphobia” or a bisexual “biphobia” here…but the goal here was not activism or changing society…simply just trying to find kinship with a like identity and building relationships with others that understood and related. That’s not active hate or unnecessary discrimination. Is a feminist being hateful towards men simply by trying to create a women’s only therapy group? No she is trying to provide a safe space where women can focus on each other and not qualify themselves to people that don’t relate to their unique experience. I think it would be great if Trans and non-monosexual individuals would do this for themselves. It could be very helpful to have an isolated space where only trans people are present and trans people could experience a vacuum free of gender binary conditioning. Or likewise bi/pan individuals experience a vacuum free of monosexual expectations. But I found a vacuum free of heteronormativity and focused easy access to homosexual relationships during my research, and it was like discovering something I had starved for all my life and never knew how much I needed it until I experienced it. Here is where we hit a difficult grey area between inclusion and exclusion.
The modern state of the LGBTQ community is beginning to focus less and less on just Gay and Lesbian binary experiences. More queers that fall outside of that are being represented. I think this is great. I seriously do, I have called many gay men out on ignorant things they say about trans individuals and bisexuality. However here is where the debate gets messy. Gay men and Lesbians may have more privileges to a certain degree in the progress they have made in society. But we still have a need for our unique spaces to form relationships and bonds with each other, that has not changed. How do we effectively negotiate inclusion while preserving that opportunity at things like pride or bars. I will be the first amongst my gay cisgendered brothers to say its important to consider other queers in a general queer space like pride. To have a speaker that might be lesbian and trans and not just Dan Savage. That’s only fair. But when gay men are forming a common identity and that becomes a group that becomes a fraternal bond, I don’t think it’s being unfair to preserve that sense of solidarity and fraternity. For example when someone creates a gay men’s singing group, dating app, or men’s night at the gay bar. I have two aspects of who I am as a queer. One that is an LGBTQ all inclusive activist, and a gay man. I think it’s important when building communities based on queer needs that goals are clearly defined. Is this a group for comradery and community between like identities, or a political movement that is concerned with people who do not conform to normative gender and sexual expressions. For a group that is defining itself in the later yes inclusion is important, intersectional perspectives are necessary. But sometimes trans people need a vacuum free of gender binary molds, and that does mean perhaps creating a group and movement unique to them. Just like homosexual men need a place to be around other homosexual men, to have access to sexual and dating opportunities. So we are in a state of negotiating when inclusion is the goal and where exclusion is necessary. I hate black and white statements. Sometimes it’s necessary to have exclusive spaces, other times inclusion is more important. But IT DEPENDS ON THE SITUATION. Letting men into a space trying to create a vacuum effect for women to empower themselves is not helpful to the goal of empowering women. Letting heterosexual allies into a gay mens retreat trying to create a vacuum to empower homosexual men (or atleast men trying to experiment or seek out homosexual experiences) is not helpful to that goal. On the other hand trying to advocate for a more inclusive society and make political statements about that, require the presence of allies and inclusive intersectional perspectives, being exclusionary when you are trying to advocate for an inclusive society where all are regarded and treated equally is hypocritical and not very helpful.
So I have come to a place of pragmatism, if you are creating a queer group or a group aimed towards anything regarding being queer, it’s important to define what the goal is. There is a difference between a space designed for fraternal bonds and social opportunities, and a group focused on political action and changing how society works. In the work space I aim to be as inclusive and affirming of diversity as I possibly can if I hold leadership. I would do my best to make it a comfortable work environment for someone that is trans, bi, black, Asian, disabled, or whatever have you. But as a gay man I need place in my life where I can be around other gay men, a space designed for making homosexual relationships easily accessible rather sexual/romantic or fraternal and community oriented. So while I participate in general society I will focus on inclusion and moving towards a public space that is affirming of infinite diversity in infinite combinations (excuse the star trek reference). But in my privet life when I am seeking out personal relationships with friends, lovers, and people I can share my personal experiences with…I am going to want to focus on people that are kindred spirits and people that can co-create social opportunities that fulfill my needs as a homosexual.
I think its fair to say all marginalized people are coming up against the conflict of inclusion and exclusion in a fast paced globalizing world. All I can say as someone that has spent A LOT of time having these discussions and building both communities based on principles of diversity and inclusions and the polar opposite of isolated communities attempting to create vacuums designed to empower specific people and relationships they need amongst each other, is that there are no absolutes. Think of it this way. Muslims deserve a place of equal respect and opportunity in society. As progressive and empathic human beings we should strive to be inclusive of Muslims in the work place, in the government, in the public sphere of society in general. But should Mosks be a place of worship for Christians and Pagans and Hindus? No a mosk is a place of worship for Muslims and those seeking to participate in Islamic worship. Perhaps you could be a Christian, an atheist, or an agnostic, or just a spiritual seeker that comes to a mosk to learn more about Islam…but you don’t walk into a mosk demanding that the people in that space practice your religion or conform to your personal spiritual beliefs. That space is about creating a space for the practice and community of Islam. Why should it be different in the queer movement? For all of us, rather its homosexuality, bi/pansexuality, transgendered, and other diverse gender/sexual identities? Our political movement should be all inclusive and unitied in making society a better place for all of us. But each of us needs a privet sphere where we can seek out relationships and fraternal bonds with kindred spirits. We need spaces to practice gender fluidity, or homosexuality, or whatever queer expression we are and sometimes that does mean splitting off from each other and respecting our different needs and spaces. I would not dream of invading a space dedicated to transgendered empowerment, I would gladly respect its sacredness as a cisgendered man. The same should hold true for a gay space.
Gay men do share unique and special bonds and we shouldn’t be expected to erase that experience and our opportunities to have it in our own privet spaces. Dan Savage may have had a history of biphobia and I may not of agreed with some of his perspectives earlier on in his career, but in recent times as he’s been put under fire by LGBT inclusive activists I think he’s refined what he means to say by being more respectful of bisexuality and transgendered peoples. He represents gay mens culture on multiple fronts, sexual expressions of it, family expressions of it, and social expressions of it. In a recent book of his he discusses the differences between bisexuality and homosexuality quite well, with a less dismissing and biphobic tone. Bisexual people need to create their own movement. There are so few bisexual bars, and perhaps there should be more of them. You can’t walk into a space dedicated to homosexuality (keeping in mind that society is heteronormative and homosexual opportunities are marginalized and difficult to access without spaces dedicated to it) and expect it to cater to opposite sex interactions. That’s by far past unfair. A space needs to be defined and maintained for homosexuality. Those not identifying as homosexual but desiring same-sex experiences could find what they wanted in that space and should be respected for who they are, as long as they respect what the space is defined for and not act entitled to change that goal. The same could be said for any other space designed for specific reasons.
Likewise sexual identities ought to be respected. I have meant many non-monosexual individuals that imply I ought to be like them. I will gladly respect a non-monosexual person and put forth every genuine attempt to respect they are not gay or straight, they are who they say they are, even when in a same-sex relationship or opposite sex one. But to imply I ought not be gay is rude and insensitive. I too have the right to be who I say I am and take pride in my exclusive homosexuality. I am not phobic of the vagina, yes I could look at one right in front of me and affirm what a beautiful part of the human body it is, and respect it as such. But don’t call me a bigot for not wanting to put my penis in it. Is that not an undertone of rape culture? To expect someone to do something sexually that they do not want to of their own consent? I have in recent years begun to focus my relationships and sought out social experiences with gay men exclusively. Because the more I have gained access to more and more friends and micro-communities of gay men, the more I find a fulfilling experience I never had growing up in a heteronormative society, nor in a LGBTQ club that was ever shade of queer except my own. Does that mean I do not advocate for equality and inclusion of other non-cisgendered-gay-male queers? OFCOURSE NOT, if I am ever in a position to left up a marginalized person and advocate for their equal respects and regard I will gladly do it. But when it comes to my personal relationships in my privet life, I do seek out exclusive male homosexual places and fraternal bonds. Simply because it fulfills a need I have as a homosexual, and I won’t apologize for that, nor would I expect a feminist, a transgender person, a bisexual person, an asexual person, a racial minority or ethnic group, to apologize for seeking out their unique kindred bonds with their own.
The LGBTQ movement has defined it’s self publically on the principles of inclusion and equality…but the more we educate ourselves about our different needs the more I think we will discover the necessity of having separate movements. If not politically, then for our own internal socialization needs. Wouldn’t be nice is someone who was trans had access to a community of other trans people to seek out mentorship and comradery? I think back when I was just coming out, I starved for community with other gay men. I think about the community of friends I have now amongst gay men and think how much of a difference it would of made in my sense of wellbeing if I had easy access to other cisgendered gay men at that time in my life. If I could have had the mentors, friends, lovers, and all that back then it would have made such a huge difference in my self-esteem and over all sense of wellbeing. I look at the growing tension between different queer identities and the competition of who is the bigger victim when we negotiate our common space. I think we need to acknowledge we are not the same, and all have different needs in our queer relationships. We need to find a new balance of inclusion versus exclusion. When and where it’s appropriate to focus on these concepts. I write this in the hopes we learn how to find a way to respect our differences and unique needs without interpreting an expression of that as a personal attack, but rather necessary community building for each of us. We need a future where we all feel like our needs are met and we have access to relationships that meet our needs…so how do we explore our uniqueness while advocating for our equal inclusion in society?