Queers Not Too Proud for Pop-Culture Hand-Outs
I am a proud person, but I have never really considered myself to be “proud” of being trans or genderqueer or queer or femme or disabled. However, I have always been proud of being an activist. I live in a conservative city where even the most “liberal” people are barely recognizable on any “coastal activist” scale. The general concept of community involvement is an HRC sticker on your car and getting drunk at Pride and terms like “privilege,” “ablism,” and “appropriation,” are barely in stock, and we just got them in last year. After 12 years on the activist block, I’m used to my comments about some problematic show or song being accompanied by friends’ groans and eye roles. What I’m not used to is being fed up with it.
Possibly regrettable statement: I am fucking tired of bad politics. Yes, I know I am using a subjective qualifier and using my own ideals to measure “good” and “bad.” And I feel the need to clarify that I know “bad” politics does not equal bad people. I have always striven NOT to be the type of activist who shoves PC crap down people’s throats without taking experience or perspective into account. That method isn’t productive or inclusive. But it may be that my being too curbed has been part of the problem… maybe in my attempts not to be a total social outcast I have let my city down. Or maybe I’m just sick of my friends making fun of me for giving a damn about language and community politics. But in Cincinnati-speak, ‘giving a damn’ is more commonly called ‘over reacting’ or ‘reading too much into things.’ Under this mentality, when I see something fucked up I’m supposed to let it go, banking on someone’s good intentions. Well, good intentions don’t drive revolution and revolution is what our people need.
But not according to folks around here. According to them things are fine, inclusiveness is stupid and weak, and pop-culture is god. If you don’t agree with this you deserve ridicule and rejection. Being ‘gay’ and being a fan of a singing diva or show is nothing new, and perhaps it is this history that has fused the concept of ‘gay pride’ and pop-culture. Recently I told some friends that I personally preferred not to choreograph or perform songs from Glee because I felt hypocritical (I hate Glee) and that I felt the particular requested song, “Baby Its Cold Outside,” to be sexually coercive and problematic. In response, these folks insensitively made fun of me, both for my “PC” comments and for not liking Glee, and then told me that I needed to get over myself. Now, 1) last time I checked rape was always bad and 2) I didn’t say anything negative about the friends themselves, just the show Glee. But these two factors didn’t matter because it wasn’t the political issues that were the problem, it was me “over reacting” about Glee and being “lame” (and yeah, I commented on that word too and got shit for that as well). Apparently an insult to Glee is an attack on “gay” life as we know it, making defense of it needed by whatever means necessary, even if it means emotionally hurting another “gay” person, even if they are your friend. We get so distracted fighting for survival and jumping at scraps of privilege and recognition we don’t even notice when we put down our own to get it.
And at this point I would like to redundantly point out the difference between a personal attack and a political dialogue. Just because I don’t like something you like or agree with something you say / language you use, doesn’t mean I don’t like or respect you as a human being. And I would expect that if someone didn’t like my politics they would recognize the difference between me politically analyzing language and me being an overall terrible person who is out to destroy them and all they love, burning all their hopes of happiness away with a flaming torch of indiscriminate activist fury… but this expectation has not worked out for me as of late.
I guess the obvious reason for all this is that people don’t like to be challenged nor do they like being told that something they like could possibly be bad. Yeah, fucking up sucks. Its embarrassing, I get it. I’m make mistakes all the time! I’ve not checked my privilege, slipped on a word, laughed at a bad joke… and when I see (or am shown) my error I pull myself up, admit it, and apologize – all this without my face catching on fire or some other catastrophic result. (gasp!) Who could guess others could do the same thing, even in the Midwest? But I could be wrong. Maybe the right thing to do is to be a pop-culture drone and lazily let mainstream society spoon feed me my identity in whatever flavor it sees fit. Do people really think that defending Glee or someone like Katy Perry or Ke$ha is helping them? Should we be thankful for celebrities throwing us a bone, even if they hit us in the face with it? (Get your mind out of the sex-club. Politics now, sex later.) Aren’t queers supposed to have something called “pride?” Queer pride is supposed to be an unabashed fight for our right to be ourselves, not latching onto cultural fads at the whims of sanitized music and TV.
I refuse to take what I am given, not because I am greedy or impatient, but because I am realistic. I know that in the real world words hurt. How did our society come to (sort of) learn that other semi-culturally recognized oppressions weren’t ok? We stopped allowing them in our media (sort of). The more we let slide the farther back we slide in the progress we are trying so hard to make. Is this what our proud people have been reduced to? Taking hand outs from celebrities who claim to care about the “gay cause” but don’t care enough to actually live their politics through their language and/or their performance? Yet when real people in our community speak out they are cast out as some sort of heretic. Am I reading too much into things? I think the problem is that too many people don’t read enough into things. If oppression were always out in front where everyone could see it there would be no question of right and wrong, but it isn’t. It hides in words, in TV shows, in songs… There is a big difference between obsessing over every tiny thing without thinking of the source’s experience(s) and recognizing the intricate layers of oppression within comments/products that promote problematic language and politics for the sake of entertainment and false belonging. I think if we were really proud of our community we would want to work hard to make it as inclusive as possible and be active in its growth, not leave it up to pop stars and TV to shape our image. Oppression comes from a lack of challenging the status quo. Yes, it is more work to think, and sometimes you don’t like what you find, but responsibility isn’t always easy or fun. And though I don’t necessarily think of myself as being “proud” to be any of my identities, I think that being able to say “I try my best with every option available to me to help my communities” enables me to be proud of who I am. Sure, I like seeing my identity recognized in media so I take the effort to find work created by queer and trans people for the sake of helping our community instead of those who use it for monetary gain or cool points. No, I can’t laze back and watch it on Fox or hear it on Clear Channel, but I’d rather have the real thing in its rarity than some money-making imitation that makes me feel good about myself at the cost of my own community’s dignity and pride.