Thursday, April 5, 2007

Clueless Pt. 2: Me Too

Part I here

My search for blogs has led me to some very interesting posts in other people's blogs. I tend not to agree with a lot of what I read in other people's blogs, and this blogger wrote something I don't really agree with that I've been thinking about for a while.

There is the idea that, in general, no one knows you're gay unless you say it but everyone knows you're black. There are definite exceptions. I have known blacks who "pass" because, of course, they are not just black--they are mixed. And many gays I meet, I can tell they are gay from a mile away, especially a lot of gay men.

There is this gay Asian male in one of my classes who is kind of a joke among some of the blacks, at least (the others at my school are too PC for this, not that I don't think they notice him like we do--I think they completely do). And, honestly, this is another way in which I find being "closeted" helpful--you get to know what straight people really do think and say about gay people when they think everyone amongst them is straight. Now, all of these blacks would say they don't care about people being gay--in fact, I've had conversations with one of them about gays, and we are on the same page as far as gay whites. She supports gay rights but, like most black people, is not out there actively working for gay rights--she supports them in theory, just as I do (meaning, simply, I'm not fighting for them and am not interested in fighting for them, at least not right now). I'm not saying that their saying they don't care if someone is gay is the truth, and I haven't always believed some of the blacks at this school who have said that (they are the onle ones I've heard actually say that, whereas others tend to take actions that demonstrate they don't care, such as attending GLBT meetings).

But we laugh at this guy. Yes, I do it, too. I think our reasons for laughing at him are the same, many of which have nothing to do with his being gay. For one thing, he is overly-intellectual and way too into the class, it seems. In law school, there are those of us who kind of resent people who participate in class all the time or who seem very interested in the material while we're sitting there waiting for the time to pass. And I do think the class has its interesting moments, but the last time I was overly-enthusiastic about a class was in undergraduate school literature courses. I just don't understand being like that about a law school course, and neither do many others. So these people are often made fun of behind their backs, and most of the time when people talk about this guy this is why.

But some straight people also think obvious gay people are funny. And I know they don't understand why they are so obvious because I don't understand why they are so obvious. There are many reasons why this is true, and I must clarify a few things when I say I don't understand why they are obvious before I talk about those reasons. I don't mean "why don't they hide it;" I mean "what makes a person like that?" I know many would answer biology because I've read many say that they have always shown signs and have talked about how others, including their parents, recognized these signs at an early age (and, yet, hoped their child could "change").

I'm having the most difficult time writing about what it is I don't understand. I guess I partially doubt that some of the characteristics of some gay people really are biological. I feel as if this is one of those times in which I understand how white people feel with respect to black people, i.e. I understand a majority vantage point in approaching something difficult, some "otherness." I think that when people are in those situations, the best thing they can do is defer to the people who have an experience about their experience and not argue with it. I am ill-equipped to argue about this.

So I am right there with straight people, looking at this guy in my class, just kind of not knowing what to make of what I'm seeing. In particular, it's his head movements and his voice, but also those things in combination with his "nerdiness" make him an easy target. I also remember this time when he was giving a presentation, and the way he stood, walked and held his body jumped out. He also is the closest thing to a stereotypical gay male character I've met in law school, in my opinion, and people will notice that. I honestly don't think this would be any different for me if I were out (i.e. my lack of understanding wouldn't be different), and I think because there's not a lot that jumps out at straight people about me...if I were out, the reaction to me from the class wouldn't be the same. So it's not so much about his sexual orientation, per se.

The final thing about him is that he throws the fact that he's gay into the discussion. He does it less now that the class is almost over, but when the class first began he mentioned it often. To straight people, that comes off as "he has just got to let everyone know!" And now that he doesn't mention it but people have become familiar with the way he carries himself, that also just seems like his way of making sure people know, in many people's eyes, not as something he has no control over.

I think part of the reason why some straight people laugh and notice these gay people more is the same as why some people laugh when they are nervous or feel as if a situation is awkward. I think a lot of straight people would rather deal with gay people who don't remind them that they are gay in any way because there's still a part of them that is uncomfortable with homosexuality or that doesn't understand it because they're not homosexual, just as much as I don't understand this particular sect of gays because I'm not like them. In that sense, yes, this is another parallel to being black, because, as I have mentioned throughout my blog, I think a lot of non-blacks prefer black people who just look black but won't remind them in other ways of their blackness. I do think the same bewilderment I experience is there for straight people. But the gays who conform more are not laughed at by the same people who laugh at this guy in my class. In fact, their being gay has never been mentioned in my presence. Yet, we have spoken about this guy behind his back on many occasions, though most times have been about his "nerdiness" because he is certainly the most overly-intellectual person in the class.

However, there were at least two distinct times in which we discussed his sexual orientation. I actually made the joke about how he raises being gay all the time, because I do think that's not always necessary and that he really did just want to make sure that was known because--as far as I can remember--none of the times he mentioned being gay were during the times in which we actually have discussed queer theory or homosexuality. They were times when only race was on the table. And in my coming out group, the same joke could have been made about me by everyone else about how I mentioned race, and some of them probably felt that wasn't always necessary when I mentioned it. Plus, this guy does know I am queer, and I bet he wonders why I don't mention being queer in class. But, then, he never mentions being Asian, and this class is over 95% about race. As I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog, my passion is race, not sexual orientation. He could very well be the opposite.

In my life, I have found that the gay people whom I don't understand in terms of certain characteristics have been gay men. The gay women I haven't understood have mainly been on TV or some other far-off source. I tend to see the lesbians who are obviously lesbians because of natural body build, dress, sometimes the way they walk and things like that. But they are not as a lot of us perceive many gay men to be, i.e. showy, flashy, flaming, etc. Then again, I think it's harder for women to be any of these things because more is accepted for us. The problem for gay women tends to come when people start having a problem telling whether or not she's a woman or a man. I remember as a kid seeing K.D. Lang and Tracy Chapman on VH1 and trying hard to figure out what their sex was. The only reason I ever figured out Chapman was a woman was because when she came out with "Give Me One Reason" while I was in high school, I noted she was wearing a dress in that video and she also had longer hair than she used to.

Either way, there are gay people who, just based on some things, can't pass. There are certainly more of them than there are black people out there who can pass. The question is how are these gay people treated? If you want to argue about whether or not blacks or gays are treated worse in the world or if this is really a difference between blacks and gays, perhaps this is what we should be comparing.

First of all, I don't think the problem for blacks when it comes to gays is really about "everyone knows I'm black, no one knows you're gay," even when that's what's said. White people, apparently, are not reading between the lines when that statement is made. Allow me: the translation is, "everyone knows I'm black, and everyone knows you're white." So, many of us blacks would answer the question about how are gay people treated who can't pass in racial terms. My answer would be, for example, "Well...they are still white, so that means they're treated better than us."

I do believe that gay people who can't pass experience more hardship, are physically attacked more, etc. But they also seem to be more accepted by gay communities and are in a way that black gays often aren't (who, by the way, also are physically attacked by people of all races just for being black). And they are accepted more by straight whites than black people are, as well. You might argue that gay white people aren't accepted by black people, but, honestly, when have white people ever cared about or needed that...whereas white people accepting us often has a job, a grade, an acceptance letter, a dinner in a restaurant, an apartment, a neighborhood to which we can move, an elementary/secondary school we can attend, having any friends in predominantly white environments, etc, riding on it.

Ultimately, I feel that there is a need to go back to the point I made earlier about sometimes needing to defer to groups of people about their experiences. If there are out gay black people out there who can speak to being treated worse in the world as a black person than as a gay person, then you've heard it from the horse's mouth. This is not a person who is a white gay person trying to tell black people why things are so much worse for them nor a straight black person trying to tell gay white people why things are so much worse for them. Neither of these people are really in the position to know.

I believe that if homosexuality were something that mainly happened to black people, then gay people would be doomed. There'd be no hope for ever achieving "equality." I actually kind of doubt that, even with white people basically leading the gay rights fight, full "equality" for gays is possible. However, as I said before, racism and classism are the backbones of this nation...not homophobia. There's always going to be someone out there who hates "fags" because you just can't change everybody. However, I envision far better results for the gay civil rights movement than the black civil rights movement, mainly because it is being fought by white people and because white gays are essentially the only visible gays. This is part of the reason why so many blacks think being gay is a white thing. But the thing about that is I think a lot of whites are affected by the only visibility being that of white gays, as well.

So, a lot of people spend time comparing, but what they don't want to spend time doing is seeing and pointing out the way race intersects with homosexuality. I think gay people will receive the right to marry, the right to openly serve in the military and the right to have and adopt children. But, frankly, gayness is more of a white thing simply because there are more whites in America than blacks and other people of color. The majority of gay people are white stricly because of numbers. If homosexuality were something that happened only to black people and black people complained about gay rights, nothing would ever get done about these injustices and gay people certainly wouldn't be where we are today vs years and decades ago.

But when white people complain, things happen. The reason why blacks received many victories during the civil rights movement was not because blacks fought so much as it was because other countries used America's treatment of blacks against them. In other words, white Americans were simply tired of looking bad, i.e. there was something in it for them. And even today, other nations refer to America as racist...they don't refer to us as homphobic. White people receive victories because they are white people, on the other hand. Your sexual orientation is making less and less of a difference in that.

I often think it's funny when someone thinks being gay will hurt their chances of getting into office, or that supporting gay rights will hurt their election (eh-hemmClintonObama). In certain regions, with certain sects of have a point. But you will lose people for other things, as well, and being partisan is the main reason. But the fact of the matter is we have gays in office right now who are out. They might not be governors or senators, but that is totally coming. I have honestly considered running for office, and what I think about hurting me are my lack of religious beliefs, my race and my sex, depending on where I ran. As I told someone the other day, I would never make it in the South, even closeted and even being somewhat conservative (look at Harold Ford Jr., who might as well just switch to the Republican party). But I could go to some northeastern states, for example, and run for mayor as an out gay person and receive lots of support just for being an out gay person alone.

Read some more of this guy's posts, and you'll see more of the ways in which white gays fail to realize the significance of race, how it interacts with homosexuality and the ways in which they think differently about race and homosexuality.