Sunday, December 9, 2007

Coming Out and Culture

Classes are finally over, so I officially have one more semester of this nonsense...well, after I get through finals. A lot of issues for this blog have been on my mind lately, but right now I'm going to go with a "queer" topic.

Ever since I've gotten into the blogosphere, I've been noticing a lot of queer bloggers either engaging in "outting" people or who are all for it--not necessarily in the personal experience, but more so when it comes to famous people.

For example, I wake up today, open up my internet browser and I am quickly led to this story about Queen Latifah. Now, Queen Latifah has been the subject of a lot of lesbian rumors over the years. And I understand the media's job is to forego having their own lives just so that they can remain forever in everyone else's business. I just happen to think that with celebrities and even with conservative politicians who oppose gay rights then turn out to be gay themselves...what they do in the bedroom (or the bathroom or the boardroom or the White House/Senate/Congress and so on) is their own business...regardless of whether or not they appear to be hypocritical, liars or downright harmful to gays.

And for gay people who find this problematic...think about what it would have been like for you if someone told as many people as possible that you were GLBT when you were simply not ready for that piece of information to be divulged. And this is something that a lot of GLBT people have experienced. Being queer is not synonymous with being out. In order words, because someone appears to be straight or dates the opposite sex doesn't mean they aren't queer, and because someone is having relationships with the same sex doesn't mean they tell everyone they are or that that's what they are supposed to do. They have no obligation to anyone but themselves, which includes doing what's right for them. You're not obligated to come out, especially if it's for anyone but you. People who make the choice to come out for the sake of GLBT rights and visibility...make that choice. In other words, at the end of the day, it's supposed to be that person's choice.

Two things:

1) I think there's this assumption that because someone is GLBT, they support GLBT rights or are supposed to. That's a huge part of the reason why gay conservatives, whether they are politicians or not, are considered hypocrites. But, as I've written before, we're not all of one mind. We don't all think alike, view the world the same way or share the same opinions. And I'm glad for that. Having a relatively few gay people who don't share the majority gay opinion is not going to undo what the majority is working towards or counteract it. We don't all have to be the same in order to make progress, and this is something that black people also need to learn, as well. It does cause some difficulties, but they are difficulties that can be overcome. The answer to taking down conservative closet gay politicians doesn't have to be outting them. Really, all you need to do is go to the polls on election day. My strategy is always to vote against people, never for, since I don't agree with Democrats or Republicans.

I see so many gay people who take the stance of..."Obama and Clinton haven't come out explicitly for gay rights, so I'm not voting for them." Guess what, Sherlock? The candidates that are going to come out for gay rights are the last ones who have a chance at keeping that Republican out of office who has explicitly come out AGAINST gay rights. Use your heads and stop being so self(not to mention gay)-centered, because that kind of thing lost Democrats the last election...which is why we have all these politicians against gay rights in office in the first place. There are so many ways to get what you want without wrecking people's lives, doing things to them that you wouldn't have wanted done to you ten years ago when you were in similar shoes, struggling with your identity. And gay rights is not the only issue on the table of importance. I know that if I don't want to see American-born Asians and Latinos shipped "back" to China and Mexico--because, you know, to a lot of people in the US, all Asians are from China and all Latinos are from Mexico--blacks almost completely stripped of educational opportunities via attacks on affirmative action if we're lucky and back as slaves for whites (and this time, for many Asians and Latinos, as well) again if we're not, the absence of government assistance for people who really need it and the rich paying absolutely no taxes...I need to suck up my personal qualms with a Democratic candidate and vote for the one who has the best chance of winning.

I was reading an interview today and saw this musical artist refer to her grandparents, I think, as being half-liberal, half-conservative, saying that you never know where they'd fall on an issue. That's pretty much a good way to describe me, except I often suspect I'm a bit more conservative than liberal. That said, as someone who might be a more-than-half-conservative...I have to admit that gay rights are not important to me, regardless of the fact that I'd much rather feel up a woman than a man. I know a lot of gays find that unfathomable, but I could actually write a book about why they're not. Some people would get it a little better, though not agree, and'd still go over their heads. But as best as I can shortly describe right now, here are a few reasons.

To me, when I think about "gay rights," I think about rights to marriage, children/parenting and being out in the military. On a personal level, these are three things that I have no interest in. I 100% don't believe that these rights should be denied to anyone. But as someone carrying a lot of targets on me for various identities, I don't have the desire or energy to fight issues that don't personally matter to me when there are other issues that I have to fight on a regular basis whether I want to or not. I think most people are this way, i.e. if they don't feel they have to deal with a difficult issue they simply aren't going to. And, if you think about it, the gay politician in the closet often already has a marriage and kids and may have even already served in the military. At their ages, they also grew up in a different time when you could be gay all you want to on the inside, but you're still expected to and likely will get married to the opposite sex and have kids and keep your mouth shut about your sexuality. They probably have never given serious thought to marrying someone of their sex, let alone trying to adopt or conceive kids with someone of their sex, and they probably truly would never want to because the standards of a past society are so ingrained in them. Coming out is all the rage to the younger, whiter generations (more on this in my second point).

I recognize that there are other issues gays contend with, such as housing discrimination at times and hate crimes. But as someone who has had the experience of being a racial minority all my life, I know something that most gay people don't know (being that most gay people are white)--there are some issues that you can fight and expect to win someday while there are others that you'll never win. Today alone, I've read many a white person basically say that someday being gay will be accepted. That's unrealistic crap. I believe that someday, gays will win the aforementioned marriage, parenting and military battles...but as far as making people stop hating gays and stop attacking or discriminating against gays can forget it. Someday being gay will be more accepted than it is now, and being gay is more accepted now that is was even ten years ago. But you can never completely stop hatred based on differences.

Finally, I have to admit that I get some satisfaction out of seeing some white people forced to go through things that racial minorities go through. Does being gay make those whites even with racial minorities? No. Does being gay mean they understand racial minorities and their experiences? No. I meet more heterosexual white women and whites who grew up poor (usually, those two identities run concurrently, i.e. they are pretty much all hetero white women who grew up poor) who can have accurate conversations about what blacks experience in the US than white gays. Still, every time I think about joining in a fight that essentially will put white gays back at full white privilege, I really get uneasy...because I think the experience that white gays have in the US is an experience that every white person should have at some point. I can't imagine wanting to make life easier for a white person while, after that fight is over, life is still basically as hard as it always was and always will be for me...even if what they're denied is unfair.

Do the math--there are more people in the US being unfairly denied equal treatment than not, but gays are one of the few groups who are openly acknowledged by half the country as having this experience. That means they are one of the few groups that will be allowed to make progress...while, as stories about Jena Six, West Virginia, Columbia University and Central Michigan University (nooses hung in a classroom recently) well as, arguably, attacks on immigration (which I personally agree with, but I know many view them as stemming from racism) and the revival of the KKK make evident, other groups are moving backwards rather than progressing. This is also another example of how you can fight and win some battles, but you'll never win others if you're a minority of any kind. You never stop fighting.

2) You have to realize that you can't force your standards on others and that we're not all from the same culture or the same time. As I said before, coming out is a fairly new, popular concept among the young and the white, not to say that there aren't minorities who also come out or argue as adamantly about the necessity of coming out as whites tend to. But a book I read recently helped underscore this point that, depending on where you're from in life, coming out is viewed extremely differently and is an extremely different experience for some than others. If you have trouble grasping this concept, then I'd implore you to read Martin Manalansan's "Global Divas," which is about queer Filipino males, most of whom immigrated to the US from the Philippines. It will help me make my point rather than me writing an entirely separate, new book in my blog about the issue, this time only about black queers rather than Filipino queer males.

Similarly, we also have to learn to stop being so US-centric. By that, I mean two things--and this is related to a post I've been meaning to write about my problem with hyphenated racial/ethnic identities, i.e. Asian American or Asian-American. But here's a preview. One, there are people in the US who are "American," and then there are others who are "American" but not really, because they have such ties to another nation that they bring in and incorporate aspects of their nations into their identities. White people are "American." Everyone else is "American" but not really "American." As much as some of us want to believe otherwise, there's not much escaping our background, if you're not white. "Global Divas" helps explain this phenomenon, as well. Ideas of American-ness are made by white people (which is why I say white people are "American"), and there's no way we can completely fit those ideas (which is also why I say white people are "American").

This is why (two) I always think it's funny when white gays in the US try to tell a racial or ethnic minority what they should do with their gayness. Heck, I've seen obviously white gays on AfterEllen advising people in other countries to come out, no matter what the situation is that this person has described. Apparently, white gays in the US don't know that in some cultures, being openly gay can get you sent to prison, murdered, or formally taken out, i.e. the death penalty. What's more, though, is there are tons of people who immigrate to the US from these countries with these--to us--drastic cultures, or were born here but have parents here from those cultures, passing them down. And while it might not be that drastic in other cultures, such as the Philippines, they still have their own, different way of approaching queer identity...and that comes with them to the US. For a lot of us minorities, whether we were born here or not, it's something like the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Some of us (from all races) have to learn to respect that rather than do like white people always seem to be trying to do, i.e. force their standards and cultural assimilation on others because it's "better." Some of us are perfectly happy with our cultures, or at least accept, respect and/or honor them.