Friday, April 10, 2009

Homophobia and TRAGEDY: the end of 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover's life

[Source for photo is here]

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, eleven years old, took his own life due to on-going homophobic harassment at his school. His mother begged the school to do something, and now it's too late for Carl Joseph. A sweet child taken out by anti-gay bigotry and the lethal violence that is the normalisation and naturalisation of heterosexuality.

Dear Carl: I hope you are at peace. I wish you had made it through grade school in Springfield, Massachusetts, to know a full life of tenderness, affection, and love, however it would have been expressed.

My heart goes out to Carl's mother, Sirdeaner L. Walker, and the rest of his family and friends. Carl would have turned twelve one week from today.

For the full story, see here.

[The following paragraph has been changed due to it being pointed out to me that my language was very close to that used against us as queer people.]

I look forward to the day, the years, when the LGBT agenda is focused on the health, safety, and well-being of our youth--all of our youth, who are so at risk in so many ways, not just from anti-queer bigotry and institutions, but from transphobia, misogyny, poverty, racism, as well as pimps and procurers of those seen as "being like women or girls" (including ciswomen, transwomen, and many of us cisgendered folks who appear too feminine, as masculinists and heterosexual male supremacists define it).


Yolanda said...

"Curse the same-sex marriage agenda: our focus should be on our youth, who are so at risk in so many ways. Making schools and every other environment SAFE for queer youth. Queer Agenda item #1. From now on, please, until the need is there no more."

Julian, with all due respect, I completely disagree with you here. There isn't an either/or contest between fighting for adults' marriage rights and ending homophobic bullying against children. Any movement against homophobic/transphobic oppression has to begin and end with both of these goals, and a hell of a lot more goals where these come from.

The fact of the matter is this: Carl Walker-Hoover lived his short life in a world where LGBT people are demonized across all sociopolitical spheres for being exactly the people they are. He was bullied by other kids for daring to exhibit his full human self, a self he had every right to feel comfortable with. Every person should have that right.

The fight for marriage equality---while admittedly only a tiny piece of an enormous puzzle---is part of much greater fight for our basic human rights and dignity. If queer folks aren't entitled to the same rights and privileges as hetero-cis folks, then our standing as human beings is rendered inherently inferior. I am not okay with that, and I am also not okay with the idea that equal marriage access is some kind of frivolous luxury that doesn't matter. It damn sure does matter! What about Black folks in the US South when slavery ended? What about Richard and Mildred Loving, who risked felony convictions to get married? What about all the hetero and queer folks who have no access to civil marriage in Israel? You can't tell me this doesn't matter, Julian.

And not to beat a dead horse here, but I find the statement "Curse the same-sex marriage agenda" deeply homophobic. While I'm sure that was not your intent, please be mindful that words matter. As we all know, "homosexual agenda" is one of more tired appellations of homophobic bigots.

Julian Real said...

Welcome, Yolanda.

I apologise to you and to all who fight for and end to homophobia, for using the term I did in my remarks, as I completely agree with you about it conjuring up all manner of homophobic slurs and assaults. That was reckless on my part, and I will go back into the post and change that.

As you can well guess, I am about to blather on quite a bit about this issue.

There are generally and usually too few resources in oppressed communities to support one another and fight many forms of invisibilisation, discrimination, and oppression that face those of us who are mistreated and misperceived in those ways.

As I see it, the privileging of marriage-as-institution and two-parent families, particularly "nuclear" ones, are among the many Western white male supremacist institutional tools of multi-cultural destruction, including genocide and ecocide.

I wrestle with this whole issue of harmful institutions being necessary to many of us for our sense of well-being, especially for those of us who have been legally or otherwise prevented from entering them. And it is not for me, as a white man, to tell any woman of any color how she ought to be living her life. I hope my declarations, or whatever they are, do not come across as reprimanding or shaming anyone for making choices and agendas other than those I actively support.

However appropriately desired and deserved by many of us, I, as one simultaneously oppressive and oppressed gay individual, don't support the same-sex marriage agenda. With great lack of integrity and consistency, I negotiate my way through or around many agendas that legitimise and reinforce the belief that sexual or romantic or primary coupling, when between two adults who are legally and/or religiously recognised as "married", is "a good course of action".

The week I've told my friends I hope never to attend another wedding, has also been the week in which one of my good friends asks me to be part of their wedding party. I am often caught in personal-political dilemmas I don't smoothly find my way out of or through.

I maintain, however, that dominant and corporately well-funded forms of relating are not more deserving of high status and reward and affirmative recognition than other forms of relating.

As you mention, part of the history of the U.S. is for ruling class people to deny non-ruling groups of people--if even recognised as people, inclusion into oppressive institutions which exist to maintain and strengthen white heterosexual male supremacy. Do I think "outsiders" fighting and achieving "insider" status is only supportive of the oppressor? No. And I generally support oppressed people finding our/their ways, in ways that are meaningful, or, sometimes, just "accomplishable". I don't support social-political discrimination.

And, in my experience, and in the experience of most "single" people I know, and among many single parents, such privileging-of-pairs, including through monetary compensation, deems some of us more worthy in a society that will not similarly reward clustered friendships, bonds among neighbors, single grandparent-grandchild relationships, communal living, extended families, and many non-Western/white Christian forms of maintaining more sustainable, life-nurturing societies. And for some who do not have access to much in the way of social status or privileges and entitlements, getting married may be one of a few means of attaining some level of social standing and personal affirmation.

I realise our Queer community, or its many branches, has had to make tough decisions about what is do-able when. I also understand that my strategies for most things won't work.

I'm sure I don't recall the moment, but at some point a decision, or on-going collection of decisions, was made among the more socially privileged and media-connected LGBT groups and communities to make same-sex marriage THE top agenda item, while the safety of queer youth was put off as "too risky" a matter to put front and center. That means that queer youth are dead because of that decision, because there are not sufficient funds to make two items "first priority" in my experience of LGBT political struggles. For a while it was "'gays' in the military" which I also did not support.

As one very privileged person, and a survivor of years-long childhood anti-queer bullying and heterosexist harassment, I have no intention or desire to be married to anyone. I doubt I'll be in "a primary sexual or romantic relationship" as that is popularly understood. (And due to PTSD, I doubt I'll be in any sexual relationship of any kind.) As someone who has seen marriage function primarily as a form of interpersonally and intimately, privatising the subjugation, control, exploitation, and abuse of women by men (in a period of time after women weren't legally seen primarily as property), as someone who doesn't value "spousing" more than other forms of intimate interpersonal or social relating, and as someone who is against white men's efforts to make "the nuclear family" a superior form of "doing family", I take the positions I do.

I try to remember that survival for those facing atrocities has usually required various forms of assimilation with and accommodation to the oppressors, including the people from whom I am partly descended, Eastern European Jews, whose mass (but not "universal") refusal to culturally assimilate into non-Jewish Caucasian cultures, coupled with gross and widespread or well-organised anti-Semitism, resulted in genocide and progroms. I know U.S. white Jews whose grandparents, great-grandparents, and other relatives and members of home villages were among those people killed in Europe in the Nazi Holocaust and, if they weren't, they were later driven out of their villages and towns, out of the countries and continents on which they were born.

How have those of us who have been displaced fared? How have we survived? Some of us held tight to our identities as Ashkenazi Jews, some of us disidentify with that heritage and ethnicity, some fall somewhere in between. No matter what, our living situation changes dramatically. But some struggle to celebrate Jewish holidays in the U.S. My family annually put up a Christmas tree instead. My father came to this country when he was four. He knew the consequences of "not fitting in".

For many this drive to assimilate, including through acquisition of civil rights, is necessary because to do otherwise is to suffer too much humiliation and rejection and scorn. We all find our way, knowing what we know about the consequences of doing otherwise. And some "assimilate" without fighting for civil rights, while others' fight for those rights may be the primary way they seek the status and dignity of the successfully assimilated.

I recognise the necessity of these varied approaches for survival, most especially of fighting for the rights that those on top have. And I think we'd agree that even when oppressed people get those rights, they are never politically equal to their opressors. And a lesbian couple being able to marry does mean something; it means a lot to some couples. Even without the same exact status and privileges, obtaining certain rights and routes of access does bring relative well-being for some, a sense of "now I'm seen as more human".

Maybe it comes out of some sort of arrogant stubbornness or place of dense privilege in me, but it is important for me repeatedly state that some institutions some of us fight for, whether from the inside or the outside, are fundamentally inhumane and ecocidal. I am a kind of radical who seeks to know how various social-political efforts will play out in the long run. Do they support the Earth being alive and well or not? Do they support Indigenous people thriving on their own terms or not? Do they support women being free from male domination or not? And who can really know? Who can know what will come of any struggle? I can't.

And, in my view, and in the view of many who do not have nearly as many of the privileges I have, the institution of marriage does not exist to promote the well-being of humanity as a whole, nor the well-being of the Earth and its non-human inhabitants as a whole.

So I guess we agree to disagree, but, as always, I welcome reading anything more you wish to add to the discussion, friend.