Sunday, April 25, 2010
What English Word is Left Out of This Promotional Calendar for Queer Days at UC Berkeley?
The calendar above is from here, http://geneq.berkeley.edu/qadand if you go here you can find a link for downloading it. To enlarge it, to be able to read all the printed text, just click on the image itself.
Let's consider this colorfully designed and creatively presented Calendar for UC Berkeley's 2010 Queer Days, happening now through May 7, as the image indicates.
I congratulate the organisers of Queer Days at UC Berkeley. They have put together a program that bridges many gaps often left unattended and ignored when college communities organise to build and strengthen queer community. i NEVER saw this level of activism and organisation about queer issues when I was in college. And this post isn't really about what or how UC Berkeley is celebrating sexual and gender diversity on campus. I hope that will get clear here eventually!
BUT (oh, come on, you knew that was coming! It's me!!), I have one question: why does the word "lesbian" (you know, what Audre Lorde WAS), not appear anywhere on rainbow-of-colors calendar/poster. Gay does. Queer is all over the place. Trans is there. BDSM makes an appearance. LGBT is there. Just one word missing: LESBIAN. This is the big splashy sign announcing the three week series of events. And "lesbian" isn't on the thing even once.
This absence is entirely consistent with my experience of queer communities and what I read about Queer (and Gender, and Sexuality) Studies programs over the last fifteen years or more: it has practiced, quite systematically, the decentering of lesbian reality, lesbian experience, and lesbian feminist and womanist politics. Audre Lorde may be celebrated during their Queer Days, but her political views are, apparently, not celebrated, not honored, in so many ways by the other things they are doing throughout the three week period of support and celebration. Her use of the Erotic seems to have fallen behind more popular and patriarchal manifestations of eroticism. Queer events are now embracing everything from "traditional" racist/misogynistic/classist drag shows, to the re-emergence of burlesque, the everpresent bdsm, and "feminist" pornography. Lesbian women I know have had to question their lesbian identities due to being in connection with genderqueer folks who while appearing to be female and a woman, wish to be called "he". This means that when a lesbian is on the phone, she is in the position of saying, if speaking to a family member or roommate, "he and I are going to dinner tomorrow night", when explaining why she is not available for another event.
If I was asked to refer to a male-bodied/man-appearing/boy-raised/man-treated nontrans peson as "she", we'd have words. Heterosexism is very present and very oppressive to me. I feel it every day. It is inescapable. There's nowhere I can go where it isn't. I'm not masking my gayness, in relationship, in any way. I won't accommodate genderqueer politics if those politics require my social re-invisibility. Now, obviously, I could simply choose not to get invovled with someone who is genderqueer, a nontrans man, and wants to be called "she". But I have quite a bit of affinity and regard for genderqueer people. I have identified as such, proudly, in the past. But the pronouns thing. Nuh-uh. Not gonna do it. And I'm not telling anyone "Ze and I are going out to dinner" either! Being transgressive makes me want to hurl. A politics of transgression that keeps the status quo firmly in place, if also entertained, amused, or horrified by the transgressors, is not my idea of radicalism. Facing the systems that harm people, naming them, and challenging them is the work of radical political activism, in my view. Yes, there needs to be space to try out different ways of being. But calling that "a threat to dominant society" is a huge leap over many things: the politics of reality being among them.
In an effort to make amends with DreamDancing (I hope you're reading this), I will note that there is a huge omission in the program in addressing specifically bisexual issues. Has "bi" identity been completely consumed under the banner of Queerdom? Since when does Queer Awareness mean lack of awareness of lesbianism and bisexuality? Oh, sure, I've ranted on against bisexuality being in the list of letters (LG...), here, offending and hurting people in the process. And this post is an effort to modify and correct past statements.
Another matter: there's no mention of people who are Two Spirit, which is not necessarily a bad thing... in some ways. While it would be nice to see ANY terminology and ANY events honoring and led by those with Indigenous genders and sexualities in the course of three weeks of activities, the term, I have come to understand more completely, is seriously "problematic". And forget "berdache"... please.
Sarah Deer, an Indigenous activist, has explained quite clearly why "Two Spirit" is a very pro-colonialist and racist term to use for all Indigenous gender experience and identities that are not "woman" and "man", in English. I've contacted her to ask if there's some writing of hers on this subject that I may post here, or link to.
As I understand her words thus far, "Two Spirit" becomes yet another way to pretend that ALL Indigenous people and societies practiced and practice on cultural tradition. This distorts so much about Indigenous life and history. It would be like assuming all of Europe had one term for "queer", or that all of Asia did. (Hello! Many cultures, many languages, many worldviews, many ways of conceiving and expressing things like gender.) Needless, or needed, to say, Indigenous people, who are every color and live everywhere around the globe, don't have this one term: Two Spirit, to mean variously, transgendered, genderqueer, lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, or intersex. This is not to diminish or diss anyone who is Indigenous does identify as Two Spirited. (But if you're white and are doing that, and your white culture ISN'T an Indigenous one, well, that's fucked up.)
Being "lesbian" and "bisexual" isn't really where it's at anymore, it seems. And yet I know plenty of people who identify as each. Those terms do have their own meandering cultural legacies and meanings, some of which can always stand to be questioned and reviewed. "Bi-affectionate" is one nice replacement term I've heard for "bisexual", for example.
But this is The Age of Queerdom. It is VERY in, and VERY liberal in its politics, as far as I can tell--VERY generally speaking. I know there will always be exceptions, and praise the Lorde to all the exceptional people! And to the extent that there is radical queerness happening, it doesn't tend to be pro-lesbian or pro-womanist or pro-feminist, in my limited experience.
And some stuff about the poster is classist too, like having a friggin' cocktail party! Yeah, that's something my working class and poor family is known for doing. (Not.) Every working class gay man I know has been pressured, covertly or overtly, to embrace middle and upper middle class cultures, which means denying their own, and compounding shame about one's family of origin. And combining queer events and alcohol?? Hello!!! Do we care about those in our community who are recovering alcoholics or don't we? And is it a UC policy to advertise "cocktail parties" on campus for students, many of whom are underage?
That's one rather obnoxious white profeminist gayboy's opinion. I'm open to hearing other voices on this matter. I will note this because this matters to me. I would not send this to the organisers of the events. I'd find anyone doing that who isn't on campus to be rude and arrogant. I'm stating my objections and concerns here, in my own space. And that's it. I'll shut up now. Not for long, of course. But for now. ;)