Monday, June 14, 2010

On Social Transformation, Religion, Sex, and the Unradical Values of Contemporary White Queerness

[image is from here]

Above is a graphic that states precisely my experience of most of what is 
being called "radical" action in white queer and non-queer circles. 
All that follows is a challenge to the
radicalism that appears to me to be 
"for display purposes only".

by Audre Lorde

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children's mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother's milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive

- The Black Unicorn

I address what follows primarily and directly to my white class-privileged gay brothers who seem most confused about all of this, or, rather, most willfully ignorant and self-servingly oblivious. And I know we've got one foot and a few toes of the other foot in the door to total dominance, privilege, and entitlement. Why, if we could only get married... bingo! Yeah, well, most female human beings--heterosexual or not--would not get and stay married without it being socially compulsory, legally enforced, and misogynistically oppressive and subordinating. (If marriage were not so oppressive to women, patriarchal societies wouldn't promote it so much.) Please consider that when you promote an agenda that bolsters an institution that is, still, currently, deeply classist and racist, especially for poor and immigrant women, and very dangerous for many other women and girls.

The white liberal, libertarian, humanist, and Leftist gay, bi, and straight men have been passionately fond of promoting the idea that any sexual expression is good, as long as it is for white men and leads white men to orgasm. If others are pleased, fine. If not, fine. Many of these philosophies are practiced by human beings who promote certain values which they state are socially "good", such as "respect", "liberty", "justice",  "democracy" and "free speech".

A point which I plan to make many times over the next months is that these philosophies cannot bring us to that promised land. Speech is never free, first of all. And justice, respect, liberty, and what is "good" are all bound by the definitions, decisions, and enforcement strategies of the most privileged members of society, never the least privileged. The least privileged aren't at the table, aren't in leadership, and aren't heard from or listened to except tokenistically and condescendingly. The definition of liberal humanism, and I think it applies as well to white libertarianism, and white male supremacist Leftist movements, is "they make promises they have no intention of keeping". This isn't only due to lack of will or sustainable passion. It is because they point to an imagined utopia, or, at least, something better than what we now have, without also providing a map, a route, a means of movement from point A (hell) to point B (heaven). Or they hack away at what exists now with no understanding of who will bleed to death from that cutting away.

A Westernised, blanched Buddhist humanist might argue that point B lies inside point A--the journey is not exactly a progressive journey; it is not at all linear in time or space. Maybe it is a seed waiting to be born that has already been born and is blossoming. Maybe it is a layer, a dimension, of reality hidden from us by the illusions, delusions, and distractions of the industrial material world--if only we'd wake up and remember: there it is, waiting to embrace us, to become us, to transform us; we are already transformed we just don't know it.

The white Conservative Christian view is far more pessimistic and bleak. It requires our physical death before heaven can be known. This philosophy--oh, sorry, I mean "The One and Only Truth"--dovetails nicely--or is it evilly?--with capitalism, which will destroy everything, leading us all somewhere, not into Life as we know it. While it may be true that if we all were to die we all would not suffer in ways we now do, it is a callous, heartless, and utterly soulless religion indeed that tells us to wait, wait, wait, for your suffering to end, rather than providing us a means of lessening it here and now while alive. The white-shirted missionaries who visit my door want to tell me their rather obnoxious, racist, anti-Semitic, and otherwise bogus version of Jesus is the answer to that suffering, but with few exceptions, no Christians I know suffer less than anyone else, unless they are privileged in various ways, by race, class, gender, and sexuality, for example. They may pray more, and in prayer there may be some spiritual power. But for white young men in white shirts to go door to door preaching His Word, means they don't experientially know the hellish forms of oppression most of humanity endures because they preach the way they do. They don't quite get that they are the materially, not spiritually rich, and what they are selling isn't spiritual liberation but cultural and physical genocide. Again, the Christians don't really care: because it's all about what happens AFTER you die.

Most of humanity, as Lorde notes, "were never meant to survive". And the Christian white male sky-god that white pro-corporate clones seem endlessly interested in telling me about has no plans of making this reality be different on Earth any time soon. Only partly because He doesn't exist and He can't do anything about it. Also, to the extent a non-theistic or polytheistic G-d does exist, it clearly doesn't intervene and make capitalism humane, racism disappear, and male supremacy evaporate. Surely such a G-d has had time to try out more solutions to the problems that plague us than Billionaire Prick Tony Hayward has tried to get that damn oil to stop leaking into the sea, washing up onto the land, poisoning everything it touches. The god that is talked about so much to me by those "good-hearted" Christians, might want to look around and come to this conclusion: maybe your god is into BDSM, and derives pleasure from human bondage and pain. That's a conclusion that is difficult not to arrive at if you're paying attention to who is suffering, and why, and where.

I live in multiple worlds simultaneously, in part because I work primarily with people who don't live anywhere near me. And I live in a U.S. society thoroughly dominated by a particularly virulent form  heterosexism that is fused or conjoined to capitalism, white supremacy, and male supremacy in utterly despicable and dehumanising ways. No facet or sector of public and private life is untouched, unscathed, and I experience a white queer community here in this country that promotes itself as radical, never really defining what "radical" means, NEVER being at all accountable to those whose lives, whose living, in and of itself, is a radically amazing accomplishment because death was the only promise made to them upon their entry into this world.

White class-privileged Radical Queers are "in" right now, in a way that radical lesbian feminists and militant anti-racists are not. Transgression is all the rage. Rage against systemic white male supremacy is not. And radical transformation of society isn't even discussed any more, except by a few individuals here and there. Has anyone ever taken a moment to note how, exactly, "radical" transgression leads to radical transformation?

Radical feminism, and especially radical lesbian feminism, is misportrayed, rather racistly, as being anti-sex. Tell me: in which work of Alice Walker, Gloria Anzaldúa, Chrystos, Audre Lorde, Pat Parker, June Jordan, or Cheryl Clarke do you find anything "anti-sex"? To reduce radical feminism to what you grossly and persistently misunderstand a few white women to be saying, is to denigrate and invisibilise MOST radical feminist writings and theories, values and practices. To my white queer siblings: please get that. It's what lesbians of color have been telling us for the last forty years, and there's no excuse for not having heard it and taken it to heart, and made it a central part of our self-concept and political-spiritual-sexual practice.

I know it's not cool these days to listen to "lesbians", unless they are "queer-identified", that is. (How convenient for the racist heteropatriarchal status quo.)

I will tell you what I see in this allegedly "radical" queer community: a whole lot of white privilege, class privilege, heterosexism, and ageism. The ageism is so thick that should an elder in our community speak out against the values and practices of contemporary dominant "radical" queer community, she will be told she is being ageist, in order to silence her and shut her up and make her go back inside out of sight, and out of earshot. "Into the closet with you" is effectively what older radical lesbian feminist women are being told by young queer people. White gay men won't even give older lesbians the time of day. And younger lesbians won't get much from us either, in the way of support, work, validation, and accountability.

I know radical lesbian feminist women who have attempted--not perfectly, to speak to young people who listen--not perfectly. And the message is always the same from the younger people: we will figure this out for ourselves. This response, in and of itself, is a particularly white, Western, and class-privileged stance in relation to our elders. We think we've got all the answers. Or, at least, that any of those old answers (as if twenty-five or thirty years is a long time!) can't possibly be of use to us because we're a new generation of "radicals", who want to reclaim as much racism, misogyny, classism, and heterosexism, and ageism, as we can, and put a patina on it and call it our golden queer calf.

White queer women and men tell me often how it's okay for us to say racist things and do racist things and find racist jokes hilarious, because, after all, we're not from the dominant class: we're queer. Well, if we're white, that means we ARE from the dominant class with regard to race. And how it is that a white person can ever think we are not white, positioned always to be a white supremacist, even if poor, even if queer, even if trans, even if a woman, is a source of great rage and despair for many people, myself included.

Another utterly non-radical dimension of privileged "radical queer" life is the ways in which white folks who are into BDSM and pornography and prostitution, who are also very education- and class-privileged people, get to tout these practices, industries, and systems as "liberatory" or, even, "feminist".

Let me ask you: how do you know how people without Western, "First" World, white, male, education, and class privileges experience being a slave? Do you want to sit down with a slave and discuss with her how words have different meanings, and how traces of meaning from one experience don't necessarily carry over to another? Do you plan to discuss with enslaved women how they just don't "get it" about pain being pleasure in ways that can enrich spiritual awareness? How do you know how boys, girls, and women in the Second, Third World, and Fourth Worlds experience being pimped, procured, and trafficked, while you promote the virtues of earning good money by selling your body to gay, bi, or het men for the behaviors that are sex to men who buy sex? (Is sex that is bought the same as the sex that is shared between economic equals?) How do you know, and what are you doing to find out? By what means do you set up systems of accountability to the least privileged people who also have to reckon with things like prostitution and masters and slaves? That's what I want to know. Because if you believe promoting pornography, prostitution, and bdsm as socially good, is unproblematically beneficial, healthy, fun, and "radical", then you've no clue at all what being radical means, except in your very, very privileged misuse of the term.

What most people who are slaves experience in a master/slave "relationship" is not pleasure or joy, or freedom, or liberation. Slaves aren't transgressing, after all. 1.3 million children in India alone are preyed upon often by Western white men, and are made to be slaves to white men's wills and wants. The white men sometimes take unlawful and anti-humanitarian ownership of Fourth, Third, Second World children and women from those regions and make them sexual slaves. (Also from the misnamed First World.) Does your use of the term "slave"--for fun--have any effect on them? If you think the answer is no, I'd remind you that all things are bound up with one another: that is one radical viewpoint, anyway. And if you think things all exist separately from one another, discretely and carefully not impacting anything else, then in my view you have no business calling yourself "a radical". If you think the systems and institutions of the rich don't oppress the poor, you're wrong. They EXIST to oppress to poor so that some, the few, the mostly white, CAN BE RICH. The rich can't exist unless the majority are significantly less rich--usually meaning poor.

What is it about raced and gendered systems of hierarchical oppression that make you think it works any differently? In any social hierarchy, the privileged oppressors benefit substantively and materially at the expense of the oppressed. The privileged get entitlements and rewards and the oppressed pay for it, dearly. Do you think white men's values and practices don't impact women of color? Do you think the heterosexism, transphobia, lesbophobia, and homophobia of sexual-social dominants doesn't impact queer people? Do you think misogyny can flourish in some areas and not impact women and girls everywhere?

I know what many privileged queer folks will say. You'll tell me "What we're doing isn't the same as what the oppressors are doing, because we're "queering it up". Yes, well. About that. Drag is still racist, misogynistic, classist, and heterosexist, and that's what makes it entertaining to the bigots who enjoy it so much. Those forms of oppression are also embedded in BDSM and even if your orgasm depends on it, other people's lives are lost so you can have that orgasm. This is a "radical" collectivist view that holds "unless we are all free, none of us is free". This view holds that the actions of the most structurally powerful reverberate negatively in the lives of the least structurally powerful. This view says that everything impacts everything else, and the more privilege anyone has, the more impact their actions have and the more power their professed values carry.

The same with pornography. "Queer porn" is no different, at all, than heterosexual porn, and the proof of that is in what is produced for profit--and the fact that the people who profit most from it are--no surprise--white heterosexual men (corporate pimps to be exact). Saying that it was made by women--when the consumers are still mostly het men, or that only gay men profit from it, doesn't make it non-heterosexist and devoid of misogyny and racism. Sorry to be such a downer. And let's not forget, sex can exist without a marketplace, right? Orgasms can happen due to touch--quality and intensity of feeling and being and sharing. Sexual pleasure isn't dependent on the use of bigoted terms being called out that trigger many of us into past traumas--who may be next door or downstairs from you. And what sex is doesn't have to be "a product" that is produced and sold by a pimp-driven system so virulently hateful and degrading that the more we purchase it, the more we are all collectively degraded. Exploiting and commanding another person into submission  aren't prerequisites for sex to be sexy--or are they? Note: I didn't say you're "bad" for doing any of the above. And I didn't say "you don't have a right" to do any of the above. I also didn't say you ought to refrain from sex if it is bound up with capitalist, racist heteropatriarchy. (How can our sexuality, our beings, not be?) What I'm saying is this: please don't pretend that pro-status quo behaviors and values as "radical" when they are utterly socially and politically conservative: conserving and preserving the master's tools, which are being used against people who are slaves--not the fun kind. Don't call feminists "politically correct" if they are opposed to sexism and racism being promoted as liberatory sex, when bdsm, pornography, and prostitution are entirely pimp-supported. The promoters of these practices, along with so many others, are the ones behaving in a patriarchally politically correct manner. And feminist values aren't ruling anywhere (yet), even while too many whiny men pretend feminism has already "gone too far". Patriarchal practices are still ruling this world and I wonder why you don't feel those practices, and the men who profit from and support them, have "gone too far". Let's be honest, at least:  if you're into domination, exploitation, and degradation as "sex", it is you, in fact, who are being "politically correct".

And with regard to prostitution: if you think there's a neat and convenient dividing line between systems and practices that are dehumanising, degrading, and destructive such that your own grand, pleasurable, and profitable versions of prostitution are somehow distinct and uninvolved with the other not-so-glamorous everyday pimping, sexual trafficking, procuring, buying and selling human beings, and sexual slavery, I'll suggest to you that you're either not living in the parts of the world that cannot afford to make those distinctions, or you're the pimps and procurers there. In most of the world, those distinctions aren't experientially and politically meaningful--except delusionally to the abusers. If you're going to promote "the right to be a sex worker" or advocate the legalisation of prostitution, please identify the ways people without your privileges benefit from you doing so. Exactly how does your defence of systems of atrocious harm and inhumanity make life better for those without the privileges and entitlements you enjoy?

In conclusion, for now, please define your terms and spell out how radicalism works, in practice in responsible alliance with the world's most unprivileged people toward a materially-spiritually radical experience of justice and liberation. If you can't do so, please demonstrate the integrity to stop using the term so flagrantly and inaccurately.

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