Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Questions and Challenges to my Gay Siblings who work for Social Change: What is your level of accountability to Radical Lesbian Feminists? What work do you do to Challenge and Reduce Male Supremacy?

herstorical archival image is from here
I predict that in time the L of LGBT GLBT will slip to last place. Why? Because the concerns of women have never been made central in any organisation of which men are a part, especially a founding or controlling part. I predict that "lesbian" will continue to become a taboo word, not that it was ever not one. I predict that trans, queer, and gay rights will become promoted and funded inside and outside the Academy and media, and lesbian rights will be increasingly under-funded and decentralised, and will (continue to) be made to seem like it is only an anti-trans, anti-gay, anti-queer idea. Specifically in the Academy, I predict Women's Studies programs will decrease as Gender and Sexuality Studies programs increase. And that Gender and Sexuality Studies programs will increasingly marginalise "male supremacy" and "patriarchal atrocity" as horrific realities worth studying, let alone doing anything significant to end.

We carry some insufficiently challenged ideas in the queer communities of which I am a part. Among those is this: gay men will always work with het men to obtain their rights. This is understood to be necessary and "sensible", practical, pragmatic. We will not sufficiently question how and in what ways gay, trans, and queer activists work with racist heteropatriarchal institutions and industries to promote liberal, reformist civil rights to the dominant society, while largely ignoring radical, revolutionary change. And when lesbian women work with heterosexual and bisexual women, they will be called out for being anti-queer. But they gay men will get to go on working with het men, few questions asked.

Gay men will not likely challenge this. Gay men, historically, have found gender to be something to play with, to bend, blend, appropriate, and to transgress. Lesbians, like all women, have, herstorically, found gender something to survive.

The less privileges one has, the more perilous "gender" is. In other posts here I have analysed the levels of privilege found among white gay, bisexual, and trans males, and also some white lesbians too, who ceaselessly speak for all of our people but too often speak of promoting white supremacy, consciously or not and not hardly ever admitting to doing so.

A question for now is this: when "Our Queer Politics" are promoted, how much white, classed, and male supremacy is loaded into the agendas and actions? How acceptable is it to ignore what men do to women, across race, class, and sexuality?

With most questions unasked and unanswered, we are left to witness both dominant and non-dominant social shifts toward an increasingly anti-woman Queer political theory and practice. When this is noted, and because women are so devalued already as a group, the women who raise these concerns are called names designed to silence them. Their voices are not heard.

The importance of lesbian feminism is the importance of women's human rights, across race, class, region, and sexuality. The ignorance of lesbian feminism, and the social-surgical removal of it from the queer body politic, will and already has resulted in an impotent social change movement. There is, as far as I can determine, no revolutionary, radical "queer" agenda that is not linked up with others on the Left--the Left that is and always has been male-led and male-ruled.

What was unique, for me, about radical lesbian feminist politics was that it had, in its heart, a radical and revolutionary vision to end manhood as a system of power (and not, as so many white het men irrationally and histerically fear, to end the existence of men-as-human beings). It had a practice of putting women at the center of each and every point of discussion and analysis, because otherwise women will fall back and outside the circles of concern.

What is the society contemporary U.S. Queer activists are working for? Is it patriarchally and racistly capitalist? Is it as gynocidal and genocidal as the one we now live in? What is the means, the route, by which Queer activists will challenge and eradicate male supremacy from society?

While in the last couple of years I have seen a re-emergence of radical feminism, including radical lesbian feminism, across class, race, region, I have also seen this accomplished against great odds. Feminist bloggers have been terrorised, for example. I know of no such acts of terrorism leveled systematically against gay bloggers who are anti-feminist or who ignore women's threatened humanity generally. I have seen a huge increase in Queer blogs and social spaces, particularly in cities and academies, wherein the political group "women" is, in and of itself, under attack by ridiculously applied post-modern theories.

No where is radical lesbian feminism embraced as crucial and critically necessary if it isn't radical lesbian women promoting their work and values.

The current state of affairs is that women who are radical feminists are once again targeted as "bigots" primarily, not human rights activists. Men have never done anything but identify feminists as something fundamentally negative, dangerous, and disgusting. Now it is white-dominated Queer culture that hates on women in part by ignoring women, claiming women are hating on queers. The critics of women cite only on a few women who express ideas that can only be processed by pro-queer activists as "anti-man, anti-queer, and anti-trans". The identification of radical feminist activism and activists is intentionally biased in favor of noting where and when some radical lesbian feminists criticise trans politics--assumptions, theories, practices, and actions--wherein it is deemed pro-woman to promote the idea that women can be surgically constructed if "the psyche" is already that of a woman.

Let's remember that it has been radical feminists, lesbian and not, who have argued that female people who seek to have gendered surgeries to produce "woman parts" do not become "more female or more womanly" as a result of having surgery performed; they resist putting into the hands of surgeons, and the medical establishment generally, any power to give gendered status or stigma to women.

This medical-surgical intervention against female bodies has sometimes been reconstructive, such as following disease, illness, injuries, and surgeries to one's breasts, vulva, and other sexual organs. Sometimes the surgeries are simply destructive, such as when sexual organ-removal procedures are done systematically and without medical benefit to control women's capacities to either reproduce or experience sexual arousal. We know that white male doctors in North America, for example, have a horrid history of removing from women their uteruses, ovaries, and other reproductive organs. We know that girl children who are intersex are often surgically disfigured and sexually disabled because doctors convince parents it will be better for the children to grow up that way: disfigured and disabled.  Nowhere do radical feminists argue that female and intersex human beings become "more womanly" as a result of such surgical interventions, even when argued by the privileged people who support them being "necessary" and "life-enhancing".

It is radical feminists, lesbian and not, who have held up for scrutiny issues of objectification and fetishisation of body parts, including the genitals, not gay men, not bi men, and not het men.

It is radical feminists, lesbian and not, who have challenged the male supremacy which inheres in every social and psychic sphere of existence that is touched or ruled by patriarchal societies.

It is radical feminists, lesbian and not, who seek to understand how child sexual abuse constructs dominant sexuality, not gay men, bi men, or het men.

It has been radical feminists, lesbian or not, who have challenged the right of men to rape anyone and everyone as they wish with no accountability to the terrorised classes. Activist men as a group, across any political spectrums, have not done this work and continue not to do it. Rape is ignored by men as a political issue of outright terrorism and inhumane social subjugation. In my experience, men across sexuality ridicule and pathologise people who speak too much against rape if the raped people being supported are female-not-male. Such activists, in my experience, are treated as if the problem of rape is that survivor of it haven't gotten over it--the individual rape or rapes, singularly or gang-perpetrated, familial or committed by acquaintances or strangers. The rapes and the survivors are tossed back onto the social heap of the "anecdotally afflicted".

It is radical feminists, lesbian and not, who have taken seriously the aftermath of sexual trauma, who write about triggering and dissociation related to surviving sexual and gender-based assaults and generalised gendered conditioning.

It has been radical feminists, lesbian and not, who have challenged as harmful and misogynistic, and also racist and classist, the industries and institutions like pornography and prostitution, while liberal men and women seek to protect the systems that make sex-slavers, traffickers, and pimps rich.

It is radical feminists, lesbian and not, who have fought for decades to challenge militarism and marriage, not to make these institutions of gross misogyny and racism "more accommodating" to gay, bi, and lesbian people.

Pick an area of human social and psychic life in the West and beyond and you will find thorough, thoughtful analysis--questioning and answering, as well as confronting and challenging, of the patriarchal systems and male supremacist structures which inhere in them.

From male Queer and Gay activists I ask: What is your plan or practice for removing male supremacy and patriarchal imperatives and mandates from our societies? How do you currently expose and challenge these oppressive and lethal dimensions of our lives? Where and when do you center the analysis of radical lesbian feminists in your work? Can you direct me to this work that males and men are doing, as a group, currently, anywhere in the world?

Even while radical feminists have always been of color, "radical feminism" is written off by white men and men of color, gay, bi, and het, as "white and racist", effectively invisibilising the work of radical women of color, however they identify.

Even while radical feminists have always been het, bisexual, and lesbian, it is assumed that radical feminism is only lesbian. This is not done to compliment the work; it is done to demean and denigrate it.

Lesbian and woman-loving women have worked on behalf of all women in the same way that gay and SGL men have worked on behalf of all men. The significant difference is that lesbians' political work, when feminist, has been anti-status quo, anti-racist, and anti-patriarchal. Meanwhile, gay men's activism--which has never been pro-feminist or respectful of women (except anecdotally), has been pro-status quo and pro-patriarchal.

I welcome gay men of conscience and courage, across race, region, and class, engaging with me here on these and related issues.


SuperMattTO said...

The thing is that a lot of us gay men really are feminists at some level, because we oppose oppression, and misogyny sometimes gets directed at gay men. But there really is some bigotted and unfair stuff out there in the radical feminist community. If there is ever a holocaust against transgender people, people might wonder what influence the writings of Sheila Jeffreys and Janice Raymond might have had on the movement. This stuff really crosses the line and it is not OK.

Julian Real said...

Hi SuperMattTO,

Some responses.

One is that there is bigotry and forms of oppression in all communities, and lesbian and gay communities are no exception, of course. For example, any group that is white-dominant and white-majority can and does structurally oppress people of color. This includes white feminists, white lesbians, white gay men, white trans people. All oppress people of color. Just as any population of men structurally oppresses women in some ways, usually and especially women who are part of their own ethnic or regional group.

Most gay males I know do not identify as feminist, and most gay men I know practice misogyny. And few gay men I know call out those gay men for being misogynistic.

What happens in the tiny group identified as 'radical lesbian feminist' is really not so consequential compared to, say, what white het cis men do in the world.

As a Jew, and as someone who witnesses a global genocide against Indigenous people,I take issue with you accusing two writers with committing an atrocity, a holocaust against transgender people. What is your evidence for this claim? Writing about a group of people critically and not accepting them on their own terms is not quite the same thing as eradicating them off the Earth, wouldn't you agree?

How do you interrupt and challenge male supremacy among gay males? Can you give me some examples of how you do that, to inspire other gay male readers?

SuperMattTO said...

Nothing like that has happened to transgender people, but Martin Luther wrote a very antisemetic book, and, after the holocaust, people wonder what affect that book might have had that led to the hollocause. Janice Raymond's book is just as bad a piece of literature and some of Sheila Jeffreys books are getting there.

There are some transgender people who think that people with vaginas should bake cookies and do laundry for men, but, a lot of them don't feel anything like that. Some of them would just rather have their pussies eaten than their dicks sucked, so they transition.

The literature out their against transgender people likes to treat them all the same but that is shear ignorance, and that type of ignorance is a defining feature of hate literature. So, we actually do have to speak out against it.

A lot of gay men say that they are antifeminist, but, as have told you in other posts, feminists have a history of be unfairly anti-gay male. The gay male culture rejects the notion of gender roles as being helpful to relationships. This is very much in lines with radical feminist clothing. They tend to treat male clothing as superior to women's clothing, for the same reason that radical feminists do. And, some gay men are far too critical of trans-women for the same reason that radical feminists are, but there are some that are more liberal, accepting that some TFs might just feel the need for a different body than they have, without having any intention of reinforcing tranditional gender roles.

When I sum things up, I see that gay male culture is very similar to radical feminist culture, so the point you make is only about what word one chooses to use.

Julian Real said...

I'm confused by your last statement, because if the two political groups are so similar, why does each group have representatives who so clearly critique the other?

Also, even focusing so much attention on radical and lesbian feminists' view of gay men is, to me, male supremacist, in that it pretends that each group (radical feminists and lesbians) has any significant cultural power to harm gay men. The only groups who, in reality have and exercise that power in ways that are meaningfully and systemically harmful, are non-feminist heterosexuals and straight men.

To believe the obstacle to gay male liberation is overcoming radical feminist or lesbian feminist discourse, is, to me, wildly out of touch with who it is who routinely discriminates against, threatens, and murders gay men. It's too easy to critique radical lesbian feminists for being anti-gay, anti-trans, and anti-male, when they possess so little access to any mass media, and control so little in dominant society: economically, culturally, and politically.

I see this steering away of critique of white straight male society to a focus on greatly marginalised and generally invisibilised women as misguided and problematic, and in keeping with male traditions of blaming women for men's woes.

SuperMattTO said...

No. My post is not males supremacist. To a lot of people it is not clear what the word feminist means, as there are a lot of different versions of it. I attempted to explain why a lot of people might feel the way they do. I didn't say that it is justified given the larger power struggles that are out there in the world. I just gave what I considered to be an honest answer.

SuperMattTO said...

As I read this again, I see that you really don't understand where I was coming from. At one point, a lot of gay men wanted to work together with feminists and lesbians to overthrow patriarchy. I am not saying that they are the main oppressors, but rather that some radical feminist acted in ways that led to the two groups splitting from each other. And, that is a shame.

Julian Real said...

Well, I think the dynamics are important to understand--in other words, what caused what.

My sense--and I wasn't there but did live through it--was that when lesbian feminists insisted that the personal is political, and included interpersonal and social behavior, too many gay men opted out. And organised against them. And that was a betrayal of those radical objectives.

Here's another part of the history. When AIDS struck down so many in the gay community, lesbians took care of the men. There has been no such reciprocity.

Did some lesbian feminist writing put off gay men? Of course. But the men that were most put off were those who didn't want to see how their behavior was male supremacist--who were threatened by the political analysis.

Of course some theory rubs people the wrong way: it's kind of the point of radical theory; to highlight the tough stuff, to not deny the deepest truths.

Theory isn't reality, and disagreement doesn't mean breakdown of relationship. Did white gay men stay present and challenge the differences of perspective respectfully? Not quite. They began an old project of calling women horrid names, stereotyping lesbians as wanting to be like men, and choosing, far too many times, to embrace an assimilationist politic and institutional practice, demanding full access to the dominant culture which destroys women globally.

Some proof of this is in many cities, white gay men participate heavily in gentrification, displacing poor people of color without regard for their lives. How is that fighting capitalism, economic injustice, and genocide?

It's one more example of white gay men turning their backs on the real world of suffering to get a better position, in closer proximity, to the elite in society, embracing an individualistic politic over a collectivist one.

Such a political practice does not deeply challenge misogyny, homophobia, classism, and racism.

Julian Real said...

Since we're having more or less the same conversation in two places on my blog, I'll ask that any future comments regarding either of the posts be submitted to the new post featuring your comments and my responses. Thanks.

Here it is: White Gay Male Politics and White Lesbian Feminist Challenges