Saturday, March 26, 2011

Biting the Hand That Beats You: notes on liberatory struggle

portrait of Harriet Tubman is from here

As I contemplate the history of white gay men's political struggles, as an agenda set by white gay men, in the U.S. and in other parts of the Western world, what I see is an effort to preserve capitalism, preserve white supremacy, and to preserve as well the terroristic and horrific realities that are men's dominance over women and masculinist (or patriarchal) dominance over and against feminism.

The fundamental wrong turn taken by the white gay men's movement for liberation was in mistaking personal sexual expression with collective political liberation, and with preserving male supremacist sexuality as a social right rather than seeing it as a social wrong. What gay men couldn't accept was what het men cannot accept: our humanity is not to be found only in what we do with our genitals; it's to be found in what we do, collectively, to root out all forms of misogyny and male supremacy from the Earth. Radical feminist Audre Lorde posited a view of sexuality that was fused to collective liberation, not to white and male supremacy and not to capitalism. Most English-speaking gay men of any color have completely ignored her.

In my adult lifetime, the collective liberation for girls, women, and gay men has never been a goal, an objective, an aim, of white gay men. And so white gay men remain allies of white het men, however much white het men despise and ridicule their gay white brothers.

Cast into this battle for proximity to the most lethal rulers of male supremacy are men of color across sexuality and women across sexuality and race. It should come as no surprise that women of color, collectively, have the least to lose and so are more likely to organise revolutionary resistance; that world's radical feminist leaders are largely of color, while not necessarily called radical or feminist, bears this out.

The challenge is usually the same: how to support liberation without also caressing the hand that beats you. To caress is not to desire. It may be an act of appeasement as much as anything else. It may be a calming gesture, designed to stop the hand from curling into a fist, for example.

Imagine, against much of known reality, that the world's people were rising up and that we collectively stopped feeding the Master; stopped working for him; stopped catering to him; stopped fearing him; stopped satisfying his needs for our collective subjugation. Imagine us all biting his hand, hard, until he stopped all his atrocious behaviors and became humane by doing so.

It is a requirement of the leaders of any tyrannical, oppressive, terroristic system to love, honor, and obey the Masters, whoever they are: whether they be whites, the rich, heterosexuals, or men. Those of us who are not them must either pretend to adore them or actually desire to be like them. When so few people hold so many corrupt and inhumane forms of power-over, it becomes difficult to organise movements of resistance that seek no compassion from the oppressors who kill callously and without mercy. Why it is we think mercy and compassion will one day dawn on the consciousness of the Masters is a complex matter to approach.

I believe we hope for this because we generally cannot seeing ourselves surviving with Him. We turn Him into a god, or a trinity of gods, and we turn Him into our Savior, our Rescuer, our Hero, our White Knight. That black nights typically allow for movement towards freedom is not typically mentioned in the White Man's fairy tales, even while Harriet Tubman knew this. Harriet noted, with an uncompromising and harsh honesty:
I freed a thousand slaves; I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves. [source: here]
Do we ask, of this quote, "Why does Harriet refer to other human beings as slaves? Doesn't that make them seem like they are only victims?" Do we ask, "Why can't we have a little fun with slavery, like performing in slavery drag?" Or, "Why don't we call just call it work-without-pay?" Or, "Why don't we acknowledge the dignity of those slaves who didn't know they were slaves even while they were; why don't we assume they liked being slaves and believe that for them, slavery was liberation?"

I'd like to point out that few people saw the dignity in human beings, including in slaves of a White Male Master, more than Harriet Tubman and other Black anti-slavery activists. To see the dignity in someone is to see that conditions which require their degradation are inhumane and must end.

In societies which honor and glorify White Men, we are left with myths such as the one that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. No, people: that was Harriet Tubman and so many of her sisters and brothers, including Frederick Douglass. The Black slaves, former slaves, and ex-slaves, fought for freedom. And they won it.

We fast forward only one hundred and sixty years or so, and we arrive at a time when slavery is more plentiful and resistance to it exists primarily among the slaves themselves. As it always has been. And I was part of a group on Facebook that wanted to pretend that if we called slavery "sex work", we could discuss how it could be liberating and healing. For whom? Surely not for the slaves. To believe slavery is a condition of liberation is to not see indignity at all. And to believe something called "sex work" can thrive justly while sexual slavery exists is to not understand the relationship between these realities.

The society I live in is a particularly cruel one, made more so by the fact that it presents itself as being so very good and honorable. President Obama this very week has entered war three against Asia and North Africa. He and his white brethren claim this as a necessity to prevent atrocities from national leaders, seeming to forget that we've been propping up the regimes of atrocity-maintaining leaders for decades, and longer. We prop up our own presidents, after all, and each and every one of them has engaged in some form of military or social warfare against people inhumanely and with brute and callous force.

What will it take for the masses of people to realise what slavery looks like, and what it requires of all of us who are and are not slaves? It requires one thing, especially: being grateful to the Master.

Enough of that. Let us rebel and let us not settle for anything short of our collective liberation that in no way resembles slavery.

Andrea Dworkin, a U.S. Amerikan radical feminist, looked to Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman as exemplary radical feminist sheroes. I recommend we all do the same.

Andrea also requested we do the following:  

"Remember. Resist. Do not comply."

But to remember, we must know what we are encouraged or forced to forget, such as exactly how much slavery there is, right now, and how many girls and women are slaves, whether to pimps, traffickers, boyfriends, or husbands. And how being incested, molested, raped, and battered feels, not just physically, but to the soul's bones. And how it feels to live without hope of ever getting out of poverty, or away from diseases delivered long ago by white men, straight, bi, and gay, who have seen the active protection of their entitlement and alleged right to have sex as far more important than their responsibility to care about consequences. I am speaking here about white men. People who are not white men have never had the same degree of entitlement or right to sex or to life. And the sexuality of anyone who isn't a white het man is demonised and stigmatised in many wretched ways, and is never status-giving in the eyes of white het men.

I just read this, a passage by Elizabeth Taylor that she requested not be published until after she passed on. It's about the early life of one man I wish I'd known, who Elizabeth Taylor did know and worked with in his last film. The actor was James Dean.
"I loved Jimmy. I'm going to tell you something, but it's off the record until I die. OK? When Jimmy was 11 and his mother passed away, he began to be molested by his minister. I think that haunted him the rest of his life. In fact, I know it did. We talked about it a lot. During Giant we'd stay up nights and talk and talk, and that was one of the things he confessed to me." (source: here)
I think about how this fact of his life is made so invisible--not primarily because it was held as a secret but because it is made into a shameful secret by the perpetrators, often enough. What was the relationship between being molested and driving so fast--was that because he felt, on some deep level, that his life wasn't moving forward that it didn't matter? Or was his thrill with speed underscored by a sense of being invincible? (He died in a terrible car crash, after being warned to slow down.) James Dean had to hide his sexual interest in men. He had to keep the reality of his sexual involvement with men a secret. How is this not a form of on-going sexual shame, and how does that shame entwine with the shame of being molested?

I am realising that the world operates, largely, by denying what is most atrocious--denying that it is happening, right now. Right this very moment. Things are happening to girls the world over that are horrific and terribly traumatic, that are bound to globally economic and political systems of ownership and exploitation ruled and governed by het men, many of them white. Mostly it seems to me that those of us who dream of a compassionate, caring world can bring it forth while ignoring the girl slaves altogether and by pretending they are in no way like us. Girls young and older, who have escaped, work to end sexual slavery because they must, in part because cannot deny its reality and to ignore atrocity while knowing it is happening around you is a form of criminal activity that has no sentence known to white het men--because white het men are participating so often in so much atrocity that they enjoy or benefit from. As for the rest of us:

Will we respond to Harriet Tubman's and Andrea Dworkin's calls to reveal liberatory truth through organised, sustained revolutionary action? That's not a rhetorical question. It is a legitimate question for all of us to answer, together. I'll ask the question a different way: How many hundreds of thousands of girls have to be enslaved before we collectively rise up and join with those girls to end all forms of slavery?

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