Thursday, July 07, 2011

Problematic Gay Rhetoric

I've been troubled lately about what I consider very problematic rhetoric that seems pervasive on at least one gay blog that I follow.  About the only website on which I can manage to read comments by readers is NPR and even there the occasional ill-considered comment pops up.  On almost every other internet site, comments reflect the worst of humanity: ignorance, flat-out stupidity, bigotry, prejudices, inhumanity (e.g., "I hope you die"), rudeness, ad hominem attacks, the worst logical fallacies, etc.  Gay blogs are no different, but I wish they were.  Some are better than others, but what concerns me is that: a) gays should know better and b) much of it seems to be echoing current activist rhetoric.  To be clear, most of the problematic language and though I've read comes from gay males and white gay males at that.  Men of color, lesbians, and transfolk seem to be considerably better in both manner and thought.  Perhaps on other sites, those people are just as bad, but there seems to be something particular to white gay men (likely of a certain social class).

What follows are some of the problematic thoughts I've read and very brief thoughts about them:

An insistence on a biological determination for homosexuality (i.e., "born this way") - Gays seems to think that finding a biological reason for their sexuality is a magic cure-all for explaining how they got that way and for why we shouldn't be discriminated against legally (and, infered often, socially).  See my post "Not Gaga for 'Born That Way'" for more thoughts on this, but in a nutshell, 1) no scientific evidence currently definitely proves how sexual orientation is determined; 2) a biological explanation doesn't solve anything; it still leaves us open (perhaps moreso) to designations of abnormal, diseased, impaired, deficient and capable of being "repaired"; 3) sexuality is likely more complex than biology can explain; 4) there are good, moral arguments for equality even if sexuality were fully chosen.

Comparisons of gay rights and the LGB civil rights movement to Black civil rights - Although I do wish that suffering systemic institutional oppression since the foundation of the country to modern times would sensitize more Black Americans to GLBT civil rights, this is not always the case.  That said, I find it unhelpful and unproductive to compare the two movements or the oppression people face.  A Black straight man suffers oppression differently than a White lesbian.  One cannot say that one is more oppressed than the other; oppression works differently against these people.  Straight black people do not have to content with alienation from their family, friends, or faith that homosexuality can and often does cause.  White homosexuals can hide their orientation and rely on racial privilege; we have not faced centuries of systematic, institutional oppression in this country the way Black people have.  Although some similarities exist between the two movements, such as rhetoric that asserted that Black people (and other racial minorities)  were genetically and biologically inferior to White people, much in the way homosexuals were and still are described by anti-gay forces (so why do we rush to a biological defense?), we must be nuanced and careful about those parallels. 

A subtle, yet clear strain of sissyphobia - This is most often manifested rather veiled; it's not really acceptable to bash our effiminate brothers, but you often see comments such as "I'm a man who likes men" or the calling of effeminate politicians and religious foes "queens," "closet cases" and such.  Even gay men assume that a effeminiate man must be gay.  If he's anti-gay, it seems safe to besmirch him with epitheths we would otherwise object to from others.

Transphobia - Some gay men are openly hostile to transmen and women; others object more theoretically to destablizations of strict gender roles.  Again, "I like my men men" often crops up here; undoing gender somehow threatens the erotic life of some gay men.  Some gay men simply fail or don't want to understand how gender operates in the lives of others (or their own).

A hatred and contempt for all religion - Atheism rules the day and those with any form of faith are often derided as being weak minded.  Even agnostics may be subjected to the withering criticism as being weak and indecisive.  All people of faith are lumped together with those who use religion as an anti-gay platform.  People of any faith should be ridiculed and mocked, regardless of their actual stance on any issue or how they act on those issues.  Although this is one of the more understandable stances taken given how much hurt and pain religion has caused many, many gay people, the failure to distinguish among different traditions, denominations, and individuals commits the same violence done to us in the name of religion.

A contempt and/or dismissal of non-metropolitan areas and/or the gays who live in them - Southerners and Midwesterners in particular earn the scorn of some of the gays of New York, San Francisco, Toronto and Miami who frequent these blogs.  People who live outside of gay meccas are generally considered ignorant conservative hicks who all hate gays.  Gays who live in these areas are insane for doing so and deserve whatever treatment they get.  Nevermind the violence committed and ignorant rhetoric being spewed against gays in those states and cities; these other areas are the hotbeds of gay hate.

"They deserve it" - The evil rhetoric of many anti-gay bigots should be matched with equally foul language and invective.  Why should we strive for some more articulate or meaningful response? Just hit them back with their own language.  While it's hard to argue against the catharsis this can provide or that people and organizations definitely need to be exposed for their lies, half-truths, and bigotry, name-calling only achieves the first.  Although I'd like to argue morally for not resorting to such tactics, many see it as the moral equivalent, sometimes as an imperative.  Practically, however, doing so only serves to make us look inarticulate, as nasty as our opponents, and does nothing to stop the name calling.  In the documentary Eye of the Storm, educator Jane Elliot asks one of her students why he punched a classmate for calling him names.  Elliot asks the student "Did it help? Did it stop him? Did it make you feel better inside?"  The student affirms silently that it did none of these things.  I'd suggest that punching back rhetorically is the same; it may feel better in the moment, but likely does not make us (feel like) better people. (See here at the 6:39 mark for the conversation I'm referencing.)

An intense and caustic criticism of individuals who step outside of current assimilationist rhetoric - Suggest that gay marriage should not be the pressing issue, that perhaps we can muster better than name calling and insults as retorts to adversaries and critics, that we can hold a higher standard and not sink to the level of homophobes, that we could be more inclusive of truly queer folk, that we may not be born gay, and/or that Dan Savage is not the best thing since sliced bread and you will get your head handed to you.

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