Back in the days of the first time around for the Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, and Rainbow Brite, “Those Characters From Cleveland” had another group of good-natured friends working together and learning valuable After School Special-type life lessons: The Get Along Gang. This group of friendly animals helped each other out of tight spots and constantly reminded young, impressionable viewers of the importance of friendship, teamwork, and getting along (obvi).
It’s a nice sentiment, but life isn’t always as nice and jovial as that group of anthropomorphic moralists would have us believe. Sometimes things are messy. Sometimes we have to say things that people don’t like, or that they aren’t ready to hear. Social change is never such a neat little project that it can be wrapped up happily in a 22-minute animated episode, leaving time for commercials for action figures, plush toys, and breakfast cereals before the half hour passes.
For the last couple of days, my Facebook feed has been blowing up with the story of a Republican legislator from Fargo who has been outed. His name is Randy Boehning. How did he get outed, you may be asking yourself? Well, a week or so before voting against a bill that would offer protection to LGBT people as well as people who experience discrimination because they are perceived to be LGBT (regardless of actual or stated sexual orientation or gender identity), he was on the notoriously skanky app Grindr sending “unsolicited” dick pics to a 20-something-year-old Bismarck man. Instead of jumping on that pole-itical opportunity, “going down” that campaign trail as it were, the young man decided that he would instead take the conversations to the Fargo Forum. Because, hypocrisy. (Read the deliciously sordid details HERE)
Outing is controversial. Generally, I think people should have the ability to choose when and where they come out publicly. But I don’t think that is always the case. Specifically, if you are sucking off the Republican party teat, voting against protections for LGBT people and doing real damage to LGBT people (and ultimately to yourself) then I don’t think you have the same right to self-disclosure that others have. Why? Because actions have consequences, or at least they used to before we morphed into this “nothing is ever my fault” world where McDonald’s is responsible for people who spill hot coffee on their own damn selves. And if you decide that you can skate by on your white male privilege just because someone might not “perceive” you as gay, and so you vote against much-needed protections while simultaneously trolling for the dick you’ve decided you’re entitled to (because of that previously noted white male privilege), then there should be consequences. They should absolutely put your name in the paper and on every political blog and news channel and talk about your “secret life” and your hypocrisy and the fact that you’re basically a raging douche-nozzle of a human being. All the Randy Boehnings and Larry Craigs and all of the other closeted Republican cocksuckers who vote against civil rights legislations because they think they are untouchable should be drug into the proverbial town square and exposed for the integrity-starved frauds that they are.
Do I sound a little pissy? That’s because I am, and not just because of Boehning and his ilk lurking about, voting us backwards in history while flashing their junk to any young queer with a data plan. I’m also pissed because there aren’t more people like the young man who did the socially responsible thing by taking this story to the Forum. I want to know why our LGBT political leaders have made themselves so busy trying to sanitize our lives to make them palatable to straight folks. When did everything become about making sure that our “allies” were comfortable? Why would anyone decide that it was a great idea to remove all traces of the “sexual” from homosexual? How could anyone buy into a political ideology that says that LGBT people are only acceptable if they look and act as much like straight folks as they can manage? When did we become the Get Along Gays?
I long ago walked away from the term gay as a personal identifier, because it smacks of those assimilationist tendencies. I prefer the term queer; it’s messy, it doesn’t have a neat little box for people to put it into, and for me it represents the necessary impulse to get in and fuck shit up from time to time. I hate the direction that LGBT politics has taken. It’s bad enough that every once of time and energy is sunk into the dynamic duo of marriage equality and the ability to adopt and raise children (Heaven forfend you be one of those queers who wants to question the efficacy of marriage as an institution, or if you think of children as puling mess machines!), but the LGBT political machine has decided that the most politically expedient way to achieve these goals that it constantly assures us that we deeply want and desire is to be as heteronormative as possible. All of the “spokescouples” for this plastic movement are as normatively gendered as possible (trans people, if visible at all, are usually shown individually – no need to confuse the public by suggesting they might also have intimate relationships!) and generally white (though other races/ethnicities are acceptable as long as we can neutralize the “threat” of their racial or ethnic identity with enough trappings of affluence and upper middle class privilege). Forget about being bisexual – we like having the letter in the acronym, but actually talking about what bisexuality is or looks like upsets too many people’s delicate sensibilities (What? It’s possible to be attracted to more than one type or kind of human being?! Insanity!) and don’t even think about raising the heretical idea that some people might actually choose to be non-monogamous!
I stopped being involved with politics in North Dakota quite a few years ago – too much effort, not enough reward, and more than enough heartbreak to go around. But more and more, a good chunk of that heartbreak was coming from within our own communities. We start to draw lines and police behaviors: “Oh no, don’t look like that or say that or admit that you are a sexual being or else you’ll never get anywhere.” This is the trend in most LGBT political activism, but it’s especially hurtful in a conservative place like North Dakota: people who are already struggling with their decision to come out of the closet get the message from the communities they are potentially coming out into that they will only be acceptable and presentable to the world if they act and look and behave in certain ways, if they take that sexuality they’ve been wrestling with and pretty it up for mass consumption. If you don’t fit the mold, then perhaps you’d better just stay in that closet and think about that is the message that ends up being transmitted.
This sort of repression from within isn’t new; in fact, it’s a hallmark of one of the first LGBT political organizations in the United States, the Mattachine Society. They were around before Stonewall (foreshadowing – more on that in a bit!), their primary argument was that homosexuality was a condition that the affected person could not be held responsible for, and they enforced strict behavior and presentation rules for their members. When they held their peaceful protests, men were instructed to wear their best dress suits (butch it up, Mary!) and women had to wear skirts (lesbians in pants?? unthinkable!). The Mattachine Society certainly laid some important groundwork for LGBT politics in the US, but we didn’t get to where we are because of these apologist tactics. We’re where we are because a couple of trans women started throwing bricks.
In the late 1960s, it was illegal to serve alcohol to homosexuals (I can only imagine how the “carding” process for that worked!) and what gays bars existed were mostly underground establishments run by organized crime who paid off local law enforcement to be able to operate. These payoffs allowed the bars to be open, but did not protect the patrons from harassment and arrest during routine raids. In 1969, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn finally got sick of their treatment by police and decided to fight back, leading to riots that lasted for several days. Those riots were the birth of a real, viable LGBT rights movement. That movement was tired of apologizing, tired of begging straight folks to tolerate us as unfortunates. The movement wasn’t without it’s problems: gay men and lesbians often clashed over feminism and how issues of oppression from within should be talked about, and like feminism there were misunderstandings and tensions around issues of race and ethnicity. But it was joyful and angry, and for a movement organized around sexual identity they had the crazy idea that it was ok to feel ok with who you wanted to have sex with!
Today’s Get Along Gays are having none of that. They want us to de-sexualize our queer selves and march under bland banners like “Love Knows No Gender” and “Hearts, Not Parts” so that our allies will feel comfortable being a part of our movement and “the mainstream” (whoever the hell that is nowadays) will find us worthy of equal rights and protections. Are you fucking kidding me? Hearts, Not Parts? There is a very specific part I’m looking for in a potential partner and I want them to combine it with one of my parts in a very specific way, and that’s why I’m in this marginalized spot in the first place! Erasing the sex out of our sexual identities only serves to reinforce the idea that heterosexuality is (and should be) universal. We chastise LGBT people for being too promiscuous, as though we are only worthy of protection and basic civil rights if we have sex when and how often some arbitrary authority deems appropriate. “No,” they say, “we have to set a good example. People think gay people are going to destroy the institution of marriage!” Because of course monogamy and marriage is the only right option; if you have the audacity to be proudly non-monogamous, then you’d better hang out back here in the shadows and not make the rest of us look bad. Current divorce statistics certainly suggest that straight folks aren’t too good at (or terribly interested in) monogamy as the final solution either, but that doesn’t matter: we’re the outsiders here, so it’s only our behaviors and motives that are called into question.
And then there’s the matter of our allies. Let me start by saying this: I love allies. I need my straight allies and I appreciate them deeply. But I’m going to lay down some serious truth for y’all right now: If you have to ask someone to change who they are and how they present themselves to the world in order to provide your support to them, then You. Are. Not. A. Fucking. Ally. Period, end of story. Being an ally means that you work to understand a person or community of persons who face marginalization, you recognize the ways in which you hold certain privileges that they do not have, and you work in ways that you are comfortable with to effect change related to that marginalization. It does not mean that you come in, guns blazing with a laundry list of what you will and will not be comfortable with in order for that group to receive your support. Being an ally means there will be times when you feel uncomfortable – recognizing your own privilege is always uncomfortable! And by learning to face that discomfort, you can gain some empathy for people whose lives are often uncomfortable for no reason other than because their identities and desires don’t mesh with the status quo. Some people wake up feeling uncomfortable with their lives and they fall asleep feeling uncomfortable, so excuse me if I’m not all atwitter because some straight person experiences a temporary moment of discomfort because they don’t like when or how often I have sex. Part of what our movement needs is less people who claim the title of ally and more people who live up what it really means.
I’m not completely discounting the importance of the political process – there are bad people out there who can and will do bad things to us if we let them. But that’s the problem: we spend less and less time focusing on those people, and more and more time focusing on how we can make our own community members more presentable and palatable. Our LGBT political “leaders” are busy monitoring our hemlines like the Mattachine Society when they should be throwing bricks like the queer folks at Stonewall or staging “Die Ins” like the AIDS activists in ACT UP.
Given the current state of the world and the riots happening right now in Baltimore, I should probably refine what I’m saying a little bit. I’m not advocating actual riots – though I’m also not saying that riots are always bad. People who are giving only wholesale condemnation to the rioters in Baltimore are either uninformed or aggressively stupid. Riots, in all situations and especially this one, are complicated; they are never completely justified or completely without merit. I found a very succinct and perceptive piece in The Atlantic that I thought addressed the Baltimore riots effectively:
When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of police brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the community.
Sometimes you can’t be the nice Get Along Gays. Sometimes you have to stop smiling at the people who are oppressing you (some of whom are simultaneously sending out dick pics to twinks) and start throwing bricks, and that was one mighty effective “brick.” Stories about “Top Man!” Randy Boehning are all over the interwebs and he’s having to do some serious explaining. Part of his explaining, meant to smokescreen the obvious hypocrisy, has actually revealed some of the deeply-entrenched sexism that exists within the gay community: he claims that one concern he had about the bill was that it would protect people who are “perceived” as gay. And that sure would be terrible, wouldn’t it? Of course we want to protect the gay and lesbian people who act appropriately for their gender! But those butch lesbians and feminine gays? They are on their own!
If someone is talking about a person being “perceived” as gay, or “acting gay,” it usually means a man who is acting in ways traditionally coded as feminine or a woman acting in ways traditionally coded as masculine, and it’s an impulse that gets its heft from sexism: in our culture, we devalue women and femininity. Sexism and homophobia ensure that men who act in feminine ways or women who don’t “know their place” will be penalized. And Boehning’s response falls right in line with that: it’s not that some gays shouldn’t have protections, just not the nelly boys or the dykes. Or (it’s almost too terrible to imagine!) straight men and women who are not “appropriately” gendered and might be assumed to be gay or lesbian! We can only hope that from this situation we can start some much needed discussion about gender prejudice and how sexism and homophobia work together in really ugly ways.
The Get Along Gays will tell you that we have to play the game if we want to get anywhere; funny, didn’t Governor Snow say something like that about the Hunger Games? We see how well that turned out for him. If you’ll indulge my brief foray into literary geekdom for just a moment longer, there is a great quote from the movie Catching Fire from Governor Snow to the head gamemaker: “Whatever game you think you’re playing, those out there are not playing it with you.” The most rabid of the anti-gay factions, the people we really need to worry about, are not going to be won over by snappy dressers who’ve whitewashed their sexual proclivities into a façade of Barbie doll crotches and sexless slogans; they’ve already written us off as perverts and degenerates, and no amount of good PR is going to sway them over to our side. Our very existence is how they rally their base of poor white folk to vote against their own best interests and keep themselves in power. We have to play our own game, and we can’t do it if we don’t have the integrity to be out whole, truthful selves.
So this is why I stay out of the political arena; I prefer to be somewhere out by the margins, tossing bricks and fucking shit up in whatever little ways I can. Part of that involves being a large and in charge, sexually liberated drag queen with a filthy mouth. I like to say all kinds of things that I’m not supposed to say, and if you don’t like them here is your formal invitation to not listen. Because I’m not going to stop saying them. I’m interested in being a good person, not a good example, and I think we need more radical queers to step up and start throwing their bricks. If someone is voting against your rights and then flashing their junk at you on the side, then you absolutely should take that scumbag to the press and lay everything out for the world to see! If there is something in the world that isn’t right or is causing pain, call it out! Name it! Don’t worry about making other people uncomfortable because you’re calling attention to something that should never have been allowed to be there in the first place. There are all kinds of wonderful ways to be queer, and if the Get Along Gays don’t like your way of being queer then that’s just too damn bad for them. I’m sure quite a few of them turn up their noses at the fabulous, mouthy, glittery, gender-bending, unabashedly sexual drag queen I’ve turned out to be.
Let me just stretch my arms out as wide as I can reach to show you the expanse of all the fucks I don’t give.
Tags: Act Up, Baltimore Riots, Closeted ND Republican, Closeted North Dakota Republican, Closeted Politicians, Closeted Republican, Communities of Sexual and Gender Diversity, Dick Pic, Gawker, Gay Activism, Gay Politics, Gay Rights, Gender Identity, Grindr, Hearts Not Parts, Homosexual, Homosexual Rights, Huffpost, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, LGBT Activism, Love Knows No Gender, Mattachine Society, Miss Jaye, Outing, Politics, queer politics, Radical Queer, Radical Queerness, Randy Boehning, sex, Sexual Orientation, sexuality, Stonewall, Stonewall Inn, Stonewall Riots, The Atlantic, Throwing Bricks, World of Champagne