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Header: Jess Anderson in Madison Wisconsin
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For The Straight Person Who Wants To Be My Friend
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rule

Straight people looking for insight into getting along with LGB people would do well, I think, to ponder this famous remark by Pat Parker in "For the white person who wants to be my friend":

The first thing you do is forget that I'm Black. Second, you must never forget that I'm Black.

I can only speak for myself, but I think a fair fraction of us would ringingly endorse that sentiment. We refuse to let ourselves be cast as victims, as second-class citizens, and especially not for some really jackass reason like straight homophobia. But it also a fact that we are systematically discounted as human beings, in any and all sectors of life, by bigotry, by ignorance, by truly warped people, and this has been true for hundreds and hundreds of years. In my opinion, there is something really wrong with a lesbian, gay man or bisexual person who is not viscerally outraged by the injustices visited upon us by the straight majority.

And I don't mean by individual straight people, though some of them -- the Jesse Helmses, the Pat Robertsons, the Pat Buchanans -- are especially negative human beings. I mean, rather, by straight people as a group. There's no "good" and "bad" about it; there's just "bad" and "worse yet."

I do indeed have straight friends -- many -- but each and every one has had to pass the Pat Parker test:

The first thing you do is forget that I'm gay. Second, you must never forget that I'm gay.

It's a lot harder than it sounds, believe me. And if you are straight, you'll be especially apt to think you've done it when in fact you haven't.

But no need to speak of the distant past, for there is enough going on around us right now that fully justifies indignation, distrust, and contempt. Just as with respect to racism white people must face up to their complicity in continuing oppression, just as with respect to women all men must face up to their complicity in continuing sexism and misogyny, so too must straight people be willing to face being held accountable for their complicity, tacit or otherwise, in perpetuating homophobic stereotypes, in countenancing ongoing injustices, in remaining silent when presented with the shocking bigotries of the greater fraction of their cohort, and for being unaware of the true extent of majoritarian prejudice toward us.

And if you think any of that is overstated or doesn't apply to you personally, then there's already a serious problem. Until you resolve it -- note well, not "until we resolve it" -- no friendship or trust will be possible.

In 1989 or 1990, an anonymous group, reportedly Queer Nation, published a broadside that even some homosexuals take to be pretty strong stuff. It's called Queers Read This. A straight person who really wants to be my friend should read that document and should be able to discuss it intelligently and with understanding of the feelings and historical facts that underlie it. I don't necessarily support all the views it espouses, but I do know why they're being espoused, and anyone who fails to come to terms with the issues it raises can hardly expect to attain the trust and confidence, much less the intimacy of a more than superficial friendship, with me or with any of us.

So the first step is to read Queers Read This!. Then we'll see where you are.

Every time I read that document -- you can imagine how many times I've done so since it first appeared -- tears roll down, roll down profusely, roll down again and yet again, for the hundredth or thousandth time.

It is moving, you see, to reminded, even for god knows how any times, how abject the cruelties in this world are, how widespread, how deeply entrenched, how thoroughly intertwined with the very foundations of the society we live in. Were it not for having survived (note well that word) more than six decades, were it not for the unbounded richness of the long personal experience I've been fortunate to have -- far more fortunate than those thousands who've died far too young -- one might easily despair.

For many years, lesbians and gay men have estimated their aggregate number at something like 10% of the American population. On many college campuses, including mine, there is a "Ten Percent Society" or its equivalent body. We are a small minority of the population. I've long felt the 10% figure was too high, that we can actually count ourselves as maybe a little more than half that numerous. In any case, we are few and always will be. But 5% of America is something like 13 million people, and that's something to keep in mind: it's hardly a negligible number.

But definitely a minority. The majority that has run roughshod over us for all our lives can, if it chooses, continue to do so, for virtually as long as it pleases them. If there's a slender thread upon which to base hope for improvement, LGB people must find enough straight people among that huge majority to make common cause with us. This is just faintly possible, in my view.

But there are a number of things it definitely does not imply, chief among them being assimilated, co-opted or otherwise folded into that majority. We are not, and never can be, "just like you, except for our sexuality." That one difference changes everything.

Nor does it mean we can tolerate being put off forever; anyone can see how slow and incomplete (some would say retrograde) the route to equality has been for African Amercians. We know that in America you don't get somewhere by waiting.

Nor does it mean we can compromise our insistence on full equality and total enfranchisement as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered citizens in any way, just to curry favor with and acceptance by the straight majority. Here too the experience of Black people has been entirely too vividly instructive: placate, ameliorate minimally, quiet the troublemakers, divide and conquer, discredit the leadership, isolate the more radical elements, and all that -- we've seen it all before. It won't do; it cannot be made to do.

I don't shed my tears for that, believe me!

[to be continued]

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