GLBTQ RACISM: A Time to Address our Secret

A Different Shade of Queer: Race, Sexuality, and Marginalizing by the Marginalized

Shared experiences of oppression rarely lead to sympathy for others who are also marginalized, traumatized, and minimized by the dominant society. Rather, all too miserably, those who should naturally join in fighting discrimination find it more comforting to join their oppressors in oppressing others.

By Chong-suk Han

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By now, two things are bitterly clear about our “shared” American experiences. One, a shared history of oppression rarely leads to coalition building among those who have been systematically denied their rights. More devastatingly, such shared experiences of oppression rarely lead to sympathy for others who are also marginalized, traumatized, and minimized by the dominant society. Rather, all too miserably, those who should naturally join in fighting discrimination find it more comforting to join their oppressors in oppressing others. As a gay man of color, I see this on a routine basis – whether it be racism in the gay community or homophobia in communities of color. And it pisses me off.

I’m sure, about why such things happen. But for now, I’m not interested in why it happens. Rather, I’m interested in exposing it, condemning it, shaming it, and stopping it.

Many gay activists want to believe that there aren’t issues of racism within the gay community. As members of an oppressed group, they like to think that they are above oppressing others. Yet, looking around any gayborhood, something becomes blatantly clear to those of us on the outside looking in. Within the queer spaces that have sprung up in once neglected and forgotten neighborhoods, inside the slick new storefronts and trendy restaurants, and on magazine covers, gay America has given a whole new meaning to the term “whitewash.”

Whiteness in the gay community is everywhere, from what we see, what we experience, and more importantly, what we desire. Media images now popular in television and film such as Will and Grace, My Best Friend’s Wedding, In and Out, Queer as Folks, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, The L-Word, etc. promote a monolithic image of the “gay community” as being overwhelmingly upper-middle class – if not simply rich – and white. Even the most perfunctory glance through gay publications exposes the paucity of non-white gay images. It’s almost as if no gay men or women of color exist outside of fantasy cruises to Jamaica, Puerto Rico, or the “Orient.” And even there, we apparently only exist to serve the needs of the largely gay white population seeking an “authentic” experience of some kind. To the larger gay community, our existence, as gay men and women of color, is merely a footnote, an inconvenient fact that is addressed in the most insignificant and patronizing way. Sometime between Stonewall and Will and Grace, gay leaders, along with the gay press, have decided that the best way to be accepted was to mimic upper middle-class white America.

Sometimes, racism in the gay community takes on a more explicit form aimed at excluding men and women of color from gay institutions. All over the country, gay people of color are routinely asked for multiple forms of I.D. to enter the most basic of gay premises, the gay bars. In the 1980s, the Association of Lesbian and Gay Asians found that multiple carding was widespread throughout the city of San Francisco and the “Boston Bar Study” conducted by Men of All Colors Together Boston (MACTB) cited numerous examples of discrimination at gay bars against black men. Rather than a specter of gay whitening practices from the past, the efforts to exclude gay men of color are still in full swing. In 2005, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission found that the San Francisco BadLands, a once popular bar, violated the civil rights of non-white patrons and employees by denying entrance to, and employment at, the bar. Denied access to the gay bars, gay men and women of color often lose the ability to see and socialize with others “like them” who also turn to these “safe” places for not only their social aspects but their affirming aspects. Isolated incidents might be easily forgotten, but news reports and buzz on various on-line forums expose such practices to be endemic to gay communities.

More importantly, gay men and women of color are routinely denied leadership roles in “gay” organizations that purport to speak for “all of us.” In a process that Allan Bérubé calls “mirroring,” gay organizations come to “mirror” mainstream organizations where leadership roles are routinely reserved for white men and a few white women. As such, it is the needs and concerns of a largely middle class gay white community that come to the forefront of what is thought to be a “gay” cause. Interjecting race at these community organizations is no easy task. On too many occasions, gay men and women of color have been told not to muddy the waters of the “primary” goal by bringing in concerns that might be addressed elsewhere. When mainstream “gay” organizations actually address issues of race, gay white men and women continue to set the agenda for what is and is not “appropriate” for discussion. Likewise, when “ethnic” organizations set the agenda, gay and lesbian issues are nowhere to be found.

The primacy of whiteness in the gay community often manifests as internalized racism. In “No blacks allowed,” Keith Boykin argues that “in a culture that devalues black males and elevates white males,” black men deal with issues of self-hatred that white men do not. Boykin argues that this racial self-hatred makes gay black men see other gay black men as unsuitable sexual partners and white males as ultimate sexual partners.

hatred. Rather, it seems to be pandemic among many gay men of color. Even the briefest visit to a gay bar betrays the dirty secret that gay men of color don’t see each other as potential life partners. Rather, we see each other as competitors for the few white men who might be willing to date someone “lower” on the racial hierarchy. We spend our energy and time contributing to the dominance of whiteness while ignoring those who would otherwise be our natural allies. When Asian men tell me that they “just don’t find Asian guys attractive,” I often wonder what they see when they look in the mirror. How does one reconcile the sexual repulsion to their race with the reflection in the mirror?

Ironically, we strive for the attention of the very same white men who view us as nothing more than an inconvenience. “No femmes, no fats, and no Asians,” is a common quote found in many gay personal ads, both in print and in cyberspace. Gay white men routinely tell us that we are lumped with the very least of desirable men within the larger gay community. To many of them, we are reduced to no more than one of many “characteristics” that are considered undesirable. Rather than confronting this racism, many of these gay Asian brothers have become apologists for this outlandish racist behavior. We damage ourselves by not only allowing it, but actively participating in it. We excuse their racist behavior because we engage in the same types of behavior. When seeking sexual partners for ourselves, we also exclude “femmes, fats, and Asians.” We hope that we are somehow the exception that proves the rule. “We’re not like other Asians,” we tell ourselves. I’m sure that similar thought go on in other minds, only, “Asian” might be replaced with black, Latino, Native American, etc. In our minds, we are always the exceptions.

The rationale we use, largely to fool ourselves, to justify the inability of seeing each other as potential partners and allies, is laughable at best. Many Asian guys have told me that dating other Asians would be like “dating [their] brother, father, uncle, etc.” Yet, we never hear white men argue that dating other white men would be like dating their brothers or fathers. This type of logic grants individuality to white men while feeding into the racist stereotype that all of “us” are indistinguishable from one another and therefore easily interchangeable.

Some of us rely on tired stereotypes. Boykin writes about the professional gay black man who degrades other black men as being of a “lower” social class while thinking nothing of dating blue-collar white men.

If we are invisible in the dominant gay community, perhaps we are doubly so in our own communities of color. If we are a footnote in the gay community, we are an endnote in communities of color – an inconvenient fact that is buried in the back and out of view. We are told, by family and friends, that “being gay,” is a white “problem.” We are told, early in life, that we must avoid such stigma at all costs. When we try to interject issues of sexuality, we are told that there is precious little time to waste on “trivial” needs while we pursue racial justice.

I’ve seen those who are marginalized use the master’s tools in numerous instances, now too legion to list. Citing Leviticus, some people of color who are also members of the clergy have vehemently attacked homosexuality as an “abomination.” This is the same Leviticus that tells us that wearing cloth woven of two fabrics and eating pork or shrimp is an “abomination” punishable by death. Yet not surprisingly, rarely do Christian fundamentalists picket outside of a Gap or a Red Lobster. If hypocrisy has a border, those yielding Leviticus as their weapon of choice must have crossed it by now. It must be convenient to practice a religion with such disdain that the word of God need only be obeyed when it reinforces one’s own hatred and bigotry and completely ignored when it is inconvenient. How else do we explain those who condemn Brokeback Mountain based on their “religious” views while, in the same breath, praise Walk the Line, a movie about two adulterous country singers? On purely religious views, doesn’t adultery rank higher on the list of “sins” than homosexuality? After all, adultery is forbidden by the Ten Commandments while homosexuality is not.

More problematic is that we chose to practice historic amnesia by ignoring the fact that Leviticus was used by slave owners to justify slavery by arguing that God allowed the owning of slaves and selling of daughters. Anti-miscegenation laws, too, were justified using the Bible. In 1965, Virginia trial court judge Leon Bazile sentenced an interethnic couple who were married in Washington, D.C. to a jail term using the Bible as his justification. In his ruling, he wrote, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” Scores of others also used the story of Phinehas, who distinguished himself in the eyes of God by murdering an inter-racial couple, thereby preventing a “plague” to justify their own bigotry. Have we forgotten that the genocide and removal of Native Americans was also largely justified on biblical grounds?

Have we simply decided to pick and choose the parts of the Bible that reinforce our own prejudices and use it against others in the exact same way that it has been used against us? Have we really gotten this adapt at using the master’s tools that he no longer needs to use them himself to keep us all “in our place”?

Given the prevalence of negative racial attitudes in the larger gay community and the homophobia in communities of color, gay people of color have to begin building our own identities. For gay people of color to be truly accepted by both the gay community and communities of color, we must form connections with each other first and build strong and lasting coalitions with each other rather than see each other as being competitors for the attention of potential white partners. We must begin confronting whiteness where it stands while simultaneously confronting homophobia. More importantly, we must begin doing this within our own small circle of “gay people of color.” We must confront our own internalized racism that continues to put gay white people on a pedestal while devaluing other gays and lesbians of color. Certainly, this is easier said than done. The task at hand seems insurmountable. In Seattle, a group of gay, lesbian, and transgendered social activists from various communities of color have launched the Queer People of Color Liberation Project. Through a series of live performances, they plan on telling their own stories to counter the master narratives found within the larger gay community and within communities of color.

Certainly, gay people of color have allies both in the mainstream gay community and in our communities of color. Recently, Kahlil Hassam, a high school student in Seattle won a national ACLU scholarship for opposing prejudice. Hassam, the only Muslim student at University Prep High School, decided to fight for justice after a Muslim speaker made derogatory comments about homosexuals. Despite his own marginalized status as a Muslim American, Hassam confronted the homophobia found within his own community. Examples such as these are scattered throughout the country. Nonetheless, there is much more that allies, both straight and gay, can do to promote social justice. We must see “gay rights” and “civil rights” as being not exclusive but complimentary. All too often, even those on the left view supporting “other” causes as being more about the Niomoellerian fear of having no one left to speak up for us if the time should come. I propose that the motivation to join in “other” causes should come not from such fears but from the belief that there are no such “other” causes. Rather, as Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We must remind ourselves, contrary to what Cannick may want us to believe, social justice is not a zero-sum game. Granting “rights” to others do not diminish our rights. Rather, it is the exact opposite. Ensuring that “rights” are guaranteed to others ensures that they are guaranteed to us.

Being Me

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I guess I would consider myself a trans guy, but I don’t want hormones or any kind of surgery. I mean, if I were able to and was brave enough to do it. Then yeah, I’d take that chance. But it’s not something I believe is necessary to be who I am. to feel like a real guy, a dude.

Not every trans person wants the hormones or the surgeries, most do though. I feel that it’s not something I need.

Even with the body that I have now, I feel like a dude. My boobs are basically my balls, just up higher on my body. And instead of a penis, I have a vagina that doesn’t hurt much when kicked or hit.

It’s not about the anatomy, it’s about the persons feelings and preferences about it all. It’s different for everybody.

I am comfortable, I am me.

~Damien (aka Tony Taylor)

Damien is a CHATpdx peer educator, an awesome SMYRC activist and a really funny person!

It’s My Body, Not Yours!

If a trans friend or family member ever tells you that they have decided to start hormones or have surgery and it’s something you would never choose to do yourself, please remember that it has absolutely nothing to do with your appearance or body or gender identity, regardless of what your gender identity or expression is, regardless of whether you are cis or trans. [Note: in my usage, cis means identifying as the gender assigned at birth and trans means identifying as a gender or genders other than the one assigned at birth, although others may define these terms differently].

The day I told my family I had started making plans for having top surgery (bilateral mastectomy), there were a lot of concerned faces around.  People wanted to make sure I was making the right decision, that I wouldn’t regret it.  My sister had a particularly strong reaction.  She spent hours asking questions about whether I was sure, telling me stories about how she feels about her breasts (she very much likes having breasts), and giving me these long, sad, defeated looks.  I finally got tired of it and called her out on it, suggesting that she be happy for me instead – I have access to a surgery that will help me feel more comfortable in my body and in the world, and honestly could save my life, as committing suicide was occasionally on the table as a way to end my discomfort – it was that extreme.

I don’t remember the exact words she responded with; but it’s a sentiment I’ve come across a lot. My sister once stated, “You have to accept that people are going to get upset when you tell them that you’re cutting your breasts off because most people are really attached to their breasts and thinking about having their breasts removed is upsetting to them.”

It was a mind-blowing moment.  I wasn’t talking about removing my sister’s breasts, so why was she!?  Arguing about how it had nothing to do with her or anybody else’s breasts ensued, and we actually (I think) came to a good place of understanding by the end of that day.  Others have voiced this kind of thought as “I could never do that” coupled with looks and comments of concern.

As somebody who needed to do hormones and have top surgery to achieve psychological and emotional well being (and, yes, where indicated, these treatments are considered medically necessary by the AMA), I was terrified of having surgery and continue to be very unenthusiastic about giving myself shots.  I certainly wished I didn’t have to have surgery to be comfortable in my body, I certainly tried to talk myself out of it, and I certainly had a rough road of accepting my need for surgery.  It was made even harder by these kinds of reactions – people telling me they could never do this thing that I was terrified of doing but had to do anyway; people who enjoy having breasts assuming that I relate to my body in the same way that they do, not considering that the reason this procedure was necessary was exactly because I do not relate to my body in the same way that they do.

I think people have a natural tendency to hear about what somebody else is doing and imagine themselves in that person’s shoes.  I also think there are appropriate times and ways to talk about those thoughts.  A friend is skydiving and you would be terrified to do that; a friend is traveling for a month and you hate traveling – by all means, tell them.  You can talk about your different interests and fears, but make sure you’re not trying to talk them out of something that’s important to them or talking judgmentally about an activity that might be core to their identity.

When it comes to health care, particularly with procedures that are frightening no matter what it’s for, like surgery, not making those kinds of comparisons is the polite thing to do.  We do this all the time, quite easily.  If somebody told you they are having surgery to remove a tumor that is greatly impacting their quality of life, it’s highly unlikely you would say, “I could never do that” because if you had that tumor and you needed that surgery in order to have a basic level of comfort, then you would probably do it.  You might ask if they’re scared, and talk about how you would be scared.  You might tell them that you’re happy this procedure is available.  You might ask them how they feel about the surgeon who will be doing it.  You might talk about what they’re looking forward to and the relief of having this condition taken care of.  There are a lot compassionate ways we all respond to things like this.

Why not extend the same compassion to those who are having surgery or taking medications for gender and/or transition related reasons?  It’s often just as life saving, often just as scary or difficult (if not more because of social ramifications and usually no insurance coverage for the cost), and often just as much of a relief to have treatment.

Please remember if somebody is having a procedure or taking medication that you would never need or want or would hate – it’s not about you, and it’s not happening to you.  Set aside those thoughts and listen to your friend or family member’s experience with compassion and an open mind.

-LeKyS

*I have chosen not to attach my actual name to this article because, unfortunately, in some states (to which I might move some day) gender identity/expression is not protected from job and housing discrimination.  Although I am mostly out in my life, I choose to remain anonymous on the internet when I am not in direct control over changing or deleting that information.

*For more information about top surgery, other trans-related surgeries, and surgeons who serve trans clients, visit http://www.transbucket.com.