Saturday, April 14, 2007

Coming Out Story

Gimme five! Two times! On the black hand side. I remember shaking hands, giving dap or some love: Slap twice rapidly but don’t take the other’s hand, take his hand, thumbs back, drop your thumbs forward close you fist around the forward fingers of his closed fist so that your fist interlock, pull back slowly bringing your middle finger and thumb together snap as you come out of the embrace. I remember shaking hands, being allowed this briefest of a caress between “Brothers.”

I remember being a brother! I was, “blood,” “Folks” “dog” “youngsta” “shawty” “mah nigga.”

I remember being a nigga too. Hunted as niggas are, I remember what it was like to be endangered! Not like I’m endangered now, but I remember what it was like to be in danger and be protected from danger. Protected by black folks, because I was “youngsta” “shorty” “Brotha” they built hide-outs along the way home from school! Underground railroad conductors waiting at Upward-bound and the Boys and Girls Club to show me the way to freedom screamed “live free or die” at little black boys like me with few other options.

Racism is harsh! But the resolve of my tribesman was stronger. We built fortresses to protect our children. We fortified there walls with our prayers and with the power within our collective voices, raised in song, that we so trustingly call “God.”

I remember being a tribesman too. I remember being jealously watched over by black women who in their gaze and as payment for their protection claimed me for their daughters, granddaughters, nieces, cousins, sisters, and themselves.

I remember being a tribesman and I remember my own gaze. Careful and suspiciously I watched and scrutinized white people, sisters and brothers who married white people, Asians, police, teachers, homosexuals and anyone else who represented the system or the “others.”

I remember leaving the tribe.

Now, blank stares on the faces of women who once claimed me as their own and now hardly recognize me and certainly do not want me for themselves, their daughters, nieces, cousins or even their sisters.

Exiled by “God” and his urban pontiff to this new Diaspora, I stand cold outside of fortresses that once kept me safe with prayers and songs and the promise of “God” and love, facing racism by myself.

Having chosen freedom over death my freedom is used against me by those who so implored me to it! The codes have been changed in the night and the path to the hide-outs buried away from my sight our children protected from me by conductors who will one day tell them to live free or die.

I am no longer “brother” “shawty” “youngsta” “dawg” “folks” “blood” “people.” The fist that once served to embrace me, in likeness and familiarity, has turned against me in a new kind of less familial caress for the briefest caress between “brothers.”

I am the “other” that I used to diligently guard against with my careful and suspicious gaze. “I” now “them,” find myself ranked beneath women who marry white men, men who marry white women, police, teachers, Asians, and even white men.

I remember leaving the tribe.

Gimme five! Two times! On the black-hand side.

Rights VS Social Justice

Recently I’ve come to the conclusion that the queer left needs to reshape its conversation about marriage, the military, and job security and queer rights overall to be a more justice oriented conversation. The conversation about “rights” is easily twisted by conservatives and the extreme right into a conversation about “special rights” and special protections for queers.

I’ll use marriage as an example. Marriage discussed as a right that LGBT individuals deserve to share with their heterosexual counterparts is a week argument compared to marriage discussed in its current form as a set of policies that serves to create second class citizens by excluding them from enjoying justice, equality, and full status as citizens in society.

LGBT movement has, for the large part, modeled itself after the Black lead civil-rights movement of the 60s. This relatively successful movement which used a very similar “rights” oriented rhetoric was successful largely because it was able to partner with the media and with popular social voices to demonstrate the ways in which contemporary social policies excluded Black people from full participation in society. It was able to illustrate in graphic and explicit ways the injustice of the exclusion of Black people as well as the brutality associated with enforcing unjust policies and the impact of said policies on Black people. Police dogs, fire hoses, church bombs, school assaults, and widespread assassinations were catalyst that served to augment the arguments for “rights.”

Queer movement has tried to use a similar rhetoric but has lacked, except in a few extreme situations, the same graphic and explicit illustration of the ways that queer people have been hurt by not having certain rights. It’s been as difficult for queers to translate the rhetoric of the queer movement into a general societal moral indignation as it was easy for the leaders of the civil rights movement. This is because of the lack of the kinds of graphic examples of the anti-justice that were so common in the civil-rights error.

Incidents that have involved extreme violence have been few and far between when compared to the frequency of such incidents leading up to and during the civil-rights movement. The lack of these kinds of examples has made it easy for the conservative right and other anti-gay forces to paint the LGBT movement as a movement of privileged cry babies who, drunk with greed, are crying out for protections that “everyday” citizens do not enjoy. Because it would be ridiculous to hope for or look for these kinds of graphic examples our best hope is for the conversation about social justice for queers to become one that is much more rhetorically explicit. Crying for civil rights while most Americans view queers as a particularly privileged group does not have much of an impact on the moral tenor of the nation. This moral tenor has always been the spirit of change in America and essential for creating change in oppressive policies.

Thus organizations like HRC, NGLTF and the host of statewide LGBT PACs which are perceived by queers and heteros alike as existing for the sole purpose of mainstreaming queers particularly queers of privilege need to reconsider the tone of their rhetoric. Talking about LGBT social justice movement as a civil rights movement does not have much of an impact when the lack of civil rights for queers has not been associated in the American psyche with disenfranchisement or lack of access. A movement language that calls for, instead of rights, an elimination of policies that create injustice and exclude whole groups from participating in society as full status citizens will prove much more effective.