I’ve been reading through the comments and messages I’ve received about the article I published last week entitled “For LGBTQ Survivors, ‘Pride’ Isn’t Always A Source Of Pride”. As I always do, I examine and reflect on all feedback, and I figured because of my strong feelings on this topic - and those of others - it would be worth addressing some of the critiques and answering some of the lingering questions raised.
Critique #1: “How does feminine behavior/glitter/boas/etc. reinforce heteromasculinity?”
This is an excellent question, and one that I perhaps did not flesh out entirely in the original piece. The short answer is this: feminine behavior performed by men in conjunction with misogynistic, racist, or abusive behavior is not subversive. If you are a femme-presenting gay man who wants to bathe yourself in glitter and wear boas and high heels and live your own life, go on with your bad self. If you are a femme-presenting gay man who calls his female friends “skanks” or “hoes”, uses racial slurs or demeans people of other ethnicities, or sexually violates his partner(s), you are replicating patriarchal suppression. We are not permanently recused from being oppressive just because we have been or are oppressed. Being gay or feminine does not give you a “Get Out of Jail Free Card” to verbally, sexually, or otherwise abuse others. We are not required to embrace Milo Yiannopoulis and “Twinks for Trump” just because we share a common marginalized sexuality when they have used their political capital to oppress and demean others. When you are given a seat at the table and use your chair to hit someone over the head, you can have your seat revoked.
Critique #2: “Isn’t this just femmephobia?”
No. Femmephobia would be singling out and isolating those in our community who exhibit feminine behavior for that reason alone. I am singling out anyone and everyone who uses their sexuality as license to violate the bodily autonomy of others, particularly noting that feminine comportment does not exclude a person (namely men) from sexually violent behavior. There is a difference.
Critique #3: “Aren’t you just partaking in self-loathing? Promiscuity isn’t a big deal, you just secretly hate your sexuality.”
Again, no. Promiscuity has been studied over and over and is considered by trauma specialists and psychologists to be a common coping mechanism for those who have undergone severe psychological trauma, either as an attempt to “recode” the traumatic event or to protect oneself from true intimacy. It is my belief that as an entire community, the LGBTQ population is suffering from a collective trauma which we are treating with alcohol, drugs, and random often unsafe sex in an attempt to cover the hurt we feel at having failed to live up to heteropatriarchal expectations. It could be and has been argued, then, that promiscuity could also be a form of self-loathing, although I think that argument is a bit overgeneralized. Particularly when it comes to surviving sexual violence, arguing that queer survivors who avoid potentially self-destructive behavior are not only not “real queers” but sexual puritans is flat out offensive.
Further, consider this from Yasmin Nair on the false political radicality of sex, presented without comment:
“In many ways, when it comes to sex and sexuality, the Left makes the same mistake over and over again: it imagines that simply having violated the rules of the Conservative Right means that it is now setting about creating a new world order. [...] The revolution will not come on the tidal wave of your next multiple orgasm had with your seven partners on the floor of your communal living space. It will only happen if you have an actual plan for destroying systems of oppression and exploitation. Should we think about sex at all? Yes, absolutely. Let’s all think and agitate collectively around how sex is deployed against the most vulnerable bodies, like people in prison. Let’s all think long and hard about whether we really want to keep reifying the idea that sex offenders deserve to be raped in prison (and about the oppressive framework of the category of “sex offender” itself). Let’s consider how to create a world where sex work and sex trade can flourish without coercion and demeaning people. By all means, please, let’s not stop having sex, which can be riotous fun, and let’s not stop thinking about sex in all its multiple forms. But stop pretending that sex is anything more than sex. Your sex is not radical. Your politics can and should be. Consider the difference, and act upon it.”
Critique #4: “Things like this only divide us further and marginalize us in already troubling times.”
This a particularly troubling argument. To think that, in these highly politicized and turbulent moments, we are neither intelligent enough nor fully equipped to both oppose external threats and internal violence and erasure disturbs me greatly. There is no reason to strive both for outward and inward changes. By refusing to acknowledge the real issues facing LGBTQ Americans today - the crippling HIV epidemic still raging in minority communities, the lack of universal healthcare afforded to all (married or otherwise), the effects of agism and poverty on older, rural members of our community - and instead arguing that things “out there” are so messed up they deserve our singular focus, we are failing ourselves. We must get our own house in order, and we can do that while acknowledging the multiplicity of threats we face.