Elliot Rodger was a jihadist – for organised misogyny, if not for organised religion »« No more tears: Michael Sam and the camera’s fetish for queer crying

No, entitled queeriatrics everywhere, this angry young queen won’t pipe down

Yesterday’s post addressed Michael Sam’s getting signed, liberal media’s obsession with individual queer faces and its failure to represent those of us unwilling to cry on cue. (Yes, you should read it.) The following was one reaction when a friend shared it on social media.

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I’m not much of a drama blogger, but it’s a painfully familiar topos, especially (for me) in response to critique of the GGGG establishment. Pipe down, lucky young fags with modern perspectives and easy lives, and know your place. Your gay elders, who remember how things were, have lessons for you. Pay close attention.

When I write about queer culture, it’s often in opposition to the status quo. As a young person expected dutifully and gratefully to heed the wisdom of gays over forty, I therefore tend to struggle. If we’ve so much to learn from you, as you and RuPaul’s Drag Race would have it, why did things go to shit before my time? Who am I cleaning up after, if not you?

I’m sure I’ll hear all this again in future, so because it deserves a proper response, here’s one.

I might have benefited from advances you couldn’t count on – sure. But I spent years of my life being physically and sexually assaulted, spat on and harassed in public; I lived under written parental threat of homelessness. I tried to die. (All this is a long story, and I mean to tell it soon.) If you think because I won’t compromise politically that I’ve had an easy ride of it, you know fuck all about me. Likewise, if you doubt my views are heavily informed by activists of older generations – the Gay Liberation Front, Gay Shame, ACT UP, Queer Nation, Harry Hay, Carl Wittman, Michael Warner, Butler, Sontag, Sedgwick through Lisa Duggan, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Kate Bornstein, Yasmin Nair and Against Equality – you don’t know a thing about the way I think.

When I’m criticising contemporary LGBT and liberal media and you’re defending it, I’m not Larry Kramer’s tragic depoliticised gay-of-today. You are. The very reason I’m doing that at all – the reason I identify with a much older politics – is that the narrow range of queer expression neoliberalism accepts doesn’t represent me. Representation is a privilege. Being acceptable enough to have earned it – rather than being too angry, too sexual, too politics, too trans, too bi, too poly – is a privilege. Your generation sold mine out when it made sure of that. If you’re willing to respect the cage of acceptability in return for becoming mainstream, I’m not a traitor to our history. You are – and you’ve no right to finger-wag at me proffering generous life lessons.

I’m sorry (I’m not) if reading that hurts, but that’s the only apology from me you’re going to get.

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Comments

  1. brucemartin says

    I just now donated to this blog because of this post. Thanks, Alex. I don’t know hardly anything about LGBTQ stuff, and I don’t even know of any connections I might have with the topics.
    But I do know that the world needs people like you who don’t pipe down.
    I doubt that the older guy who wrote that comment at the top of your post meant to do any harm. But Alex, I think you are correct to point out that we need constantly to be pushing the envelope of what is considered acceptable. People should not have to conform to some preconceptions in order to get privileges that others can get.
    By demanding human rights on one front, this widens the arena for more people, whether with these issues or with completely different ones. It’s the right thing to do, and I’m glad you’re doing it.
    Best wishes, from an indirect “student” of yours.

  2. Beth says

    I’m not very attuned to certain implications of language. Could you explain how you got to ‘Pipe down’ from what he wrote. It just seemed to me that he wanted to savor a victory for gay rights. It seemed pretty huge to me, but I don’t get out much.

  3. says

    @Beth (#3)

    Good point. It’s worth stressing this wasn’t specifically about him, so much as my getting the “Pipe down” message quite a lot (recently especially), and that makes it a dog-whistle for me: I see how lots of this could be very innocuous to someone not sensitised to it.

    A lot of it’s about the way the “cranky old man” comment instantly establishes an unequal “Listen to Granddad” power dynamic”; it’s also about the assumption of ignorance (“If only I could show you what things were like”) and the lecturing tone. The “Mr. Gabriel” doesn’t help.

    By contrast, imagine if he’d just written “I think the fact that Michael Sam’s reaction to his drafting was broadcast (on a sports channel, no less) was HUGE. No, of course it isn’t anywhere near the end of the journey for gay equality, but there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the small victories along the way.”

  4. says

    Back when he was young, he had to be gay uphill both going to and coming from school. Yeah, I see the paternalistic “you owe us” in that comment, too. Even more so after I read your previous post, as I don’t really see his need to point this out. ( i suppose it’s a good thing that this comment or others didn’t go fully in the direction of claiming that you are playing right into the hands of the anti-gay “I don’t care what they do, but why do I have to see it on TV” crowd.)

    I also see your point about editing reality into comfortable stereotypes, and that liberals, on the whole, don’t seem a whole lot more enlightened about this than conservatives.

    If you had been criticizing some other fixation of the media and culture, you probably would not have gotten a similar reaction.

  5. says

    If queer people have an image, we’ve been painted in a narrow colour palette, portraits of moist helplessness lining wall after wall; those of us who chose rage instead are nowhere to be seen.

    Hmm. [I’m a straight woman, so take this with a grain of salt.]

    So I watched The Normal Heart today.* At the end, Ned Weeks (the Larry Kramer avatar) is at a gay dance at Yale – for him the younger generation. It’s likely that many of them died. So many gay men died. When you lose so many people you love and who are members of your community, or you witness it, it affects you. You start to see death in life, and you see corpses behind celebrations of life. This changes the celebrations of life.

    I think of Holocaust survivors who view every celebration of life as an act of defiance against the Nazis, because people continue to live and love. Are some of the mainstream portrayals of gay love schmaltzy? Sure. But they’re also celebrations of life in the face of an oppressive society (which can be shamed) and a virus (which just does what it does) – in the face of violence and death.

    After so many years of suffering and struggling, it’s not helpless at all. It’s a “We’ll continue to live and love and celebrate, whatever the world throws at us.” I don’t think love and rage are opposed, and I’d hate to see them torn apart. That’s how it seems to me, which is not to disregard your argument. I don’t think it opposes your argument, but it’s an aspect to consider.

    *Many criticisms can be and have been made, and I’ve read a number of them.

  6. says

    I hear you. I’ve used this “listen to Nana” tone – because being a very public queer activist in the early 90s, yeah, I got my share of death threats by phone and note, and the beatings and blah blah blah…but you’re right, it’s shit, and I’ll stop.

    I think I’d like to gently raise that you’re being a little unfair in complaining that we didn’t do enough to make space for gender-variant people outside the binary, and the other areas of the queer tapestry that are being filled out as we grow…it really was different. Just publicly ‘existing while gay’ took a huge amount of courage – going to our kids’ schools parent-teacher nights as a couple, and calling ourselves a couple, that kind of thing.

    Just as the generation before mine had a whole ‘nother type of fucked-upness to deal with, suffering police raids and beatings just for having dinner together, just trying to establish what we later derided as faux-hetero relationships, with strong butch-femme dynamics the required thing. We’ve each filled out that tapestry to the ability we had at the time. We were wrong to deride their efforts; they’d been facing a different world than we were.

    Where the activists of my generation get it wrong (I’m 48; I was 26 in 1992, when I started my big work, before having to scale back a lot for physical safety’s sake, when I met my partner and became a parent to her kids) is in thinking that we had all the hard times, and that now they’re over. That’s bullshit. We’re no more post-queerphobia than we are post-racism. There is a lot of hard work ahead yet, for establishing a place in society for a lot of different kinds of people, and your generation is doing that hard work, and paying the same prices we did, in new and nasty ways. I was a rare user of e-mail at the time when I was working publicly locally, so there was no Internet harrassment like now, and social media wasn’t around, so no 24-hour tell-all-your-friends-and-community abuse.

    Anyway, overall point, yeah, you’re right, that’s bad, and I will try not to do it again, and thanks for pointing it out. I don’t think there’s shit wrong with being angry about it. Being talked down to sucks, and it’s reasonable to be angry about it.

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