Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Our Turn

"Can't we just stop all this in-fighting and work together?"

This is a sentiment I've been seeing here and there among people in my circles, and I want to address why it's misguided.

Let me provide details first. Let's say a person who is on your side of the political fence makes a statement you agree with, but chooses their wording poorly and ends up sounding racist or ableist, or perhaps they declare support for a law you want passed but they say something bigoted, sexist, or otherwise problematic in the process.

"Oh come ON," say some of these folks, "stop fighting people who are ON YOUR SIDE! It makes us look disorganized and oversensitive! It causes divisiveness and discord! Our side is never going to win elections or get bills passed if its members keep biting their own tail!"

Nope. Wrong.

The problem with this is that people eyerolling and dismissing the objections are necessarily creating a hierarchy of what's important--namely, the thing THEY care about is of highest priority, and all that racism stuff, or sexism stuff, or disability rights or whatever? We'll deal with that later when we've solved the Real Problems, the Big Problems, the ones I see every day because they affect me!

Those callouts for people on our side are not attacks, and they are not petty, and they are not evidence that certain people have dubbed themselves the PC Police and need everything to be perfect before it can be useful. No. They just rightly believe that our side can do better, and they don't think it's unreasonable to hold our representatives to a set of standards. It is completely possible to support any cause without being racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, or bigoted in any way.

And let's put it this way. If a person didn't mean to say/do the bad thing? Then they should want to be notified and corrected, and the right response is to apologize sincerely and try to do better. If a person DID mean the bad thing, OR THINKS IT'S MORE IMPORTANT THAT WE RECOGNIZE THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS OR THEIR GOOD INTENTIONS, AS IF THAT OFFSETS AND EXCUSES HARM THEY HAVE DONE, we shouldn't want someone like that to be our representative anyway. It's true that nobody is likely to be perfect, but you can recognize someone's wrongheaded beliefs and actions while supporting what they're doing right, and calling out the bad stuff means attention will be drawn to the issue.

Let's also acknowledge that it's usually very privileged people whose mainstream issues are represented by the banner they expect us to unite over. And what happens when representatives who are only held to a privileged person's standards of acceptable is that they take office or accept responsibility and proceed to be BAD FOR MARGINALIZED POPULATIONS. Maybe the ways in which they are bad for marginalized populations work out to more hardship for them, and the more privileged people don't even realize it because they think their version of fairness is everyone's "most important issue."

I hear this kind of arguing in the activist communities surrounding sexual orientation a lot. Since I am asexual, issues that affect me and my community as a result of our orientation are not as visible as those that affect the lesbian and gay populations. Bi folks and trans folks have more in common with us as we're all frequently told that because of perceived privilege and/or smaller numbers, our issues are always of less importance than the LG issues. Marriage equality! Discrimination! Meanwhile the Stonewall riots were not about same-sex marriage. They were about POLICE BRUTALITY, and this historic event was instigated by trans women of color. And yet, some of the more mainstream queer activism still points to Stonewall as a pivotal event while talking over its central message and co-opting it for the benefit of more privileged cisgender queer people. When asked to acknowledge this and join forces with people who are oppressed more violently on more axes, mainstream leaders sometimes say "can't we just get some solidarity here? can't we UNITE? if you keep wanting our mission to include every little thing for every special mini-population, we will never get anything done!"

And then what "gets done" is what's important to the more privileged people. There is NEVER a time when they sit down and acknowledge okay, things are good enough for us now that we can prioritize the issues that most harshly affect you.

As an asexual activist I've even been told my work ACTIVELY TAKES AWAY from queer positivity and progress, and that I am STEALING resources from LGBT by advocating for asexual inclusion. This isn't an incredibly common position, but anything I say that spreads far enough gets a comment like this somewhere. Well, it's never going to be "our turn," and furthermore, I'm not going to let YOU decide when we get a turn, because you're not the Gay President.

In general all of the LGBTQ organizers, organizations, and activists I've met in person and most of the ones I've coordinated with online have been asexual-inclusive, and they instinctively recognized that heteronormativity has an effect on everyone who's not heterosexual. I've never had to explain to most of them why we're uniquely qualified to support each other even if our rainbow stripes are different colors (and especially since most of them realize a LOT of blending and overlap occurs in that there are trans aces, gay aces, etc). But once in a while somebody thinks it's okay to discriminate against us or actively wish violence upon us for wanting our issues to be important, giving us the speeches about selfishness and "first world problems" because our issues surely aren't as important as people being killed coming out of gay bars. (We don't have bars to come out of, so it's hard to tell how much of the violence against us is hidden by the cloud of ignorance around it, but I digress.)

If you think there's a singular mission in activism or politics, you're wrong. Other people on the same side as you are not diluting the mission by saying their interests should be part of it, and they're certainly not causing unnecessary conflict by criticizing people who are damaging them while working toward goals they want. When you ask them to be silent in the interest of forwarding "the primary goal," you must recognize that you are asking them to accept your assessment of what's most important and asking them to relegate their important issues to secondary goals--as usual. How we speak about these issues reflects how we legislate, how we vote, and how we treat each other in the streets--it is NEVER just words. And how people react to getting called out--and how their supporters react to them getting called out--reveals a lot about what will be done with power if it is given to them. It's a common misconception that "the other side" is somehow unified while we're fighting each other over issues that don't matter. It is not conflicts like these that is destroying any group from within, and it certainly isn't going to drive marginalized people to vote for someone who represents their issues even less.

It is not unreasonable to hold activists, representatives, and politicians to basic standards of decorum. It is not unreasonable to ask them to represent us while, you know, not being racist or whatever.

If we're supposedly so much better than they are (whichever "they" you mean), it shouldn't be a stretch to speak and act responsibly without throwing people under the bus, and educating said people about why their actions are harmful should not be blamed for hurting the cause. If you believe "the cause" is only the stuff that affects you, you're an apologist who's making it easier for attitudes like these to remain. If you're agreeing that the person who misstepped was wrong but defending it with "now's not the time," you are part of the problem.

It is never "our" time if we just wait for you to say when it's our turn. I promise you. That really is the way it works. We don't get what we want on one front and then come back to help our stragglers.

What we end up doing is collecting our dead.

That's the reality, and you're choosing not to look at it.

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