Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Macklemore & Embittered Queens: Why we (get to) bite the hand that feeds us

There's been a lot of pushback against Macklemore and Ryan Lewis lately (longer, if you've been paying attention), the song "Same Love," and the recent Grammys performance. There's also been a tug of war happening among queers, queers of color, and our allies. There are those who are critical of Macklemore and Lewis and those who believe they should be left alone, appreciated for their contribution(s), and lauded for their bravery.

Well here's my take:

Macklemore and Lewis are doing just fine. They won their awards, they're rolling in cash and enjoying the fame. They don't need my approval or that of similarly embittered queens (one of the many nicknames given to those who dare speak critically or ill of Macklemore the Messiah). And I'm not sure they need to be defended, but I'm not the one defending them, so I'll leave that alone.

Since the Grammys, I've been reposting (on Facebook) articles that are critical of the artists, the song, or the performance. Articles written mostly by queer/people of color, written in blogs, maybe one written for a major online platform. I agree with some, others I think are a stretch. But my full approval isn't why I repost. I repost because these voices matter to me. I want to read counter perspectives from within the people who stand to the left of political consciousness. This isn't to say that people who are supporting the song, the artists, or the performance are centrist or conservative, but it illustrates, in ways I think are useful, how we are not a monolithic body, despite having similar or somewhat similar politics. I think this is good. We should have these types of dialogues and the occasional fight.

The latest piece I reposted is by Tyler Coates, titled "Queer Rapper Le1f Speaks Out Against Macklemore: Why 'Same Love' Doesn't Speak for the LGBT Community." Some things in the post I agree with, others I don't. But I did find the following words in the piece to be hilarious: "'Same Love' is Acceptance for Dummies." I think that's funny. And profound. 

Is this type of humor snarky? Yeah. Is it catty? Yeah. Is it mean? Probably. Is it true? For me, yes. Yes, it is. And I think that's the point. People are reacting. I'm reacting. We're reacting to what we feel is an onslaught of normalization, of having our lives and experiences told for us, of being assimilated, of being incorporated. We protest that the incorporation and acceptance is not for the wholeness of who we are, but of a watered-down, bland version of ourselves that is unthreatening and palatable. We are the ones being changed so that society can accept us, the problem is rooted in us, not the poisoned society that chooses who to accept and who to discard (the history of racism in this country is an excellent example of how this works).

Many people holding left-of-center politics are defending Macklemore and Lewis, "Same Love," and the Grammys performance. I think this has value, too. I want to hear and read why like-minded people think what Macklemore and Lewis are doing through "Same Love" is good. There's value in what my peers think. However, what I don't value is the argument that a critique is impolite, churlish, or disrespectful of Macklemore and Lewis, and by extension, every ally who ever lived. We don't even get to question. It's like Sunday bible school all over again. 

Like I said, these white straight men are doing just fine. We, on the other hand, are not. Perhaps we need to revisit what "ally" means and what it takes to be an ally. And while I don't think we'll come up with a universally-accepted definition, it's a good exercise to have. My definition of ally is not one who does things for us, but with us, on our terms, and led by our leadership. This is what it means for me to be an ally to women and to trans* folks. If Macklemore and Lewis are to be the hand that feeds us equality, it should come as no surprise that some of us will bite that hand.

I'm not going to stop being critical or unpacking layers, or over-processing things. The reason I have been adamant about posting things that are critical of "Same Love" and the two pop rappers is because I get to. We get to. I don't care if it's tasteless in the eyes of their existing fans or recent fans garnered by these allies' benevolence. Being pleasant to others' taste buds is not what critiques are for. They're meant to agitate, to engage, to raise questions.

I want to be exchanging ideas, grappling with these issues, and occasionally even fighting with like-minded people. I don't care what conservatives think about my opinions, I don't care what they think is homophobic or racist or not. It's not my job to worry about that, and it's certainly not my job to educate them. Other, better equipped people are doing that work, not me. I'm not in conversation with people who are still debating on the level of Racism, Classism, or Sexism 101. They can debate with someone else. Not me.

I'm in conversation with my communities-- radical, queer/folks of color, and socially conscious white and straight folks. This is why I post these critiques on my wall, because I think it's important that we engage each other, that we exchange ideas, that we agree, that we disagree, that we let multiple truths exist simultaneously.

In the case of Macklemore and Lewis and "Same Love," I would expect people to push back. There is a long and strong history of queer/people of color pushing back on things that don't sit well in our bodies. A lot of us push back. We push back against things that smell of normalization. We push back against White Messiahs. We push back against words like "acceptance" and "tolerance." We push back against a mainstreaming of who we are. And we get to do that. I don't care if it's uncouth or uncivil, maybe it's supposed to be. 

I find the lyrics in "Same Love" to be pedestrian, regurgitated key words that over the years have been used by liberals and HRC alike to try to fold queer folks into the poisoned fabric of society. "Same Love" is conditional love. There were no obvious signs of queer freaks being married at the Grammys. Instead, we were brought to tears by the unions of respectable-looking and well-groomed couples. And good for them, I have no beef with the newlyweds-- their lives, their bodies.

I do have beef (a huge slab of wagyu) with people force-feeding me what the on-air mass wedding was supposed to mean: the acceptance of gays and lesbians into society. I know this acceptance would include me if I combed my hair, covered my tattoos with a crisp over-starched shirt, reverted my relationship into monogamy, mispronounced my name, and behaved like the good Baptist boy I was raised to be. But that's not the movement I want to be a part of. A movement that eagerly embraces the acceptance of some over the rejection of others is not my movement.

I hear people say that the problem bitter queens (like myself) have is not really with the song, but that it's sung by a white straight dude. That if the song were sung by, say, a Black rapper (something Macklemore suggests isn't really possible: "If I was gay, I would think hip hop hates me") or maybe a Black gay rapper, we would be fine. Well, not necessarily. The song is problematic on its own merits. Here are just two examples:

"it's all the same love" 

Well, there's a spoonful of forced assimilation. This, as with all things I write, is informed by how I understand the world: I believe love is a social construction, not some supernatural force that comes down on us like a horny dove. I believe love is beautiful, but not celestial, and certainly not monochromatic. My queerness is beautiful because it is different, I am different, and I believe there's value in this. So when I hear that "it's all the same love," I cringe. I don't think it is. I think all love is beautiful and worthy of being affirmed, not because it's all the same, but because love is what each of us make of it in whatever configuration we choose to manifest it.

2) "we all come from the same one [god]" 

This is what new wave Christians say to passive aggressively insult people of other faiths. It asserts the supremacy of a monotheistic way of believing; it asserts, in the name of acceptance, that there is a god (so f*ck you, atheists); and, let's be honest, it says that the one same god is the one white Christian god.

These two examples alone are enough to raise my blood pressure. So, no, that a white straight dude sings this song is not the only problem. The problems become compounded, not only because of the assumed benevolence of the artists and the song, but because the critical bunch are told that we're over thinking it, that we should just let it go and stop blowing things out of proportion. But for us, the proportions are already huge, and the critics of the critics know that. If this weren't a big deal, people wouldn't be in tears watching the on-air ceremonies. Let's just admit that it's all a big deal, the song lyrics, the Grammy weddings, all of it is huge and has implications. We can disagree on what those implications may be, but to ask the embittered queens to stop making things bigger than they are through our critiques and rants, is simply disingenuous.

I understand that what Macklemore and Lewis' "Same Love" envisions touches people's hearts (I think Mary Lambert's hook is beautiful, despite disagreeing with its "choice" quandary), and perhaps this is why being critical of the artists or the song causes disappointment and anger toward those of us whose hearts aren't moved in the same way. We're complicated beings and we're hurting. People who love and desire like us are being hunted down around the world, laws are being passed to criminalize who we are, we're being murdered, we're being denied access to justice-- our wounds are open. 

I can see how the idea of "Same Love" offers respite. How you may think that if society just accepted us, we could stop having to fight to survive. How being able to marry the one we love would affirm who we are and put an end to lifetimes of discrimination, of violence, of exclusion. I can see how equality feels like a good goal, how if only we were all treated equally, all our suffering would come to an end.

But we don't all agree with you, and at some point, that has to be ok. I'm hurting, too. I want to see an end to global persecution, an end to the violence, an end to laws that restrict our freedom. I also want the suffering to end. Except, I don't agree that acceptance, tolerance, marriage, hate crimes legislation, or on-air weddings will end the suffering, definitely not for all of us. So I push back, others push back, because we carry this conviction, this belief that what is needed for all of us to be free is to rid social fabrics of their poison before we wrap ourselves in them. That freedom doesn't come from acceptance, but from living in a world where people don't need acceptance because they are honored for who they are. That freedom is not found in a society where people tolerate each other, but a society where people are valued and affirmed. Freedom is living in a world where Mary Lambert no longer sings: "And I can't change. Even if I tried. Even if I wanted to," because in that world, it wouldn't matter.

So we can disagree about the critiques I and others have about Macklemore and Lewis, "Same Love," or the Grammys performance, and I will have this conversation with you. But if your disagreement is about whether I get to have a critical opinion in the first place, you and I are no longer in conversation.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I hate equality, and this is why:

Trailers for Diego Luna's César Chávez movie has been making the rounds and people are pretty excited. I am too, mostly.

I'm excited about the possibilities that a film about such an important moment in Chicana/o and Pilipina/o history and movements holds. I'm excited to see Chicana/o and Pilipina/o lives and stories on the big screen, and I'm excited about America Ferrera. 

I'm weary though, fearful that the film will deify Chávez without honoring the complexity of who he was and the inherent contradictions in some of his actions and stances. I fear that the film will follow the standard of most biopics and strip Chávez of what made him human -- the complexities and contradictions -- in the name of "good storytelling." 

Hollywood seems convinced we need heroes and deities and will do what it must to deliver. This includes conflating ideas and muddling facts.

One trailer says Chávez "stood for equality" and "fought for peace." And, yes, Chávez believed in non-violence. But to say that he stood for equality grossly oversimplifies and dilutes what he and the people of these movements set out to achieve: justice.

Equality gets thrown around a lot and, unless you're a rabid tea partier or an ideological relative of one, you'll probably say you believe it's a good thing. You might believe the contrary and vote accordingly, but publicly you don't want to be thought of as a bigot.

Equality is that thing pursued by professionalized movements for social change (read: reform). An important difference between human rights and civil rights is the pursuit of equality. For instance, the Gay and Lesbian (I do not include bisexual and transgender to reflect the reality that, really, they aren't included institutionally) Movement wants (and is achieving) marriage equality, the right to serve in the military, the right to file joint tax returns, the right to petition a partner/spouse for immigration purposes, and so on.

Equality is that thing people believe we need in public education. Liberal and moderate (if you can distinguish the difference between the two) agendas dictate that poor black and brown kids need the same education that affluent suburban white kids receive. Equality is "closing the achievement gap" -- helping students of color achieve as much as the lowest performing white child.

Equality is that thing people believe is needed to rid ourselves of racism. All would be right in the world if people just got along, treated each other as equals. Equal pay, equal housing, equal education, equal voting rights. If only we had equality.

Equality is that thing immigration reform (not to be confused with immigrant justice) efforts want when they say "let us serve" (code for let us serve in the U.S. military). That to be fully "American" includes the right to serve in the exploitation and massacring of people of color around the globe.

I hate equality. I hate the word, I hate the principle. Not because I believe white women should continue to be paid .70 cents for each dollar white men earn. Not because I believe gays and lesbians should be discriminated against. Not because I believe poor black and brown kids should continue trapped in a decaying public education system. Not because I believe my undocumented kin should live in fear and continue to be exploited. Not because I believe racism, economic injustice, misogyny are good.

I hate equality, less because of what it achieves, but because of what it impedes.

The women's movement (albeit fraught with racism and classism) included a fight for self-determination. That is, the right for every woman (again, the race and class stuff not entirely figured out) to have agency over their own body and life. The demand that every woman have the exclusive right to exercise their choices onto themselves was deeper, more revolutionary, than the lip service liberals offer on equal pay.

Queer liberation (also eyebrow deep in racism, perhaps also classism) similarly insisted on self-determination as a fundamental right. The ability to freely express and manifest our loves and desires is radically different than achieving legislative nods of approval.

The prison justice movement does not seek to address the overrepresentation of black and brown men in prisons by increasing the number of white men imprisoned. The reduction of overrepresentation is not the same as prison abolition. Less men of color in prisons is not the goal, a world without prisons is.

Equality inspires dull, unimaginative solutions to social ills. Solutions that lean on other ills, merely spreading, redistributing, and/or reinforcing the disease that is injustice.

Not only is equality different from justice, it gets in the way of justice.

A just world is not one that adds gays and lesbians to the list of people who can partake in an institution based fundamentally on discrimination against those who do not marry or are no longer married. A just world is not one where gays and lesbians openly serve in a military that, through violence and subjugation, maintains a world order of profit and white supremacy in the name of a freedom anyone with a critical mind knows is a farce. A just world is not one where love becomes a tool of capitalism by being financially encouraged and incentivized. A just world is not one where only those marrying a U.S. citizen can be petitioned -- or a world where people need to be petitioned in the first place. A just world is not one where more resources ensure poor black and brown kids are taught that whiteness is the standard against which to measure themselves, their families, and their communities, rendering their own ways of knowing and being as deficits to be eradicated. A just world is not a world where black and brown youth take up arms to murder and colonize other black and brown folks. A just world is not a world where simply less men of color are imprisoned. A just world is not one where the legacies and systemic results of white supremacy are invisibilized and ignored. A just world cannot come about because of, or despite, equality.

Articulating what justice is and imagining a just world necessitates a retraction, perhaps an overthrowing, of liberal movements. It requires a challenge these movements have rendered us fearful or incapable of: to imagine a world that is possible, rather than the world that is not.

That is, a world where all expressions and manifestations of love and desire between consenting humans is legally respected and socially affirmed. A world where every person exercises agency over their own body and life. A world where peace and the realization of economic justice flourish. A world where simply love, desire, choice bring people together. A world without borders. A world where the ways of being and knowing of students and families of color are a classroom's greatest assets. A world where accountability is informed by our humanity. A world where communities of color thrive.

To say that César Chávez and the Chicana/o and Pilipina/o movements he was a part of stood for equality suggests that what they strived for was to be poisoned only as much as white folks were. That their working conditions become equal to that of poor and working class white folks. The goal, then, would be achieving the same poison levels and poor working conditions of their white counterparts. Equality is not justice.

People took to the streets, walked off fields, boycotted goods because they wanted justice. They were being poisoned, forced to work in inhumane conditions. Justice was putting an end to the poisoning of workers, to the exploitation-- creating new, good working conditions and opportunities.

We can argue about the many, many problems within Chicana/o and Pilipina/o movements and the shortcomings of César Chávez (his stance on immigration among them), and we can talk about how farm workers continue to be poisoned and exploited. However, that what was achieved fell short of what was pursued does not negate the power of movements for social justice. I would venture to argue that equality played a role in the debilitation of outcomes.

Equality is a disease that infects, overpowers, overthrows movements for social change. The NAACP was supposed to be a human rights organization-- civil rights was the compromise. The descendants of the Queer Liberation Front, ACT UP, and the Combahee River Collective (all imperfect in their own way, of course) now celebrate that they are no longer subject to a small number of discriminations, ignoring the fact that their celebrations are subject to perpetuated injustices against others. Our willingness to trade justice for equality says so much about our fear of freedom, or worse, our inability to imagine ourselves free.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Myth of Being Partially Gay

[See link to article about Boitano's gayness being only part of who he is.]

My thoughts on Boitano and the "being gay is only part of who I am" narrative:

To say that being gay is only part of who we are implies a compartmentalization of identities that might be true in a vacuum, but within the cultural contexts we exist in, are untrue, and frankly, cowardly. Part of what women/queer/folks of color have been fighting for years has been the external pressure to leave part of who we are at the door of any given room we walk into. To be in feminist spaces, women of color were/are expected to leave their cultura at the door. For queer Chicanas/os entering Chicana/o spaces, our queerness was/is expected to stay at the door. Of course, much of this has changed and continues to change. But these changes are, in my opinion, precisely because people refused to leave parts of themselves at the door, insisting that our multiple identities exist within us simultaneously, not consecutively.

So when I hear someone like Boitano say that being gay is only part of who he is, I see him slapping generations of queer men in the face. Queer men who receive(d) the full force of homophobia because their queerness was exactly who they were and they wore this proudly, defiantly, and necessarily (Reagan didn't ignore the AIDS pandemic because gayness was only part of who people were). Of course, one gets to call oneself whatever they hell we want, but to say that being gay is only part of who we are deserves the acknowledgment that it's because of those who did not compartmentalize or coward away that one can say that today.

Homophobia doesn't attack only part of who I am, it attacks all of me, because all of me is all of this simultaneously. Similarly, and more importantly, the power and strength that lives within my queerness is precisely because queer is all of who I am, simultaneous to the many other identities that live within me.