For those in the progressive circles who’ve always seen the radical queer left and their anti-(gay)marriage politics as mere hindrance, or even a pain in the ass, the news of gay marriage legislations (possibly) lowering LGB suicide rates among the youth probably comes as a belated surprise Valentine’s Day gift. Now that gay marriage has proven to deliver real benefits to not just upper- and middle-class working-age gay elites but also young lesbian, gay, and bisexual folks in general, we can finally say that gay marriage was the right cause, that it was just as good a priority as it had been proclaimed and advertised, right? No?
Well, I’m not gonna lie. I am very happy that more queer youth are finding life less painful, that they can now imagine a better future for themselves, so much so that the thought of killing themselves doesn’t occupy as large a portion in their mind everyday as it did before. What a wonderful outcome. There’s no doubt about that.
It hurt me, however, to see this news and have to digest the obvious fact that nothing really has changed. Yes, gay marriage and its campaigns have probably lowered queer suicide rates. Yes, laws can be powerful like that. But isn’t it also true that we still live in a society where being unlikely/unable to marry equals being second-class citizen? What the lowered suicide rates really demonstrate is that our culture is such that if you are not to marry, everyone else makes sure you want to die. And that culture lives on.
Same-sex partners may have now joined the likely-to-marry clique, where most heterosexual folks have celebrated, affirmed, and justified each other and never questioned their values. Welcome to the club. You’ll stick around, because you can now legally marry but you’re no legally blonde.
As I was going through the daily routine of browsing Facebook & Twitter, I found a NYT article, Gay Couples, Choosing to Say ‘I Don’t’, the title of which caught my eye, as I oppose the institution of marriage, and the like-minded people who shared the link in FB/TW seemed content with anti-marriage opinions circulating at last in the mainstream media. Excited, I read on, only to be disappointed, but in a way that was quite unexpected, by the elitist tone of the article.
The article captures a variety of anti-marriage voices from lesbian, gay, and transgender individuals, most of which I agree with. Yes, the arguments made there are quite convincing and reality-based. But I wonder, whose reality are they based on, really?
The voices quoted in the article are coming from these people: restaurant owners (Brian Blatz and Dan Davis), an artist in New York (Sean Fader), a couple living in Brooklyn (Stephanie Schroeder and Lisa Haas), current and former university professors (Jack Halberstam & his partner, Catharine Stimpson, John D’Emilio, and Mary Bernstein), a retiree (Jim Oleson), a filmmaker (John Waters), a singer-songwriter (Erin McKeown), an East Villager (John Carroll), a New York Medical College student (Eric Routen), and two persons whose backgrounds aren’t disclosed to the reader.
Except the couple in Brooklyn and possibly the artists, the persons/couples quoted/mentioned in the article are mostly on the affluent side of the entire queer population. This socioeconomic bias is especially appalling when you think about the massive activist work that has been done by organizations like Queers for Economic Justice who have maintained close connections to the working-class and homeless people.
I don’t need it, but you may need it
What was most striking about the article for me is, I think, the lack of empathy, or some sort of attentiveness, expressed by the interviewees or the editor for those who do need to use the institution of marriage.
John D’Emilio “sees no need” to marry. Brian Blatz and Dan Davis “[see] little point in marrying.” Jack Halberstam doesn’t “feel the pressure to marry.” Mary Bernstein and Nancy Naples “see little tangible benefit in marrying.”
As someone who has witnessed marriages and divorces in the family, neighborhoods, and friend circles, I know for sure that people get married for various reasons and that there is so much risk-management going on in their minds. And for many people, there does exist a little need, benefit, or point in marrying, and it is a little more complicated than just “the need for external validation” that Mary Bernstein says people wishing to marry have.
The institution of marriage, in complicity with other social institutions such as border control, healthcare systems, social security, etc., is made so that it creates such need, benefit, and point in marrying. Marriage is a package product of the government-owned minority-targeted business in which the flaws and failures in other governmental systems are covered up and kept intact, preventing radical transformations in them and thus saving money.
In the article, Stephanie Schroeder says, “I don’t want to deny anybody the right to marriage,” but marriage is not, and has never been, a personal matter of choice. As opposed to Catharine Stimpson’s idea that “[h]aving the choice doesn’t meant [sic] you have to do it,” having the choice really makes you and almost everybody around you feel that you have to do it.
So basically, the more marginalized you are by the multitude of social institutions, the more point you see in marrying. In the institution of marriage, the most privileged are not married people or heterosexual people, but those who do not see much of either gain or loss from marrying or divorcing, and thus can choose or choose not to marry and divorce when they want to.
The interviewees having or seeing no need, benefit, point, or pressure to marry, therefore, is itself a privilege, the privilege to say “I don’t.” And what’s puzzling is that, these people seem like the kind of people who care about equality, liberation, and stuff like that, and yet they do not sound ashamed or humble at all about this privilege of theirs.
John Waters is quoted to say, “I always thought the privilege of being gay is that we don’t have to get married,” which sort of resonates with what I think about marriage to some degree. But instead of treasuring or protecting that privilege of not having to get married, we must extend that insight to an actual distribution of the privilege to those who do not have it.
Again, marriage is not an issue of personal choice. We must abolish marriage, or at least the form of marriage as we know it today, and by that I mean, abolish the entire social system that creates the need, benefit, and point so that marriage will have no meaning at all.
Queer Anti-Marriage Movement vs. LGBT Alternative Marriages
Another thing I noticed is that, not only are the voices in the article overlooking other realities, the realities of people who do or can marry, the overall tone of the article gave me the impression that the history of feminism is being simplified, and that the roles of women, feminist and married or divorced, in it are simply erased.
Mary Bernstein is quoted in the article to say
For people in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, there was a feeling that L.GB.T. [sic] people can do better than marriage, that relationships can be more egalitarian” when built around untraditional families
Is our queer anti-marriage movement based on the idea that non-LGBT people’s opposite-sex marriages are traditional and thus less egalitarian than that of LGBTs?
So many women, married or single, have fought for women’s rights, for both married and single women. We also know that many of the feminist efforts, including anti-marriage ones, that have existed have been made or joined by a huge number of married women.
If relationships built around untraditional families are going to be more egalitarian, and that is considered better than marriage, what does that make married couples? Are they fools who once felt “the need for external validation”? Were they so weak that they gave in to the social pressure? Or, are they just unlucky to have that bit of need, benefit, or point because they are marginalized in this society the way they are, unlike the people interviewed in the article?
No. Our movement must have at its core, along with our queer voices, the voices of heterosexual and bisexual individuals whose life has been, is, or can be greatly affected by the fact that they can choose to marry. And that means, we are looking to make a large-scale social transformation, the scope of which must include immigration, prison, poverty, sexism, disability, health, aging, taxes, labor, and many other things that affect our lives every day. And that is not just for queer people. Not just for single people. Not just for legal citizens. And not just for people waiting to say, “I don’t.”
Edit (May 2): If you are using Google Translate or a similar service in order to read this, please do not trust the translation. If you think that Tokyo Rainbow Pride is the main topic of this article, that is not true. The main topic is English-language LGBT journalism.
Although this isn’t intended to be an exhaustive summary of history of LGBT politics in Japan, which I cannot possibly provide given my limited knowledge, I just couldn’t take anymore the shittiness of the news articles written about LGBT politics in Japan.
The most typical, all-too-common article written in English never fails to make the followings clear:
Japan lags behind the West. There’s nothing legal about gay partnerships, and people there are afraid to come out.
But things are changing. And such changes are welcomed with enthusiasm by all LGBTs in Japan.
And I say, THIS IS BULLSHIT.
I have no idea how authors of such articles could really think that the LGBT politics in Japan might be that simple. Japan is a former colonizer (and has not done much to take accountability, nor does it intend to). There has been a growing influx of immigrants as well as already-existing communities of non-citizens, and former citizens from Korea (whose citizenships were taken away in 1945). Japan has had movements like feminist movements, disability movements, anti-nuclear movements, anti-war movements, anti-racist movements etc. Some of them were radical. Some of them confronted each other and created a massive amount of dialogue about social justice and the complexity and intersectionality of different aspects of human life. The LGBT movement has its long history dating back to the 80s AIDS movementthe 60s and possibly even earlier, as a friend of mine pointed out in private email – thanks, J! Japan is now excluding Korean school students from its tuition subsidies, and there are protests against that. And with the knowledge and truth that queer people exist everywhere, whether they call themselves ‘queer’ or not, it’s hard to overlook the diversity of queer people in Japan, who take up different social positions and have existed in every segment of society and thus every portion of movements. In short, the LGBT politics in Japan can NOT be simple.
Nonetheless, the authors of the English-language articles about LGBT politics in Japan just so gracefully ignore that simple fact, and just as gracefully and ignorantly believe that the feudal, conservative, lagged-behind culture is starting, only recently, to recognize the issues of LGBT the same way as the U.S., the U.K., etc. did.
The new pride parade, Tokyo Rainbow Pride, which only started last year, has been treated as if it were the very first pride parade in Japan. And that is not true at all. Tokyo has had pride for a decade (organized by a group separate from the recent one, which was disbanded a few days after the recent pride was held this year). Sapporo and Osaka have held pride multiple times. Nagoya joined the history of pride last year. Let me tell you——yes, the most recent pride, Tokyo Rainbow Pride, is the very first pride in Japan that is shamelessly commercialist, neoliberalism-friendly, war-friendly, and corporate-friendly. The list of booths who made presence at this year’s pride include Israeli Embassy, the U.S. Embassy, the U.K. Embassy, IBM, an insurance corporation, a wedding agency, Google, the city of Tokyo (its welfare branch), and Phillips Electronics. I saw a tweet during the pride saying the ambassadors’ from those embassies spoke on stage. Who were greeted with this:
The Israeli Embassy handed out hand-held fans. Which was used in protest against Israel in this way:
The Pinknews ran an article about the latest parade, strangely with the concluding sentence about the Walt Disney Company policy selling gay weddings and Tokyo Disney following suit. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, all three articles tagged with “Japan” on Pinknews are about the lesbian couple who did the wedding at Tokyo Disney.
Each of the articles has the following sentence.
In a country where homosexuality is still a taboo, and saw its first openly gay politician elected last year, their wedding was greeted with enthusiasm by local gay people and activists. – LINK
In a country where homosexuality is still a taboo, and saw its first openly gay politician elected last year, the wedding was greeted with enthusiasm by local gay people and activists. – LINK
However, in a country where homosexuality is still a taboo, and saw its first openly gay politician elected last year, the news was greeted with enthusiasm by local gay rights activists. – LINK
But if the authors had done some more research, they would have found out that in Japan, there is a huge number of people opposing the system of marriage, especially in conjunction with the family registry system (koseki), including queer and feminist individuals who show their opposition to marriage publicly. There are academic articles like this.
What I don’t understand is why these Western editors so much like to think of Japan as undoubtedly conservative, of its LGBT politics as undoubtedly so immature that everything that’s aligned with mainstream LGBT agenda would be appreciated and greeted with enthusiasm by local LGBT individuals who, in the authors’ dreams, have long waited to be liberated by the Western mainstream gay efforts. They are, in constructing LGBT politics in Japan as such, erasing local history and ignoring dialogues taking place among queers in Japan.
Look——I don’t even like Japan. It’s a country where I was born, and grew up until 16 years old. Still, that doesn’t matter, I don’t like it. I don’t like what it does to Korean residents, what it doesn’t do for queers, how they treat asylum-seekers, how they prioritize corporate interests over peoples’ interests, etc. etc. This country is full of shit. But there are people here struggling to change that. And the way some of them are trying to change it is way more complicated than waiting for a White savior to conquer and liberate the marginalized populations. And the change is taking place. It has always been taking place. Taiga Ishikawa isn’t the first openly gay politician. This year’s lesbian couple’s wedding was not entirely “greeted with enthusiasm.” The Tokyo Rainbow Pride is only new in terms of commercialism, affinity with corporate capitalism, and its indiscriminate teaming up with state violence and wars. Wake up, English-language journalists. For gods sake, do research.
ADD (May 13, 2013 Japan time)
Found a really annoying article about the pride march that took place in Tokyo earlier this year. Had to leave a comment. And here it is.
I’m a queer activist from Japan and here I’m talking to progressives only. I’m not gonna talk with anti-gay conservatives. I’m against gay marriage for a wholly different reason than theirs.
OK, I said it. Now to the main point of this comment – the “gay pride marchers with banners” at Tokyo Rainbow Pride were not “demanding marriage equality in the land of the rising sun.”
Okay, so, this phrase is annoying in many ways. First of all, what the hell is the “land of the rising sun”? What kind of ancient world does the author live in? For gods sake, New Zealand is the first country to see the sun rise in the beginning of the day. The rising sun rhetoric has been used by those in Japan with power in order to make the people proud of themselves so that manipulating them and fashioning them into soldiers and suicide weapons would be easier. So using the rhetoric today carries a lot of colonial connotations.
Second, marriage equality was not even the theme of the event. It was mentioned by some who spoke at the event, and I’m sure there were participants who wanted marriage equality. But the voices we heard at the event were much more diverse. A few years back, at pride, one participant had a sign that said, “F*** the imperial system.” Another participant’s sign said, “God bless no marriage.” Yet another, “Not marriage, we want visas.” There was also an internal protest against one of the floats themed “marriage [mar-riah-j]”, and the protesters had signs that said, “marriage is the gateway to poverty,” “We don’t need recognition through marriage,” “I am lesbian, married or alone,” “F*** the whole family system,” etc.
This year’s event also saw a multitude of voices and opinions, very diverse, very controversial. When the ambassadors’ from embassies of the U.S., Israel, etc. spoke on stage, they were greeted with signs that said, “No to Occupation,” and “No Osprey.” The Israeli Embassy handed out hand-held fans that said, “ISRAEL,” and someone added, “NO TO,” at the top, making it their political statement, NO TO ISRAEL. There was also someone who had a vertical flag that said, “I oppose war.” I wrote about those protests at http://gimmeaqueereye.org/entry/173 (“Read before you write about LGBT politics in Japan”) if you’re interested.
I am not only annoyed by the English-language LGBT journalism. I am also furious about the local media who don’t know shit about queer lives and experiences. But I am very aggravated by the English-language journalism because I know for sure that authors, editors, and whoever is responsible for contents must know that there is a diversity of opinions within any queer community. Queer activism in the US (and other English-speaking countries) has seen so much diversity, so many controversies, and battles so ugly. I sometimes wonder if those writers who write about LGBT politics in Japan simplifies it so that their fantasy of one united community of queers is protected. I say, f*** you. Japan isn’t your wonderland. It’s got a long history of rights-based movements, liberation movements, backlashes, and political lobbying. LGBT politics in Japan cannot be that simple. It cannot be as simple as English-speaking journalists want it to be.
ADD – 2:30PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time
I don’t know what’s going on. I first posted a comment on the Japan Times Today website. I had to edit it many times so the auto-foul words detector would accept it. And then a couple hours later I got an email from Japan Times Today saying they had removed my comment because it was “offensive/vulgar.” So I posted there the link to this blog post where I copy-and-pasted my original comment. And within an hour it was gone, too. So I left another comment (which looks like my first comment, which isn’t true), explaining the above, and said,
“I’m not trying to advertise my blog here, but if you want to hear a voice of a queer activist in Japan that has something to say about the rhetoric “the land of the rising sun,” and about the narrow definition of queer politics as a demand for marriage equality, you can do so by googling “read before you write about LGBT politics in Japan.””
ADD – 3:03PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time
I. Can’t. Believe. This. Japan Today edited my comment, and deleted the parts where I explained what happened to my previous comments. This is against all the values that journalism should embrace. This is not acceptable.
ADD – 3:18PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time
I just left the following comment.
ADD – 3:24PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time
And they deleted my comment again.
ADD – 10:00PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time
I finally decided that I didn’t want anything to do with Japan Today anymore, and so asked them to delete all my comments, including the half post that I had posted and they chopped up. Below is the last comment I left. A few minutes later, they took down the both two comments (EDIT: with one email notification about the deletion of the second one. Classification: Off Topic).
See, I do not care if what they did was in alignment with their “moderation policy.” I mean, first of all, they were not even following their “policy” when they deleted my 2nd and 4th comments and didn’t send me notification emails (I received their email regarding the deletion of my 1st comment). And, second, the policy sucks. It states the moderators can edit readers’ comments, and their decision is final, not negotiable. I mean, deleting someone else’s comment is one thing, but editing it brings in a whole different dimension. It takes parts of a comment out of context, puts them in a wrong (or at least, unintended) context, and betrays the ethics of journalism (which is, by the way, betrayed all too often). The policy also states that readers cannot post any comment discussing comment moderation. And that is fucked up, since there’s no other way a poster can complain about comment moderation when it seems wrong. And I’m not saying they violated their moderation rules. I’m saying their rules and enforcement are wrong.
I have always been sick of the born-this-way rhetoric that mainstream gay activism has so proudly spread all over the U.S. I don’t have anything against those who were born gay or born whatever, but feeling that one was born gay and saying so are two different things.
I understand that the born-this-way rhetoric has served many of the causes for social justice for most gay and lesbian people (and to a lesser degree, transgender people, too) especially during the AIDS panic where the gay-by-choice rhetoric was used against homosexuals as an excuse for the government’s taking no action about the epidemic.
But it also has created another dividing line between queers, between those with coherent identities and those who experience no such thing. And I fall into the latter category. I have been 100% straight. I have been 100% gay. I have been somewhat bi. I have been definitely bi. I have been “probably bi.” I have been somewhat genderqueer. I have been comfortable and uncomfortable around my assigned gender. I have felt lesbian. And I don’t know what I will be in a 3-year, 5-year, 10-years time.
Whenever someone says homosexuality is something that you’re born with, I feel left out. Me feeling left out is probably nothing important to mainstream gay activists, but I can see that we are going to have a problem if we stick to the born-gay rhetoric just because it comes handy at this moment in this culture. My take on nature vs. nurture is that asking the nature-or-nurture question is itself homophobic most of the time. If it’s nature, so what? If it’s nurture, so what? I mean, anti-gay folks have used both of those rhetorics to attack gays!
And I’m telling you, and all other by-choice queers are telling you, that not every gay is born gay. Just fucking accept that and stop saying “we are born gay” as if it were a universal truth.
I don’t buy the by-choice idea, either, to tell the truth. I don’t think our sexuality is that easy to control. By intentionally, consciously trying to change one’s sexuality, she or he may be able to eventually change it some day, but such effort is just one factor that influences his or her sexuality among other things like upbringing, media representations and languages that she or he has been exposed to, etc. etc. I’m not queer by nature or by choice. I just like what I like and I don’t care if that’s based on my biological disposition or environmental influence, and I won’t let anyone to attack me for loving what I love.
I said I’m not queer by nature or by choice, but I was gay by choice during high school. I (stupid me) thought identifying as gay would open a door for me to mainstream (read: white) New Zealander culture. But it turned out that being gay didn’t cancel out my racial difference, but only added crap to my life. So I stopped identifying as gay. So I could probably be classified as ex-gay, even. But I’m definitely queer in its most vague sense. And I didn’t choose to be queer, nor my queerness is something I was born with.
So my understanding of sexuality and gender identity is pretty much in favor of “right now, right here,” which means what one describes herself or himself as, who they feel like they are at the moment. And this has also led me to be shocked by comments made by pro-gay people to attack ex-gay movement.
A lot of anti-ex-gay people say there’s no such thing as ex-gay, and that if someone is gay he’ll always be so (and I’m using the male pronoun here because lesbians are rarely talked about in this kind of context). So, in their view, ex-gays either are liars (gone back in to the closet) or were straight all along since the day they were born. And I DON’T FUCKING CARE!
The reason why ex-gay movement sucks is not because they’re in the closet or they are straight or they identify as ex-gay, but because their politics sucks, their movement is harmful, and their paternalistic view on sexual diversity is annoying. So just stop saying ex-gays are liars, stop denying what they now identify as, and just focus on criticizing their politics, not their identities!
Don’t you remember the time when homosexuals were called liars just because they didn’t come out to everyone they met? Don’t you realize that calling someone’s identity fake is such a hurtful thing to do with which many transgender people have unfortunately been so familiar? I don’t know – some ex-gays might still be gay, or maybe most of them are still gay. They might be liars. But hiding in the closet is not wrong. Most of us have been there, and are still there. What’s wrong about ex-gay movement is what they do by using the ex-gay identity i.e. attacking homosexuals.
By nature or by nurture, exposed or hidden, our (and everyone else’s) identities should not be denied. Scrutinizing identities, whether to find out what’s causing them or to expose the “truth” to the public and humiliate others, is not the direction that I would like queer activism to go. Acceptance is a big word in mainstream LGBT activism today. But I find it hypocritical if we are not accepting of other people’s identities (that may change over time). I really hope that we will soon live in a world where even ex-gays join queer activism and fight for queer rights i.e. a world where people who used to be gay do not get questioned by other queers but can live as our fellow queers who have experienced a “queer” (in the original sense of the word) history of sexual preference changes.
Beaten and burned, a gay man was found dead in Cumnock, Scotland, possibly for being gay, although the attacker’s motive has yet to be investigated. I have seen some online responses to this incident describing how it was shocking. This reminds me of the now-almost-vanishing stereotype of Scots being brutal, savage monsters.
Earlier this year, a transgender woman was attacked and had seizure, with bystanders just watching her hit and dragged on the floor. It was a very brutal attack and it was painful to watch the video footage. It also made me go, “oh shit,” when I discovered that the suspects were Black female teenagers and that the first person to offer the victim any help was a middle-aged White woman. I wrote a short response here.
“IMMIGRANTS ≠ YOUR HOMOPHOBIC OTHER” – that was my sign at the Pride Parade this year. I am not an immigrant, nor are my parents. I was born in Japan. But I think I share some of the experiences that Asian queers face in the U.S. like, being frequently asked whether my parents know my sexuality/identity. I say yes, and they go on and ask, “are they cool with it?” Another version is this: “it must be so hard to be queer in Japan.” There you go. Bang. Slap in the face. I get hurt. Anyways.
I am constantly appalled at how White, self-identified liberals can ignorantly assume that everyone else is lagging behind them in accepting freedom.
In Germany, as Butler says here, there has been some sort of collaborative effort between White-centric queer organizations and the government to harshen the immigration policy to narrow the path for immigrants to live in the country. The idea behind the campaign is that immigrants are homophobic and transphobic, incapable of accepting the values of the West.
I, too, first-handedly have heard people say that Black people are homophobic, that some people are too poor to think of others, or that I won’t like it in Texas if I move there. They fail to see that I myself come from a small town in Japan, grew up surrounded by poor people, and am racial minority in the U.S. I feel more comfortable around people like that than White “liberals” like them.
Nevertheless, until recently I held the view that the Middle Eastern culture was monolithically homophobic and transphobic. I have come to know the simple fact that the Middle East is just too big to make any generalizing statement about. Laws vary. People vary. Values vary. Knowing virtually nothing about the region, I have decided that I should be the listener, not the speaker, trying to learn, rather than tell, how things are in the Middle East. All I know, and thus all I can say about the Middle East, is that things are more complicated than many people in the Western world like to think, and that the Middle East is diverse. Some people still struggle with grasping that simple fact.
Hate crime is not the only indicator of homophobia and transphobia, but queers get killed everywhere. Not just the guy in Cumnock and the trans woman in Baltimore and gays in the Middle East (“except Israel!” say morons). It’s high time that we acknowledged that fact. Queers are killed just everywhere. Through physical violence. Through suicide-provoking bullying. Through governmental neglect.1
It’s time we stopped outsourcing homophobia and transphobia to Middle Eastern people, to Blacks, to immigrants, to working-class people. “Outsourcing” because all cisgendered, heterosexual individuals ultimately benefit from transphobia and homophobia through the privileges that they produce.
This outsourcing is harmful in many ways. It divides up racial minority communities because it places queers of color in an odd place between White “liberals” and “anti-queer” people of color. It puts working-class queers against their own cultures, families, and friends. It encourages White “liberal” queer activists to play the missionary role in helping the more oppressed out. It discourages people of color from joining queer activism. It allows Whites——or more precisely, those who are politically, socially, and culturally privileged (which consist mostly of Whites anyway)——to feel innocent, despite the fact that they are accomplices when they keep silent about injustice, get “shocked” at injustice, and feel sorry for the oppressed who are oppressed by someone else other than themselves.
If anything bad happens in the Middle East, the privileged say it’s because the Middle East is lagging behind the West. If anything bad happens in the West, they say it’s not their problem but someone else’s, outsourcing to Blacks, immigrants, etc. the dirty work necessary to keep their society heteronormative and cis-centered and thus advantageous to all privileged people like themselves.
We must stop this. We must acknowledge that not only the violent attackers but we ourselves are all responsible for what happens to queers and those otherwise oppressed and harmed.
I am not addressing this to just the highly privileged. I am also addressing this to, say, gay men chuckling about how straight men are misogynous, lesbian women laughing about how gay men identify against drag queens and other effeminate types, leftists criticizing the “social structure” that oppresses queers without reflecting on their own homophobia and transphobia, and queer elites looking down on LGBT activists to whom identity politics is still relevant.
Queers also get killed in other ways. Through taxes. Through unemployment. Through criminalization of sex work. Through sexual violence. Through hate crime based on race. Through insufficient government support for people with disabilities. And on and on. ↩
The Saferide Program at the University of Chicago provides free transportation for its students, employees, faculty members and other affiliated individuals from 5 p.m. through approximately 3 a.m. To take Saferide, one has to either call the operator or find one of the vehicles running around the campus. Last year, some UChicago students put together a petition to the Saferide Program, asking for service improvements to further ensure students’ safety. They explained that there had been instances where the Program operator did not pick up the phone at all, put a caller on hold for so long that the caller gave up and walk to her or his destination, and took more than 30 minutes to pick a student up when the student had been told to wait for only 15 minutes. The petition was in fact more or less a reaction to the neighborhood’s recently heightened security alerts due to recent violent incidents on and near the campus.
As a student of the University of Chicago, I am just as concerned about our security as my fellow students who felt scared enough to take such action. But the fact is, I do not feel represented by the petition at all. Thus, I could not sign it. My security concern is not limited to the University community but extends beyond the campus, and when you think about the economic diversity in the entire Hyde Park, using / being able to use convenient services like Saferide is a huge privilege. Granted, our student fees do go to Saferide, but how many people can actually buy safety like that? Having money to be spent on betterment of one’s safety is definitely a privilege.
Each Saferide driver is supposed to ask all passengers to show her or him their UChicago ID card. And I have seen quite a few people denied access to a ride on Saferide because they “failed to provide” a UChicago ID, as well as many people who did not even bother trying to get in. As a student myself, however, only 1 out of 10 times am I asked to show them my ID. Such ratio is, based on my observation, pretty much the same for other students as well.
What does this mean? It means that UChicago students and the rest of the Hyde Park community look different, or at least, we are in principle supposed to look different. And what kind of people are we talking about when we say “the rest of the community” who do not look like us? They are predominantly African-American, some of whom, I have seen, would have to ask someone for change in order to get access to public transportation if denied access to UChicago vehicles. That is common sense to those who understand the economic reality of Hyde Park. However, staying ignorant of such economic reality throughout their years at the University is not impossible at all. Most students here spend only a few years on campus (varying from 2-months summer programs to a 5+ year PhD programs). To most of them, safety is their safety, not that of the whole community.
My concern is, first, the ID display requirement is doing nothing but reinforce the economic polarization between UChicago students and others. Second, the security measures employed as of today do not take into account the racial and economic diversity of the students.
The Saferide Program is operated by the University (Department of Transportation and Parking) who took over the operation from the University of Chicago Police Department in 2007. This means that, unlike the 171, 172 buses that are run by CTA, there would be no economic harm even if they stopped enforcing the ID display requirement and checking “suspicious” individuals’ ID cards. The number of passengers may increase as more people would be able to take Saferide, but very slowly, unless the University decides to make a huge announcement to the neighborhood about the end to ID requirement (which they wouldn’t). And most importantly, as the University has expanded its campus onto the southern side, local residents have suffered the relocation, separation from families and friends, and rise in rent. Providing Saferide services to local residents, to me, seems like a necessary part of the University’s compensation for the loss that it has caused them.
Well, even if you don’t agree with any of the above, you know it’s friggin’ COLD in winter to the extent that everyone deserves to be provided sheltered transportation!
On the second point about student diversity – coming from a marginalized family background myself, I do not feel included fully in the petitioners’ “we, students” tone. And I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Minority students come from diverse backgrounds where most of us have been taught not to trust police officers, security guards, and other professionals who say they are protecting us. True, we don’t feel safe when transportation services are not adequate. But some of us will still not feel safe when safety is guaranteed only for student-looking students (read: typically white, middle-class, able-bodied, with no mental disability). Ultimately, we are not safe until the entire community feels safe and protected.
I must immediately add that, as a UChicago student, I do have the privilege——the privilege to be educated, to be protected, and to get access to libraries, air-conditioned buildings, University-owned/sponsored transportation, etc. I can never speak for non-UChicago-affiliated people who live in Hyde Park. Nonetheless, it is our responsibility not to look away from this weird relationship we as students have with the rest of the community, with privilege attached to us and not to the others. We have a responsibility not to try to maximize our security at the expense of others. By “at the expense of others,” I mean demonizing “strangers” on the street. Those “strangers” are humans, typically African-American, who live here, and may have even lived here for their entire life, surviving the expansion of the University and thus dislocation of their relatives/families/friends/selves.
Yes, Hyde Park is not the safest town in the world and UChicago students have all the right to be afraid, to ask for protection, and to feel safe——but so does everyone else.
I think I’ll finish by quoting from one of my favorite scenes from the movie, “Hairspray,” where African-American student Seaweed takes to one of her mother’s dance parties a white boy (Link) and two white girls from school (Tracy and Penny):
Motormouth Maybelle: Well, looks like y’all took a step outta bounds.
Motormouth Maybelle: Who’ve we got here?
Seaweed: Mom, I want you to meet my new friends. This here is Link, Tracy Turnblad…
Tracy Turnblad: [interrupts] This is just so afro-tastic!
Seaweed: And this young lady right here, is Penny Pingleton.
Penny Pingleton: I’m very pleased and scared to be here.
Motormouth Maybelle: Now, honey, we got more reason to be scared on your street. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0427327/quotes
So the passage of Proposition 8 (which I do not think needs any explanation since many people are talking about it, even here in Japan, which makes me feel that a disproportionate amount of attention is being paid to one proposition of one state of one country——not that I don’t care, just in case) has been largely attributed to the increase in number of Black voters who supported Barack Obama. The figures that people have obtained from the media look very fishy to me, but that’s not exactly what I am worried about. What I find very sad and problematic is that, if——and this is only “if”——the entire Black population in California were that homophobic, why should those gay and lesbian people who blamed them for the passage of the proposition not have been quick to respond to the figures (no matter how false they are) and take some action, or at least be alerted, to care for lesbian and gay people who lived in such “homophobic” communities? A personal friend of mine, a White middle-class teenage gay boy, said that he thought that Black people should have been more empathetic to gay people, that they only cared about themselves. Well, that’s you, young man.
Found this article on Alas, a blog, and I have nothing against the idea that women on maternity leaves should be paid, but one thing I wanted to comment on was the use of the kind of rhetoric that I happen to find in many anti-US arguments and the like including this one. Which is, in this case, saying that:
Indeed, a study from Harvard University last year found that of 168 nations worldwide, the United States is one of only four whose government doesn’t require employers to provide paid maternity leave. The others are Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. Tapped; Having a baby? Put it in writing
As one of the comments to the post on Alas, a blog notes, it is unclear whether or not any state in the US does have such requirements written in state laws. But I guess another problem here is, what is the point of listing all the three other countries whose government doesn’t have such legislation? I am not suggesting anything about the author’s intent or any conspiracy theory or whatever speculation about anything in this particular article. But every day, we all see the rhetorical device in the same fashion, that is, when the argument is made against the US (government/people/culture), it lists the country as doing something that some “under-developed” countries1 are doing, and when the argument is made in approval of what US is doing, it’s described as something that other good-mannered countries2 are doing, too.
I understand that this rhetoric functions for some social justice, even effectively. But if we continue to be convinced by such rhetoric, accepting the post-colonial world view assumed by many writers3 who use the kind of rhetoric, consciously or subconsciously (doesn’t matter, because I’m not talking about particular writers but the general use of such rhetoric that many people, even social justice activists, sometimes embrace and adopt to amplify their truthiness4), then we will need to face our own ambivalence about what social issues can/should be put on hold for the sake of solving what other social issues.
Which, by the way, my anthropology teacher from a year ago, Dr. Gallin, called “over-exploited” countries. ↩
And they are sometimes Switzerland, the Netherlands, Norway, etc. and also sometimes France, Germany, etc. and also sometimes Japan, Taiwan, India, etc. depending on what it is that the “good thing” is about. ↩
“Writers,” not in the traditional sense. It refers to the more general idea of authorship. ↩
Maybe the word “truthiness” is quite too harsh. It’s more reliability and persuasiveness that gets amplified. ↩