Tag Archives: erasure

The struggle: some of it is forgotten, but some is erased

Jonathan Chait over at New York Mag actually has a pretty excellent piece on what seems to be the trajectory of marriage equality in this country. It does seem likely that eventually it will become policy in many of the states and tolerated at the federal level – which for many queer families would end key policies to misrecognizing or ignoring their kinship structures. The need of many queer families for access to right of attorney, the ability to select a next of kin, and easier management of custodial rights is clear.

But Chait, like many commentators, seems to treat that as the whole of the struggle for queer liberation, and frames his work as examining how quickly amnesia of the battles fought for just those policy corrections has set in, with Republicans and conservatives claiming that they were on the side of queer families all along. That’s merely one dimension of the problem. There is a problem with declaring the struggle complete with legal equality becoming available in some states without federal barriers to it. What that signals is a belief that queer families outside of the few states (which admittedly have about three fourths of the population of the US) with marriage equality don’t matter or count.

Beyond that, however, that suggests that partial reform on this single policy “completes” the struggle. Nevermind if Kansas wants to round up HIV positive people. Nevermind if a broad swathe of the country lacks housing or employment protections for queer people. Nevermind the higher rates of homelessness that still plague queer youth. And absolutely don’t worry whether misleading use of acronyms like LGBT* is going to convince bystanders to those communities’ struggles that the needs of transgender and genderqueer people have been addressed by partially instituting marriage equality.

(States in purple bar housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, those in blue for only sexual orientation. The majority of the country fails to protect from either.)

In short, the heterosexists are already forgetting where they stood during the fights for marriage equality, much as they have with regards to the Civil Rights Movement. But they’re also declaring heterosexism “over” so that issues that are more complex than easily identifiable inequalities under the law are easily ignored, much like racist criminalization and other forms of racism more complex than literally unequal legal standing remain today in this “post-racial” country.

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Dan Savage: you’re on notice

TW: suicide, trans erasure/fetishization, bisexual erasure, female LGBT* erasure, poor LGBT* erasure, LGBT* of color erasure

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time now, you’ve probably noticed that I tend to help out with what some have called the left’s “circular fire squad”. I’ll appreciate a point by Andrew Sullivan but still call it erasive. I’ll quote Rachel Maddow at length, but I don’t think that means refusing to criticize her. So now it’s Dan Savage’s turn. If you don’t tend to watch Chris Hayes’ weekend show a few days ago, you probably missed a relatively uneventful interview. But if you did as always or for the first time tune into the show, you got a big helping of why Savage is the recipient of quite a bit of derision from liberals as well as conservatives.

(Yeah, I’m rooting for Black Dahlia Parton in this match, sorry.)

If manage to let the messages just role over you, you’ll notice a few interesting things in the interview, which are hopefully enlightening if you’re one of the people who looks to Dan Savage for advice:

He’s erasive of other gender identities and sexualities. In the interview, he pointedly avoids using the words trans/transgender or bisexual while listing gay and lesbian a few times in the show. Thanks to the acronym of LGBT*, when using the full names for those identities, it’s customary to at least list those four together. But Dan Savage has made it quite clear that he has his doubts about bisexuals, and his failure to mention genderqueer people until he starts talking about kinks is perhaps reflective of some parts of the oppression of trans men and women. He also decides that it’s an irrelevant extra bit to note that genderqueer people are still banned from military service in the US, while discussing DADT. He likewise is hardly conspicuous in speaking of “gay marriage” rather than “same-sex marriage” – which erases every part of the LGBT acronym other than, naturally enough, the one he identifies with.

He restricts the cause of further LGBT* liberation primarily to marriage equality. Part of the blame should lie with Chris Hayes for quite cheerfully encouraging and then perpetuating this throughout the interview, but Dan Savage, as a self-proclaimed advocate, should have known to challenge such narratives. You are more likely to become a homeless youth if you are LGBT*. Even for LGBT* people with the resources to house themselves without familial assistance, federal bans on housing discrimination on the basis of being LGBT* in the US are relatively new and not yet fully implemented. And that assumes that LGBT* individuals have a stable income, which is often called into doubt as protections from being fired simply for being LGBT* are not secure, but rather a patchwork of state-based initiatives that are not present in all places, do not always apply to private industries, and are not necessarily inclusive of genderqueer people. As a member of the comfortable socio-economic class, the dominant ethnic group, and the privileged sex and gender, Savage has seemingly never had to deal with these “complications” that very easily arise when combating anti-LGBT* biases as well as other inequalities.

He literally says “We are born into straight families” and that there’s nothing more straight than raising children. Queerspawn. We’re a thing. Sometimes we’re not straight or cisgender or either. Look it up. There’s no big speech prepared following this bit, because it’s just categorically erasive.

His remaining idea of how to further the cause of LGBT* liberation is suicide prevention. Now, that in and of itself is a sign of hope. Here is something that hasn’t personally effected Savage that he cares about. Until you realize that he’s unwilling to discuss suicide prevention in any sort of a context of mental health, but just “needing someone to talk to”. It’s showing that he’s not someone with training or much experience in how to assist people with mental health issues, but he’s continuing to comment on what people in that place should and shouldn’t do, as well as should and shouldn’t feel. It’s also worth noting that even if this is the first issue I’ve raised that doesn’t appear to affect Savage directly it does – he’s the founder of the It Gets Better Project, after all.

He automatically assumes his own child is straight and cisgender. The offensiveness of this is profound. Savage is a person who has made his fortune in discussing how damaging and difficult it was for him and his partner and people like him and his partner for their parents to assume that they were straight. Why is he going down that road with his own child?

Feel free to add to this in the comments if you saw anything else in their discussion that makes you want to put either of them on notice, because I’m just skimming the top honestly.

EDIT: I interpreted Savage as having implies his own child would be straight and cisgender when I watched the show live. That’s not coming up in the portions available on the website. Apologies if I misunderstood those or any other statements. That being, said, I found more to complain about, while reviewing the clips one last time. He admits the idea behind the It Gets Better Project was that he no longer needed to physically meet with suicidal LGBT* youth, but could just talk them out of acting on those feelings over YouTube. That immediately presumes that the youth in question have internet access, have means to use that internet access to a degree that they’ll come across his videos, and that they’ll be free enough from potentially hostile parents to watch the videos. That’s quite a bit of assuming, which will probably make the youth simply reached by his message wealthier among other pressures.

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The Rohingya World is on fire too

TW: ethnic cleansing, genocide, nativism, class warfare, erasure

Amy Chua’s World on Fire, first published in 2002, quickly captured the imagination of a wide swathe of the media and has continued to be a subtle force in political analysis since then. From the almost establishment liberal press to the moderate and internationalist conservatives, a consensus emerged that for all its faults, the book was quite an insightful examination of the trials many developing countries faced. With economic globalization, the prior decade had seen something of a race to the bottom as markets “reformed” or “opened” around the world. As post-Cold War democratization began to speed up and seemed poised to accelerate given Bush’s lofty language of a plan to democratize the Middle East, ethnic competition within electoral contexts had increased. Her idea that the class war and ethnic electoral competition in many places could collapse into a single, potentially very violent struggle seemed not particularly unreasonable, even if she presumed a certain model of a given less developed country.

The Guardian hailed that conception of the world’s poorer nations, actually, as it noted-

“Her starting point is that in many developing countries a small – often very small – ethnic minority enjoys hugely disproportionate economic power. As she points out, this is not true in the west: on the contrary, we are accustomed to small ethnic minorities occupying exactly the opposite situation, a very disadvantaged economic position.”

If you accustom yourself with those other countries, primarily defined by what they aren’t (in this case, “Western”), you’ll quickly realize the illusion at play here. The assumption is that demographically large ethnic groups are typically impoverished, which is unsurprising given that we’re talking about less wealthy countries. Likewise, small ethnic minorities may install themselves as a type of local elite, which isn’t terribly surprising given many of the examples Chua turns to are either former colonizers (as the Whites of Latin America and much of Southern Africa are) or colonial-era managerial classes who were empowered by colonial rule. Missing from the mental diagram however are those who are both outnumbered and impoverished. That’s apparently a concern exclusive to the “West”.

Al Jazeera for quite some time has been among the few international news outlets to pay much attention to one particular set of events in Myanmar. As others, including this blog, focused on the geopolitical ramifications of Myanmar’s warming relations with the US and complex relationship with China or the possibility of democratization, Al Jazeera has covered the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority, mainly isolated in the coastal western districts of Myanmar, along its border with Bangladesh. They have been effectively stripped of their legal rights and branded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although many were born in Myanmar, and had ancestors living in Myanmar prior to colonization even. Bangladesh similarly denies them citizenship, leaving them essentially a stateless people. Without a political entity to appeal to, they have been recently subject to campaigns of violence, which left many of them homeless, if not injured or killed. A few experts on the issue have started using the word “genocide” as local authorities have started implementing punitive measures for every birth in the community.

(Remains of Rohingya villages burned down during anti-Rohingya riots in October. From here.)

Apparently the struggles of groups like the Rohingya are invisible to Chua’s analysis. They don’t have the demographic numbers to swing a national election in Myanmar, assuming they were even granted suffrage. But that isn’t compensated for the kind of opulence displayed in the mansions that Chua visits through the course of her book. Instead, they have neither political nor economic power, so they apparently don’t even register for her and her many fans. Yet, for the moment at least, they still exist.

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All this has happened before and will happen again…

TW: racism, hurricane-related damage, erasure of Black people from national narratives, erasure of Indigenous people, class warfare

Over at the New York Times, Michael Kimmelman, who until recently was one of their main Europe-based correspondents, has written an intriguing (and free to read) take on the situation in New York following Hurricane Sandy’s destruction. In a nutshell, it’s a very meandering look at how this is, or at least should be, some sort of a wake-up call about the massive toll our national infrastructure is going to take over the coming years. Ultimately it concludes that the substantive investment required to make adjustments as the climate changes will only be available to the wealthy, namely in Manhattan. On the other hand, the working and middle class neighborhoods of Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and eventually even the Bronx will probably receive public assistance only to rebuild, rather than to retrofit for new sea levels.

The problem is of course that Kimmelman treats these facts as things that have only just now rudely erupted into the national discourse. But, it seems obvious that the low-lying coastal edges of New York would face chilling new risks as the climate changed and that assistance would be concentrated in the well-to-do neighborhoods when you think about it. After all, there’s already been an example of an almost identical series of events, just with more Black people involved.

New Orleans after the levies burst
(Apparently what New Orleans looked like when the levies broke after Katrina went down the memory hole. Originally from this article which discusses the way post-disaster investment was primarily directed at wealthier residential districts and business areas.)

I don’t want to pick on Kimmelman, but that is a pretty glaring omission. To his credit, he has done some really important and interesting reporting on issues that affect Black communities in various cultural contexts, but that’s precisely the problem: his coverage in both articles has treated the experiences of primarily Black individuals in isolation. He appears to be able to cover négritude or Katrina with sympathy and interest in the lives of Black people, but importantly he stops there. The reality of Blacks in France, in the US, or anywhere in the world are in these writings exclusively that – about Black people. They aren’t analyzed as part of the larger culture, perhaps because like many people still today Kimmelman might not think of Black people in those terms. Alternatively, Kimmelman might draw connections between primarily Black experiences and national events, but shy away from writing about it, fearing that his readers will reject any such article for treating Black people as part of the larger country.

Regardless of cause, the effect is that the national consciousness is bleached. The regrettable tragedies this year in New York and New Jersey eclipse the equally appalling devastation in 2005 in New Orleans. The former are something that affects the national consciousness of all Americans, while apparently the latter was a “niche” disaster. Just like the new hurdles imposed by climate change on economically disenfranchised Native American communities, apparently Katrina didn’t happen to “real” Americans.

Admittedly, Kimmelman does imply that there’s interplay between race and class, especially in the demographic distinction between Manhattan and the other boroughs. He does that with a single line in the recent piece, in which he noted,

That billions of dollars may end up being spent to protect businesses in Lower Manhattan while old, working-class communities on the waterfronts of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island most likely won’t get the same protection flies in the face of ideas about social justice, and about New York City, with its open-armed self-image as a capital of diversity.

In Kimmelman’s eyes, that appears to be the extent to which the way Black people and other people of color can contribute to this national realization of the dangerous interplay between inequality and climate: as additional flavor to the class war. And remember, if there’s not enough White people involved, it falls off the radar, so vague association is supposedly the best that people of color can hope for, at least from Kimmelman and those who think like him.

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Obama’s our first LGBT* president?

TW: trans erasure, female LGBT* erasure

Since Toni Morrison’s introspective musing in 1998 that Bill Clinton could be considered something akin to the United States’ first “Black” president, it seems every Democratic President until the end of time will now be seen as setting the stage for another disenfranchised social group that they don’t belong to. With one of the bigger political blogs out there already affectionately joking that Barack Obama was a “metrosexual black Abe Lincoln,” the logical next step is Andrew Sullivan writing a lengthy article claiming that Barack Obama is the first “gay” President.

I think in the end Sullivan’s efforts tell us more about him than Barack Obama. In comparison to his, Morrison’s criticism of the late Clinton era’s unique contempt for the President pointed to a multitude of individual events:

After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President’s body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and body-searched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke? The message was clear: ‘No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and—who knows?—maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us.’

In less than a paragraph, Morrison conjures up several cultural articles and life experiences important to many Black Americans which are also connected to Clinton. From there she branches out into the hostility to him, and the certainty and inevitability of his guilt, and how that mirrors so many of the experiences of Black people in the United States. Clinton at once springs from a social context similar in many ways to that of many Black Americans and suffers in a way parallel to many of them. In contrast, Andrew Sullivan seemed to bring the weak tea, just citing Obama’s childhood of social displacement and distinction even from his care-givers:

The core gay experience throughout history has been displacement, a sense of belonging and yet not belonging. Gays are born mostly into heterosexual families and discover as they grow up that, for some reason, they will never be able to have a marriage like their parents’ or their siblings’. They know this before they can tell anyone else, even their parents. This sense of subtle alienation—of loving your own family while feeling excluded from it—is something all gay children learn. […] Barack Obama had to come out of a different closet. He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family. The America he grew up in had no space for a boy like him: black yet enveloped by loving whiteness, estranged from a father he longed for (another common gay experience), hurtling between being a Barry and a Barack, needing an American racial identity as he grew older but chafing also against it and over-embracing it at times.

But moreover his entire approach seems painfully shaped by his own experiences – he sees Obama as the first “gay” President, rather than the first “LGBT*” President. His narrative is erasive, as it connects portions of Obama’s life and work to portions of his own, while ignoring a larger context. If you read through the article, you’ll find Sullivan cites three major policy decisions that reveal Obama as the first “gay” President: completed the Bush-era efforts to rescind the ban on immigration of international travel to the United States by HIV+ individuals, dismantled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) as military policy, and stated his support for same-sex marriage.

To individuals unfamiliar with the LGBT rights movements  this may look like a balanced list – but in reality it focuses near exclusively on issues that impact cisgender men who identify as gay or bisexual, to the exclusion of the policy concerns of lesbians, female bisexual, transgender, and genderqueer individuals. While the above policy changes are obviously beneficial to all Americans, the clearest beneficiaries are cisgender and gay or bisexual men. They are unfortunately at the greatest risk of HIV infection and therefore most clearly benefit from the new travel policies regarding HIV+ individuals, while transgender and genderqueer individuals remain sadly barred from military service as they are labeled as mentally unwell. Expanded marriage rights benefit lesbians or other couples of women, but they mean little in the absence of challenges to wage discrimination against women – on whom such a household depends for all of its income.

Amanda Simpson was the first openly transgender or genderqueer political appointee in United States history. She was appointed in 2009 by President Obama.

This isn’t to suggest that Obama has led in a way that’s prioritized the needs of cisgender, gay and bisexual men over the needs of other segments of the LGBT* community – he’s been the first to appointed openly trans women and men to public and official political positions, insisted on interpreting federal statutes barring gender discrimination to include transgender and genderqueer individuals, and been a strong advocate for equal pay regardless of gender. In clear, tangible ways, President Obama has changed political policies to reflect the needs of the entire LGBT* community (among other groups), not just a small portion of it.

To be brutally honest, Sullivan’s piece seems to work within his own experiences and stereotypes. He talks about it being a “common gay experience” to be “estranged from a father he [the gay person] longed for” – repeating one of the worst stereotypes about gay and bisexual men. Sullivan speaks of how people and gay men “are born mostly into heterosexual families,” sweeping aside queerspawn people as an omissible peculiarity. His language itself is erasive – as he speaks exclusive of gay people and the “gay” Obama – speaking of the experience of not only gay but also lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and many others with “separateness from their peers, a subtle estrangement from their families, the first sharp pangs of shame” as something that is “gay”. Needless to say, he uses epicene ‘he’. Ironically enough, in the very act of discussing solidarity between the straight (“gay”) President and gay (LGBT*?) constituents, Sullivan has perpetuated hostility towards less enfranchised LGBT* people.

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