LGBTQ, Politics

How the “Love is Love” Mentality Can Erase Queer Political Struggle

Source: Wikimedia Commons


When a niche culture gets into the mainstream, there is always the risk that it will be diluted, overrun or misrepresented. In the case of LGBTQIA+ people, I feel like I’ve noticed two ways (one overt and one subtle) in which queer people are being sidelined in their own movement.

The first is through “rainbow-washing,” which basically describes companies that create rainbow-or-Pride-themed products in correlation with Pride month in order to get people to give them their business. They can do this with vague promises of “donating” certain portions to LGBTQ groups, but recognize it for what it is: companies deciding that queer culture is something they want to cash in on.

Second is the subtle, and this is something I’m only beginning to notice and vocalize myself, so I apologize if it seems clumsy. I’m going to say something controversial – I think that there are well-meaning straight people culturally erasing queer identity from Pride. Using the “love is love” surface mentality of LGBTQ Pride, straight people are removing queer people from the narrative and celebrating sanitized and wholly unpolitical general “love.”

I first noticed this with people across my timeline: people who I have known (obviously this is not the end-all of their sexual and gender identities) to be straight celebrating Pride, largely with other straight friends, and using it as an excuse to get drunk and wear rainbow.

First, let’s be honest: I have gotten drunk and worn a Golden Girls t-shirt to Pride (and looked amazing). I’m not advocating that we all stay sober on the day of the parade, and solemnly stand in libraries. But I think that there are straight people who go to Pride parades, and other queer events, thinking that pride is just that and justifying their participation in these events by saying that they are celebrating “love.” I’m not advocating for the banning of straight people from Pride events, but I think that the risk we run by making it open to everyone in the mainstream is the re-marginalization of the original message.

Heterosexual people celebrating Pride under the “love is love” banner kind of sanitizes and erases queer people from the narrative entirely. Yes, love is love and everyone is entitled to love whomever they want, but it is not just that. By straight people saying that Pride means celebrating Love, they are eliminating the fact that Pride was actually birthed from the political struggle for queer equality. It is, at its inherent core, a political act.

LGBT Pride originated after the Stonewall riots, June 28, 1969, marking the start of the modern queer rights movement as we know it. It was the result of a series of increasingly violent and aggressive police raids against the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in the Village. The clientele were queer people: gay and bisexual men and women, gender non-conforming people, drag queens, male prostitutes. These were people who came to the Village for the safety of its anonymity, because they were, in their essence, criminal in the 1960s.

During these police raids, the cops would arrest anyone dressing in the clothing of the “opposite” gender, anyone seen touching the same sex, any woman who was not wearing at least three pieces of “feminine” clothing. The police raids were a part of a larger effort to remove, penalize and arrest queer people. In the early 1960s, then-mayor of New York City Robert F. Wagner Jr. launched a campaign to rid the city of all gay bars. Police officers used “entrapment” methods (soliciting sex and sexual favors from men and then arresting them) to “catch” queer men. These methods ranged from police officers grabbing men they assumed to be gay in the crotch and seeing how they reacted, to engaging men in conversation and arresting them if the conversation veered towards going somewhere else or getting a drink.

Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were two of the first people to fight back after the police raided in the early hours of the 28th, and are credited as some of the earliest proponents of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. Rivera, a transgender activist and drag queen, went on to co-found the Gay Liberation Front (the first gay organization to use “gay” in its name) and the Gay Activists Alliance. With Johnson, she co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.

The rainbow flag was created by Gilbert Baker, an artist, gay rights activist and drag queen, as a new queer symbol. After being elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and the first openly gay man to assume public office in California, Harvey Milk asked Baker, his friend, to create a new queer symbol as an alternative to the pink triangle, which was used to identify gay men and women in Nazi concentration camps.

That same pink triangle was used by Nike on sneakers as a part of its “BeTrue” Pride campaign, a clumsy misstep that they addressed in their PR release as having a “complex past,”: “Originally used to identify LGBTQ individuals during WWII, the triangle was reclaimed in the 1970s by pro-gay activists and was later adopted by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in their memorable 1980s-era “Silence=Death” campaign.”

Baker created the rainbow flag as a political act and a unifier for all queer people: “A flag fit us as a symbol. We are a people, a tribe if you will. And flags are about proclaiming power.” Baker refused to trademark the flag, seeing it as his life’s work and his gift to the queer community.

Everything about Pride is political. It is not just about “love is love,” because anyone can love. Pride relates specifically to the economic, social and political equality that queer people strive towards and will continue to strive towards. I think that we have been lulled into the notion that because same-sex marriage is legal, and because more mainstream society is accepting us more, that the fight is over. I think that there are many straight, well-meaning people who believe that this is just a chance to celebrate, wear cute clothes and drink. That is not true.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, trans people are unemployed and homeless at rates three times more than the national, country average.

In 2017, according to National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 44 percent of anti-LGBT homicides were committed against transgender women; more than 60 percent of the victims of anti-LGBT homicides were people of color. Almost 65 percent of the victims were under the age of 35.

According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, a quarter of LGBTQ respondents had experienced some form of workplace discrimination within a five-year period. There is no federal law against employment discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual identity. In 28 states, there are no explicit prohibitions for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state law.

I’m not saying that every single person at Pride needs to be able to rattle off a list of statistics about the treatment of LGBTQ people; I didn’t even know all of this until I spent the time researching it. But what I’m saying is that we are not yet at a place where we can afford a “love is love” chill vibe. Recognize why you are here, whose space you are occupying, and what this means. Things are dire for a lot, if not most, queer people. To dilute that, or to paste over it with a general and vague “let’s celebrate” mentality, is not just annoying or stupid to queer people, but dangerous to our lives as well.

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2018, celebrity, LGBTQ, Politics, social media

AM I A BAD GAY PERSON FOR NOT CARING ABOUT JOY REID’S BLOG POSTS?

I’m young, and I love my computer, so I didn’t come across Joy Reid, an MSNBC host, from her show, A.M. Joy, or guest-hosting on other programs. I discovered her through Twitter, when I noticed that several writers and journalists whose opinions I respect retweeted her. I scrolled through the profile, enjoyed what she had to say, and hit the follow button.

She remained largely out of my mind except for the occasional tweet in my timeline. Her opinions were always valid, sharp when needed, and seemed to be well-researched and reported.

Then, the first story popped up – a Twitter user posted screenshots of blogs using homophobic rhetoric written between 2007 and 2009 on the Reid Report, a now-defunct blog of Joy Reid. I felt disappointed, like “Ugh, someone I liked did something bad.” But I didn’t unfollow her, because I still trusted her political opinion, and expected the story to blow over. There are plenty of journalists who I personally might be annoyed by, but whose reporting proves valuable, so I didn’t give it a second thought.

Until the next story popped up. More screenshots, more homophobia. More crassness.

When I say that this story does not matter, I do not mean, “It does not matter if someone is homophobic.” It does matter; and it matters very much to me. But in the context of everything else going on, I find that I care very little about what Joy Reid said about gay people a decade ago. She does not make policy; she is not in charge of any government programs or bodies. She is not promoting active anti-LGBTQ laws. If she were a lawmaker, or campaigning on a platform of equality, then yeah, it would be good information to know. But she is not. She is a journalist, she had an opinion, she said that opinion. A decade later, that opinion is seen as ugly and inappropriate.

I do not agree with the words she used; I do not agree with her trying to out people, or the way she spoke about Ann Coulter, or Lindsay Graham or Charlie Crist or any of it. I think it was offensive, petty, hurtful and mean-spirited. I think it was a shitty thing to do, even in the social climate in which it was written.

For the record, I also don’t believe Reid’s claim that she was hacked. I think she said those things, and she’s embarrassed now, and because the internet trolls would have a field day if she admitted that. I am not defending her; she was and is an adult who wrote those things, regardless of whatever excuses she’s using now. I think it’s stupid that she’s lying, but I also think this entire thing is stupid.

I also recognize that I, as a white, cisgender, able-bodied queer person, largely have the ability to say, “This story does not matter.” I’m sure it matters to other members of my community, and I do not diminish that, their feelings, or their reactions.

But to lampoon Reid for thoughts she had a decade ago would require us to go back and lampoon every single thing like that. In the early 2000s, most people in the mainstream media were not doing a good job talking about queer issues. Because, frankly, Will & Grace was homophobic – it was femme-shaming and white-centric. Modern Family portrays Mitch and Cam more like platonic roommates than a couple. Golden Girls had a gay cook that mysteriously disappeared after the pilot episode. I will never forget you, Coco (his name was Coco!).

The reason I care about this (and why I’ve spent 700 words saying I don’t care) is that there are queer stories that desperately need to be told. And while I think it’s nice that support has rallied around Reid – no one should be an island – I resent that this still is the story that’s rolling around in everyone’s head. In a world that already prioritizes everything above queerness, there seems to be precious little bandwidth dedicated to covering queer stories. It’s like arguing about the curtains when the house is on fire.

For instance, it’s been a year since news broke that, in Chechnya, gay and bisexual men were being targeted, persecuted and abused. There were stories of concentration camps, luring and violence via social media apps, and many victims are still missing. There has been no significant response from the Russian government, and the leader in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, denied the allegations by simply stating that there are no gay people in Chechnya. Other than outlets that specifically traffic in queer stories, such as NewNowNext and the Advocate, and papers such as The Guardian, there has not been significant media coverage.

Stateside, there are still seven states with “No Promo Homo” laws on the books – “local or state education laws” that expressly prohibit the “promotion of homosexuality” and, in some cases, “even require that teachers actively portray LGB people in a negative or inaccurate way,” according to GLSEN.

The Human Rights Campaign reported that, in 2018, eight transgender people have already been murdered. Transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, are disproportionately affected by fatal violence. Insider recently reported on the health gaps that the LGBTQ community faces in receiving medical help.

These might seem like separate issues, and you could argue (rightfully) that reporting on Joy Reid’s past blog posts does not mean that we cannot also report on other things affecting the LGBTQ community. And you’d be right, except that that’s not always the case. Too often, we focus on click-driven news, too often we focus on things on little consequence.

What do Joy Reid’s past writings have to do with the very real risks that the queer community is facing today? In reality, very, very little. So why does this continue to be a story? Report on it, lay it all out there, and then move on.


Header source: Vimeo

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Humor, Love & Romance, Millennials

THE ONE WHERE I GO ON HINGE AND TRY TO FIND LOVE

“Do you want to date?” my psychiatrist asks.
“Ugh, no,” I scoff.
Ten minutes later. “I just really want to date!” I whine.
“You said you didn’t want to,” she points out, rightfully.
“I know I said that, but I lied,” I answer. I’m petulant, and she’s beginning to learn that.
“It’s kind of hard for you to be open to dating when you say, explicitly, that you don’t want to date.”

# # #

She also points out that dating is work, and requires effort. These are two things that I am unaccustomed to, but I begrudgingly admit that she’s right. Almost to spite her (healthy?), and prove to her that I can date if I want to, I download Hinge, a dating app that purports to set you up with people within your Facebook friends-of-friends network.

Of course, I do this the week that Facebook is in the news for allowing Cambridge Analytica to siphon off private user information. With my luck, Facebook will shut down and I’ll die alone.

I picked Hinge for a few reasons – Tinder is essentially the new Grindr and Bumble won’t let me use a photo of me giving the camera the middle finger. If I can’t show my personality, then I won’t find love.

I also picked Hinge because that’s how Phillip Picardi, the digital editorial director of Teen Vogue and Allure, met his totally-crazy-hot boyfriend. And if there’s one thing you can say about me, it’s that I can operate with a near-lethal amount of optimism.

So I made my profile. I put in a few funny quips, but I tried not to overwhelm it with humor. Surprise, I use humor as a defense mechanism. I tried to be honest (and cute) and earnest (and cute) and actually give myself a fighting chance.

Yes, the photos I chose showcase me doing essentially the same pose over and over (I know my angles) and I will almost never do a smile that shows my teeth (I have good teeth, I just don’t feel like showing them off) but the photos are all recent, and g-damn I look good in all of them! I’m in a very – well, not right now because I made the decision early on today to wear a hat and, honey, it’s one I’m regretting – good place about my body and my face.

So I made the profile, and I’ve been trying to – without sounding like American Pyscho – lower my standards. Okay, yeah that sounds awful.

But here’s what I mean. I love quitting while I’m behind. Frankly, I love quitting. I love a good self-sabotage. I set impossible standards for the men I look to date – they must be funny, but not funnier than me; they must be tall; they must be mean, but not nasty; cute, but not hot; smart, but not intimidating; not annoying, not rude; not clingy, not antisocial – usually this pares the group of eligible men available to a party of one, and I can’t date myself. Not again.

I also fall into the dangerous pattern of finding men whose flaws I forgive, because they’re so unattainable – straight, or in a relationship, or dead – that I’ll never have to worry about coming into contact with those flaws. I can safely yearn from 500 yards away (not a restraining order thing, I just wear glasses now and I don’t need to be that close) and never get hurt.

I’m trying to quell the inner saboteur, that messy, clumsy-fingered little goblin, and try to find one thing to “like” about each profile I see. Surprisingly, it’s easy. The questions are designed to yield answers, and damn some of y’all are cute! I’ve been liking more than I’ve been disliking, and it’s led to some interesting conversations. Not amazing conversations, and certainly not any love connections yet, but still: progress.

However, since I’m admitting to be a greedy little goblin, let’s be hateful for one paragraph. Loving brunch is not original. Loving SoulCycle is not original. Be the hottest one in a group photo, or just do a solo. Stop posting photos from vineyards; frankly, stop going to vineyards. Stop talking about Antoni from Queer Eye (I am a “he cannot cook” truther to the grave).

There are certain things I am willing to forgive, but hawking avocado/being 20/loving Antoni are things that I simply, for my own health, cannot abide.

Okay, done being hateful.

My most recent foray into “getting out there” is coming to the realization that I’d like to date somebody. I denied this for a long time because I hate being vulnerable, and damn that’s lame to say that you wanna date. But I do, and so I’m gonna say so. I dated a decent bit in college, but that was easier because I was surrounded by people constantly. This is harder, and we all know I love things that require little-to-no effort.

Snow White found love, and all she had to do was sleep. Lucky.

While I am pale (and tall enough that I’m constantly surrounded by aggro little short men), I’m no Snow White. Me sleeping just leads to morning breath and unfortunate hair situations.

So I, awake, am going to put myself out there. If you know someone in his twenties, with a job, who is good-looking enough that people wouldn’t describe him as “having a great personality” but does have a great personality, send him my way. He can have a weird face; that’s fine by me, but then he has to have good hair. I will not bend on this.

I’m sure my 900-word diatribe about Hinge will not frighten him off in the least.

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Essay, LGBTQ, Life, Love & Romance, Millennials, Movies, Thinkpiece

CALL ME BY YOUR SAME

I watched Call Me By Your Name on a flight back from Amsterdam recently (brag!). And whether it was the combination of airplane red wine and altitude, or perhaps a human, beating heart, I was so deeply affected by the viewing that I’ve floated in a fog the last few days, one that I’ve characterized as a “gay funk.”

A gay funk is a peculiar and particular kind of funk for me – and trust, I’ve got plenty of funk genres. It comes from a place of mixed happiness and sadness – the font of queerdom, the well of homosexuality.

I’m not going to get into it here – for a multitude of reasons, including that you are not paying me, sis, and also I doubt my psychiatrist would recommend that I do it – but I’ve spent the last few months coming to terms with the fact that a lot of my high school experience was fucked-up, and painful, and distinctly not okay. It’s hard in a lot of ways, to recharacterize something after the fact, but I’ve felt lighter for it.

So the idea of watching a movie that essentially splays out the past traumas I’ve been dealing with – youth and queerness and masculinity and love – sent red flares in my vision and, if I’m being honest, I actively avoided seeing the movie. But with the stretch of eight hours ahead of me and nothing to do but sit, I finally relented.

It also comes from a very legitimate place of cynicism. Queer men, particularly gay, white men, are luckier than others in our community in the fact that we have had more and varied representation in the media. But still, the idea of a movie that depicted my experience made me wary and scared. We get so few chances, and I didn’t want one to be squandered. I wanted to remain unseen.

But in a similar way to Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name truthfully and honestly depicted shades of my life in ways that felt like a tribute, rather than an exploitation.

It was painful to watch, Call Me By Your Name, but it was a curious pain because I felt it lancing me softly and beautifully. I felt parts of me uncoil, spirals of sadness that have been clamped up for so long. I was sad watching the movie, and jealous in ways, and unjealous in others.

Surprise, surprise, but I did not have a love story like Elio and Oliver’s in my high school experience. I had one, very intense and unrequited love – in the way that only seventeen-year-old closeted kids can love – but I related to the breathless, heartsick trill of their relationship. And honestly, I can’t ignore the fact that Armie Hammer is of the same mold as my high school crush: blonde and strappingly all-American.

So much of the romance in my life has been wrapped up with shame, longing, sadness and guilt, and that what I felt the movie portrayed so honestly. How love is propelled by a desire to satiate your own loneliness, quell the turmoil and the self-sabotaging desire to jump. Despite growing up in a world that was growing more and more tolerant of being gay, I don’t recall any positive representation of queer love in my childhood. I had no interactions with gay people, had no inkling that they could be thriving adults.

Watching Call Me By Your Name invoked a sadness similar to the first time I read Giovanni’s Room, sadness that our experience of love is so often colored by pain. I know that this can be a universal experience, but it feels particularly like the nexus of queerness. It’s sad, but it’s also comforting; that we’re a part of a lineage and history that extends beyond your singular, mortal self, despite that mantle being so wrought with pain.

Hence the gay funk: so many of the queer people I know didn’t get to have clean, cut-and-dry first experiences. They were tainted by who we were, and how the world treated us. So watching Call Me By Your Name made me viciously jealous of a tenet of teenhood that I missed out on. The movie made me sad for the kid that I was. The kid who was robbed of so many things, so many experiences. For all the love that I did have, there was so much love spilled on the ground, wastefully draining away. I’m sad for what he had to go through, for what he didn’t realize he was going through, and for what he would be going through.

But the movie made me happy in a lot of ways, because that pain was clarifying for me – it crystallized, for good and bad, the person that I am. It made me a fighter and empathetic and clumsy, complex and ruthless and fragile. It made me question who I was – it made me fight for myself. It grounded me in my own soil. It also reminded me that, in spite of it all, I loved being a teenager. I loved feeling all the nuances and complexity of emotions – first best friends, first break-up, first disappointment, first triumph. Like Mike Phelps was built for swimming, I was built for feeling things deeply. A lot of that (lol) was depression, but I think that even without being depressed, my body would be carved for intensity of feeling.

And it’s funny, because if I saw that kid – seventeen-year-old me – I would think that he was beautiful. I would admire his grit, his humor, his broken attempts at concealing how deeply and tumultuously he cared. I would’ve found him brave, and witty, and endearing, even as he attempted to be as spiky as possible. It’s the lasting echo I’ve carried with me since watching the movie: deep, bursting love for the kid that I was, despite everything, despite all the pain. And that’s what the end of the movie was about. Closing yourself off from grief is another kind of trauma. Feeling things deeply is not a curse, it’s part of the experience.

So much of life is love tempered with pain. One doesn’t exist without the other.

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LGBTQ, Pride 2017

PRIDE and PREJUDICE: BOOBS

(This is the second most-creative Pride and Prejudice pun I’ve made. The first one was a concept for a Teresa Giudice spin-off show entitled Pride and Pregiudice).


I saw boobs at Pride, and I need to be chill about it.

I wore a Golden Girls t-shirt to Pride this year; it got a lot of positive attention and led to me screaming, “OLD NAVY” in a lot of public places. The doorman of my friend’s apartment building confided in me that his favorite was Blanche (mine as well); a woman whose path I crossed in the street screamed at me and pointed to her own Golden Girls t-shirt, which she had cut into a cuter shape. We screamed together, hugged briefly and then went our separate ways.

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LGBTQ, Life, Politics, Pride 2017

ONE YEAR LATER: THE PULSE NIGHTCLUB SHOOTING

One year ago today, June 12, 2016, the world woke up to the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history when a gunman entered Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 and injuring 53.

This was not only the deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history and the deadliest terror attack since 9/11, it was also a hate crime of epic proportions. The gunman went into Pulse, a gay nightclub, and killed 49 people, queer men and women and those outside of the gender binary, as well as their friends, family and allies. It was also Latin Night, so most of the victims were Latinx and people of color.

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