The queer community has issues — like racism, ableism, transphobia and misogyny. Let’s face them together.

Photo: A black bar with white writing that reads, "Got privilege?" in a parody of the Got Milk? campaign. Photo source: Gender Queer Chicago, Google ImagesI — like so many other people, especially white people — was socialized into believing there are no systems of oppression, especially racism. For a long time I was under the impression all that stuff ended a long time ago, and I never really thought about it or talked about. And on the rare occasion when I had a conversation about racism with other white people, it usually went something like this:

“Remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? That was his whole thing you know, ending racism. We got rid of slavery and Jim Crow laws and passed the Civil Rights Act, so it’s all good. And because there’s no racism there’s nothing else wrong, and people who are poor or don’t have health care or whatever are just bad people who didn’t work hard because we have equality now and they should be doing just fine. Plus, I work with a black guy, and therefore interact with someone of a different race than me everyday and it doesn’t like end in a lynching, so I’m cool.”

It took me a long time for me to realize our society is messed up. Then I started reading books and blogs, and the next thing I know I was freaking out because I realized I was a terrible racist, ableist, transphobic person with internalized misogyny, classism and fatphobia this entire time. I contributed to the oppression of others, even though I did it inadvertently and with kindness in my heart.

And I was queer. I was a member of an oppressed group and I was an oppressor. How could this be?

I’m not alone: As members of our society, we have all contributed to oppression and privilege. It’s impossible not to when we’ve been socialized our entire lives into racist, ableist, transphobic, misogynistic, classist, agist, heterosexist and body negative institutions that create oppressive social rules, classes and statuses that privilege some and oppress others. These social structures are so ingrained in us, because they’re so pervasive and they’ve always been a part of our lives, that it’s hard for us to even realize they exist, let alone acknowledge them and question them.

I don’t know who to blame, and I don’t want to waste my time on that. I want to do what I can to change it, and that starts with talking about it. And I’m starting right here at home, with my queer and LGBT communities.

We have to talk about our issues. We can’t not. I know, these are not exactly topics of polite conversation. It’s not fun or easy—no difficult subject ever is. But we can’t keep on thinking these problems don’t exist just because it’s uncomfortable to talk about them. It’s hard enough getting people to believe racism still exists, let alone the myriad of other problems we have within our community, and if we can’t confront them, how can we counteract them?

My skin is white. I contribute to white supremacy all the time just by interacting in the world as a white person, because our society and subcultures still value whiteness over all other races and ethnicities. That gives me privilege whether I like it or not.

Ignoring that doesn’t make it go away. No one wants to admit they have privilege or that entire groups of people generally have privilege because of their identity or what people perceive to be their identity. Every single workshop I’ve ever been to about power, privilege and oppression, there’s at least one person who derails the presenter with a comment like, “Well, you say white people have economic privilege, but my best friend’s uncle is white and he lives off welfare and food stamps, so you’re wrong.”

Right. There are exceptions to every rule. Why is everyone so quick to deny privilege and take pointing out privilege as a personal attack because they belong to the privileged class? Maybe it’s a symptom of the Oppression Olympics. At any rate, these are societal systems of oppression that effect individual’s lives everyday, even if it effects them differently. It’s usually very subtle; it’s not something that’s always tangible, but it’s there. Pretending they don’t exist or finding an exception doesn’t make it go away.

Anyway, the point is, I can fight against white supremacy. As a white person, my skin color is considered normal and is considered desirable; therefore, my opinion carries more weight and is taken more seriously by other people, especially white people. I must use that power to openly confront issues of race, call out racism, deconstruct white privilege and amplify, but not trample over, the input of others that is dismissed because they are not in the privileged group. This same idea applies to my cisgender privilege, and all other systems of privilege and oppression in society. When discussing allyship, this is what I mean.

It’s no accident we organize around identity — people are more likely to find common ground or solace with someone with the same identity. While that is important, it breeds tunnel vision, allowing us to ignore all other identities, groups and issues because we’re focusing on what only applies specifically to our identity group. But no person can be equated to one identity — we’re all a complex mix of histories, oppression, privilege and circumstance. Acknowledging the intersectionality of our community, approaching organizing with an open mind, educating ourselves on our differences, striving to be inclusive and facing our problems is the only way we can move forward.

Here is some basic further reading. I couldn’t find great resources on everything I wanted to cover, so please leave additional suggestions in the comments:

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14 thoughts on “The queer community has issues — like racism, ableism, transphobia and misogyny. Let’s face them together.

  1. Pingback: The Queer Community Has Issues: Let’s Face Them Together « In Our Words

  2. I think this is a really well written, and more importantly, extremely honest post. I think that sometimes the queer community gets wrapped up in “queer specific” issues and forgets that there are a multitude of other issues, all of which you addressed quite nicely. A queer POC and an european-american queer have quite different life experience although they are seen as “fighting the same battle”. “Queer” is only one label, among many, that people use as an identity. And racism is still alive and well.

    • Thank you. Yeah, that’s what I really wanted to touch on. I know I wrote a lot about racism, but my thoughts can be generalized to a lot of different issues. We all have different experiences and different identities, and if we don’t recognize that, we’ll continue to segregate ourselves within the queer community. These are uncomfortable conversations to have, but we have to have them.

  3. Great post. The important thing to take from this is that “you” are not a terrible person (I mean, unless you do horrible crimes, of course). It’s about listening and helping others to make the world a better place.

    • Right, but I think it was important to be honest about that part. In my experience, when addressing a privileged group generally, someone who is a member of that group takes whatever is being said personally and often gets defensive and shuts down, myself included. I’m not sure why that is exactly, but I think people just feel bad. I’ve kind of gotten over it, but I most definitely felt like a terrible person at the time.

  4. Within LGbT community, there is also discrimination against those hat don’t clearly identify as gay or straight. We are the oppressed within the oppressed. I recognize my white privilege, but my lack of safety within queer and acceptance community is no less oppressive than that of queerness in the straight world. It’s high time queer people stopped spouting about acceptance and diversity. Practice what you preach. Until bisexuality and sexual diversity are truly welcome in the queer community(ies), the rainbow is incomplete.

    • I’m not bisexual, I’m queer, and dating a man doesn’t make me straight. Because I am a femme cisgender woman, I go through the world being read as a multitude of sexual identities based upon my appearance, my partner or whomever I happened to be hanging out with at the time. People will think what they want to think, and constantly explaining myself to everyone is exhausting and a burden I don’t want to and can’t always articulate. Really, as long as I can get people to not call me straight, I’m fine.

  5. I have trouble with one part of the ‘Checking Your Privilege’ attachment by the Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois. At the bottom of the document, under ‘How do we check our privilege’, #6 seems really problematic to me. It says “6) use your privilege to benefit groups you are not a part of,” and that feels way too much like White Saviour to me. Ugh.

    But the White Privilege: Unpacking Your Invisible Backpack is awesome!

    • Yeah, that’s true. I hadn’t thought of that. But I think overall that document is a good one-stop shop for briefly explaining different types of privilege and oppression. If you have another suggestion for something to use in place of it, please pass it along.

  6. I live in a minority neighborhood and am perceived as white (I’m mixed race) and just being a gay person brings out harsh gender comments from everyone. Sexuality can be very hard for the black and hispanic community to deal with. On the plus side, being gay has allowed me to experience discrimination in a visceral way, from my community, from police etc. so I can be more empathetic now to what other minority groups experience. Its a whole divide and conquer class war.

  7. I agree with the anonymous poster above that the gay community needs to start practicing what it preaches. Most minorities, in fact, should. My experiences have led me to believe that those who scream the loudest for equality, fairness and diversity are often the ones most likely to deny others fairness or equality, or to be accepting of different opinions, beliefs, ideas, and looks. Yes, all the “ism’s” and phobias mentioned in your blog still plague our society, but now it’s not just the “dumb white redneck” at fault, it’s also the gay guy holding the sign that reads “Diversity Now” at a civil rights rally while shouting obsenities at Christians.
    Yes, we still have work to do, but I wish we, the gay community, and other minority groups would take a moment to look at how far we’ve come in the past forty years. We have cause to be happy, but instead we are becoming bitter, vengeful, arrogant. We are becoming the very thing we fought so hard to free ourselves from; closed-minded and hateful. Some great reward.

    • @ campfool: I agree mostly of what you mentioned. However the confusion stems from most people using the agreement that it’s ‘my preference’. This is a dangerous path. There needs to be a understanding of difference of accepting and working with diversity to achieve a balancing representation for all vs just the tolerating ‘tokenism’ just to quiet skepticism.

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