22 May 2007

What About The Word "Queer?" (Part Four)

To justify wrapping the Q-word around themselves, White Gay folk often point to the Black community's fondness for the word "n*gger." They cite the way many African-Americans exchange it as a so-called endearment, and note its prevalence in Hip-Hop and Rap lyrics. And yes, it's true; that disgusting slur has been a part of my ethnic group's casual vocabulary for as long as I can remember!

I daresay a majority of Black people in North America may be in the habit of using the N-word (or its working class variant, "niggah"). That doesn't make it right! During World War II, a majority of US citizens took to calling all people of Japanese descent "Japs." It was a shameful thing to do, but in time, most Americans repented of this racist usage. Obviously, we didn't retain the lesson we learned back then! Today, the widespread use of "n*gger" is every bit as shameful and racist. Who's using it doesn't make any difference!  When are we going to get a damn clue?

Lately, public utterance of this obscenity has gotten completely out of control. It's now commonplace to walk down a city street and hear youngsters yell the N-word as a greeting . . . and not just Black youngsters, either! I've heard White, Asian and Latino kids do it, too.

I'll never forget how startled I was one day while riding public transportation. A teenage Latina was sitting behind me; her command of English was modest at best. Nevertheless, she was complaining in English about her boyfriend to a girl sitting next to her, and guess what name she called him? Congratulations! You win this evening's door prize!  Girlfriend sure wasn't using it as an endearment, either! I assure you, hearing the N-word pronounced with a strong Mexican accent wasn't even a little bit cute!

Just as in the case of "queer," the traditional, insulting definition of "n*gger" has not disappeared. Listen closely to the context in which it's used in Gangsta Rap lyrics, and also take note of what streetwise Black men tend to scream at one another when they're angry! It's not so benign after all, is it?  To be sure, White racists don't define the word any differently than they did before (and neither, it seems, do scorned Latin lovers).

Epithet cleansing doesn't work! Black folk have been trying to redeem the N-word since the days of slavery, and they still haven't done it. They never will! You can normalize racial and sexual slurs easily enough, but as long as bigotry continues to exist, you cannot de-stigmatize them. Frankly, I'm ashamed of the part African-Americans have played in keeping this horrible remnant of bondage and segregation alive!

One thing Black people haven't done, though: We haven't plastered the N-word on our social and political organizations! Nor have other marginalized groups adopted slurs for official use. You're never going to hear about a "Jungle Bunny Student Union" or a "United Darky College Fund" or a "National Association for the Advancement of N*ggers." Don't hold your breath waiting for a "Sp*c Studies Department" to appear at your state university, or for a conference of the "National Council of W*tbacks" to be booked at your local convention center! It'll be a cold day in Hell before you can play bingo at the neighborhood "K*ke Community Center", and you'll be cold in your grave before you hear Gloria Steinem speak at a seminar of the "National Organization for C*nts." File those examples under the heading of Things That Ain't Never Gonna Happen! African-American, Latino, Jewish and feminist leaders understand the value of presenting a respectable public face. Why don't Gay leaders understand this?

That we dare to come together in groups called "Queers and Allies", rave about a stereotypical reality show called "Queer Eye", talk pompously about "queer theory", demean our Straight friends by calling them "f*g hags" and "lezzie lovers", and stigmatize our children by calling them "gaybies" and "queer spawn"(can you believe the level of idiocy?) reveals an appalling level of political immaturity on our part, not to mention internalized self-hatred.

We should be ashamed of ourselves! Instead, we display our lack of maturity as if it were a badge of honor. We brandish words like "f*ggot," "d*ke," "tranny", "b*tch" and other slurs like they're going out of style! We disrespect Lesbian and Gay elders and others who object to the "queer" label by using it on them anyway, if not in their presence then behind their backs. We foolishly brag about "reclaiming" vicious epithets, ignoring the fact that they were imposed on our predecessors by hatemongers and were never ours to begin with!

Why do we need to bathe ourselves in profanity? We say it's necessary in order to avoid "political correctness". Necessary, compared to what? We say it's important to appear "cutting edge", but why? Since when has Gay identity been the equivalent of haute couture, constantly needing to keep up with fashion trends? Where are our priorities? Exactly how is publicly identifying ourselves as "queers" going to win respect for our Civil Rights struggle? What good does it do us to affirm Straight society's perception that LGBT status is abnormal? That's what the word "queer" means; it doesn't merely connote "unusual" as some misguided souls have attempted to argue.

Never mind about negative consequences, though! We've convinced ourselves that embracing sexual slurs is a smart thing to do. Yeah, we're smart, all right . . . so smart that we've figured out a way to be radical and reactionary at the same time! Man, that's the kind of smart that gives education a bad name!

In my opinion, it's not how we come across to others that's the most important thing to consider. It's how we come across to one another. The question Stephanie Bottoms posed deserves an answer: How can a closeted Gay girl or boy who's grown up surrounded by anti-Gay sentiment feel comfortable around people who bathe themselves in anti-Gay insults? Is this derogatory self-identification supposed to be a manifestation of Gay pride? To an outsider, it sure doesn't look proud. Nor does it look that way to insiders like me. It looks twisted! It smacks of masochism and decadence. It feels like a marginalized community that's resigned itself to pariahdom. Who in their right mind would want to leave the closet in order to join a group like that?

Quiet as it's kept in certain circles, most Lesbians, Gay men, Pansexual and Transsexual persons don't want to be pariahs. Ostracized or not, more and more of us refuse to see ourselves as outcasts. We know that we're an integral and necessary part of mainstream society! Ellen DeGeneres gave eloquent voice to our feelings in 1997 when, during a TV interview after coming out, she said: "I (am not) going to sit in the back of the bus anymore! I belong (up front) with everybody else."

Amen, sister! Tell the truth! We're not separatists! We're not interested in giving society the middle finger. We're not leaving the closet in order to appear shocking and subversive. All we want is to be accepted and/or respected for who we are.  And who are we? We're gender-blended human beings. As it states in the book of Genesis (translated correctly from ancient Hebrew), we're like Adam was in the Garden of Eden before Eve was separated from him:

So God created Adam in His image, in the image of God He created Him, male and female He created him.

We are closer to the androgynous image of God than the rest of humankind. Therefore, we can't possibly be defined as "queer"! We are normal. We are natural. What is queer, then? It's any definition of normality that fails to include us! Our presence in the human family does not "queer" it! We don't distort the family portrait, we complete it. We make humankind all that God meant it to be.

There's a lot of talk in Right Wing circles about the so-called Gay agenda. Well, I'll tell you what that agenda is: We want non-LGBT folk to recognize us as family! That's as revolutionary as it gets for most of us, and really, it doesn't need to be any more radical than that.

In closing her brilliant essay, Ms. Bottoms writes:

Organizations that have embraced the word "queer" in their titles . . . have done a backward slide into murky waters . . . if these groups really want to be all-inclusive . . . then they should consider name changes. Otherwise, (they) are encouraging and perpetuating the use of this historically derogatory term. It's time to realign our goals, our messages, and our agenda with a moniker that garners respect and coöperation in mainstream society.

Yes, it's high time we did that. However, I fear the Gay Rights movement has a lot of growing up to do before we can get to that point! We have to outgrow this adolescent fascination with radicalism and rudeness and shock value. I hope the political wild child known as "queer" activism will eventually acquire the wisdom and discipline it needs to reach maturity, and I hope it does so in my lifetime!  Living like Peter Pan can seem awfully fun, but if you never grow up and assume adult responsibilities, just like him, you end up stuck forever at a certain point in time; and, to quote the Rock'n'Roll standard "I Can Never Go Home Anymore" (originally performed by The Shangri-Las in 1966), that's called sad.