Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Equality Is Never Enough

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

It's that time of year again, when stores get out their rainbow flags to pull in proud homo customers, and het celebrities indulge in playful homo kisses to make the front page news, or at least the entertainment section. In the U.S., the White House and Congress are even benevolently clearing the way for queers to serve openly in the military.

Despite the hoo-hah from the heteros, actual LGBT folks, especially dykes, seem as irrelevant as ever. We're more tolerated in society, but we're not encouraged to participate as ourselves. Even Rachel Maddow and Ellen, our most famous lesbians, are perceived through a lens of hetero amnesia that can only be treated by repeated comings out, though I suppose they could also keep adoring girls perpetually at their sides to remind the straight folk that, no, it's not just a phase.

Even that would have its pitfalls. While you almost never have lesbian characters in movies or in TV shows, and dykes are still a rarity in politics, the girl-on-girl kiss has become a parlor trick for everyone from Madonna to Sandra Bullock and Scarlett Johansson. Ha ha. Two chicks kissing. Cool. Gross. What a hoot. It's almost up there with girls eating cockroaches or sticking their hands in a bucket of worms on Fear Factor.

Two ordinary dykes kissing on the subway in Queens don't get nearly the same ratings. All over the country, if queers aren't actually hauled to exorcisms and electroshock therapy, we are still mostly ostracized, if not beaten and raped. In most states, adoption rights are under attack, even if study after study shows we're good parents (especially lesbians). And for every single state that's granted same-sex marriage rights, ten have snatched them away.

And while I suppose legal gains require it, I've begun to wonder if all that lobbying and begging and pleading and donating that the LGBT community is engaged in doesn't somehow increase homophobia, and have an unintended diminishing effect on our own self-respect.

Consider, for example, our supplication of the President and Congress to end DADT. What it boils down to are variations on these themes beginning with, "Oh please..." "If you'd be so kind as to..." and following up with "I swear there will be no problems. Look at the integration of African Americans into the armed forces -- there were plenty of critics but the military didn't collapse." "Remember how the difficult transition from an army of conscripts into one of volunteers went pretty smoothly despite all the railing and warnings." "We only want to serve."

Tactically speaking, honey may attract more flies than vinegar. But do we really need flies? Are we spiders to want to eat them? In moral terms, asking for rights, arguing for rights, attracting support instead of demanding it, gives the impression that we're children begging for something, not adult humans entitled to it. The only counterbalance to all that politicking would be a sustained activist movement demanding, not begging for rights. "We're equal or we're not." "You're bigots or you're not."

That was the joy of the Stonewall Riots, when impatient drag queens and dykes seized their own lives and took to the streets. Queers weren't asking for equality. They asserted it. They claimed it. They freed themselves. At least for a few hours. It's why the image took root, why it inspired LGBT people all over the world.

If you reconsider that image, asking for legal equality, even demanding it, is not enough. What we want is to BE equal. To BE free. And changing laws is only part of it, like changing the tenor of society. Especially right now when it seems the whole U.S. has the idea of freedom and equality upside down and backwards.

The growing right-wing which supposedly takes its inspiration from the Boston Tea Party seems largely to have missed the point of that action which, like Stonewall, was to declare a kind of independence, the irrelevance of colonial powers.

Instead, like most of the LGBT community, Tea Partiers seem fixated on the idea that rights and freedom reside almost exclusively in our relationships to government and society. But if seeing DC as the ultimate power-broker turns queers into hopeful lobbyists rather than queer liberationists, it just makes straight conservatives afraid. Because if rights in their fullest sense can really be given, they can also be taken away.

Imagining that external forces ostensibly control not just their tax situation and health care, but their very lives, conservatives, especially marginal whites, are evolving into increasingly hysterical tea partiers terrified their nice white heterosexual children will be enchained by roving mobs of queers, blacks, and illegal aliens.

As we enter the gay pride season, and head towards July 4, queers should lead the way, thinking less about rights and equality, and more about life, liberation, and why not? the pursuit of that chimera -- happiness.

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