Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dan Savage Does Not Have the Solution to Homophobia in Malawi

image Over time I have come to loathe Dan Savage for his racist, ableist, fat phobic and sexist language.  Though Savage is oppressed as a gay man, he seems to forget that he has plenty of privilege.  Not only is he White and male, he is also able bodied and cis gendered, has class privilege, western privilege, thin privilege, etc and etc.  For all of the oppression Dan Savage faces as a gay man, he certainly exists with enough power to make the lives of others a living hell.  There seems to be this need for marginalized bodies to find someone else to oppress, in an effort to avoid becoming the bottom tier of the social hierarchy.

By now I am sure the readers of this blog are aware of the Malawian couple that has been sentenced to prison for 14 years of hard labour after having an engagement party. The couple have been misidentified as a gay couple (an error his royal highness did not see fit to correct). Tiwonge Chimbalanga identifies as a woman, and that means that this relationship is a heterosexual one.  The issue here is that Malawian government does not recognize her gender identity and has misidentified it as a gay relationship.  While I agree that this is an issue for the TLBG community, it is also an issue for all those that believe in equality. Some people however are more concerned with pushing their issue, regardless of the social cost to others.

Blogger Gina of Skip The Makeup had this to say:

It is true a conviction like this will only oppress gay men even more to have sexual relations "on the down low" and that Malawi has one of the highest rates of seropositivity in Southern Africa (and therefore, the world). Yes, they were convicted under statutes which were meant to punish same-sex couples. But for mainstream publications (and many gay blogs) to ignore the gender identity of Ms. Chimbalanga is, in its own way, equally horrific. Nowhere is the term "transphobia" even mentioned. In this misgendering, it greatly resembles the story in the New York Times about the 1999 murder of soldier Barry Winchell, which completely ignored his girlfriend Calpernia Addams' gender identity and presentation as a woman, and characterized it as a case of homophobia because Winchell was in a "same sex relationship."

Once again like a stale fart in the wind, Savage has decided to spew his virulent idea of activism on the internet.

Malawi is dependent on foreign aid—most of it from Britain and the US—and that aid should be withdrawn. The government of Malawi should be told that it can have its rabid anti-gay bigotry or it can it can have foreign aid. But it can't have both.

Let’s see how this works: the western world stops providing aid (which btw really isn’t real aid), and then everyone in that country gets to starve and we watch as their economy collapses.  How long do you think it would take before Malawi became a failed state like Somalia?  I know that men like Savage who feel that they are oppressed by Blacks, cannot see the tragedy of the thousands, perhaps millions who would lose their lives. 

Some of the aid that Savage is so willing cut off goes to provide basic services like health care. Though HIV/AIDS is an issue for everyone, the GLBT community in particular has been extremely strong in the fight for a cure.  The rate of AIDS in Malawi is one of the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa.  At the end of 2008, there were 930,000 people living with AIDS, and that figure accounts for 11.9% of the adult population. And if that does not shock you into awareness, 68,000 died of AIDS, leaving behind 560,000 orphans. Without the paltry western support that Malawi currently receives, how many more will die? 

Savage can afford to make outlandish statements specifically because it is not his life at risk.  Children in Malawi already labour in cruel conditions to support the tobacco industry in the U.S., often surviving on one meal a day, thus acting as the major support for their families. How much more burden are we going to place on the backs of little black boys and girls? 

And finally, who the hell is he to decide how the situation should be handled?  I know it seems like a novel idea, but how about asking the TLBG community in Malawi what form of support they would like?  I am most certain that they would not support an action that would lead to further impoverishment and death.  It is not the government of Malawi that will suffer, it is the people.  Savage’s suggestion is  absolutely brainless and it  would create havoc for the very people that he claims to be advocating on behalf of.  It is because Savage cannot see beyond his own frame of reference and western privilege that he feels that he has the right to make such a terrible suggestion.

If the west were indeed to remove aid for this action, who do you think would be blamed?  How do you think the Malawian population would treat the LGBT community when they already have such little regard for their rights?  In fact, his language is already harmful because it fuels the myth that homosexuality and a transgender identity  are not African.  Despite the fact that there have always been GLBT bodies on the African continent, many choose to reject this population as a form of resistance against colonial oppression and therefore, before a western White man like Savage seeks to assert his clearly harmful opinion, he should have given thought to how it would be received. The last thing that the GLBT community  needs is more identification with Whiteness, when Whiteness has done nothing but rape and pillage that continent for centuries.

Savage will continue to put his foot in his mouth because that is what he does.  Oppression is a terrible thing; however, we cannot bring an end to injustice by ignoring the ways in which we are privileged, because that will only lead to repeating an already damaging form of hierarchy.  If his real concern was helping the Malawian TLBG community, perhaps Savage should have thought before writing the first ignorant spew that came to mind-- but then men like Savage don’t really care about others.  And though I have said it before, Savage really needs to be quiet. The last thing we need is more fuel to the fire.