Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spark of Wisdom: Appropriating the Evil of Homophobia to Push an Agenda

This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

As I've said before, sometimes things happen in waves, the same topic presents itself to me from multiple sources (usually multiple sources of irritation at that) and rather than tear my hair out (or worry about the extra greys it's causing) I'm going to have me a ramble instead.

And this ramble is on instances where I've seen people rallying me - or, indeed, any marginalized person - to some cause or as a weapon against others.

When discussing various issues around the Israel and Palestine, I was told by one... acquaintance I guess - that I should definitely be 100% supporting Israel because the Palestinians and the rest of the Middle East is just so awful on gay rights. (And can I have an insert here that "hey, we're better than Saudi Arabia/Iran/etc!" when downplaying homophobia is so not a good tactic. I mean, what, you want a cookie for this?) So surely I should support Israel beyond question?

And I gave my best "WTF?" face, yes yes I did. And I had to ask "sorry, since when did you care about gay rights?" Because this was someone who had spent no small amount of time informing me of various religious objections to homosexuality (in a somewhat mistaken belief that I even slightly care) and angrily disputing against our right to marry/be discriminated against/work/exist in public/etc.

And of course, the point was that he didn't. Not really. At best the rights of gay people - indeed, all GBLT people - was a matter of supreme indifference to him (and that is generous, since "outright hostility" is probably more accurate) but he was perfectly willing to invoke them, to use them and homophobia as a tool to stop people questioning  and push demonisation of non-Israeli's in the Middle East.
Does this mean I think that homophobia in the Middle East isn't a severe problem? No, of course not. It's horrendous and terrifying and deeply tragic - but he wasn't addressing that, he didn't care about that. He was just willing to use it and appropriate it for his own battles and his own attacks.

In a similar vein, while numerous people on the right in America have been having the screaming meemies about the idea of a Not!mosque (community centre is not a mosque not that there would have been any sensible arguments against a mosque either) somewhat (but not very) near the site of 9/11. Now while it has been both grossly depressing and faintly embarrassing to watch the right wingers lose their collected shit over this.

And one of the collected shit losing was Greg Gutfield, a personality over at Fox supposedly News, wanted to open a gay bar  nearby. An Islamic gay bar at that. He wants to test how "tolerant" supporters of the Muslim community centre really are.

Well, thank you apparently straight guy who already has a poor history when it comes to respecting GBLT people, for using the battle for GBLT equality and the very real suffering and oppression of GBLT people as a convenient tool to lash out at Muslims. Thank you for treating our battle for equality as a throw-away attack.

Again, do I think homophobia in organized religion is a major and pervasive problem causing vast problems and horrendous pain and suffering? Ye gods, yes I do. Very much so and then some.

But this man is not trying to address that, he's not trying to lessen that, he's not even trying to open a dialogue on that - he is using gay people and gay rights to try and lash out at Muslims. He is using the terrible reality of homophobia as a tool and a weapon.

And, y'know what? That not only annoys me, it outrages me. It literally outrages me that these straight people are using our quest for equal rights like this, are appropriating the real evil of homophobia as a tool to push their own agendas - and as a weapon to lash out at other marginalised bodies. It is literally one of those few times when my first reaction is not, as usual "humanity, why do you fail so?" but a furious "how dare you?!"

Relatedly, Laurie Penny in the New Statesmen has made a similar point about the west using the persecution of women as justification for hostility in the Middle East and makes some extremely good points that are  better in her words than my paraphrasing

Like many of these pieces I find myself rambling on, reaching the end and wondering how to close, wondering how to make the point, something I'm never especially good at. 

I do not think this is remotely ok. This appropriation, this use, this hijacking by people who don't give a damn and most certainly do not understand, is so very not ok.

I do not think these people are our friends. No matter how much they speak the language and how much they say they care - to use us in this way is not friendly. We're convenient to them, we're useful to them - but they do not care or they would not do this.

And I think, sadly, we have to be wary, cynical and careful - because these are just some of many and some are far more subtle than this.