Thursday, August 16, 2012

An Ally to All, Not Some

Mike is an 19 year female to male transman. He is currently studying psychology at The Evergreen State College between making quilts. He someday aspires to be a social worker, and in the mean time, he wants to fix the fact that not everyone is born with an inherent right to be themselves.

Intersection is something important for any social justice movement. There is no sense in getting rights for one group at the expense of another. It just leads to more movements and effort expended in the end. Intersection is also important because it creates a unique set of struggles for people with multiple oppressions. This is partially due to the compounding ability of oppression and partially due to the inability of different social justice movements to get along. Between the two of them, trying to participate in activist communities can result in headaches for those caught in the middle.

The compounding ability is one of consequences. There are consequences of belonging to an oppressed minority (regardless of how unfair these consequences might be) and these consequences are cumulative. That is, if you belong to more than one minority group, you get the consequences from both minority groups. For instance, transgender people are twice as likely as cisgender people to live in extreme poverty. Transgender people of color, however, are four times as likely to live in extreme poverty. Belonging to more than one oppressed minority group adds another layer to the struggles, having to deal with multiple isms and correcting members of your own community more often than not, as they end up generating problems trying to fight for their causes.

This is not helped by the fact that most activist groups don’t play nice with activists from other movements. Most of them believe that their causes are the most important, and bringing up other oppressions or issues is somehow derailing, regardless of how they apply to statements being made at the time. There seems to be a belief that these movements should be able to do whatever it takes in order to gain rights, regardless of whether or not the movement itself is oppressive. This puts people who want to belong to both groups in an awkward situation.  Either they don’t speak up, and risk feeling horrible and unsafe in the space, or they do speak up. Speaking up is another gamble, because they will either be listened to or acknowledged or told that they are derailing the cause and should stop being so sensitive. It is enough to want to sit all of the activist groups in a room with each other until they learn how to get along and not be oppressive.

The reality, however, is that it is impossible to advocate for queer people without also being an advocate for queer people of color. This means that it is important to understand the history around the oppression of people of color and the movements surrounding that oppression. It is important to understand how to use language that isn’t offensive and to acknowledge that racism is as rampant as homophobia and is an equally large problem. It is also extraordinarily important to not appropriate from the Civil Rights Movement if it isn’t personally your history. It takes away from the history and dignity of this movement and erases those struggles, while simultaneously belittling the struggles of the queer rights movement. Advocating for queer people means advocating for ALL queer people and queer people come in all races and ethnicities.

In the same way, it is impossible to advocate for people of color without also advocating for queer people of color. This means that it is important to be aware of the history of both queer oppression and advocacy (much the same way that queer people should be aware of the same for people of color). Language is also extremely important and should reflect that not all families are built the same way and that straight is not the default orientation. One point in particular to remember is the holocaust. Queer people were rounded up during the holocaust and killed in concentration camps. Making statements that queer people should shut up until their people have been rounded up like cattle and killed belittles this history, as well as the history of reparative therapy. Advocating for people of color should mean advocating for people of color, regardless of orientation.

At its heart, social justice should be about exactly that – social justice. Comparing oppressions won’t do anything except for make everyone angry. It makes the most sense to just acknowledge the collective histories and struggles of all oppressed minorities. That means no saying remarkably ill thought out statements like gay is the new black or continuing to compare the struggle for gay marriage to anything in the civil rights. This means acknowledging that gay men and women were killed in the holocaust and acknowledging the rampant homophobia in today’s society. Society may have thrown both of these groups and more scraps from the table, but it solves nothing to fight over them. In the end, the main thing that matters is that EVERY person, regardless of label, should feel free and safe to be themselves, particularly in the activist community.