November 23, 2010

Wait. Don't Forget About Me Too!

There's been a lot of conversation about several issues on the blog lately, and I love it. I love it when people engage in thoughtful discussions about topics. I believe that's how you honestly get to know people better than talking about what likes and dislikes you have in common. The funny thing is that I tend to not be a very vocal participant in such stimulating conversation. I like to sit back and let the discussion develop while I formulate my own opinion and sometimes change it depending on certain key points people make. For that reason, I have not been an active participant in many of the discussions that have taken place on the blog. But, I think I am finally able to articulate my opinion. So here we go...

The topic I want to focus on is the sexism that occurs within the gay community. Well, not so much focus on the sexism but a comment someone made about how one gender of the community has a tougher time than the other gender. I, at one point, actually used to believe this was true, but, after becoming friends with women in the community, I was made aware of my fallacy. I think where this difference in thinking stems from is the focus of attention on one's own life and how people can tend to think that their situation is the absolute worst. I think that's a completely understandable mistake to make. I know that I oftentimes only focus on my own life and the problems I go through and how miserable it makes me feel. I sometimes forget that other people have problems that they must work through, too. Just because their problems might not be the same as mine or seem as extreme as I believe mine to be, it doesn't mean that they don't have it just as hard. Because it is just as hard, just in different ways that may not be apparent. So there's that which leads me to the actual gist of this post:

Sometimes, I get worried that we are focusing too much on one subset of the community and letting the others fall by the wayside.

Let me be clear about what I mean. There have been several recent efforts made to shed light on or help the issues that the queer female-identified community faces. I'm all for this. It's great that we are recognizing the women within the community and doing more to make sure that they are better represented. I'm so happy for the women of this community because they are on their way to getting the recognition that they deserve. BUT (here's the kicker), what about everyone else in the community?

Let's take, for example, the awesomeness that is the WOMYN magazine and Women Loving Women meetings. Both of these are such wonderful achievements for the women community. But what do the men of the community have? What about those who don't conform to a certain gender? What do those who are trans get? Nothing, at least not anything that is solely for each specific group. Of course, there is Fab Friday and the blog and the Center itself. But none of that is ever a space solely just for people of one group.

I guess what I'm saying is that I would like to see more initiatives geared towards every subset of the community. For example, even though the community here is heavily male-dominated, I would still love to have a space where I can sit down with other gay males of color who are in a non-historically black fraternity and have a discussion about some of the challenges we go through. Well, not all of that because that would probably just be a group of me, myself, and I, but you get what I'm saying right? There are times when I honestly get jealous of the women in the LGBTQ community because they have their venue to voice their concerns and frustrations about life. But where am I supposed to go? Fab Friday isn't exactly the space to do that. Yes, I'm using the blog to voice my concerns but it's just not the same as talking face to face with people and hearing what other humans (not a computer screen) has to say. Why can't we have a Men Loving Men or a Queers Loving Queers for those who don't identify with one gender or Trans Loving Trans? After all, we all have issues that we want to talk about, don't we?

I'm just worried that we risk alienating others in the community if we focus on only one group, which I'm guessing is maybe part of the motivation for Women Loving Women, to make the women feel more included. There's been so much talk about making the community more inclusive and representative of everyone but it doesn't seem to me that much has been done to make it happen. Let's start by showing that we are looking for ways to make those who feel separated from the community more included. I know it's impossible to please everyone, but I feel like we can at least show that we're trying.


  1. Great post, AJ. The bringing up of "what about people who subscribe to 'neither' gender throws me for a loop and adds a really interesting dimension to the discussion. True inclusivity is coming up on the blog, a lot, and more and more in discussions I'm having with other people. From the male perspective, there's a hesitation of those who feel they don't fit the stereotype, and how they perceive (predict, really) the men in the community to act. There's a whole discussion that could be had on this and whether this is a legitimate (accurate) concern or not, but I'm getting off topic.

    What I want to point out is that I think the WLW and Mondays with Ellen programs are necessary community builders in order to level the playing field (as best we can) and develop the queer woman population here. I think it's dangerous thing to suggest a MLM group - it's a false parallel. It's the same faulty logic inherent in asking why there isn't a Center for White Culture or a Men's Center on campus ("Well, there are, but we just call them 'All of Duke University'" -Risa). A group for GBTQetc men of color on campus is a different thing, though, and I'd be for that 100%. This is something that a lot of large schools have (including UNC, I think).

    But I think it's important to have special groups for marginalized demographics only.

    And groups for trans or genderqueer, etc students should be implemented. But I don't think we could have even considered these until now. You know? You remember what the community was like your first year #tumbleweeds. Could you imagine how quickly group suggestions like this would just be immediately dismissed as idealistic impossibilities? And how that would kind of be a legitimate dismissal at the time?

    I think more credit needs to be given to how we got to this critical mass where we can even have conversations about sexism or inclusivity in the LGBT community. Even just in the past year you can see the conversation on the blog shift dramatically from coming out stories and very base level discussions to "What about those who don't conform to a certain gender? What do those who are trans get?" and "The use of extreme and militant tactics may now be not only antiquated, but counter productive." Whether this is a Good Shift or not considering what the blog is supposed to be is debatable (what would a closeted first-year see when they first stumbled on the site? Would these uberintellectual columns be intimidating or what they're looking for/need?) but regardless it's testament to a huge maturation and paradigm shift within the out community here. Again, this leads to stratification of outness on campus and a possibility of leaving those at stage 1 behind, but on another level how cool is this? There is nothing wrong with this shift, but how we approach activism, advocacy, education and safe space needs to adapt accordingly.

    And this is what you're talking about here. I would just add this framing to it.

  2. Christopher/Risa,

    Love this ^^

    AJ, I think it's a great idea to have an LGBTQ group focused on people of color, but if it's actually an idea-idea and not a fleeting thought, you should be very careful about it. People who are so marginalized are less and less willing to come out, although Duke's got AMAZING publicity.

    We're trying to kick up our COLORS group at UNC, but it rarely gets and recognition because it's always so small and the leadership has never been able to establish a stable time. Talk to Phillip R. and UNC and try to get some framework for it. Best of luck!

  3. I see what you're saying Chris but I think that's a slippery slope itself. I mean, how do we designate which groups are marginalized (and even get into some long philosophical discussion on maybe how one group is more marginalized than the other)? I think there's a difference in gay males being more prevalent in the community and actually having a sense of community between gay males. I think groups like WLW help women get a better sense of the community while the men are just kinda expected to feel that sense of community because we are so prevalent in the community. But that doesn't happen. I know that I, for one, actually don't feel much of a sense of community between other gay males on campus. I think something similar to WLW could help that. For example, what you mentioned about gay males buying into stereotypes would be a great topic for an all-male-identified discussion group or something similar.

    I'm just worried that there will arise a sense of some groups within the community not needing a space to discuss it because I think that leads to that group actually being marginalized. I guess I see it as more of a circle: If we have groups for marginalized groups, those groups that aren't deemed marginalized could possibly feel marginalized and excluded from the rest of the community. This would then create the need for special group for those people because they would then be marginalized.

    I have no idea if that made any sense but yeah. I just think it's something we can work on.

  4. I love your concerns, and I think with the more visible leaders we have, the closer we get to making these things happen.

    In reference to lgbtq people of color, it is also a huge concern of mine. So many of us know of/about those folks around campus, but one thing I noticed about our magazine was that there were few women of color willing to send in photos of themselves, or even to write with their real name and not anonymously.

    There is a HUGE visibility gap for people of color, and I respect those who really put themselves out there.

    Listen, AJ, if there's a group you want to get going, as hard as it can be, just know that it WILL start small, but if you can get it off the ground, I know it will create positive energy for others to join. It may make sense to meet with students from UNC and other triangle schools and then see what happens.

    If you want to brainstorm ideas at all or create an action plan, I am more than willing to hear you out and bounce ideas around, even if it's something that I can't technically be a part of (if it was a group for gay men of color, for example). Sometimes the hardest part is getting past the conversation phase and into action.

  5. If people, be they male, female or neither, don't feel close to other people in the community, then the answer is to create more small meetings, events, and groups that bring people together in an intimate way. The answer isn't to create more groups that separate gay men from women.

    If people want closeness, then we need to encourage interpersonal bonding and connections between everyone in the community. Events like Fab Friday are great, but they don't necessarily facilitate that kind of interaction. We need more events with the attributes of WLW--not the gender exclusivity attribute (which is important for WLW for its own separate reasons)--but the other attributes, like its intimacy, privacy, closeness, small group size, safe conversation,s etc. These are the things that breed comfort and therefore allow relationships to form.

    Creating an event like Men Loving Men would not connect men to women and would just create another needless separation between men and women in the community. Sometimes, separation is an important thing--I think AJ makes a valid point in saying that we could use a group for people of color. But for men? Instead of separation, I think what we need is a set of inclusive events that encourage men to think of themselves as part of a community of men AND women--events that make gay men feel closely bonded to the women and less likely to have sexist thoughts.

  6. Brandon Storm (pseudonym)November 26, 2010 at 2:01 AM

    In my honest opinion, I believe that there should be a Men Loving Men group, there's a difference between leveling the playing field and developing both men and women groups. We should not stunt the development of males in the community just so women can be "equally represented." That is the equivalent of "No Child Left Behind," which stunted the development of advanced kids to have the impresssion that poorer children were catching up. That is the dangerous precedent set up by not having the Men Loving Men group.

    Regardless of the sexism in the community, gay men are still a marginalized group. Hence, suggesting a MLM group in no way can suggest that their could be a CCenter for White Culture" or Men's Center, as Chris claimed. Frankly, the LGBT community is not a separate paradise from the rest of the Duke community. If it were, then that precedent is valid.

    Yes, we need to address the sexism in the commmunity, as a gay male I have unfortunately observed this. However, we should not stunt the other groups as well. Also, I do like the "LGBT of color group," considering that many African-Americans are as socially conservative as Republicans despite being on the political left.

    In conclusion,to not allow a Men Loving Men group is based on the idea that the community is separate from the rest of Duke, rather than being aware of reality: Gay men are still marginalized. But, along with this, sexism in the community must be addressed with communities, as the author "s" pointed out.

  7. Hey AJ! Thanks for writing this on the blog. It got pushed down towards the bottom, so I'm just seeing it now.

    I agree with Summer and Chris on this one. I'm obviously SUPER biased as one of the previous editors of WOMYN, and someone who attends WLW regularly. However, that being said, I don't see WLW as somehow exclusionary or WOMYN as overlooking the gay men. The reason being, and this echoes earlier sentiments, is that "Men Loving Men" would come from just that-men, and by default, a position of great power within the LGBT community that women have never, ever had.

    Look at HRC, for example. They claim to be a group that represents the entire LGBTQ community, but where are the women? Where are the trans individuals? Seemingly mising. I went to the OUBC conference, and it was completely male-run, and most panelists were all-male. Essentially, women get overlooked again, and again, and again....

    It's not that we're excluding men, it's simply that we're putting an extra emphasis on our outreach to women, through student groups like WOMYN. If someone said that by focusing on LGBTQ people of color, we were excluding white people, that would sound sort of weird. White people have always been included-by default of white privilege. In fact, this would just be an outrageous imbalance of power-creating a powerful group from a position of power and privilege? I understand that gay men in the greater community at large are not in a position of power-there is universal discrimination against the LGBTQ community regardless of gender. Nevertheless, within the community, men have to acknowledge that they are speaking from a position of power.

    Like what Summer said, if we're not doing a good job as a community reaching out to men, let's fix that. WOMYN was student-driven, and not an entity of the Center. It came out of a result of women basically saying, "We feel so excluded! And we can't (and won't) be overlooked on this campus anymore!)" If men feel there are disinctly male issues to address-let's address them! I'd support these events too. =)

    As for LGBTQ individuals of color-yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I think this is more of what you're driving at in your piece, and I think this is the argument we need to focus on. I am painfully aware of this. I can't say it any other way: I think we need more outreach to individuals of color within our LGBTQ community (and Duke in general?). If there was an initiative for LGBTQ individuals of color within our community, I'd be behind that 110%.

    This was long-but the bottom line is that if someone is coming from a position of power (within a specific group, like the G in the LGBTQ), then you'll have to acknowledge that male privilege. Just like I acknowledge my white privilege, and accept that I don't need outreach based on my race (almost every media/mainstream event does this anyway!), then I accept accountability for my privilege.

    I really appreciate this discussion. It's not fun, and it's uncomfortable, but I'm glad we're talking about tough issues. Also, consider talking with Janie about specific outreach for LGBTQ people of color. I think a dialogue on that this semester would be well attended.

  8. I wonder if, rather than trying to lump all gay men together into a MLM group, it might be more helpful to create spaces for queer gamers, or queer sports fans, or queer writers, or other interest-related themes. Or, not exactly an interest but resources for queer folks of the same religion to get together. Basically, situations where you're united not only by sexuality.

    I feel that women, people of color, and trans people in the community are still at the stage of needing to all get in the room together and have it confirmed that were not the only ones in the universe going through this (so I am in favor of these kinds of groups happening too, especially for folks of color!) but for gay men (correct me if I'm wrong) you've met a lot of other gay men-- you just may not be very close to them. Or rather, the standard center events serve that need, of putting you in a room with gay men and saying, "you're not the only one!" but that's not all you want from the center.

    Having topic-focused events might also help make "non-stereotypical gays" feel like they had a place in the center (scare quotes because everybody is a person, not a stereotype, even if we seem stereotypical sometimes).

    This is obviously an ideal world where we all had the time and energy (and money) to do everything but, well, I've always been a firm believer in dreaming big and expecting more.

  9. I think something important is that people come from different past experiences with the Community and how these historical differences need to be considered in developing programming for LGBT people.

    I know there are some people who grew up knowing other queer people, having queer-friendly social outlets, were comfortably coming out, had queer role models, etc.

    My experience wasn't quite like that. Growing up in a small Southern town in a strongly Catholic family and not knowing any gay people in my high school, I definitely didn't see myself holding any privilege within a larger LGBT community because I didn't know that such a community existed.

    When I got to college (not Duke, but a similarly well regarded southern school), I stayed in the closet for the first two years because I had a hard time feeling like there were other gay men like me, who came from backgrounds in which openness and queerness were not necessarily the most welcomed attributes.

    Having an event with other queer men could have been a very positive thing for me and other men who were still figuring things out. For example, I've heard very positive things about Delta Lambda Phi, a social fraternity with an emphasis on gay men. Having spaces that show the plurality of masculinities within the gay community can be very positive.

    I don't think it's about denying privilege or ignoring the problems of other groups, and I certainly don't want to make it about playing Oppression Olympics with other members of the LGBT community. But gay males are often portrayed in a very specific way in popular media, and it's wonderful to see the diversity that exists within even the G part of the LGBT community.

    Just my two cents as a gay guy.