Matthew Henry Smith ’16
Woah. How are we already here? How are we already in late July? These days we expect news, and interpretations of news, at a moment’s notice. With the Zimmerman trial nearly to the point of becoming old news, and issues like drones headed for our mental archives, I am curious as to how we function with our current news system. I am curious if we should be satisfied with an advocacy system that seems to terminate in legal action.
Speaking of old news, it has taken me this much time and contemplation to come up with a bloggable response to the DOMA ruling. Initially, my attitude was, “Great. Now let’s move right along.” I had been driven absolutely up the wall by “queer liberationists” who had opposed marriage equality. I was desperate to jump right into the next great legal battle for social justice, pick my fights over the Trayvon Martin case, and push for legislation to protect those who are transgendered.
But then I paused, and before I wrote anything, I thought for weeks. I spoke with friends, people far smarter than me, and began to think of everything differently. This is what I have come up with.
I am thinking that while it’s fabulous that the law has been changed, I am concerned that we are making the same mistake we made with battling racial inequality as we now battle queer inequality. Legally speaking (in regards to race) we slayed a hydra thinking it was a dragon. Decades later, myriad heads have grown back in place of the first, and we are contending with the overruling of the voting rights act, affirmative action under fire and many, many other race related issues.
How do our responses to queer oppression and hate crimes indicate our actual location on the road to equality? It’s a question that requires research, scholarly articles, bibliographies and dissertations. But as a queer person, let me offer you some of my perspective. Queer people have suffered in imperceptible ways because of an ideological divide in how to make a difference in our own lives. Ignorance lurks even in aspects of our social culture that are seemingly accepting; television’s concept of the concept of “the gay best friend” is detrimental to the construction of an ideologically liberated society.
Our response has been inconsistent. Society has targeted the symptoms of queer oppression with media messages that say, “If you are gay, it’s ok.” That’s a welcome message, but it is a message that treats a symptom of queer oppression rather than the source of queer oppression. The fact that this statement is necessary indicates that there is a source issue. We should instead be addressing the majority (heterosexual/cisgender) population, which suffers from the mental illnesses of heterosexism and homophobia, and our media message should read, “It isnot ok to be ignorant to the multiplicity and plurality of gender and sexual identities.”
I’m queer and I still lower my voice when I say words like “gay” or “lesbian” in public for fear of disturbing the tranquil equilibrium of those around me who may have some socially defensible “traditional” views. It’s a symptom of a heterosexist society.
And, frankly, we are still a society who will generally lower our voices in the same way when we use specific words like “black” or “Asian” as adjectives in public conversation. Heck, even private conversation.
Now Friars, what should you take away from this post?
Essentially, if we don’t make clear changes in our social structure then there is no reason so assume that heterosexist laws won’t be introduced at the federal level in the future. We are putting another awkward extension on the back of an old house instead of building a new home big enough for all of us.
So, we need to demand better media representation for our complicated world, and we need to have the bravery to speak frankly.
Remember that it is easy to let the quest for justice to become a limitless cycle of critical complaint. We must bear in mind diligence, a virtue that pushes an activist further than legal action: to a level of devotion that does not allow for any jaded philosophies or behaviors.
Do not accept legal or legislative action as the apex of social justice. Righteous indignation is a powerful feeling. It’s what fuels picket lines, boycotts, and occupations. If we don’t channel our righteous indignation, and master it, it can be detrimental to our ends.
Try not to forget about old news. Don’t stop talking about drones because of DOMA. Don’t stop talking about Zimmerman because of the Royal Baby. And please: stop talking about the royal baby.
The Gordian Knot of the human struggle for equality can be totally solved by neither violent uprisings by the uniquely courageous, nor laws signed by the uniquely powerful. Rather by a concerted effort by everyone in their own way. The solution is equal parts conversation, demonstration and legislation, and entirely educational.
In conclusion, if we let a newly enacted law be the final word on a social justice issue, it certainly will not be.