Tolerance and Acceptance Goes Both Ways: A Response to “The Mean Girls of Morehouse College”

It’s hard being in the minority.

It’s hard being the only black person in a classroom or the workplace.  It’s hard being the only woman on a board of directors or sitting on a pulpit rostrum.  This is because our societal psychology dictates that we fall back on stereotypical extrapolation to understand people: the only black person in the classroom speaks for the other 37,000,000 other blacks in the country; that one female represents the nearly 3,000,000,000 other females in the world.  This places an unnatural amount of pressure on those that find themselves in the minority population where they feel that they have to perform at a certain level just to maintain the appearance being equal to the predominant cultural setting.  Blacks in this country have been inculcated with the mantra “you gotta do twice as well just to get half as far” which basic mathematics means blacks are required to exert four times as much work just be on par with white counterparts.

Well today, we can add members of the LGBT community, particularly a sub-group known as “gender-benders.”

On Monday, October 11, Vibe.com dropped an anticipated article simply entitled “The Mean Girls of Morehouse” which attempted at being an indepth article about “gender-benders” or to be descriptive, men who dress in women’s clothing for the sake of being androgynous.  Others would call them transvestites: men who dress in women’s clothing.

Naturally, the story went viral between Facebook and Twitter and the blogosphere.

When I finished the article I felt as though I was just ambivalent as to how to really feel as those young men were androgynous about their sexuality.  So as I forced myself to think about it a bit more, I reasoned that discrimination in any form ought to be rejected.  That told me that randomly calling out “faggot” to someone on campus is inappropriate should be met with disciplinary actions.

Whew. That was easy enough. Case closed. Right?

Well, not exactly.

Morehouse President Dr. Robert Michael Frankling

After reading what Morehouse president Dr. Robert Michael Franklin wrote dated October 9 assailing the title of the Vibe article for “sensationalism” and writing that its “unfortunate that the Vibe article will heighten misunderstandings and advance or inform little,” I realised that what’s at issue is certainly deeper than what this Vibe.com article will ever be able to wrap their mind around.

First of all we need to see this as discriminatory practices meted out on a private campus. That’s a mindset that needs to be changed.  Yes, because it’s a private campus they’re allowed to do it, but just because you’re allowed to do something doesn’t make it morally or ethically acceptable.  This is why I emphatically disagreed with the implication of the dress code on their campus.  Harping on Victorian and Eurocentric ideals of morality and ethical social norms will not cut it in the black community that is steadily moving into the 21st century.  Creating clear black and white demarcations does nothing to deal with the everyday shades of gray that most of us operate and function.

What it does is create the “other.”

The “other” is always on the outside and relegated to the margins.  The dress codes creates in the mind of the student, be it at Morehouse or any other private or parochial school, that because you don’t wear our uniform you are the “other” and that we are the standard bearer.  It creates a superiority complex.  Therefore, if I were to go to Morehouse, for the sake of argument, I have the right to look down on someone who wears a doo-rag or sags their pants, and in this case, I’m allowed to look at a gay person one of these young men who wears women’s clothing and call them “faggot.”  Ultimately, I’m justified in doing so because the school helped create a climate, be it explicitly or implicitly, that designated those individuals as having “other” status.

The straight men on campus need to come to grips that people are going to be people and yelling out “faggot” in a lunch room is unacceptable behavior and should be worthy of disciplinary action. This is where Dr. Franklin’s letter is lacking.  This invective at initial read pushes diversity and calls for better journalism on behalf of Vibe.com (to which I can’t hardly disagree with), but it does not castigate the abhorrent behavior of other men of Morehouse who feel comfortable to yell out “faggot” in a lunch room or across the yard.  Franklin seems more worried about the image of the school in the eyes of black elites, rather than the toll of such discrimination from current, former and soon to be Morehouse students.

The sticky part comes where ( yes I’m doing some major speculation based on my own experiences in undergrad) the gender benders of this subgroup within the larger LGBT community need to understand that their lifestyle isn’t going to always be accepted.  It’s hard to hear that, but its reality.  I didn’t understand that until I had a similar experience this past weekend driving downtown to celebrate my birthday.  We got caught in traffic on Roosevelt Rd. and Lake Shore Drive as the USA and Poland soccer match was letting out.  Sitting in the car in bumper to bumper traffic as people were walking down the sidewalk away from Soldier Field like a constant stream of milky cream leaking from a cracked bowl.  And with the windows down on a warm October night, we heard one guy donning the Polish flag blatantly yell out “FUCK OBAMA!”  I could have jumped out the car and chased him down and tried to get in a fight, but I didn’t.  I was powerless to change what that random person said to me, and there was nothing I could do about making him take back what he said.  Through that lens I interpret being called a “faggot” or even if a black person being called a “nigger” we’re all faced with a choice of how do we choose to handle it.  We all wish that we could make the other person see past the outside, but in those moments we can’t.  And probably whatever our initial response would be probably would land us in jail.

But by the same token, to me, that means one ought not do things that openly provoke people to give a response. I’m not at all saying it’s an issue of attire, but, I watched the gay men at my undergrad campus, who dressed in women’s clothing and carried purses, I watched them openly make passes at straight guys and make vulgar comments toward straight dudes on campus and then be ready for a fight when one of the dudes would make a disparaging comment towards them.  Look, as a black man, I’m black and there’s nothing I can do to change my skin color.  Granted gay persons do have the privilege of changing their attire to reflect their sexuality, but just as a black man I don’t go around white folks intentionally trying to pick a racial fight, I don’t think gay males, androgynous or not, should be going around searching for an interaction just for the sake of attention.

Yes, we all want attention.  Granted, some attention is more socially acceptable than other kinds, but its attention nonetheless.  If I do something to get attention, its because I want positive attention.  I wouldn’t do something that purposely would cause someone to call me a “nigger” and my guess would be that no gay person would do something that would intentionally elicit being called a “faggot,” but I saw gay guys at my undergrad intentionally say things and do things that would undoubtedly cause negative attention.  It’s one thing to be a martyr and do for the sake of equality and justice, but then there’s just clearly the attention whore: one who will sell themselves short and cheaply just for the sake of someone paying you attention.

This issue gets really sticky and confusing because, without trying to sensationalize this issue, fact remains that often times these straight men on the HBCU campus are knocking on the dorm room doors of the gay guys late at night and having sexual encounters–they play straight during the day, but during the night it’s a different story.  And these same gay guys are running around with these secrets, and naturally they’re offended when they hear the straight guys make discriminatory comments or casually throw around the word “fag” or “faggot” like it’s a tennis ball lobbing back and forth on a court.

To be blunt, however, as one young man from this article is quote as saying “And I don’t know why a Morehouse man can’t become a woman,” I simply want to ask, then what’s your purpose for going to Morehouse?  If there’s a social and political martyrdom reason behind it perhaps I could at least understand it.  But, I can’t help but wonder are you doing this for the sake of the greater good of humanity or just because you can.  If it’s the latter then its no wonder that the dissonance within the LGBT community just at Morehouse alone is at odds with each other.  That seems that you want attention for the sake of wanting attention, which for me isn’t even an issue about sexuality or gender roles, but boils down to basic self-esteem and self-image issues.  Which could stem from any number of unresolved issues from childhood and forward.

That is what lead me to believe that tolerance and acceptance goes both ways.

Just as much as the young men who felt that it was appropriate and acceptable to call someone else a faggot may need a session on sensitivity, I think some in the LGBT community could learn as well.  Yes, being called a name hurts, and hurts to the core of your being, retaliating with violence is not the answer as well.

 

 

The above clip is what not to do from both parties involved.  One should not be making disparaging remarks at customers, and the customers should NOT be attacking a staff with two-by-fours and damaging private property.

I think this where the golden rule applies to those within the LGBT community and those who are not.  Both sides need to recognize that there is the common link of humanity that exists between us all.  This article seems to be more interested in how many times one of the interviewees says “turn it,” and what clothes they had on rather than attempt to spark dialogue about the situation at hand.  President Franklin was right about the article coming off as sensationalism, but it still did broach a subject that we don’t discuss often.  To be fair I’m sure it was not Vibe.com’s intent to write a hard news story or to do an expose piece.  This was a human interest story that told about the lives of four young men trying to figure life as best they know how, something that all of us can understand.  I doubt it was the intent of the article to try and address even half of what I discussed in this blog piece, but nonetheless, these are issues that were raised in my head as I read the article.

The problem that minorities face is balancing the tension between retribution and reconciliation.  Retribution at the core is a role reversal making the oppressor pay for their past sins and grievances and is much more of a basic concept to envision and to establish.  Reconciliation, on the other hand, establishes a common ground and allows both parties, the victim and the victor or the oppressed and the oppressor to exist as equals.  History has shown that retributive forms of justice dominate more so than distributive or restorative forms of justice exhibited through reconciliation.  Reconciliation is much harder, because the victim or the oppressed often feel as though justice has not been fully meted out.  Its the searing pain that one wants the oppressor to feel exactly how it feels to be abused, mistreated and taken advantage of for no logical reason other than because they could!

This article is directed at both groups lest a reader believe that I’m coming off as anti-gay: those in the LGBT community who have experienced bigotry first hand and those who have spewed their venom at gay persons like a cobra about to go in for a kill bite.  Both sides have a ways to go.  Everything isn’t a gay issue.  That’s just fact. By the same token, everyone else needs to understand that a life perspective that includes the point of view of someone who is gay is just as valid as anyone else’s point of view.  To that end, this article was needed: it told the story of uniquely marginalized  individuals.

We’re all human, so let’s act like it.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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5 responses to “Tolerance and Acceptance Goes Both Ways: A Response to “The Mean Girls of Morehouse College”

  1. Don’t take this the wrong way but honestly, you seem to be trivializing the conflict between the LGBT community and Morehouse college, and to some extents the struggles they face in America.

    “But by the same token, to me, that means one ought not do things that openly provoke people to give a response. ”

    To me, this statement just says accept the BS you’re gonna get in life and understand that life’s not fair” You mention a more passive attitude towards conflict where you say you want to draw positive attention towards yourself.

    One of my heroes, Alan Turing, one of the legends in computer science took his life in the 1950s because of how society responded to his homosexuality. I imagine that there are so many issues going on inside the mind of a homosexual person in America, that telling them to kinda just accept it and move on cause you can’t change everybody’s mind.

    But I imagine that that very cause is what makes some people able to get through their day. I do not know for sure because the most I can relate it to is in terms of my own motivation for waking up and encountering the challenges I know I will face on a daily basis.

    But in order for me to feel at peace with myself, when I see a circumstance that I disagree with, I feel an impulse to do something. Its not always a direct conflict, but it sometimes is. Its not always what I would in hindsight view as ‘the correct action’. But these are actions that help me sleep at night, and hopefully let others like me know that they are not alone.

    In your piece you seem to trivially accept that the homosexuals who pick fights are “the bad guy” and thus their actions should not be accepted. This is a concept I really disagree with. You speak in the general, so I can’t comment on particulars, but I’d imagine that there is a lot more going on behind these incidents – things like frustration with the systems of exclusion set up by society, particular people on campus who may have be homophobic, or in the closet, or just a message of letting others know that they are not alone.

    The last thing I wanted to mention was the question you ask of “what’s your purpose of going to Morehouse?” It should be understood that Morehouse does more than just make policies that are discriminatory towards gays. Morehouse is also one of the top academic institutions in the world, particularly at educating Black men. Just because a person is homosexual doesn’t mean they can’t be a top computer scientist the world has ever seen. I mean, Alan Turing has proven that. And I would hope that had he gone to Morehouse, he would not be inundated with questions of “why are you here” because of his lifestyle. Any time we choose a school, a place to live, a place to work, we have to deal with a balance of likes and dislikes.

    But please don’t take this comment the wrong way. I’m a regular reader of your blog and I’m pretty thankful that this article got me out of bed this morning.

    • @ Charles

      Thanks for your comment.

      I figured a couple of one-liners in this blog piece would be misconstrued. No matter how much I castigated Morehouse for their social conservatism, no matter how much I would say the use of the word “faggot” is wrong, no matter how much I would say any of those things, just the mere hint of saying that an individual should take some personal responsibility for their actions comes off as being anti-LGBT. And for you, you’re saying I’m trivializing it.

      Per the one-liner you quoted, it’s pulled out of context as though I support passive behavior and that no one should ever fight for change in a society that hates change and moving forward. I think that’s unfair to read that one quote as such. In fact I WAS trivializing the situation at Morehouse and the LGBT community primarily because that’s what the article was specifically written about, and I’d rather talk about LGBT relations on Morehouse campus or at best, an HBCU campus because that’s what I know. My thoughts and opinions found in this article are not reflective, nor intended to be reflective of the wider community.

      You again took my “what’s the purpose of going to Morehouse?” out of context. Again, that one-liner standing on it’s on makes no sense, but the previous lines set it up to understand that one-liner in the context of a man wanting to be woman–what’s the purpose of going to Morehouse? And that’s more than a fair question. With Morehouse being one of the few all male colleges in the country, I am very curious as to why would a man who desires to be a woman want to attend Morehouse College.

      Again, I thank you for your continued readership, but if you continue to be bothered by one-liners taken wholly out of context, then I think that’s unfair on your part: you’re not being fair to my authorial intent, but above all, you’re picking and choosing unfairly just to make a point that substantiates your POV that makes you the good guy and me the bad guy.

      • I’m not looking for good guys and bad guys at all. I just saw an article that I thought you put a lot of time into it, but which I disagree with on those levels. Its not that I’m “purposely” taking your words out of context, but when I read the article, thats the sentiment I got from it. I feel like this is a very important issue at Morehouse, in HBCUs, and in America in general, and so my comment was meant to continue your dialog on the topic by letting you know how it made me feel. I tried to do so in a civilized form of discourse where I stated where I disagreed with you and the logic behind my disagreement.

        Where I disagree with you is in what you think we should do in situations where we meet people who disagree with us. Maybe a guy screaming “FUCK OBAMA” isn’t enough to rifle your feathers, but I’m sure it does rifle somebody’s feathers, and it seems that you state how anybody should handle this situation:

        “Through that lens I interpret being called a “faggot” or even if a black person being called a “nigger” we’re all faced with a choice of how do we choose to handle it. We all wish that we could make the other person see past the outside, but in those moments we can’t. And probably whatever our initial response would be probably would land us in jail.”

        Who is to say we can’t make the other person see? In my opinion thats what this whole movement is about, not just LGBT rights, but womens rights, civil rights, disability rights, workers rights, etc. Its all about finding a way of making a society that on the norm doesn’t give a damn and is fine as things are, about making them give a damn. For some people its acting like Radio Raheem and getting a boom box playing Public Enemy. For others its having marches and rallies. Some resort to even more extreme means (things that may put us in jail). Sometimes these things work, but other times they just rifle the feathers of those whose minds they were trying to change. But a major point behind a revolution and a movement is finding the means to take it from just an idea in your head to a reality.

        And I stand by my statement about there being many reasons for them wanting to go to Morehouse, including following in the legacy of many who came before them. There are a lot of more complicated answers to this question, like issues regarding gender identity, influence factors from family members, religious aspects such as churches that try to un-gay somebody.

        My problem, though, with the phrasing of the question both initially and in your restatement is that by simply asking the question, “a man wanting to be a woman – what’s the purpose of going to Morehouse”, and not trying to answer it yourself, you let the reader fill in the blank, or not fill in the blank if they choose, in which case, again the “man wanting to be a woman” becomes the object of inspection (if he’s lucky) or the object of humiliation, sarcasm, and teasing (if he’s not so lucky). So my problem isn’t that you asked the question. I appreciate that. I just wish that you would have also attempted to answer this question, and hopefully open some eyes on the topic.

      • @ Charles

        Well, I’m quite clear that there are some approaches that I dsagree with when it comes to pushing the civil rights and human rights issue. Frankly, I don’t agree with the radio Raheem approach, he was just as stubborn as Sal and he ended up dead–BUt I understand where it came from. My question about a man who wants to be a woman enrolling at Morehouse, personally, I’m just not convinced that there are purely altruistic motivations behind it. Even if I don’t agree with the approach, I can understand the reason behind doing what you’re doing. But, um, if such an individual wants to attend Morehouse for the sake of being famous and to the personal aggrandizement of their self, I totally disagree with that!

        That being said, I’m all for human rights, but not everyone is going to accept everyone. What I’m in favor of is equal protection under the law. You don’t have to like me, nor love me, BUT, dammit because I’m human I am entitled to all of the same human rights and libertites as everyone else.

        And my honest answer is that a man who wants to be a woman shouldn’t go to Morehouse. I could care less about the men who still identify as male wearing purses and high heels, but to be a woman at Morehouse is a concept I don’t understand and don’t agree with.

  2. Oh thrill, another fingerwagging session at how the gays ought to act. I don’t think it’s that you don’t understand “men wanting to be women at Morehouse”. You don’t understand drag, gender illusion, “gender benders”, “crossdressers”, etc.

    Welcome to 2010. There’s no excuse for literate people who still make it a point to misapprehend the basics.

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