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.
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