Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Support from a friend

A couple of days ago I received the following message from my friend Sara Nimis of Georgetown University. With her permission, I am posting it below.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
On July 8, 2012 9:14:57 PM PDT, Sara Nimis wrote:

Dear Uri,

I have been following the story of your arrest on facebook, and I wanted to extend my support to you. I have been sort of chewing over the negative reactions of other GLBT activists to what happened, and I thought I would share my thoughts (take them or leave them).

First of all, I think that what you did is a completely acceptable form of civil disobedience, the same kind that has been used effectively by many earlier activists for civil rights: you put your personal self in the face of a functionary who is “just doing their job” by upholding a discriminatory law. By doing this you force that person to think about that law. You present them with the choice to uphold it or to join you in standing against it. You are forcing them to move from being a passive tool of the unfair law, or to take the risk of showing some kind of ethical solidarity with you, taking that risk with you.

The response of the nurse to the very interesting professional dilemma with which you presented her is really quite shocking to me, perhaps because I am identified as “straight” and so have never experienced this type of violent criminalization against mere presence in a place where same-sex intercourse has been cast as a threat to the general welfare.

Her reaction--to me--is nothing less than stunning evidence of the kind of hypocricy and violence that is at the heart of this law you are opposing. That she resorted to calling the police in the first place is evidence of the desire to criminalize forms of sexuality that do not conform to her idea of “normal”. That she lied in order to have you arrested is evidence of her awareness that the law is not on her side in this issue, and that her discrimination is excessive and illegal, further implicating her as a violent bigot.

What is even more stunning to me is the response of GLBT advocates to the situation. To me, no dedicated professional can ever hide behind the claim that they have no say in the unjust laws that they enact. If she was a poor working single mom and not a bigot, she could have said, “I’m really sorry, I agree that the law is wrong, but I can’t take your blood. It could cost me my job.” If she truly believed that you represented a danger, she could have had a civil conversation with you: maybe she would have learned something. Someone committed to your cause could have stood said, “I am going to take your blood, and if they fire me for it, I will sue them.” These are precisely the kinds of actions that lead to the overturning of unfair laws.

So why do these supposed advocates choose to attack you (and viciously!)? What about you is so very threatening to them? I think this points to something in the GLBT advocacy culture that I find deeply disturbing. The GLBT rhetoric is dominated by issues that have at their heart the protection of white male privilege among upper middle class gay males. Specifically, discussions of gay marriage focus on how gay men can meet up with all of the WASP standards of social acceptability: monogamy, church-goingness, and financial success. This was what bothered me about the following video:

My concern with this discourse is that accepting gay men who are exactly like straight men except in the bedroom somehow allows everyone to pat themselves on the back for being so progressive without having to deal with very real issues about the places in our society where people’s actual lives are at risk or turned upside-down because of their sexual expression.

I feel like the harsh attacks on you come from a fear that you are messing with the don’t-rock-the-boat approach of this movement. They would have you say: I have no intention of messing with your fascist institutions as long as you let me join the country club.

In many ways, this approach supports the mechanisms that undermine the welfare of LGBT people who don’t share their privilege, and who, in fact, would be better served if the country club and the institutions that support it were burned to the ground. People of means and influence (Mary Cheney for example) have the luxury to ignore the plight of LGBT people who suffer in places like where you and I live, where law enforcement works with local actors to create a de facto criminalization, through lies and coverups, of being gay in the public space.

Anyone who believes that that woman was not a violent bigot actively working to punish people for not expressing sexually in the same way that she does is living in a dream world where every gay household is in a gated community paid for by two three-figure incomes.

I believe that people like you, who come from a background of dealing with issues of sexuality as fully integrated into other oppressive discourses of class, gender, ethnicity, nationalism, and religious authority could bring a much broader vision to this movement as it is presently constituted in the US.

That is my two cents, anyway.

I wish you the very best, and I hope that you are not discouraged by those who are merely seeking acceptance by the existing order, rather than its radical reconfiguration.

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