To the blond guy at 5th & Harrison, 8:40pm, today
Thank you. Thank you for having my back, even though you probably felt a bit awkward about it. Maybe you felt like you should’ve said something, come to my defense, but honestly? Just the fact that you were there, watching, alert, making yourself visible to the douchebag who was all “what, can’t I look at your legs?” and when I said “uh, no” was all “oh I see how it is, you’d rather have a LADY look at your legs, right? Amiright? fucking San Francisco” and kept harassing me, so that he’d know that if he tried anything with me, you would do something about it. I don’t know, I think you did exactly the right thing. If you’d said anything, if you’d stepped in to defend me verbally, I mean that would’ve been fine but honestly I was glad to use my own voice to defend myself, to tell the guy to fuck off. You let me stick up for myself, but also subtly let me know that I wasn’t alone. And then you got on the 47, and a few minutes later I got on the 12, and that was that.
So, thank you. In this city, you’d be surprised how often people just look the other way when that shit happens, and you’d probably be even more surprised to know that even a small gesture from a stranger makes a world of difference.
The other night, I attended a volunteer orientation for the Frameline queer film festival. (You get a voucher to see a film for every volunteer shift you take.) There were probably a hundred fellow volunteers, and most of them were men. But when the volunteer coordinator stepped up to address us, I was surprised – because the volunteer coordinator was a woman. A queer woman. As in, asymmetrical haircut, half a shaved head, totally tatted, hip young San Francisco queer woman. And after a few moments of being surprised, I became perplexed, because after all, it is a queer film festival. So why the surprise at the volunteer coordinator being a queer dyke?
It reminded me of the feeling I got when I first visited my women’s college campus as a junior in high school. Until I visited, I had been pretty vehemently opposed to attending a women’s college. I had thought it would lack diversity (which in retrospect seems laughable). But when I visited, I was suddenly struck – wow, this all exists for the education of women. The male professors and campus police and facilities staff etc., despite being men, were working at an institution that educated women. Women matter! Holy shit! And it dawned on me that it had been so internalized in me that women don’t matter that I was actually surprised and delighted to be confronted with evidence to the contrary.
And I got the same feeling at the very first Dyke March I ever attended in San Francisco, in 2006. I was with my ex-girlfriend at the time, and I remember holding her hand, processing down Valencia, feeling giddy from all the solidarity and empowerment I felt, due in no small part to the fact that there were gay men hanging out of windows, waving rainbow flags and hoisting banners that read “FAGS <3 DYKES” and the like. And I was all, “omg! Gay men love us! They care! Whoaaaaa!”
And somehow I got the same feeling while at this orientation – because here was a group consisting largely of middle-aged-ish white gay men and they were all paying attention to this queer-as-fuck dyke, who, by the way, was absolutely hilarious and cute and rocked her job. I felt somehow vicariously visible. And it struck me again, as it did at my first Dyke March and when I first visited my women’s college, that I’m so accustomed to women being invisible to men in any way that’s not sexual. And it’s so consistently ingrained in women that we’re only useful to men as sexual objects that it surprises me every time I find myself in a situation in which I’m being genuinely appreciated, as a woman (or in which women in general are being genuinely appreciated), by a man for a non-sexual reason. And it makes me wish that it would happen more often. Not just to me, on an individual level, but publicly, and in media, and in culture-at-large.
You see, gay men and gay women are natural “bedmates” (har har).* We are among the few combinations of adult human beings that (in general) have a non-romantic/non-sexual connection. And there’s something really special about this bond, I think, that goes largely ignored. And it’s different from the relationship between gay men and straight women, which, if judging by the connotation lent by the term “fag hag” alone, is largely a mutually objectifying relationship (and, yes, that’s a gross oversimplification, but fag hags are not the topic of this post, and the relationship between gay men/straight women has been addressed again and again elsewhere). Maybe I’ll write about my thoughts on that some other time.
No, the point is, I wish the common bond between gay men and gay women were more acknowledged and respected. When I went to Berlin’s pride celebration in 2007, I was struck by how different it felt from San Francisco’s pride. In San Francisco, there’s Dyke March of course, and then Dykes on Bikes lead the main parade the following day. In Berlin, there’s neither – and without the women-centric portions of the celebration, I realized how gay-male-centric the whole celebration felt and was. Specifically, how middle-to-upper-middle-class-white-gay-male-centric. At the time, I remember having conversations with the folks I went with (a mix of genders and sexual orientations) about how these men were taking up all the “space,” probably without even realizing it. Gay pride parade means gay (male) parade. Gay bar means gay (male) bar. Gay issues are gay (male) issues. Gay white men are the default Gay, just like straight white men are the default Human in our society. And obviously, yes, gay men’s issues are super important. Of course they are. It’s just a matter of gay women’s issues also being important. And being similar, yes, but also largely different. The problem is, though, that there have been so few studies on lesbian/queer women’s issues specifically that we don’t even know what our issues are and what distinguishes them from gay men’s issues. And this, of course, isn’t the fault of gay men individually or even as an entity. It’s the fault of a society that naturalizes maleness as the default human, and that renders women a sub-category of human. (Same goes for queer people of color – their issues are woefully under-studied too, and POC are always just sub-categories of a humanity in which White is default and “normal.”)
So, right, individual gay men are busy taking up their own issues and fighting their own battles and taking care of their own survival, which completely totally makes sense. And yet I think it’s really sad that the bond between gay men and gay women is so often overlooked, or dismissed, or undervalued. I think it has tremendous value, as we are perhaps each other’s best natural allies. Sex and romance doesn’t get in between us, not personally and not in terms of prescribed roles. When I see a gay man, I see someone who both understands what it feels like to be queer in this straight world, and who will relate to me inherently free of any sort of sexual tension or sexual judgment. We understand what it feels like to be otherized. The homophobia we each experience often looks and feels different, sure, but when all is said and done, it’s the same animal. We can learn a lot from each other. I have learned a lot from my gay guy friends, and I count one of them as among the best friendships I have. I hate this phrase, but it just is what it is. There’s nothing underneath, no undercurrents, no invisible social glue that’s trying to glue us together in awkward ways. We just get each other. And I wish this were more typical, not just on an individual level but on a socially recognized level. Because then, maybe I wouldn’t be so surprised by gay men holding “fags <3 dykes” signs, or laughing at a queer gal’s jokes.
Has anyone else felt this way? Or is this peculiar to me? Maybe in other communities, gay guy/gal crossover is much more common. But even if that’s the case, where are our friendships ever portrayed in the media (TV, books, news outlets…)? Right, exactly. Never. And why do I not know a single gay male blogger? Where are they all? I just want to be friends, guys!
What’s your experience?
*In this post, I’m addressing specifically gay cismen and gay ciswomen — and yeah, I know that leaves out a lot of people, including queer but not-gay-identified folks, as well as genderqueer and trans people… Sorry about that, this is just what’s most familiar to me.
I’m over how my uncle talks about “the gays” as if we were some exotic species, and asks me weird personal questions about my relationship that he doesn’t ask my sister about hers (with a guy).
I’m over having phone conversations with mi’lady about what we’re up to with our respective families that include sentences like “this would be awkward for you” or “I don’t quite know how you would fit into this.”
I’m over trying to explain to old friends from high school why I don’t want to hang out with their ultra-Christian crowd.
I’m over having my sister tell me that she’s got it worse because “at least people don’t constantly ask you when you’re getting married.”
I’m over my mom saying “just get over it, of course people act weird about something they don’t get.”
I’m over being told by my dad, yet again, that he doesn’t see how people can have the “same kind of relationship” with non-biological progeny.
I’m over how my brother finds guys who really “shove it in your face” that they’re gay distasteful.
I’m over feeling self-conscious about recommending a book or movie to someone if it happens to have a queer character or sub-theme (because what if I’M one of those people who “shoves it in your face”?).
I’m over “OMG that’s SOOOO GAY!”
I’m over being left out of conversations about what everyone in the family is up to “because it could be uncomfortable.”
I’m over censoring myself in order to avoid making other people feel uncomfortable about something that’s so vital and important to who I am.
I’m over small-town USA.
I’m over how being around our families completely squelches our ability to be sexual with each other, even by distance.
I’m over being irrelevant to her Playing Straight life.
I’m over playing it straight in my own life.
I’m over sleeping by myself.
I’m fucking over it.
I can’t wait to go home. Four more days.
Warning: potentially triggering material follows.
A week before Christmas, a lesbian in Richmond (just north of Berkeley in the bay area) was gang raped–four men, one hour, weapons. Apparently, according to the SF Chronicle, she had a rainbow sticker on her car and they targeted her specifically because she was gay.
So there’s a $10,000 price tag on these guys, and they’re not only going to be charged with sexual assault, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, et cetera, but their charges will also carry the added “hate crime” designation. Which obviously makes a lot of sense, right? I mean, their attack was pretty clearly motivated by–or at the very least, very charged with–violent homophobia. They probably would not have attacked her had she not had a rainbow sticker on her car, or if she had not in any way appeared to them to be gay. So it makes sense to me that they would be charged with hate crime. It is horrible to be attacked so viciously on account of one’s sexual orientation and it is clear that her being gay was a reason they targeted her.
However, it troubles me that these four men would get a heightened criminal conviction, be more highly sought, or be seen as far worse criminals than would be the case if the victim were a straight woman. For any woman (or man or child or anyone) to be gang raped is horrible beyond belief, and it occurs far too often that women are raped or gang raped or abused by men in any sexual or physical capacity. And we never hear any fuss made about it. Occasionally we see a paragraph in the newspaper about a midnight rape, and we think “oh, how awful” and then we move on, because we’ve heard it so many times before and we’ve forgotten how to be enraged by it. Or worse, we think, “god, what was that woman doing out by herself at that time of night? what was she wearing? I bet she was a prostitute/drug dealer/slut” and can quickly minimize our empathy.
But the truth is, it must be just as horrible for a straight woman to be gang raped at knife-/gun-point by four men over the course of an hour as it is for a lesbian. And men who rape or abuse straight women should not get off any lighter than men who rape and abuse gay women. Those men are all perpetrating hate crimes. Granted, the motivations may be different (“ugh that bulldagger needs to be taught a lesson” vs. “I’m going to get me some of that pussy”) but in the end, it’s always about objectification, dehumanization, assertion that “you belong to me, I can do whatever I want with you, and by the time I’m through you’re going to know that.”
I’d imagine that being raped on account of being a lesbian and being raped on account of being a woman would have somewhat different psychological effects, but they would both be pretty fucking traumatic. As I’ve written here before, I was raped when I was 15 by a complete stranger, and it had nothing to do with my being gay (as there’s no way the man could’ve known) and everything to do with my being a piece of flesh that he was entitled to possess. And I’m telling you, I don’t think it could have possibly been worse if I’d known it was because I was gay. Not that it would’ve been better, but rape is rape and you feel like shit, you feel dirty and violated, you feel stripped of power and dignity and personhood, you feel broken and bruised and hurt, you feel shattered and alone, above all else alone, because everyone around you carries on as normal, and the world doesn’t stop just because your world stopped. I can’t speak for other women (gay or straight) who have been raped or violated, but these are all the things I felt, and I am going to say one thing: it would have made a world of difference if I had known that I would be able to count on a reaction like the reaction this lesbian woman’s gang rape is getting from the lesbian community here in the bay area. If I had known that my going to the police would have inspired a public outrage, then I might have gone to the police. Instead, I had seen too many times that rape is one of those things that people shake their heads about but inevitably excuse, because there must’ve been something wrong with the woman, because only a certain kind of woman gets herself raped.
Rape is always a hate crime. Men who perpetrate rape have not one ounce of like, love, respect, or any positive human emotion for their victims. So I do think that the four rapists of the Richmond lesbian should be charged with hate crime. But I also think people need to understand that any woman who is a victim of rape is a victim of a hate crime, and that when any woman is raped, there needs to be this kind of outrage, this outpouring of love and care for the victim. We all need it. And I think the fact that it’s seen as more outrageous when a lesbian gets raped on account of being a lesbian than when any woman regardless of sexual orientation gets raped on account of being a woman is an indication that we as a culture all contribute to the dehumanization of women, and all contribute to the way in which men own and possess women’s bodies.
I understand why the lesbian population rallies in support of one of their own. That makes sense. My heart aches for her, my gut hardens and my stomach churns for her. My jaw clenches, my eyes well up. I tremble in disbelief, I am dazed. I want to find her, hug her, cry with her. I want to bring her back a piece of her soul, because I remember how long it took for me to get mine back. I want to hold hands with all other lesbians in solidarity and join together to figure out how to combat this violence.
But I also want this to be a reason to join hands with other women, with all women, and with men, in outrage, sorrow, and disbelief over rape of this woman and all women, and I want to use that solidarity to raise passion and fury, and change the way people think of rape and think of women in this country. Because every time a rape goes unreported because a woman is scared of being blamed, every time a rape is excused because the woman brought it on herself, every time another awful rape is passed over because it’s not newsworthy and it’s just the same old, every time a man gets off with a light sentence because if we took it all seriously our prisons would be home to a third of the men in America, every time any of this happens, we are all stripped a little bit more of our humanity and dignity. Gay and straight alike.
I haven’t posted since the election because I didn’t want to write about anything else before I commented on the election. But I have been having the hardest time processing it and figuring out what I even think about it, let alone being able to write about it coherently.
I took Election Day off from work and did No on 8 campaigning in Contra Costa County, one of the most conservative counties in the Bay Area. It was exhausting work, not in terms of being physically demanding but rather in terms of being emotionally draining. It was hard to put myself out there on the streets with No on 8 signs, seeking signs of approval and support or even just mild interest from passersby. I got called a “nigger-loving cunt-munching faggot whore” by one lovely young man. Cunt-munching? Kinda like it. Not gonna lie.
So I was in Contra Costa by myself most of the day, and then came back to San Francisco to watch the results pour in, also by myself. Lissa was working until 7:30 so I sat at a bar in the Castro and watched Obama win Pennsylvania, then Ohio, then Florida… And then when Lissa got out of work I made my way over to the Westin St. Francis Hotel by Union Square where the No on 8 election party was being hosted in a ballroom. We were just entering the hotel when Obama was announced winner, and cheers erupted all across the square. It was like when the Sox won the World Series in 2004, it was like New Years in 2000, only it was way more intense, way more jubilant, there was this prevailing euphoria. And I was carried along by it, weeping as I watched first McCain’s concession speech, and then Obama’s victory speech. The enormity of what we had just accomplished blew me away, took all my solidity out of me. I was like gel. How do I re-establish my conception of myself in an Obama administration? Under a government that I support? I have come of age in an era of dimwitted politics, an era in which liberalism was squelched by fear-mongering and dishonest pandering to an easily misled middle class. And Obama won! Incredible. And mind-boggling. And bawl-worthy.
But then the ballot counts of Prop 8 started coming in, and the mood quickly sobered. My tears became tears of dejection rather than victory. Lissa and I left the Westin around 1am, ready to collapse in bed. I cried myself to sleep, a complete emotional mishmash, not sure whether I was crying for joy or exhaustion or sadness or anger or confusion. And I woke up feeling nothing, really. After all, Prop 8 hadn’t officially been called.
Then over the course of the day, it was called. Prop 8 passed. And my feelings about this election have been so hard for me to decipher that I haven’t known what to write and how to write it. Then this morning, my mom forwarded me this editorial by Judith Warner in the NYT, and it was in writing back to her that I found my voice. Here’s what I wrote:
Thanks, Mom, for forwarding this. How poignant, and true; it just captures so much what this election has felt like for me. I’ve never really felt homophobia and heterosexism so fully as I did on election night. It was a kick in the gut. And it still brings me to tears every time I read something like this. There was an online editorial written by a black straight man calling on fellow black straight men to be queer allies, which had me bawling. There was the youtube clip of Keith Olbermann’s “Special Comment” on his nightly show (if you haven’t seen it, you MUST watch it) which also had me in tears. And now this too. It’s like now, whenever straight people call it what it is, openly, directly, and passionately, I get all teary. Like “oh my god, there are people who care!” Because on election night, watching all those tears streaming down the faces of Obama supporters on TV in Chicago, and here in San Francisco, I just felt so… left out. Of course I rejoiced in and celebrated his win. But I felt, for the first time really, so invisible. Here the first black president of the US was just elected, a triumph of civil rights, and many of the same people who voted for Obama also voted against gay marriage? What? How is that possible? I just couldn’t feel as happy anymore. And sometimes now when I walk around or go about my day, I wonder, “did that person next to me on the muni vote yes on 8? did that person still proudly wearing his obama button vote yes on 8? did that person who was crying for relief and joy at obama’s victory speech vote yes on 8?” It just has taken so much out of me.
So. Anyway. Thanks for passing this on, we need this kind of thing so much. We NEED straight people, who supposedly have nothing invested in this, to be loudly proclaiming “This is about ALL of us.” And it’s really not just about the specific right to marry–because obviously, that doesn’t really affect me right now and honestly I don’t even know that I think it’s the best fight for the gay rights movement to be fighting–but it’s about truly being pushed to second class citizen status. And even I feel the pangs of that.