(TW: queerphobia, transphobia, hate crimes)
I want to talk about queer people and oppression. Specifically I want to talk about violence against queer people, about hate crimes, and about slurs and all of that stuff. And about oppression in general and tumblr social justice stuff.
I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in a small, rural town. The town where I grew up is not technically even a town, it’s technically a village - the population, when I lived there, was about 2000 people. 20 minutes away there was a larger town, which is where I went to high school - still fairly rural, but with actual paved roads and stuff. Growing up, lots (if not most) of my peers were what you might call “rednecks”.
So my family was always pretty different, for reasons I won’t get into now, but we went from “getting the side-eye and occasional shitty remark from rednecks” to “holy fuck our neighbors want to kill us” when my mom came out as a lesbian. I won’t talk about everything that happened as a result of that - I won’t talk about how the PROGRESSIVE people were the ones who took me aside and told me that they didn’t hate me because “Jesus died to free us of the sins of our parents”, but how most people seriously, genuinely believed that gayness was genetic and therefor I must be queer. I won’t talk about how people conflated being queer with trans-ness, and how classmates of mine would physically block me from using the bathrooms with them at school, demand that I submit to being stripped to see if I was “really” a girl, etc. I won’t talk about the natural impact that had on me and my own sense of identity and my own queerness, or how it made the already difficult relationship between my mother and me downright impossible for years. I won’t talk about how the words, actions, and attitudes I lived with every day were the kinds of things people talk about as though they were part of some distant past, when society was less tolerant than it is now, as though this kind of stuff isn’t STILL GOING ON, as though there aren’t people who STILL FEEL THIS WAY.
I want to talk about one specific incident, instead.
When I was fifteen, I did a work-experience program that required me to volunteer a number of hours at a local theatre. And the manager of the theatre, who was from Vancouver, thought it might be a good idea to invite the Vancouver Gay and Lesbian Chorus to perform for World AIDS Day. My mom invited them herself, and they agreed to come perform - for one night only, but for free, so, you know, score. We were excited. It was a Big Fucking Deal to us that there would be OTHER QUEER PEOPLE. IN OUR TOWN. I don’t think we thought that it would END the violence and intolerance, but it was at the very least something that made us feel better, so there was that.
I helped organize the concert and the night they performed I sat in the back, by the door, feeling good just to be looking at other queer people.
They were three songs into their set when the bomb went off.
It wasn’t a big bomb; the explosion itself barely caused any damage, and didn’t injure anyone. But what it did was release large amounts of industrial-grade bear spray into the small, poorly ventilated theatre.
Bear spray. Think tear gas, but for bears. Yeah.
I should mention at this point that up on the stage, closest to where the bomb went off, one of the choir members was holding her infant child.
The person who set it off ran out of the theatre in the panicky confusion that followed. They were never caught. The theatre was evacuated and the show ended. It took the cops nearly an hour to show up, along with one ambulance. The infant was hospitalized, along with a couple of kids, but as far as I know, there wasn’t any permanent damage done, at least.
We considered ourselves lucky for that.
Days later, when the place had been aired out, I went back into the theatre and realized that the bear spray had been so strong it had caused the paint to peel off the theatre walls.
And the thing is, I wasn’t surprised. At all. This ACT OF TERRORISM - being the target of and witness to a BOMBING - seemed completely normal to me.
That was just what happened to queers.
This is what frustrates and infuriates me, what breaks my heart, really, when I see and hear people talking about the term “queer” being used to describe ANYONE who’s “not heteronormative”, including straight asexual people, straight kinky people, etc. When I see queer issues being abstracted to the point of ridiculousness and queer communities being told to be more “accepting” of people who aren’t queers. When words like “heterophobia” get said with a straight face. Because sometimes I feel like there’s a younger generation of people - people who grew up with the internet, with an easy way of talking to other people like them; people who also grew up in less rural/more urban areas, with more diversity in the culture; people who grew up with more money and the opportunity to go places just to experience different things; people who grew up seeing the WBC as objects of ridicule instead of a reflection of the people who lived next door… okay, maybe it’s not just a younger generation, but I feel like I see a lot of younger people, teenagers mostly, acting in this way where I feel like there this… disconnect.
Like they don’t really understand how HUGE homophobia and transphobia are.
I have increasingly little patience for stuff like the microaggressions tumblr because of this. It was a neat idea to start with, but I feel like oppression - not just queer oppression, by the way - gets characterized a lot on tumblr as being about offhand remarks, being called names, jokes that sting. And those are part of it. But sometimes I want to grab people and go, “NO, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND. I WASN’T JUST CALLED NAMES. PEOPLE TRIED TO KILL ME AND MY FAMILY. PEOPLE ARE DYING EVERY DAY.”
I mean, we can nitpick over privilege checklists and discuss to death how problematic our language is and argue over who is “identity policing” and who is being a “special snowflake”, but for me, this is what it comes down to.
The fight against oppression is a LIFE AND DEATH STRUGGLE. And I am not talking about spiritual death or metaphorical death. I mean literal death by hate crime, by starvation or exposure, by lack of healthcare, by police brutality, by suicide encouraged by a society that wants you to LITERALLY NOT EXIST (not CHANGE, I mean actually cease to be in any form).
And so sometimes, yeah, I’m kind of impatient with tumblr social justice.
Sometimes I’m pissy about things like the asexual/whatever the fuck we’re gonna call non-ace-spectrum people discussion.
Sometimes when I see the words “oppression olympics” and “identity police” I feel like my eyes are gonna roll right out my head.
I go back and forth about whether or not this makes me a cynical person, a bad activist, closed-minded, prescriptivistic, etc. But ultimately I just. Don’t. Care. I didn’t become an activist to improve the language that we use, I became an activist because I want LESS PEOPLE TO DIE as the result of oppression, and because the only way to have the services, the support, etc that I needed was to participate in their creation myself.
I guess where I’m going with this is, if you think that the frustration and anger of members of oppressed groups over tumblr SJ infighting is unreasonable, if you think that pointing out differences in experience and noting that sometimes some people really just do have it worse than others in some areas is playing oppression olympics, if you think that people who don’t use the exact same social justice buzzwords as you should be silent on the subject of oppression, i’mma need you to eat a bowl of dicks, kthx.
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