“Black Lives Matter” to “All Lives Matter.”
#YesAllWomen to #NotAllMen
When cishet people use #loveislove, #girlslikeus, and other LGBTQ hashtags.
The recent tumblr #blackout to … everything else.
Straight women going to gay clubs for girls’ nights.
The justification that freedom of religion, one of the United States’ great freedoms, should be the basis not only for individual discrimination, but for state-inscribed legislation.
And the list goes on.
In the United States, we are in a state of high tension around sexuality, race, gender, and, more often than not, the intersection of all three. Gay marriage is headed to the Supreme Court. The Republican Party has waged war on contraception, of all things. Ferguson has become a one-word catch-all for the various racial atrocities committed in the last eight months. What recent events have highlighted is the consistent inability for the dominant (patriarchal, white supremacist) culture to respect the space of the marginalized. There is a constant re-centering of the conversation to the dominant narrative.
For example: Within the dominant narrative, saying “Black Lives Matter” is interpreted to mean that other lives don’t, when that is obviously not the meaning. Saying “Black Lives Matter” is a statement reclaiming the meaning of black lives in a white supremacist culture that repeatedly and blatantly demeans those lives. As Julia Cravens writes for the Huffington Post,
Saying ‘all lives matter’ causes erasure of the differing disparities each [minority] group faces. Saying "all lives matter" is nothing more than you centering and inserting yourself within a very emotional and personal situation without any empathy or respect. Saying "all lives matter" is unnecessary.
In the gender-centric sphere of things, the twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen took off like wildfire earlier last year, highlighting the sexism that all women face in their daily lives. Perhaps predictably, #NotAllMen was the backlash, arguing that not all men harass women. #NotAllMen completely missed the point: obviously, the hashtag wasn’t a misandrist attack on all men’s character—it was creating an incredibly valuable space for women of all backgrounds to speak about their often-silenced experience.
Anecdotally? When I’m at a gay club dancing on my girlfriend and get side eye from a group of straight girls out for a girls night, I want to march over and give them a speech about how this space is not for you. Those girls—ecstatic to be escaping the hetero-oppressive bar scene—are almost uniformly entertained by queer men and disgusted by queer women. Either way, they gawk at us like we are their own personal freak show, in spite of the fact that it is, definitively, a gay club.
An awesome poster series at the University of San Francisco.
Lingerie and fashion are, of course, participants in dominant cultural narratives, and as such are not immune from these trends. A recent, but certainly not new, topic of twitter conversation among progressives in the lingerie community has been the inability of (presumably) straight, white people (usually men) to decenter themselves from the conversation.
Lingerie articles that center on blackness or queerness, in particular, have become an increasingly fraught battleground. These articles—and so these discussions—are almost exclusively on The Lingerie Addict, but that’s largely because TLA is the only industry forum consistently dedicated to publishing to a diversity of voices. Cora Harrington, founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Lingerie Addict, is possibly the most recognizable advocate for change within the lingerie world. I asked Harrington about this issue she faces on a daily basis: about how we could think about privileges and disadvantages as existing on an axis, where being marginalized one area doesn’t mean you aren’t privileged in another? Harrington said,
I think it's really important to keep in mind that women (or people who wear lingerie or people with breasts or whatever categorical structure we're using) are not one homogenous group with an identical set of interests and priorities. There's a tendency, especially in communities lacking diversity (of which the lingerie community is one) to constantly put forward one set of concerns or interests as the most important, generalizable, or relevant. Using the example of women, while we know that women, as a group, are disadvantaged, we also know that these disadvantages are further stratified by race, ability, sexuality, gender identity, age, and size (among other things). Thin women, young women, white women, cis women, straight women, and able-bodied women are all far more likely to be put at the center of the conversation and given priority (not to mention common courtesy) than women of size, women of color, trans women, queer women, and disabled women. Acknowledging that can only add value to the conversation.
What Harrington identifies is that difficulty in managing multiple aspects of identity, some of which may give you advantages, even as you are disadvantaged in other ways (case in point: being a gay white woman). What is especially helpful, for me, is considering Harrington's point that this kind of conversation about complicated identities is tremendously difficult in situations where the dominant narrative has such a strong grip that it usually only allows for one alternative viewpoint anyway. Trying to assert a multiplicity of complicated identities within a homogeneous, overriding current can seem like an Olympian task (though not an impossible one, as evidenced by the tremendous work TLA is doing).
I recently addressed a comment on The Lingerie Addict that explicitly attempted to re-center the conversation to the dominant narrative. However, the re-centering was a little more subtle than the #NotAllMen backlash. It was more similar to “All Lives Matter”: the insidiously harmful utopian idealism that allows people to deny their own privilege. It’s when people say things like, “Well, in an ideal world, none of this would matter.” That kind of post-race, post-sexuality statement undercuts the validity of identity, invades the space of the marginalized, and sweeps away any power they possess.
Kerry Washington, star of the hit show Scandal and the first black actress to lead a primetime network television show in 30+ years (though she is now joined by Viola Davis of How to Get Away with Murder and Taraji P. Henson of Empire), brilliantly addressed this in the March 2015 issue In Style. Washington, who was the cover interview, was asked whether she thought Scandal was paving the way for a “post-race world.” Her response:
I don’t believe in an idea of ‘post-race.’ The goal shouldn’t be that we get to a point where race or gender doesn’t matter. Race is a really important part of our identity. Being a woman is a big part of who I am. What I want is to live in a world where my gender, race, and ethnicity don’t define my trajectory and don’t limit me.
Exactly. Those aspects of identity exist. They are vital, important, fundamental. They aren’t going away. The hope is that they will cease to be as limiting as they have historically been; and, of course, not limiting because they are flaws, but limiting because of how a dominant, white supremacist, patriarchal culture treats them.
One "Black Lives Matter" rally in Boston led protestors to the South Bay Correctional Facility, where prisoners joined the protest.
Basically what I’m saying is, I see your words about “colorblindness,” “utopia,” “all lives matter,” “in an ideal world,” and that list you pull out of your black and LGBTQ friends, and I call bullshit. Anyone who seriously says “Well, I just wish we lived in that kind of world” while simultaneously shutting down POC and LGBTQ conversations about diversity is revealing how very, very out of touch they are with the lived realities of those communities. When we talk about our lived realities with sexuality, when black people talk about their lived realities with race, what is happening is not “making it all about that thing”—what is happening is taking back space from the dominant culture that refuses to give us any space at all unless we fight for it.
Because this is the world we live in. At least one trans woman (usually of color) has been brutally murdered each week this year alone. Gay marriage is not the end all, be all of LGBTQ equality (not by a long shot), but it is still a divisive issue in this country, tearing apart families, religious communities, and the integrity of our political system (case in point: Alabama). The Florida State Board of Education just passed legislation that sets educational goals for students in math and reading based on race. The Justice Department is investigating Ferguson after the fact for blatantly racist brutalities carried out against its own population on national television.
On an industry level, lingerie companies scoff at the idea of using black women in their ads because it would be “bad for business.” Meanwhile, homoerotic images of women run rampant in advertisements, only to be completely oriented to the male gaze. We are, emphatically, NOT a post-race or post-sexuality society. We are not anywhere close to being that. And to even suggest that we should be is to deny how intensely fundamental those identities are to the lived realities of POC and LGBTQ persons in this country.
Chief Justice Moore of Alabama giving a speech on his "traditional marriage" stance, with protestors in the background. Via the AP.
So, I’m sorry that you are tired of my sexuality being the subject of conversation.
I’m tired of getting stared at in restaurants.
I’m tired of my masculine-presenting girlfriend getting misgendered and harassed in women’s restrooms.
I’m tired of my extended family’s homophobia.
I’m tired of public displays of affection being contingent on whether a space is safe enough or not.
I’m tired of hearing story after story of fear, hatred, and sometimes violence from my LGBTQ friends across the country.
So I’m #sorrynotsorry that Bluestockings is “queer for queer” or “all about queerness.” If you feel affronted by my queerness or by the queerness of Bluestockings supporters, this space is not for you.
I’ve spoken before about my sensitivity to conflating the plights of queer people and black people (and queer black people), struggles that share some commonalities but are distinctly different. However, one thing that the queer and black communities have in common is a history of voting with our money. Now, we don’t always have a lot of it (see mutual—if, again, distinctly different—histories of socioeconomic disadvantage, particularly among black Americans). But we aren’t about to throw it at a homophobe or a white supremacist (or, to break it down: at corporations who support politicians who support that kind of legislation). We are very, very aware of who is getting our precious cash.
Voting with your money is a self-explanatory concept: support businesses who support you. Is a local business owned by an out LGBTQ-identified person? Shop there. Does a television show have black actors, especially in leading roles? Watch it when it’s on to give it ratings. Part of it is my academic training, part of it is just me personally, but I am always looking for which companies use black people and gay couples in their ads. I take note, and I support them.
Now, whether those companies also maintain ethical business practices is a different issue, but I always make a note to look into companies who use diverse representation. They are immediately on my radar. Why? Because those companies are reflecting the world I live in. My world has queer people. My world has people of color. My world is not whitewashed and straight. It is diverse. Diversity is not a buzzword or something “politically correct”—it’s my life.
And I want to support brands who get that. Marginalized populations are often loyal to businesses who reach out to them specifically. Businesses know this. Boston Pride offers these statistics to businesses inquiring about sponsorship, based on a 2011 Harris Poll study:
Of LGBT adults in the United States polled about their consumer behavior: *roughly half are more likely to patronize a business that tailors its advertising to the LGBT community *7 out of 10 are inclined to consider brands that support non-profits and organizations that are important to them as LGBT persons *7 out of 10 would remain loyal to a company they perceived to be LGBT-friendly, even if a less friendly/supportive competitor offered a more affordable or convenient service
That is voting with your money. Supporting brands who are friendly to you even if other brands are cheaper. Supporting brands that you perceive to implicitly support you, because they donate to LGBT-friendly charities. Switching your patronage based on advertisements that reflect you and your life. Voting with your money helps recreate the narrative.
Even as Bluestockings prepares to launch, Audre Lorde’s words echo in my head: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Capitalism and activism make strange bedfellows, and I’m keenly aware of the limitations of a business, alone, to enact change. Visibility on the part of the business owner is the activism component. Voting with your money in a capitalist, patriarchal, white supremacist system is the activism component. On its own, it won’t—and can’t—dismantle the master’s house, but it is a start. I have, in the past, occupied theoretical positions that maintained people could never work inside a system to affect change. I (obviously) still don’t think change can fully be affected from inside. Social entrepreneurship is closer to activism than the work Bluestockings will be doing. The difference in my stance, now, is that I think we are all inside a rotting system. It’s about how well we can navigate, negotiate, and make space for our identities, beliefs, and values in a system constantly trying to push us to the margins.