Fangoria interviewed me about our upcoming Elsa Lanchester tribute! You can read it here.
I spontaneously left MetaFilter a few months ago in a fury, although it was the ultimately result of a long period of dissatisfaction about the way the site’s community had shifted, particularly in regard to gender relations. As someone who considered myself devoted to feminism (in my post-MetaFilter life I prefer “gender equality” instead) and worked hard to try to slant the site toward gay and female interests, this outcome really surprised and troubled me.
I just saw this comment here (discussing an essay by a gay man who faked crushes on girls in middle school) and I thought it was worth pointing out as an example of exactly why I’m happy to have left the community.
I understand that from an academic standpoint it’s interesting and important to look at all narratives from a female perspective, or from the perspective of their female participants. But reflexively taking that standpoint in every single instance in common discourse is exclusionary, dismissive, and antisocial.
There are so many narratives that are so nuanced and complex that they transcend male/female gender issues, and they deserve appreciation as such. Why should a gay person’s story about their experience as a queer person (male or female) be expected to conform to the ideals and priorities that someone might have for a dialogue solely about women? All this person’s comment really tells me is that she only listened to the part of the story that was about women, about her.
Gay men (and in particular the author of that piece, and myself while we’re at it) are victims of the same sort of brainless enforcement of gender norms that women are. It’s totally insanely confusing way to grow and develop into a man, with many unnecessarily painful rites of passage along the way, including the pain we inflict on others around us, including women. This author’s entire piece was addressed to one such woman, but obviously all he can tell is his own story — and it is one filled with pain, longing, guilt, and ultimately, awareness. (Wouldn’t it be more offensive, more patronizing, for him to try and tell her story?)
If you have no interest in his story, your lack of interest becomes a serious blind spot in your ability to speak intelligently or compassionately on the subject, especially to a mixed audience of people who don’t fit comfortably on the binary gender spectrum.
MetaFilter’s evolution on gay issues is sort of similar to its evolution on women’s issues. In both cases you had a group of mostly guys, most of whom already considered themselves to be allies — but then, many of those actually had a pretty dim view of what the lives and challenges of being those other people really were. I’ve been really excited along the way to see women becoming more active, and to see a wider range of woman-oriented issues land on the site, regardless of whether men are particularly interested in discussing them (not that it would ever stop them).
As a gay man, it was offensive to me when women on the site would engage with me as though my maleness was my primary characteristic. Because let me tell you something: to most of the straight men on the site, I felt I was gay first and foremost. And as Aesop observed of the bat who tried to choose sides in a war between the birds and the beasts, “He who is neither one thing or the other has no friends.”
I am done working hard on behalf of a subset of a community that doesn’t accept my contributions as good-faith efforts, that claims to be liberal and inclusive, but is actually completely conformist in its expectations. I believe that queer voices are getting squeezed out, or at least flattened out, as a result.
If you can’t accept that gays have completely different relationships with gender issues and different ways of talking about/navigating/exploring those issues, and you attempt to shut down gay voices by holding them to your standard and re-routing the conversation so that it’s about how you and/or women might feel about it, then you are creating an environment every bit as hostile to gays as it has been to women. You are “womansplaining” to us.
No really we get it — again, we’ve spent our whole lives fighting against the same oppressors, plus a few which are unique to us. We have had to do our own soul-searching and privilege-unpacking, often side by side with our female friends and heroes. But it’s not a black-and-white world, and I refuse to participate in conversations that insist it be so. And if I’m forced to exist in a gray area, then I demand that it be acknowledged as a valid place to exist.
What would I advise? When you read a story like this guy’s, put down your academic’s red pen and your own personal trauma and listen, the way you would want to be listened to. Think. Imagine. Maybe ask questions? Assume good faith, because he is after all revealing some very personal and unflattering information about himself, presumably just for the sake of doing so and the good it might do. Look closely at the other comments, especially the ones that seem to relate to what was posted. These commenters are your in-road to understanding and appreciating what may be beyond your perspective.
On my MeFi profile I usually listed my gender as “Male Product of Woman Culture,” a description which still feels right to me. Of all the things I’m leaving behind by not posting there anymore, I am glad to discover that I can bear this description with me into other arenas without carrying a grudge along with it. To quote a piece of the gay canon, which starred a woman and was written by a woman for a mostly female audience: “I’m not mad at you… I’m mad at the dirt.”
There should be an app that lets you see Tumblr posts by people within your immediate vicinity. They should call it Grumblr. (Now where’s my million bucks?)
After writing a bit on Word & Film about Spike Lee’s feelings, I finally saw the movie and I think it’s incredibly worthwhile. “Django” has tapped a rich vein of anger, fear, and desperation, despite the quirky Tarantino flourishes (and thank god for those, otherwise it would be almost unwatchably grim). The movie lingers over far uglier aspects of slavery than we usually see in film, but this didn’t strike me as exploitative or fetishistic. Nor does it aspire to historical accuracy, which is what makes it an admirable and eerily apt revenge fantasy for our time.
I thought it was superior to Basterds in almost every way, including in its consideration for its loaded subject matter. I think “Django” is touching a nerve because this time Americans don’t have the evil Nazis to jeer at in unison. The enemy is us — some of us, or parts of us. But you know? It’s totally okay to make a movie that makes white people uncomfortable. I don’t think that white people are wringing their hands over the racial sensitivity aspect out of concern for black people at all; I think it’s out of concern for their own comfort. (I was very uncomfortable for most of it.) There was just as much interesting baggage to unpack when it came to black characters’ relationships and connections to each other, but I’m not really the one to address that — the important thing is that it was substantial, at the heart of the movie, as it should be. You won’t find much comment on that in the mainstream (white) media, because they’re either too scared to comment, or too oblivious to notice.
For what it matters, I didn’t find the N-word use to be gratuitous, given the situations. It was an ugly story about some of the ugliest humans, in the most desperate situations, told rather beautifully. The only part I found offensive was Tarantino’s insistence upon injecting himself into the film as a performer — it was distracting and detracted from the movie’s magic, even if I do appreciate the point he was making by directly implicating himself in the atrocities perpetrated by the other white characters in the film (at his behest).
We have learned to laugh like cannonades
When the corners of our tears rake our faces,
Because the night lurks so broadly in our day
And the trees put up their arms like deprecations.
Can you not hear us, Mary, hear our songs
Trickle down death? We plunge our prayers like swords
Deep in the lifting bosom of your mercy,
And all the world’s a lonely Tepeyac
Yearning to kiss your feet.
All men’s faces turn like pitiless mirrors
To show our terror. Take the screaming stars
Back to their happy places on your mantle.
Mary, all the world’s a Tepeyac
Bleak for your coming. Paint our shabby prayer,
A rougher tilma, with your saving face.