Emulating 'Liss -- I Write Letters

(For those who haven't seen it yet -- this is the Advocate cover that I'm talking about. What follows is an actual letter that I'm sending to the Advocate -- I can't leave it in their letters section because they only allow 1000 characters and you know how I am with the excessive words thing. I'm sending it in complete from via snail-mail.)
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Dear Advocate:

Your December cover was appalling to me.

In one fell swoop, you managed to:

  • Appropriate the black civil rights movement,
  • Act as if the struggle for equal rights for people of color is completed,
  • Potentially piss off and alienate a whole bunch of queer and straight allies -- and -- Big finish now! --
  • Infer that the gay rights movement is the only civil rights struggle still in existence.
Quadruple-privilege-whammy. Way. To. Go.

But as if that weren't enough, you also wrangled an opportunity to fail utterly at both edginess and cleverness.

"_________ is the New Black" is a phrase meant to infer that something is new or cutting edge. News for you: Oppression is neither new nor cutting edge -- in fact, lateral oppression among and between disenfranchised groups is so old and status-quo that perhaps your cover would be better served with the following slogan: "Same Shit, Different Gays".

In your rush to construct a "clever" cover, perhaps it did not occur to you to completely think through the inferences in your choice of trendy phrase -- which is most commonly defined to mean this: "Blank is the New Black" is used "to indicate the sudden popularity or versatility of an idea at the expense of the popularity of a second idea". Get that?

And if you did consider all the implications of your catchy, hip cover blast, and decided to use it anyway -- if there were discussions such as "You know, queers of color, and straight allies who are people of color, and all kinds of people for whom racism is an important issue might be offended by this, but . . . . . hey, f*ck 'em!", then I would posit that you are consciously doing harm to the very movement that you dub (with all the arrogance borne of privilege): "The Last Great Civil Rights Struggle"!!!eleventy-one!!

Oh, and about that little conclusion you seem to have drawn, there -- can I just say: WHAT?!?!?

Last I looked, there were plenty of perfectly great civil rights struggles to be had -- immigrant rights, disabled rights, transgender rights, transsexual rights, intersex rights -- just to name a very, very few. Oh, and those two eensy-weensy matters of equal rights for women and people of color. (I thought I'd mention some of those just in case you were wondering what you might do with your free time after you complete the Last Great Civil Rights Struggle.)

Because I'm sure, what with completely alienating a bunch of people of color (gay and straight alike) and people like me, who actually care about stuff like inclusiveness and outreach, you're just going to whip that Last Great Civil Rights Struggle into shape in no time. (Good luck with that, by the way.)

OK -- enough with the snark. You see -- that type of flippant, psuedo-hip, so-what-if-it-oversimplifies-the-entire-situation- and-alienates-someone-with-whom-I-might-otherwise-be-a-natural-ally-but-hey!-don't-I-look-cool!? communication (which is exactly what I perceive your cover to be) -- just isn't helpful, in my opinion.

I'm a white lesbian. I've been active in the struggle for queer rights since the mid-70s. Although I understand the convenience of the short-hand term "gay rights", I don't feel included by it, and I've been deeply saddened and disheartened to see some in the "gay community" continue the ongoing attempt to distance themselves from the rights of transsexual, transgender, and intersexed queers.

Although I understand that it can (sometimes) be useful to connect with narratives of various other struggles for equal rights, I have been attempting to listen and learn what it means for people who have faced oppression because of racism, ableism, classism, and xenophobia to hear me do so. I think that there are ways to discuss certain parallels or similarities respectfully, and in ways that foster connection and understanding, rather than alienation -- but I don't believe that your choice of a cover is one of them.

The deepest inroads that queer-rights activists have effected in my 33+ years in the movement have been made through connection and visibility, not appropriation and alienation. The biggest problems that I've seen in that movement over those 33+ years have arisen from marginalization of certain queers within the movement, complacency bred of "I've got mine", "It's the best we can get", or "It's not my problem" thinking, and the alienation of natural allies.

The article that Mr. Gross wrote at least put a question mark behind the words: "Gay is the New Black?" (and for what it's worth, I thought that the vast majority of his article was respectful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking -- I did have some nits to pick, but I won't pick them here).

I find it hard to believe that the cover-space, dominated as it was by a simple white title, couldn't have accommodated that question mark (and maybe one after the bold christening of gay rights as the Last-Great-Blah-Blah-Blah-Frankly-I'm-Sick-Of-Typing-It, as well?).

Sweeping declarations are, to me, only rightfully owned by those who have actual authority in a matter, and in the matter of civil rights, "gays" definitely do not own exclusive rights to the territory.

Mr. Gross posed his article as a question, and, in my opinion, brought himself to the examination of that question forthrightly, with a good degree of nuance and complexity. I think that you did his article a great injustice, in fact, by replacing his question with that extremely unstable declarative -- because only the Advocate's primary audience is likely to look beyond that cover.

In my opinion, that greatly reduces the likelihood that an important discussion that might have taken place in response to Mr. Gross' article will take place. Even I, as someone more likely to be sympathetic to the article, opened it ready to be offended and alienated -- based on the message of your cover.

You have a big voice in the queer community.

I ask you, please, to use that big voice with more care. What you choose will affect the lives of queers like me, whether I agree with you or not. People will point to your cover and say: "See? The gay rights movement is racist and insensitive!", and I will counter: "I think the cover editors at the Advocate were racist and insensitive." -- but my voice won't sit on every news-rack or echo through the mainstream media.

Sincerely,
PortlyDyke/Carol Steinel

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Posted byPortlyDyke at 9:30 PM  

4 comments:

ouyangdan said... December 5, 2008 at 10:06 PM  

You fucking rock.

Renee said... December 5, 2008 at 11:49 PM  

Thank you for writing this. Honestly when I saw the cover I really felt like I had been spit on. I may not always express myself properly but I believe in equality and the cover and the article made me feel as though my human dignity was unimportant.

I will continue to advocate for GLBTQI civil right because I believe in the human dignity of all, but I can tell you I fielded quite a few angry responses today. This is not the way to build allies. Having a disagreement is one thing clear blatant racist behavior is another.

Again thanks for doing this, and thanks for the conversation the last few days. I learned a lot myself. Sometimes it is hard when something is so personal to you to move your feelings but your commentary forced me to do just that, and I am thankful. Each time you learn something new you grow as a person.

eastsidekate said... December 6, 2008 at 6:07 AM  

Awesome letter, jut awesome. The problem with the Advocate is that it's such a "mainstream" publication, lots of folks that don't know any better assume that it's the voice of LGBT people. When they print something like this (which seems to happen quite a lot), it not only makes them look like pricks, it makes the rest of us look bad, too.

Fannie said... December 8, 2008 at 12:34 PM  

Great letter.

The problem with The Advocate is that, like Out magazine, it's basically a White Gay (Mostly) Male interest magazine passing itself off as a magazine for the entire LGBT community.

Since this magazine doesn't speak to me, it's insulting that some perceive it as speaking for me as a lesbian.

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