Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Letter to John Aravosis (and Other Progressives Who Just Don't Get It)

Dear John Aravosis:

Evidently, it's really hard to be you lately. 

In case everyone else reading this doesn't know who he is, John Aravosis is the founder and a major contributor to a liberal-progressive blog called "AMERICAblog." Back when I was a baby blogger, I read AMERICAblog, among others, for inspiration and motivation to become the writer that I am (and hope to be). Before I radicalized to the extreme left, I looked up to bloggers like Aravosis. Their work became a model and a goal as I developed my chops as a voice in the LGBTQ blogosphere.

Recently, however, I've been a little disturbed by the rhetoric coming from you, John. In fact, Sue Kerr of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents and I published a piece on the Huffington Post's Gay Voices blog skewering a particularly troubling Tweet in which you chose to cast aspersions on the survivor of the Steubenville rape due to her drinking:

Turns out that was a bad week for our friend John, as just days later you used the term "bi" in reference to Gov. Christie's flip-flopping attitudes on gay rights. Essentially equating bisexuality, of course, with wishy-washy political stances. On Twitter and behind the scenes, a huge backlash resulted, putting you on the defensive. 
Evidently these are not the only public image and rhetoric fracases you have faced, as you published a particularly defensive piece today on your blog addressing a phenomenon that you choose to label "Outrage Inc.":
It’s part of a growing problem I’ve noticed for years, but have recently felt coming to a head. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to comment about far too many things in the public sphere without offending someone and creating instant outrage, often unmerited. As a result, you end up not wanting to write about the possibly-offending topics, which works to the detriment of the topics involved, unless the writer is a flaming bigot.

In the past few months I’ve been accused of supporting rape, terrorism, and hating trans people, bisexuals, women, immigrants, and Bradley Manning, which apparently encompasses a larger category of mom-and-apple-pie things that I’m sure I must hate or at least have no respect for (apparently I hate Manning because I asked a simple innocuous question in order to better understand what most angered his advocates).... 
...The need to be outraged about everything, and usually for insufficient reason, I’m calling Outrage, Inc. It’s the Change-dot-org-ification of advocacy, where with only 30 seconds of effort, you too can be mad as hell about anything, everything, and nothing. 
I say this, ironically, as a lead gay and progressive activist who has never backed away from using “outrage,” when appropriate, as a means of effecting change. But outrage must be measured to be effective. Being a good and effective activist and advocate isn’t about always being angry. It’s about being angry when it matters, when it can make a significant difference, and channeling your anger appropriately. It’s also about getting it right, i.e., getting angry when anger is merited.
Reading this piece, of course, made me a little... perturbed. Just call me the President of Outrage, Inc.

This piece is problematic in numerous ways. For one, you appear to be setting himself up as the definitive authority of what is or is not offensive to numerous groups to which you don't seem to identify with. As a presumably cis non-bisexual person who (and this is not something I know for certain but would not ask as it is private anyway) has likely not experienced the trauma of sexual assault, it is not actually your place at all to determine what rhetoric is oppressive or not to these groups. Frankly, you have no frame of reference and your assertion that this critique of oppressive language is appropriate while that one isn't is simply unwarranted and wrong.

That's not, of course, the only thing objectionable about your defense of your behaviors. You paint a surreal picture. Not only should you be allowed to determine which of your stances are offensive and which are not, you create this idea that suddenly this great, effective movement that you have belonged to for decades has suddenly turned on you and people like you. The culture, you appear to be saying, has suddenly become intolerant, easily offended, and hamstrung by its need to nitpick at every little thing you say. You are being hampered in your effectiveness, my friend, because we don't want you to use oppressive terminology.

Leftists are, sadly, well-known for this behavior. Since we all ascribe to vague notions of liberatory politics (generally anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic sentiments), we are able to absolve ourselves when we are accidentally racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise. "But I support all your causes! My ignorant comment couldn't possibly be biphobic, because I'm giving you guys a hand in solidarity!" This is all too common a defense (and yes, I'm looking at YOU, Dan Savage) we take when called out on oppressive behavior because we really don't like realizing we're part of the problem.

Don't get me wrong. I like you, John. You're a fun guy and you makes good points and hey, if it weren't for folks like you I probably would not be a blogger. However, this notion that you can't be offensive because you like the people you're offending is ridiculous. One might even say... outrageous?

To be frank, it's not that the culture has suddenly become more prickly and more hateful, it's that your rhetoric and positions are no longer acceptable. Just as it is no longer acceptable to make racist or homophobic jokes, it is now no longer acceptable to make jokes about bisexuals or to blame victims of rape due to their intoxication. Why? Because these narratives actually do in fact promulgate a culture that marginalizes these people. I don't care if you support rape survivors and bisexuals, my friend, because if you are blaming them for the oppression they face or if you use them as a punchline in a joke, you are contributing to their ongoing harassment and even the violence they face.

What's particularly troubling is that when these jokes or narratives get called out, defensive behaviors like the one that spawned "Outrage Inc." on AMERICAblog immediately are quick to point out that their intent is not to offend-- therefore no offense should be taken. Let's be plain: intent is entirely divorced from impact. One example is the prevalence of the word "bitch" in the gay community. This word is used in almost every other sentence among mainstream gay America, heedless of the offensiveness of the word. This word is used to oppress women and contributes to a culture of violence that ends in rape and physical assault on non-male persons (BTW, guys, "bitch" never ever means "female dog" when referring to a person, so quit with that lame-ass excuse, gays). Is the fabulous queen who uses it with his friends intending to oppress? No. Are they actually part of an oppressive framework that impacts women negatively? Yes.

John. You, and people like you, need to realize this: no matter your intent, your impact is what matters. Did you intend to be biphobic? No. Were you actually using biphobic rhetoric? Yes. Your defensiveness isn't necessary, John. Your apology, introspection, and reformation into a better-- a more effective-- activist is. After all, how can we be effective... while being oppressive?


Outrage Inc.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why I'm Angry

Trigger warning: This post contains references to wartime violence, sexual assault, IV drug use, and domestic violence. 

Anyone who knows me knows I'm pissed. I'm just generally a really angry person. Lately, my writing hasn't been particularly angry, however. I've been trying to be thoughtful, with lots of well-considered analysis and hopeful critique. The things that we tackle day-to-day don't just require rage, though that rage may be well-deserved. We need to really understand the problems that we face as a society and as a species-- oppression, privilege, resistance, stigma, shame, capitalism, repression... these require thought and subjective understanding. Not just personal, but political.

These posts have led some strangers to question, why? Why do you call yourself One Angry Queer? My posts lately... just haven't had my usual indignation. They have had, I like to think, a level of sophistication, of finesse.

This isn't one of those.

I'm going to tell you why I'm angry.

I'm really fucking angry I grew up poor. I'm angry that poverty led me to live in an economically depressed area, generally, where I didn't have access to the kind of education I others did. I had to get jobs in high school, and I'm angry that I was distracted from what I needed to do to "get ahead" in our society. I'm angry that, when it came time to graduate high school, I didn't go to college; I was too poor and so I joined the military. I'm angry that military then sent me to a country I never thought I'd visit. I'm angry that I contributed to death there. I'm angry that while I was there I saw dead bodies that I'll never forget; I'm angry that I once stood over a dead Iraqi woman in her twenties who had been shot in the head. I'm angry she was shot in the head. I'm angry I was ever there. I'm angry any of us were ever there.

I'm really fucking angry that this destroyed my life for so long. I'm really angry that I couldn't handle my feelings about what I did and what was done to me and I'm angry that I didn't feel that I could handle them out in the open. I'm angry that in my society, men are stoic and don't talk about their bad feelings. I'm angry that in my society, gay men are supposed to be happy all the fucking time and go out and drink cocktails and hey, maybe do some blow and then we dance and entertain our straight girlfriends because my goodness! Gay men are such a good time all the fucking time.

I'm really fucking angry that I then descended into the madness of drugs, slowly and surely over the course of years. Coke at first, and then when I stopped doing that... occasionally that devil of a drug methamphetamine. It wasn't bad at first, I was using here and there, sometimes months between uses. A weekend warrior! All under control! Of course, I'm angry that meth culture is largely without condoms and I'm really angry that I fell for that shit, oh boy am I angry, because now I have HIV and I might have it for the rest of my life and good goddamn do I hate taking those pills.

I'm really fucking angry that HIV exists. I'm angry that so many of the elders I could have had in my community are dead and they're dead because Ronald fucking Reagan wouldn't admit that we existed back then and just let us die. I'm really angry about this because I might not have gotten it if we had just addressed it back when it fucking started. We might have a cure right now, but we don't, and I'm angry about that because the reason we don't have a cure is profit margins and political expediency and gay folks are icky. Instead I'm taking these pills and I'm angry that I have to find insurance to pay for these pills and I'm angry that thousands of people don't have the privilege I do and they will die because they can't pay for these fucking odious little pills.

I'm really fucking angry that I have the shame and internalized stigma that I have about HIV. I'm angry that I haven't been the insertive partner with someone in months and months because I largely date seronegative people and I'm terrified of giving it to them. I know, oh so rationally, that because I'm undetectable it's almost impossible for me to give it to someone, especially using safer sex practices. I'm angry that I can't accept that easily because every day my fellow queer "brothers" tell me I'm dirty and reject me and tell me "Drug and Disease Free, U B 2" on their shitty online hookup websites and I'm angry that we are all so isolated in our communities that we have to seek intimacy through our computers because I'd rather seek intimacy in warm, encircling, loving arms.

I'm really fucking angry that the shame that I have been taught to have about HIV led me to toss in the towel, give up and become a full-blown meth addict, one that used every day and fell apart. Just fell apart. Oh, and I'm really angry I started shooting up. OH GOD. I am so angry about that. I'm angry that I now have hepatitis C because of that and I now have to quit drinking because my liver enzymes are through the roof. I'm angry that now I'm going to have to inject myself with goddamn interferon to treat it, something that I'm afraid of because needles are triggering and because it will likely make me sick and that's just a mess that I don't want to deal with but have to or else I'm really fucked. I have to go back to sticking a needle in my skin, even though I get super anxious and traumatized during blood draws just because there's a needle in the room and oh yes, now I just have nightmares about shooting up that make me wake up yelling and crying and the person who occasionally sleeps next to me has to wake up and tell me that it's all okay and really I would just like to let him sleep but I can't. I'm angry because I'm in something of a cool, new relationship right now and he has to deal with all this trauma and insanity because I couldn't take care of it before I met him. I'm angry that my addiction did this to me and that addiction still exists because we won't treat it like the disease it is, no, instead we criminalize it and lock it up and fuel the trade that it feeds on.

I'm really fucking angry that I was a full-time meth addict that was out of control and had no control and never had control and that led me to having sex with someone I didn't want to, and when I wanted to stop it I couldn't because I was too fucked up and hey, men are always ready to have sex so why would I have wanted to anyway? So I said nothing, even though I was horrified at what was happening to me. I said nothing because I was too goddamn fucked up to know what to do and too stupidly worried about disappointing that random sex partner I'll never see again. Men certainly can't be raped or assaulted or however you want to call it and if it happens they certainly can't admit to it. Except I was and now I am and I'm really fucking angry it happened to me. So angry that it makes me cry.

I'm angry that while all this was going on I was so busy trying to survive and not succumb to desperation and was so busy just trying to not die that I wasn't sending my brother any letters, because did I mention he got arrested when I was 18? Yeah, he was there for eleven years in prison, and when he got out I talked to him on the phone and I said "I love you, Jon, and I'll see you in a year on the outside, because I want to come and visit you because I miss you." And then, of course, six months later he keeled over dead because he'd been eating shitty prison food for eleven years (because who cares what slop they feed criminals? Got to keep the budget low when feeding those reprobates), and I will never see him again. I'm angry that the real criminals, the ones who fed him shit for years, the ones that decided that prison food should be a for-profit business, don't have to deal with this pain. Capitalism ended up in our prisons, ladies, gentlemen and genderqueer persons, and didn't you hear about capitalism and property? Property is motherfucking theft, and my brother was made the state's property and he was goddamn stolen from me and so I haven't seen my brother since I was sixteen and that makes me so fucking outraged and furious and angry and raging because I'll never see him again and that is. So. Horrible.

I'm really fucking angry that here I am, years later, assaulted and bereft and guilty and shamed and weeping and sad and I just hate it. I hate it that patriarchy, imperialism, prison, all of it has fucking wrecked my life every day and it just doesn't quit. I still get called a faggot on the street and that pisses me off and then I have to threaten these assholes' safety in order to get them to leave me alone and that really fucking enrages me because I really honestly just love most people and hitting someone is the last thing I want to do. I've had lovers and strangers both do it to me, and I hated it! Why would I want to do it to someone else? But they make me have to threaten them to get them to leave me alone and that fucking infuriates me. After everything I've survived, I have to deal with this petty shit almost every week I'm alive and why should I? Why does it still happen?

What's really insanely infuriating is that my story is not unique, far from it. My story is actually really fucking commonplace. All around us the systems that we have bought into and plugged into and taken stock in do this to people around us each and every day. Strangers, people we love, people we hate, this is all happening to them and it seems hopeless because it's a never ending cycle of poverty, violence, rape and exploitation. It's not hopeless, though, because we can challenge them, but do we ever? Do you ever?

Why the fuck aren't you angry like I am? My stories and those like it aren't even the worst case scenario. I walk through life still wrapped with the privilege my skin gives me and my Y chromosome gives me and there are people who don't have that, who are black or female-assigned or trans and they have it a lot worse and they are treated like shit and are dying and you aren't angry? My female friends are getting raped and you would rather sip your Absolut cocktails and go to a Pride Parade? The people I cared about during my using years are bleeding out their lives in gutters and alleyways and you want to crow about marriage equality passing in motherfucking France?

That's the worst. You know why I'm really fucking angry?

Because you're not angry enough.