Last night I was privy to something that I see quite a lot in my circles. I witnessed three young gay men being a bit too loud in a public space. In my world which is populated by a surprising number of gay men, many of whom have backgrounds in the theater or music, many of whom have been out all of their sexually aware lives, this is common behavior. It does not really phase me, although when, as was the case last night, they are prone to the gratuitous PDA (rubbing of bare bellies and hands trailing down fronts of pants) in the middle of a BART car I also squirm along with the other over 40 folks in the vicinity; although I was aware of quite a few rather patronizing “aw, isn’t that cute…’the gays’…this is what we liberals on our way back to Berkeley fought for” looks from several riders. But it wasn’t so much the public sex that made me take pause. It was the topic of conversation that caught my attention. One of them was (probably a bit drunk) declaring that the signs in BART didn’t use enough “definite articles.” He was most proud of being able to state that people who have learned English as a second language, are confused when the proper articles are not in place. He was clearly on that bizarre border between trying to be clever and actually taking himself seriously and the degree to which he went to make his point made it clear that had anyone challenged him or reminded him that signage is often geared toward the lowest communication standard, which is usually poorly read native English speakers and people in crisis, they would have gotten an earful. His friends giggled loudly at the Ashby station and all four toddled out without further incident…
Now ask yourself if you assumed these men were white.
As it turns out, they were, and so often in today’s discourse around LGBT issues, the assumption is whiteness. We’re even seeing this begin to creep in with the difference between a “Transwoman” (Caitlyn Jenner) and “Transwoman of Color” (Laverne Cox). Without the signifier “…of Color” the assumption is increasingly that “Transwoman” means white. Now there’s a project for you Caitlyn…
When Kim Davis was sent to jail for not to issuing a marriage licenses to same sex couples in Rowan County, Kentucky, she claimed religious exemption. A member of the Apostolic Christian Church, she is part of what can easily be called a “fringe” denomination. 2008 figures along with historical data back to 1950 indicate that the church has never topped more that 4500 members nationwide (Apostolic Christian Church Data)… FYI, there are individual Evangelical churches that pull more than that in a single Sunday.) But Presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz were quick to pick up the “Christian” banner and make this an assault on both political and religious normalcy.
But consider this: The Apostolic Christian Church was founded in Switzerland (a country which only had .9% African decent population as of 2009); Rowan County is 96% white (Census Data); the parties in the Miller vs. Davis case were all white; the couple that became the poster children, thanks to their video, for this case were white (David Moore and David Ermold); All of the high profile LGBT cases (Obergefell, DOMA, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) have focused on white gays and lesbians. Much more so than an assault on Christianity, there is an assault on non-whiteness in what the LGBT community ironically calls the “New Civil Rights Movement” and it is not being done any favors by a media that only looks for white cisgendered, heteronormative couples to sell their stories.
As we enter the new age of gay, we may want to be cautious to ask ourselves if in fact we aren’t seeing in this once entirely marginalized group, a renaissance of white, largely male dominance as a reaction to greater calls for diversity. White men regardless of sexuality are fighting for space in today’s dialogue. They are struggling with being shut down in conversations about Black Lives Matter; they are embarassed by the continuing trend of angry young white men committing mass murder; they are conflicted over a presidential candidate field that looks less diverse than 1980 yet feels for some like a “safe” return to business as usual. They are quick to claim their place among those who are outside of the mainstream, but less quick to own and sit with how their skin color, gender presentation and assumed sexuality privilege their ability to take up space in the room, open doors, secure jobs, imply intellect, convey “safety,” etc. I have had several gay and straight white male colleagues share with me their true fear and deep confusion.
All the while surrounding this inner turmoil, well funded white organizations like Human Rights Campaign are teaching the non-LGBT USA to see one flavor of gay: white, cisgendered, preferably male and able bodied. Despite the fact that the first people to break the sexuality barrier as public media personalities were women, the dominant picture of the “happy married same sex couple” is male. Despite the lengthy history of black women couples and female led households of women of color throughout US history…a pattern that still holds true today due in part to the criminalization and epidemic murder of black men (Jumping Beyond the Broom: Center for American Progress) the dominant picture is white. Caitlyn Jenner has leapfrogged past gerations of transfolk in terms of visibility, cache and space taking because as Bruce Jenner, she was the ultimate white male super hero Olympian. In this new environment of “acceptance,” white men have been given legal and political grounding to create social structures entirely by and for themselves if they so choose. The result is that we hear no voices of non-white same sex couples. We see no images of non-white same sex couples. They simply do not exist.
As far as I’m concerned, Kim Davis and Rowan County can block and protest same sex marriage all they want. Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee can go on an anti-LGBT crusade and reverse all of the Supreme Court decisions. They can just put us all back in the closet too because frankly, they (Kim Davis et. al) are no worse than a “New Civil Rights Movement” that keeps Latino same sex couples invisible, and only looks at black LGBT folks as entertainment and regards Chinese, South Asian and Japanese transfolks as fetishes and Native Americans as a spiritual footnote.
So to the young white gay man in BART who seems to have only fought for the right to be able to be as much of a boor as any straight frat guy, or redneck bigot while fondling his boyfriend in public, don’t assume that the safety sign was written for a non-white immigrant who is invisible to you. If you really value “equality” and “freedom,” you may want to learn to read the signs that say “Warning: White Male Dominated History Repeating Ahead.”