Race, orientation, civil rights

Ellie showed me an interesting "Open Letter to My White Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Sisters and Brothers," by Diane Finnerty, "a 44 year old white lesbian of German/Irish descent." (The original version is a PDF that's better-formatted and easier to read, but I generally prefer to point to HTML versions where possible.)

The gist of it (though I'm way oversimplifying) is that the white GLBT community often engages in language and action that may alienate communities of color (and that even setting up that dichotomy between two monolithic "communities," as news stories often do and I just did, may be harmful), including using the rhetoric of the 1960s struggle for black civil rights without an understanding of the details.

I don't agree with all of the piece, and I think the language of it (starting with the side note in the first paragraph that takes for granted the notion that the US is turning into a corporate theocracy) is probably radical-liberal enough in tone to make some readers immediately disregard anything Finnerty has to say. Still, I think there's some valuable stuff here; good food for thought.

No time to discuss in more detail at the moment, though.

5 Responses to “Race, orientation, civil rights”

  1. Tempest

    I shall have to read this when I get home. But just a quick note: On the face of things (the way you describe the thesis here) I’m actually inclined to say this person may be right. Though I haven’t been as involved in the activist part of the LGBT community for a while, I remember that this discussion/issue came up a lot.

    anyway, I’ll probably have something more intellegent to say when I actually read the thing, for now I must go back to drowning in family.

  2. Tempest

    Now that I have actualy read the piece I can comment intelligently. I agree with pretty much all of what she had to say. Back in college we used to have discussions/debates about why there were so few people of color in LGBT communities that we knew of and how the mainstream LGBT community is geared more toward white LGBT people than those of color. People of color you find in these communities are ones who identify with the white “definition” of what it means to be homosexual, bisexual, or trans.

    There was also a lot of talk about how what we percieve as “homosexual” is looked at by other cultures. Some of the examples I remember are: certain tribes in Africa allowed women to marry other women (more specifically to choose to invite other women into the household/family unit without having to consult the husband); the whole thing with black men being on the “Down Low” but refusing to think of themselves as gay or homosexual or even bisexual; South American and/or Latin men who regularly carry on open relationships with other men but have wives and children and such.

    We talked a lot about how our community would label these people gay or lesbian or bisexual, but those labels have connotations that the other folks don’t really want to be associated with. Gay, Lesbian, bisexual – these are very white American terms and evoke a specific Western mode of being.

    So anyway, that was my thought.

  3. nalo

    Interesting. Yes, I think she makes many good points. Probably a good piece to pair with Juba’s article (you may remember meeting him, Jed).

  4. Jed

    Interesting comments, Tempest, and interesting article, Nalo; thanks, both of you. (And yup, I remember Juba; say hi to him for me!)

    I’m curious, though, about how this stuff does or doesn’t fit with the phenomenon of white men having sex with other men but refusing to consider themselves gay or bi. ‘Cause I don’t think it’s only men of color who do that.

    It seems to me that a lot of the white population rejects the notion that being interested in (and/or having sex with) someone of the same sex makes you gay or bi. A white liberal college-educated upper-middle-class friend of mine who considered herself heterosexual once wrote something like “Well, sure I have occasional sex dreams involving women, and I get turned on by those. But that doesn’t make me gay, right?” To which my initial glib answer was: “No, it makes you bi.” I know that wasn’t a useful answer, and I hope I said something more than that in addition, but my point was that the main reason she was avoiding using the word “bi” was that it had negative connotations for her, not that it was an inaccurate description.

    (For that matter, up until after I graduated from college, I often thought to myself things like “Well, sure I find some guys attractive. But everyone’s at least a little bi, and I’m in that range of bisexuality that’s labeled ‘straight.'” Eventually I realized that the reason I didn’t want to label myself as bi was because I was scared of not being straight.)

    And the labels associated with homosexuality and bisexuality have strong negative connotations to much of the world outside the white-focused GLBT community, so I think a lot of people of all colors reject those labels even if they’re having lots of same-sex sex.

    I’ll certainly buy the idea that there’s a lack of sensitivity to cultural issues among the white GLBT populace, and I certainly think that should be addressed. But I think that some parts of the two pieces we’ve linked to suggest that most white people do accept the labels defined by the white GLBT community, and I think that’s not necessarily true.

    Does that make sense? I’m not sure; I’m still thinking this stuff through. Further comments/discussion most welcome.

  5. Tempest

    Yes, that does make sense 🙂 The difference may be (and I’m guessing here) that there’s a difference in the reasons for rejecting those labels in the different cultures. White people don’t want to be labeled as bi or gay or lesbian maybe because they don’t want to BE that. they want to deny that they have those feelings or what those feelings mean. And this can go for all people, as well. For religious, community, or personal reasons they just do not want to be LGBT.

    But with, say, black men on the “Down Low”, they aren’t necessarily trying to deny that they have sexual feelings for men or act on them when they don’t want to be called gay, they just don’t want to be called gay because that means they are girly men. It’s a blow to their manhood because of the way people percieve what it means to be gay.

    People in other cultures might not want to be labeled LGBT not because they are denying themselves, they just don’t like the baggage that comes with those words. the Western Civ baggage, the cultural baggage, etc.

    Again, I could be completely wrong. This is how I understood the issue.


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