Friday, November 14, 2008

That Straight Blind Spot

Of all the amazing things that have happened in the last two weeks, the discovery that a large number of straight people can vote to strip away our constitutional rights AND THEN BE SURPRISED WHEN WE'RE UPSET has to be at least second on the list.

Like the manager of El Coyote, an L.A. restaurant with a large gay clientele, a Mormon who contributed $100 to support Prop 8. Or the Mormon artistic director of the California Musical Theatre--of all things--for his support. Both expressed confusion and dismay that what they saw as a personal decision should have offended their clients, colleagues, and friends.


What can explain that straight blind spot?

Well, lessee. What indeed?

First, there is a centuries-long tradition among heterosexuals of deriding, scorning, mocking, trivializing, and otherwise dehumanizing homosexuals. It can't be easy to break the habit.

Next, there's the intrinsic relationship between sexism and heterosexism, making it just as easy to deride, scorn, mock, trivialize, and dehumanize women. The two constantly reinforce each other. No surprise, then, that just about the time we begin to make progress on one front, the other starts eroding. After Putt-Putt, and thanks to the Family Research Council, keeping women and Queers in their place is conservative America's favorite family pass-time.

Then there's the longstanding media fiction that there really are two equally valid viewpoints when someone else's human rights are concerned. How many times has Larry King or Bill Maher or CNN or NBC staged a "debate" between a supporter of "gay marriage" and an opponent of "gay marriage"? It's always predicated on the lie that the quarrel is about a rite and has nothing whatsoever to do with the explicit constitutional rights of every person to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--any one of which touches directly on the choice of whom or whether to marry.

After all, they say, it's only a disagreement about "preserving traditional marriage." Not. Words matter. "Preserving"? "Traditional"? By implying that there's one monolithic institution, those words erase the truth that marriage has undergone a myriad changes over the centuries. Hetereosexually speaking, marriage has included mere contracts for financial convenience and to consolidate power. It has included divorceable marriage, assigned marriage, plural marriage, open marriage, drive-thru marriage, Britney marriage, serial marriage, mail-order marriage, and common-law marriage, almost all without drawing a peep from the Officially Godly Contingent about the "sanctity" of it all.

Implicit lies and distortions mount up over time. Sooner or later, there's an accumulated pseudo-reality, a backdrop of unstated assumptions against which we tilt all but in vain. It serves to erase fact--especially when, before Congress, or one notch over on the dial, a phalanx of fascist Christianists has been spewing lethal lies about us and/or our relationships for thirty years.

Not least is the mainstream media's famous penchant for ignoring crimes of violence committed by heterosexists against gay men and lesbian women and trans-gendered persons. We know about them because we are the victims and we know the victims, and because our media cover these crimes for the horrors they are. But, except for the most egregious horrors, mainstream straight media spare straight people the discomfort of ever having to connect the dots between between a Matthew Shepard, on the one hand, and the vicious carping of an Ann Coulter, the lies of Christianist zealots like Fred Phelps or James Dobson, and the way reporters and editors choose to portray or erase us, on the other.

I link straight surprise to straight denial. Given centuries of pretending that we don't exist at all, straight denial that we've ever been oppressed at all is actually not amazing. It's even clinically predictable. What better way to deal with the consequences of one's behavior than to pretend there are none? And if there are none, what on earth can we possibly be pissed off about?

Straight denial surely also plays a role in well-meaning straight counsel to us to tone it down, to choose another target, not the church. Together with enforced ignorance about heterosexism's effects for us--books about us are banned; sex education can't mention us; teachers, doctors, nurses, ministers, actors, firemen, cops, accountants, life guards, EMTs, athletes, kids, and all the rest of us still can't come out without paying an atrocious price--straight denial makes it possible to minimize centuries of heterosexist terrorization and oppression, utterly overlook the last 50 years in which we've tried every conceivable alternative means to gain full human equality, and ultimately see us as the cause of all this hostility, therefore accountable for toning it down. Oh please.

The fact remains: We didn't pick this fight. It began when we decided to take straight boots off gay and lesbian necks.

Straight people of good will, our allies and friends, can do something about straight denial. You can walk with us in protests, speak out for us in voice and print, join and donate to causes and organizations supporting our liberation, join us as amicus curiae in lawsuits to protect our rights, and educate, educate, educate other straights with whom you come in contact. I recommend the tried-and-true method born, not coincidentally, in the Women's Rights Movement, called consciousness raising. There are numerous resources out there to help you plan and conduct a CR group at church, at work, at the neighborhood coffee shop.

But whatever you do, don't wait. Next it could be your son or daughter who's savaged. For everyone's sake, don't get stuck in straight denial.


peacelovelunges said...

One of the best commentaries I've read on this issue.