Tag Archives: homophobia

Shit White Feminists Need To Stop Doing

8 Mar

I’m a white feminist, and let me tell you something: white feminism* is pretty bullshit. It’s exclusive, oppressive, and serves to further marginalize the people who are most impacted by misogyny. Unfortunately, white feminism is also the western status quo of feminism, meaning that white feminists have the biggest platforms, have increased access to resources and media, and are generally considered to be The Voice of Feminism. In theory, someone truly interested in equality would use these assets to amplify the voices of women of colour. In practice, white supremacy is a real thing and white feminists often seem to forget that their white privilege makes it easy as hell to trample over women of colour as they work to dismantle the patriarchy.

So, in honour of International Women’s Day, here is a non-exhaustive list of Shit White Feminists Need to Stop Doing:

1. Believing Their Experiences of Marginalization Are Universal

White feminists like to pretend that they get it. They get it because they’ve been there. They’ve experienced sexism. They’ve experienced misogyny. They’ve been passed over for promotions, whistled at on the street, and had to listen to boring dudes at parties who require approximately ten years of your time in order to explain how fascinating they actually are. These white women have been down in the feminist trenches for years, and like your world-weary Grandpa, they’ve seen it all. They understand the oppression of all women, ok?

Except not. Intersecting forces of oppression mean that women who are queer, racialized, disabled or trans will experience misogyny in very different (and frequently more deadly) ways than white women do. Saying that just because you’re a woman you totally understand all different ways that women are marginalized is not only wildly inaccurate, it’s also just plain ignorant.  Just because you don’t have male privilege doesn’t mean you aren’t the proud owner of a whole host of other types of privilege. And whether you like it or not, those various forms of privilege influence how people treat you.

White women don’t own womanhood, and they don’t get to explain it to women of colour. End of story.

2. Crying About How We’re All On The Same Team

Also known as: “Why are you being so mean to me?”

White feminists tend to have this fantasy that we’re going to tackle this giant, slavering beast called The Patriarchy, and then once that’s done everything will be magical and all of the world’s problems will be solved. They’ll vaguely explain that destroying The Patriarchy will also end racism, transphobia, homophobia and basically everything other societal ill, but they don’t seem to have any clear idea of how exactly that will happen. It just will! Because science.

These feminists will choose specific causes to back – often those that most benefit straight, white, cis-gender women – and will balk if anyone questions why they’re ignoring other types of marginalization that have a greater impact on, say, Black women or trans women. But we’re all on the same team, they’ll tweet frantically. I thought you were on my side. We’re all women, right? The subtext is: you should help me now with the things that directly hurt me, and then maybe one day I’ll help you.

They never seem to wonder why they get to be the ones who delineate the borders between “sides,” or why they get to constantly call the shots about who’s on what team.

3. Talking About Hijabs (Or Burqas, Or Sex-Selective Abortion, Or Anything, Really)

Literally I just want to see all the white feminists take a back seat when it comes to hijabs. It’s amazing that these women will talk up the idea of pro-choice when it comes to pregnancy, but flip out if a woman chooses to cover her hair.

Look, I get it. You think those women are being oppressed, even when they very kindly and patiently tell you they aren’t. You know better than them, right? Because you’ve thrown off the shackles of … something? You think their culture or religion is forcing them into something they don’t really want, and if they believe differently, well, that’s just their internalized misogyny talking.

White women: you literally aren’t more enlightened than everyone else. Stop talking. Go to bed.

Also, explain to me exactly how telling a woman that she shouldn’t wear a specific article of clothing is “empowerment.” It seems to me that limiting women’s choices is the opposite of feminism.

4. Thinking That All Sex Workers Are All Miserable Wretches Who Hate Their Lives

This one isn’t really white women-specific, but I’m going to include it because I’ve seen a lot of white feminists pull this shit and frankly it’s garbage.

Like, this is literally what you’re saying: “I believe women have agency and can make decisions about their lives except for when it has to do with sex work, at which point I will assume that either someone is exploiting them or else they are self-hating gender traitors only interested in the male gaze.”

So just to clarify, you think that women can make choices except when it’s a choice you disagree with, at which point you’re pretty sure she’s being coerced. You also think that sex workers need to be “rescued,” even if they’re happy with what they do. You would rather see women further marginalized by anti-prostitution laws than find ways to keep sex workers safe.

Again, explain to me how this is a pro-woman stance?

5. Arguing That All Other Forms Of Oppression Are Over So We Need to Focus On Women

I’M LOOKING AT YOU, ARQUETTE.

Look, I know that her Oscar speech has been critiqued and analyzed to death, so I won’t dwell on this too much, but – come the fuck on. First of all, saying that we need “all the gay people and people of colour that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now” kind of insinuates that none of those gay people or people of colour are women, no? Second of all, literally read a book or something because racism and homophobia and transphobia are far from over. Third of all, you are a white woman who has benefitted from enormous privilege her entire life. You don’t get to tell other marginalized groups what to do.

I know that her remarks were well-intentioned. I get that. But that’s a huge part of the problem – white feminists toss this kind of shit off the cuff, then get huffy when they’re called out, and then we’re right back to number two on this list. Just own your privilege for a hot second and stop bleating about how mean everyone else is being when they point out how you’ve rightfully fucked up.

White feminists: this is a call for you to get your shit together. The point of equality isn’t to claw your way to the top so that you can treat other people just as badly as white dudes have treated you – we need to elevate each other, amplify each other’s voices, and maybe let someone else tell us if we’re allowed to be on their team. Because, as per Flavia Dzodan, if your feminism is not intersectional, then I’m sorry but it’s complete bullshit.

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* by “white feminism” I mean a certain demographic of white women who are straight, cis and able-bodied and view their brand of “feminism” as being better and more “real” than that of anyone else’s.

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“But Not All ______ Are Like That!”

25 Feb

I see this happen all the damn time.

Someone describes the actions of a privileged group of people and how these actions, purposefully or not, encourage the marginalization of a less-privileged group. Most often this description occurs within the context of trying to explain to the privileged folks how this dynamic is hurtful and oppressive. The hope is that the privileged group will listen to the marginalized person, examine their own behaviour, and try to do better in the future. The reality is that the person doing the explaining is nearly always met with a chorus of, “but not all men/white people/straight people/cis people/able-bodied people are like that!”

Look. I get it. You, whatever privileged group you happen to fall into, are a good person. You want to remind the marginalized group that you view yourself as an ally. You want them to know that not everyone is against them – the world, after all, isn’t such a grim place as all that. You want to make it clear that although you understand that your group has done some not-so-great things in the past, you are a better, more evolved person than that.

Maybe you even think you are somehow helping the marginalized group realize that you’re more than just a blank face in a group – you’re an individual person with your own thoughts and actions.

You know what, though?

You are not helping.

You are just making things worse.

In fact, you are only helping to prove the original point: that you, as a privileged person, perpetuate actions and ideas that oppress less privileged people.

See, what you’re really doing with your comment is a classic derailment tactic. In a discussion that is supposed to be about those who have frequently been silenced, you are contributing to that silencing by making it all about you. The message that you are giving out is that your feelings, your poor, hurt, privileged feelings should be taken into account no matter what the topic at hand. You are putting yourself in the centre of the discussion, and pushing the original topic off to the side. You are occupying a space that was created by and for people who don’t have many other spaces to occupy, and yet you feel entitled to be there because your privilege has taught you that you are entitled to be anywhere you want. You are telling oppressed groups that they cannot discuss the issues that affect them unless they have first considered the feelings of the oppressive group.

You are being a bad fucking ally.

I’m going to give you three pieces of advice:

1. If you don’t feel like the action attributed to the privileged group is something that you do, then assume the person is not talking about you

If you are not guilty of this particular oppressive act, then great! You are a good ally! Here’s a cookie for you! You can revel in the knowledge of your goodness without having to ask for reassurance from anyone else.

2. Take a moment to examine your past actions and ask yourself if this might, in fact, be something of which you have been guilty

The truth is that you may very well have been unconsciously participating in subtle forms of oppression without realizing it. Often our privilege is so deeply ingrained that we don’t always recognize when we are abusing it; before you decide whether or not you’re fully innocent of any wrongdoing, it’s worth taking the time to check in with yourself and see if you’re being totally honest.

3. Use this as a learning opportunity, and an opportunity to educate others

Whether or not you are guilty of involvement in some kind of oppression (and, I mean, spoiler alert: you probably are), any marginalized person relating their lived experience should be something you take seriously. Rather than just dismissing what they’re saying as something that you would never, ever, ever do, use what they are telling you as a chance to further educate yourself on the dynamics of oppression. Not only that, but use your privilege to amplify their voice – share their post, retweet their message, reblog it on your Tumblr. Instead of crying that not all ____ are like that, use your actions to show that you, personally, are not like that.

Whether or not you intend to cause harm, you, as a privileged person, have almost certainly engaged in some form of oppression or marginalization. Our culture has taught you that your skin colour or gender or sexual orientation mean that your thoughts and feelings are more valuable than those of other groups, and that is some social programming that takes a lot of hard work to undo. But if you want to consider yourself to be anti-oppression – if, instead of just saying that you’re not racist or homophobic or a misogynist, you actually want to actively not be any of those things – you need to put in the time to try to dismantle the fucked up outlook that your privilege has given you. Otherwise, you have absolutely no place in any kind of social justice movement.

And if you really want others to believe that not all men/white people/cis people/straight people/able-bodied people are total assholes, then instead of whining about how good you actually are, you need to prove it.

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Do We Have To Be Offended By Everything

9 Jan

You are a smart person and you pride yourself on your critical thinking abilities and general good taste.

You read or hear or watch something and find yourself smiling, nodding in agreement, maybe even laughing out loud. This, whatever this happens to be, is genius. Whoever created it somehow articulated exactly what you’ve been thinking but have never been able to put into words. Nothing has ever been more perfect.

You share what you’ve just read, heard or watched with your friends, expecting that they’ll be just as blown away by the insight and hilarity as you were. And some people do get it, so you high five to celebrate your mutual intelligence and awesomeness. But then a few of your friends start to voice misgivings, and then someone comes right out and says it:

This isn’t cool.

Here’s the thing – you’re not a bad person. In fact, you would typically describe yourself as kind-hearted, open-minded and even downright liberal.  You support marriage equality, you think that the patriarchy is a Real Thing, you’re against oppression and intolerance of any kind, and you use terms like social justicewhite privilege and problematic. You are a good person. So if you think that what you shared was cool, and so many other people that you like and respect thought it was cool, then it stands to reason that it must be cool. And rather than second-guessing yourself or taking a fresh look at the video or blog post or whatever it was you shared, you let your knee-jerk self-righteousness and fear take over. Because, let’s be honest – as much as you believe that you’re in the right right, you are also afraid. Afraid that you are what you purport to hate, or at the very least unconsciously participating in a system that you hate.

And so you begin to loudly dismiss and belittle the other person’s concerns.

“Calm down, it’s just a joke.”

“You’re taking this too seriously.”

“You’re reading something into this that just isn’t there.”

“Honestly, do we have to be offended by everything now?”

“You are way too sensitive.”

“I have a black/gay/trans*/female friend, and they don’t think this is racist/homophobic/transphobic/sexist.”

You might even throw in a word or two about censorship, if you’re in the right mood.

Because of course you must be in the right. If there was any problem with the content in question, you would have been the first to see it. If the joke was offensive, you wouldn’t have laughed. If this was something likely to hurt another person, you wouldn’t have shared it.

You are a good person.

So if someone is offended, that’s their problem, not yours. Maybe they’re too sensitive, or else maybe they’re just trying to show off somehow or cause a ruckus when there doesn’t need to be one. Chances are that they don’t even really feel hurt or upset; they have some other ulterior motive for their reaction. Or maybe they just don’t get it. Maybe they don’t understand satire, or maybe the joke went right over their head.

Whatever the case is, there is no possible chance that you could be wrong.

And yet.

What if you are wrong?

And what if your defensiveness has effectively shut down an opportunity to learn something?

And what if you genuinely did hurt someone?

Because the thing is, typically if someone is telling you that something isn’t cool, they’re not doing it out of a spirit of malice or a desire to police the things that you enjoy. They’re not trying to ruin all your fun. They’re telling you that this, whatever this is, could at best hurt someone’s feelings and at worst promote a dangerous and potentially violent world view.

Our experiences obviously vary a great deal from person to person, and the lens through which we view things can very much depend on factors like race, gender, sexuality and class. So something that might strike one person as harmless has the potential to affect someone else in a very different way. And I get that it’s hard to get outside of our own heads sometimes, and it’s hard to admit that we might be wrong, and it’s especially fucking hard to examine our own privilege and the way that privilege colours our perception, but seriously – how else do you expect to learn and grow as a person?

Take a moment right now to ask yourself what you are truly saying when you tell someone that they are too easily offended. That you value your ability to post rape jokes on Facebook more than you do their friendship? That the right to free speech is a one way street, open only to you and those agree with you? That you don’t care about something so long as it doesn’t directly affect you?

So I guess it all boils down to what kind of person you want to be – do you want to be someone who is caring and compassionate, someone who takes others’ feelings into consideration? Or do you want to be someone who is always right? Because there’s no way that you can be both.

Life is an ongoing exercise in empathy. As a human being, your job should be constantly learning how to make your own way in this world while causing as little harm as possible.  Which is why I’m ultimately baffled when people wonder aloud if they’re supposed to look at everything critically and worry about its potential to harm others. Because yes. Yes, that is exactly what you are supposed to do.

And while you may laugh at the ridiculousness of what some people find offensive, the fact is that one day you are going to stumble across something and it’s going to hurt you. When that day comes, you are going to want someone to listen to you and try to understand where you’re coming from. So you know what? You be that person. You be that person right now, and you listen to others, and you exercise empathy. Because one day you’re going to be on the other side of the calm-down-it’s-just-a-joke argument, and when that time comes you are going to bitterly regret every single instance in which you downplayed or ignored what someone else was trying to tell you.

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Maybe You Dance

3 Jun

I spend a lot of time thinking about intolerance and the various things that I do to combat it. I mean, that’s what a lot of this blog is supposed to be, right? I’m trying, in my own small way, to fight against sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and all the other isms and phobias that people, even nice people, even good people, throw at each other. And I think that I do an okay job for the most part, but it’s easy to fight this battle online, isn’t it? I mean, comparatively. Sure, the relative anonymity of the internet tends to bring out the absolute worst in people, and I’ve been told all kinds of awful things, some of which have hurt pretty badly. I’ve been told that I’m a waste of oxygen, that I should kill myself, and there have been a whole litany of comments, tweets and even entire blog posts by other people dedicated to what a terrible mother I am, and yeah, that sucks, but still.

Being a loudmouth who speaks out against hate on the internet very rarely results in physical violence.

Being a loudmouth who speaks out against hate in the real world is much more likely to result in broken bones, a smashed up face or even worse.

And I’m not saying that online threats or mean comments aren’t scary, because they definitely are, but also when it all gets to be too overwhelming I can just shut off my computer and walk away. But raising my voice publicly, in the middle of, say, a crowded bar full of drunken bigots, doesn’t afford me that same luxury.

There was, in fact, a crowded bar full of drunken bigots last night. And maybe this is a fairly normal occurrence – what do I know, I’m in bed by ten most nights, and when I do go out it’s to one of the genteel pubs in my genteel neighbourhood. And probably these guys are really super nice guys in real life, not the kind of guys to yell “faggots!” at a bunch of guys just because their band isn’t playing whatever kind of music it is they want to hear. I mean, unless they’re out late at night and it’s someone’s birthday and they’re all drunk, belligerent and three seconds away from a brawl with any given person that they encounter on the cramped dance floor.

So what do you do? What exactly do you do if you’re in this bar, and you hear people yelling the word faggot, and you’re sure that saying something, anything will result in getting punched in the face? What do you do if that’s your friend, or at the very least the friend of your friend, on stage, playing his bespectacled, skinny jean-clad heart out? Seriously, what the fuck do you do?

If you’re me, apparently you sit there grimacing and whispering to the girl next to you, demanding to know where the fuck all these terrible drunk dudes came from. If you’re me, you hunker down in your seat, and hope they don’t come anywhere near you. If you’re me, you hope that if they do make their way over to you, they somehow manage to keep their hands to themselves.

If you’re me, you die a little inside when you think about how you’re totally not standing up for what you believe in, and you hate yourself for being a coward.

And if you’re my friend Nathan, you get up and dance.

You get up, you stand dead centre in front of the stage, and you fucking dance to the spastic beat of the music.

For reasons that I can’t fully articulate, what happened last night was one of the nicest things I’ve ever seen. There was just something really lovely about seeing my friend standing there, trying to figure out how to move to the pseudo-eighties synthesizer amazingness coming from the stage. And as weird as this sounds, there was something both aggressive and earnestly affectionate about his body language as he danced – aggressive towards all the assholes behind him who were now demanding that the band play Wonderwall, and affectionate towards his friends onstage, who were trying their best to ignore what was going on. And Nathan just stood there, as steady and unmovable as a rock. And it was really, really nice.

And I got up and joined him, and so did a few other people, and the drunk assholes slowly backed off.

Afterwards, Nathan said to me, “I just didn’t want Drew to have to look out and have to see all those douchebags. I wanted there to be at least one friendly face out there.”

I’m glad he had the instinct to get up and dance, because I definitely didn’t. Maybe I only know how to fight with words, and when I feel like I can’t do that, I’m at a total loss. Or maybe I should be more willing to risk my personal safety for the stuff that I believe in. Regardless, I’m glad that he got up, because I think that it was the best thing that anyone could have done in that situation.

And, in the future, I really want to be able to remember that there are other ways of fighting intolerance besides my usual bag of tricks. Sometimes you can do it by standing there alone and, with great purpose and love, just fucking dancing like there’s no tomorrow.

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My Uncle Eric

26 Mar

When I was a kid I had this uncle, Uncle Eric.

Maybe you’ve heard of him? His name was Eric Donkin, and for a while (quite a while, actually) he was kind of a Big Deal in Canadian theatre.

Here is a picture of Uncle Eric as Julius Caesar:

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Pretty badass, no?

He wasn’t really my uncle. He was actually one of those family friends your parents force you to call auntie or uncle or cousin. His father had died over in England when he was a baby, and he and his mother had emigrated to Montreal when he was only 11 months old. His mother, who I called Nana Donkin, had met my grandparents not long after arriving in Canada and soon became their close friend. She used to babysit my mother and her siblings, and Eric had been like a (significantly) older brother to them.

Anyway, Uncle Eric was very well-established as an actor by the time I met him – he was already in his mid-50s when I was born and living in Stratford with mother and his friend John. Or rather, Nana Donkin lived in one large, gorgeous Victorian house in the middle of town, and Eric and John lived in another right next door.

My mother referred to John as Eric’s partner, and Nana Donkin called John his chum. My grandparents simply referred to John as Eric’s friend. None of the adults I knew ever spoke aloud what must have been obvious to everyone: that John was Eric’s lover, and, had gay marriage been legal back then, he likely would have been his husband.

As a kid, you don’t question language or titles a whole lot, I guess. So when my mother told me that John was Eric’s partner, I thought she meant business partner. I figured that they lived together because they had a lot of businessy stuff to do, and probably they were both bachelor-types who liked having the company of a roommate and friend.

As I grew older, I didn’t think to question John and Eric’s relationship. They were never demonstrative, never open about their love for each other; probably because both had grown up in a time when that just wasn’t done. Even when I was old enough to know what being gay or queer meant, and old enough to know that you couldn’t legally marry someone of your own sex, and certainly old enough to know that gay people often referred to their significant others as their partners, I still didn’t put two and two together.

It wasn’t until I was fifteen and attending Uncle Eric’s funeral that I realized that he was gay.

I was (and still am) a theatre nerd who, at the time, had dreams of someday sweeping across a Stratford stage in a period gown, loudly and beautifully enunciating my way through one of Shakespeare’s more famous monologues. So I was understandably a little overwhelmed by the fact that I was sitting in a private family-only box at the Festival Theatre listening to Richard Monette and Martha Henry eulogize my uncle. As I sat there entranced, drinking in every theatrically-spoken word, I had a lightbulb moment.

Someone, I can’t remember who, was reminiscing about performing with Uncle Eric at Montreal’s Centaur Theatre. She told a story about how one night, after whatever show it was that they were doing, all of the chorus girls ran into Eric’s dressing room and covered him in bright red stage-make-up-y kisses. Eric had just laughed and said, “I think I’m playing for the wrong team.”

There was, like, a record scratch sound that went off in my head.

Whoa. Hold up. What team were we talking about? What was she saying?

I leaned over and whispered to my mother, “Mom? Was Uncle Eric gay?”

“Shhh. Not now, Annie,” she said, distracted.

“No, but really,” I said, my voice entering “inappropriately loud” territory. “Was he gay? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Annie,” my mother hissed. “We’re in the middle of a memorial service. We will talk about this later.”

How had I gone my entire life not knowing that John and Eric were in love? Why hadn’t anyone every told me?

It seriously still blows my mind by the time Eric died in 1998, we, as a family, still couldn’t talk about the fact that he was gay. And it’s not like my parents were in any way conservative or homophobic – they were usually very open and liberal about everything. We’d already discussed the fact that being gay was normal, that it was just fine and dandy to love or date or co-habitate with someone of your own sex. I had gay friends at school; my father had taken me to my first pride parade when I was 14.

Every single one of us said that it was okay to be gay, but we never talked about the fact that Uncle Eric was in love with a man.

Later, after eating miniature sandwiches at John and Eric’s home, after letting John show me the pond in their backyard that Eric had built and proudly stocked with goldfish, after I’d hiding myself in a corner with Eric’s copy of The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy in an attempt to avoid having to talk to family, I grilled my mother about Eric. At fifteen, I was loud and somewhat abrasive, and I think I might have accused her of being a complacent middle-aged homophobe. For some reason, maybe as a way of transferring my grief and surprise at Eric’s death (he’d died suddenly of a heart attack during a rehearsal for Much Ado About Nothing), I was strangely upset about the fact that she’d never told me that Eric was gay.

“I don’t really know why, Annie,” she said. “I guess we were afraid of Nana Donkin knowing, and I thought if I said the word gay to you, you would repeat it in front of her.”

“She must have known, though. How could she not have known?”

“Well,” said my mother, not looking at me, “I think that it’s possible to stop yourself from knowing something if you really don’t want to know it. You have to remember that she grew up in a different time, and this wasn’t something that was acceptable back then.”

I’ve been thinking about Uncle Eric a lot today, what with the hearing regarding Proposition 8, which would ban gay marriage in California, that are happening at the US Supreme Court right now. I’ve been wondering how different things would have been if John and Eric had been allowed to marry. Surely, then, we would have had to talk about it. Surely we wouldn’t have been able to tiptoe around the issue the way we did.

Surely one of the number of articles and obituaries that I’ve read about him today would have mentioned John, his partner of dozens of years, if they’d been married.

There are people, nice people, who want to convince you that it’s possible for LGBTQ folks to have equality without necessarily having marriage equality. They want to ban gay marriage not because they’re homophobic, but because it goes against The Bible (which is obviously what should be informing American laws, because who needs separation of church and state?) and is somehow Morally Wrong. They’re totally fine with people being out of the closet, and starring in sitcoms and getting up to hilarious gay shenanigans, so long as they can’t get married.

And I think it’s great that so many people who, a generation ago, would have publically been against gay anything are now only against gay marriage. I do, actually, think that that’s a big step forward. But I believe that it’s wrong to say that the LGBTQ community is fully equal in a society that affords one, huge, particular right to straight people only.

And you know what? Remembering Uncle Eric has reminded how easy it is for straight allies to stay silent when their voices are needed the most. All of us, my whole family, could’ve spoken out against the casual, insidious homophobia that John and Eric faced. But we didn’t, and it’s hard for me to figure out the how and why of that.

Fifteen years later, I can’t help but be upset and embarrassed by the ways we let Uncle Eric down. I can’t help but re-examine my life to try to figure out the ways I’m letting down other oppressed groups that I call myself an ally of. I suspect that there might be more ways than I can think of.

For now, please enjoy this clip of Uncle Eric in The Mikado: