Thoughts on essentialization, rights, and hopes for LGBT Americans
Throughout the coming year, I’ll probably be bouncing around thoughts on this space as I prepare for my Student Note with the Journal of Gender, Race, and Justice. Tonight, I have some observations in three areas.
The first deals directly with gay rights, and it was a bit of an emotional crisis I had the other night. I had been receiving some conflicting messages about the extent to which our Notes can pertain to an international issue. That’s since been cleared up, but at the time I was asking myself – can I write a domestic issue? Well I could write about a domestic issue. So I started doing some searches in legal databases for the issues to see if there was anything interesting I could write about. I’m not saying that there isn’t, but a lot of what was coming up were the same issues – marriage, adoption, IVF, the military, discrimination, hate crimes, immigration. All important topics that I believe in. So why do I find it hard to write about domestic issues?
It’s like putting a bandaid on a corpse. I believe, and I am a pessimist and sincerely hope that I’m wrong, but I believe that each of these issues, though solveable, will not help the situation in this country all that much. They will provide individual solutions for individual problems. People will be able to get married, or serve in the military. But this will not change the systemic hatred, intolerance, violence, ignorance, and annoyance towards LGBT Americans. The discrimination is persistent, it is terrible, and it is real. It may be more obvious in certain pockets of the country, but it exists everywhere. Everywhere, young LGBT Americans are terrified to come out to their peers. Adults experience the same fear, and with just reason. When I started thinking about the possibilities, it only made me upset. Of course LGBT people face discrimination all over the world, but this is so close to home. This is my own experiences, my communities, my adolescence. It’s hard to look in the eye. Like other minority groups, I think this struggle will take us hundreds of years, and it may never fully be over. That’s difficult to think about.
Another thought I had when thinking about my Note topic was how I wrote in my application for the Journal about the essentialization of identity. I’m wondering if I haven’t started to essentialize my own identity. The more out I become, the more I make myself a poster child for lesbianism. I’ve been able to embrace being the gay one in the room. I’m cool with that. But it becomes “my issue,” and other parts of who I am – female, Southern, etc – disappear into the background. It doesn’t change the fact that I want to write about an LGBT issue, but it does make me wonder what I’m missing by “zooming in” so much.
Finally, just a general observation about human rights. I’m seeing two complementary views of human rights that I hadn’t before, and I’d like to share them. One, which I’ve understood and held very dear for a while, is the concept that rights do not have to be enjoyed by anyone to exist. People say “but if human rights are universal, there must be very few, since people don’t really have most of the rights on the list.” My response is that they have the rights, they just aren’t recognized or enforced. African slaves had the fundamental human right to liberty throughout their enslavement in the United States, but that right was violated. Women have the right to be treated humanely and not discriminated against, but they do not fully enjoy that right in many places. It doesn’t mean they don’t have it. The second view, however, is an interesting one that I haven’t thought about as much. That view is that rights can come from practice, even where they are not recognized by the law. A scholar on Mexico, Speed (Sharon, I think?), makes this point in relation to the Zapatistas in Mexico. They took over their communities and implemented human rights, and then told the government that they didn’t need to negotiate for legislation protecting them. They had the right and so they were going to implement it themselves. Interesting food for thought.
ps – Lesbian Book Club folks, I’ve posted my thoughts on Stir-Fry here. Feel free to chime in if you’ve read it, and if you’re reading or planning to go at your own pace and post your thoughts whenever you get to it. No pressure. (Don’t forget to log-in to access the link).