I kept the title as long as it is to signify that I have not come up with some definitive nugget of wisdom that can be understood and pocketed in a mere moment. Instead, I have found connections among my jumbled thoughts and created a trajectory upon which these connections can continue developing. Essentially, I have more clarity now than I did before I wrote this, but I am still searching and learning and thinking.
Following are some thoughts that I have had as a result of different discoveries, conversations, questions, and connections in conducting my undergraduate thesis research on collective liberation, contemplating my sexuality, and discussing queer politics/culture in my Black Lesbian Lives course. So shout out to Dr. Story for cultivating a stimulating class already in the first week of the semester, to Maddie for listening to me discuss my inner turmoil and providing necessary perspectives and friendship, to all of my people with whom I regularly discuss privilege and power and identity, and to all of the authors of the radical literature I have perused recently, especially Chapter 1 of James Tyner’s The Geography of Malcolm X which is what I was reading today when I pieced all of these jumbled thoughts together.
That Which Has Come Out of It All
Respectability politics is bullshit. I’ll leave the Wikipedia definition (which was gleaned from a black feminist work) here for reference:
Respectability politics or the politics of respectability refers to attempts by marginalized groups to police their own members and show their social values as being continuous, and compatible, with mainstream values rather than challenging the mainstream for what they see as its failure to accept difference.
There is no need to conform to the mainstream; no need to assimilate. I am speaking as a queer woman when I say these things and the following, but I do think these perspectives could be echoed by persons of other marginalized groups, whether that be a person who is of color, trans*, or dis/differently-abled, etc. Why embrace the mainstream when I can embrace me?
Phrases (and the accompanying memories of when and where and by whom I heard them) like “it’s fine that they’re gay, but why do they have to be so loud and insistent about it” echo in my memory from a time in which I told myself that I most surely was probably not at all gay. I had even thought the above was a partially agreeable statement as it simultaneously made me shrink further into myself – I was internalizing the heteronormative poison. If anything, the more “insistent” that marginalized groups are and the more they either embrace aspects of their culture or create a culture that is separate from the normative, that is a result of the mainstream pushing these groups away.
I am not gay as in happy but queer as in fuck you. – ACT-UP
The goal is not about conforming. It is not about passively and quietly appreciating your corner, your reservation, your ghetto, your closet – all spaces that privileged groups have fabricated and forced marginalized groups to occupy. It is about remaking spaces, reclaiming identities. We (myself and other queer folks [can’t speak for other marginalized groups]) must insert ourselves into the normative because right now the normative does not include us. Change the system, not the person. Change the system, not the person.
Since we’re already skilled in creating spaces for us, dismantling systems of oppression shouldn’t be too unattainable. In countless conversations I’ve had with politically liberal-identifying folks (read: usually Democrats), people think you simply cannot allow yourself to dream of a world that isn’t founded on oppression. They say that you cannot believe in collective liberation (essentially the active and shared struggle to dismantle systems of oppression by both mainstream and marginalized folks because the systems of oppression affect us all). They say that your thoughts about operating in a non-capitalist society cannot possibly be grounded in reality because it is not possible for the world to operate outside of the constraints and chains of capitalism.
But honestly, why can we not think these things? They say that capitalism isn’t even bad; it’s just been corrupted. But as we realize the limitations and incompleteness of this political ideology, we must offer our critiques and keep building and growing, creating multi-dimensional and intersectional movements. Still, we MUST remedy this corruption, and what better way to do that than to dream of that which is liberating and needed for all people and create something new rather than attempt to ameliorate a flawed system. The system does not have flaws. The system is flawed. That is inherent. So it is time to stop with the bullshit and to start dreaming and doing and lifting each other up.
I am a human and I demand for myself and everyone else to be free.