What Are My Priorities?

fanOver at BJ, there was a vociferous debate on a thread about queer rights.  I came into it late (though by the time the thread ended, apparently, I was in the middle), and it hurt.  I was essentially in agreement with some of the main points, but I was bothered by the vitriol leveled at the queer community and the defensiveness of some of the posters.  Yes, there were a few over-the-top commenters from the queer side (note to my side, NEVER compare yourself to a revolution, ok?), but for the most part, the responses were thoughtful and multidimensional.  I may biased, ok, I am biased, but I was shocked at how little the majority wanted to listen to what the queers were actually saying.

I admit it.  I cried.  It was the tone of the arguments that really got to me.  These are our allies, and they were so defensive and angry about queer issues.  I couldn’t even imagine what the far rightwing reaction would be to such a discussion.  I withdrew from BJ for the rest of the day to lick my wounds, so to speak, and I realized that I didn’t feel comfortable talking honestly about queer issues on the site.  I have to give it up to the other queers with much more balls and patience than I have (gex and gbear to name two), not to mention much less sensitive about it.

I realized something, though.  Part of the defensiveness of the majority is because of guilt.  See, for most non-queer people, queer issues aren’t a priority.  They think it should be, and they feel guilty.  Once I realized that, I could then say, “Hey, ok.  It’s not their priority (queer rights).  Why should it be?” And I felt much better about it.

Let me give an illustration.  My best friend has devoted much of her life to helping disadvantaged youth, mostly of color.  She confronts racism when she sees it, even when it would be more convenient for her to ignore it.  She questions her own assumptions, and she progresses.  She devotes her life to her kids (she’s in charge at an alternative high school)–in other words, she’s walked the walk.  The thing is, most people in a majority don’t do that.  While most people are against discrimination and most likely would sign a petition or write a letter or donate money to the cause, it’s not something that someone who isn’t affected by it is necessarily going to give an undue amount of time to erasing the problems.  Likewise, a straight person can be not homophobic and supportive of gay marriage and repealing DOMA, can give to the causes and write about them or write letters, and still, the cause isn’t in her top five list of personally important causes.

And that’s ok.  It really is.  To be even more personal about it, let’s take the Iran election.  Now, it’s a cause celebre in the States what with everyone wearing green to support the Iranian protesters.  We are all Iranians now, apparently, including the oppressed House minority–the GOP.  Don’t ask, you really don’t want to know.

Personally, it’s not in my top five issues of importance.  Partly, it’s because I have watched Taiwan struggle for independence for the last thirty years (longer, but I’ve been watching for that long) without America giving a damn about Taiwan.  Partly, it’s because even if Mousavi wins, it’s still going to be a theocracy.  For whatever reason, while I wish the people of Iran well, this is not an issue that engages me personally.

It’s not popular for me to say that, and I haven’t really proclaimed it loudly, but there it is.  I am not as attuned into class issues as I could be because I’m not of the working class or the underclass.  I’m not interested in the rights of mothers at work to breastfeed without having the time counting against their breaks–actually, I am against it not counting because I am tired, as a single person, to have families get all the flexibility.  You all chose to have families (for the most part).  I did not.

My point is, it should be ok for someone who’s not queer to say, I support you, but it’s not a top priority for me.  I mean, as long as they aren’t actively trying to push further discrimination against queers, of course.  Instead, it’s taboo for a liberal to rank concerns, as it were, which leads to the anger and the defensiveness exhibited over at BJ.  In addition, they are, as a whole, more moderate than I, so they favor the middle road a bit more than I do.

It was really made clear to me by reading a newer thread on the health care plan unravelling.  A few people said that if Obama didn’t get this passed, they would be against him or nonpolitical again.  In other words, that was their own personal issue of importance.  One idiot today even complained today that the queers think our issues are more important than the healthcare issues, which, by the way, is pure bullshit.  But it illustrates the point that to most people, the issues that affect them personally are the ones they care about the most.

I guess my point is, I can accept that to non-queers, our issues aren’t foremost and front and center.  I would even be fine (well, fine is not the word, but relieved) if Obama said, “I have a lot on my plate right now.  LGBT issues are going to have to wait.”  It’s just with the combination of him walking back his promise on repealing DADT, the knowledge that he is against gay marriage, the missteps with different pastors who were anti-gay, and the DOMA brief that was distasteful, it didn’t seem like he was in a hurry to actually do something to, you know, actually move along the repeal of DADT and DOMA.  I know Congress has to get the ball rolling (and yeah, I know how difficult it is to get them to do anything), but if Obama had a sense of urgency around the issue, so would they.

It’s only when several prominent supporters started rumbling over Obama’s appearance of foot dragging on gay issues (and backing out of a fundraiser) that Obama did something.  Since I have seen Democratic pols use queers time and time again, all the mealy-mouth talk on queer issues was starting to get me down.  I am actually heartened by his clear confirmation of his commitment to repealing DOMA.  I just want him to continue to match his words with his actions.

P.S.  I knew he was against gay marriage before I voted for him.  I voted for him anyway.  I would do it again.  However, many queers were leery of him from the beginning and aren’t as amenable.  Just wanted to clarify that I am not a one-issue voter.

25 Responses to What Are My Priorities?

  1. Speaking as a non-queer, Obama’s backpedaling on issues like DADT is disappointing indeed. I can understand that — especially given the mess Bush left behind — addressing LGBT issues may not be his top priority, but a good politician takes advantage of opportunities, and Obama — who can walk and chew gum at the same time — missed a big one to do the right thing.

    I don’t know if LGBT rights are in my top five priorities all the time, but it doesn’t take much of a reminder to bring to the fore the injustice that all Americans, queer or otherwise, don’t enjoy the same rights.

  2. Gregory, I was VERY disappointed when Obama’s team walked back DADT. I wasn’t looking for an immediate repeal of either DADT or DOMA, but I didn’t expect him to fumble on the issues, either.

    Your second paragraph is something I wish that more people got, but at the end of the day, most of us will fight harder for that which affects us personally–it’s only natural. I am ok with that, for the most part. Just once in a while, it annoys the fuck out of me.

  3. Don’t know if you’re checking this tonight, but I changed my name over in BJ in honor of my new job, and I’m stuck in moderation.

    On the topic of this post, I thought that both sides in that debate got too heated. I think that that was what led to a lot of the defensiveness, rather than anything having to do with gay rights, per se. It involved a lot of friendly acquaintances taking shots at each other. That’s going to lead to defensiveness.

    Also, I think a part of what a lot of people are reacting to is John Aravosis’ inability to frame a debate honestly. Given the way he polluted the discussion of gay rights and the Obama administration, there’s going to be a few days of anger from a lot of people on this issue. It’s not fair that you, and gbear, and the others get caught in that, but it’s also true.

    Explaining Obama, I also think that a number of people went overboard saying that it’s clear that he doesn’t care about gay rights. This is not true. I think he probably cares about them a lot. However, he’s cautious on everything. That’s the way he operates. If he senses that there aren’t the votes to pass something, he doesn’t push it very hard. Object to his basic approach to things if you like; that’s a legitimate target. Don’t accuse him of bigotry.

    There are a lot of folks who underestimate what it would cost him to push through a repeal of DADT right now. I think it would, eventually, pass. I also think that doing so right now would suck a lot of energy out of other proposals he’s trying to get through. Yes, the population is overwhelmingly in favor of repeal, but Congress is not, and they are the important constituency. How many Republican Senators are going to help him out on this? Two? Three? Where do you think Ben Nelson, and Bill Nelson, and Blanche Lincoln, and Mary Landrieu are going to vote? I mean, before Obama has to twist their arms?

    It’ll happen. I think that it’s tragic that it doesn’t happen right now. I’m just not sure that it’s worth the price that it would take to pass it right now. I understand that different people prioritize it differently. I understand why you prioritize it differently than I do, and that’s great. There is a lot of subjectivity in how we prioritize things. In my case, I have a number of medical preconditions and a ticking clock on when my COBRA coverage runs out. For me, health care reform is far and away priority number one. I don’t want to jeopardize it to repeal DADT. You disagree. I’m okay with that, because it means more to you.

    That’s how democracy works.

  4. You know, that would have read better as a response if I had noticed the tag that there was more, rather than reacting to the first two paragraphs on the main page . . .

  5. For me, the part of that awful thread that rang the truest was the posting about Birmingham. I had recently read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” myself. Our situation is an order of magnitude better than African American’s situation during the 60s, but there are still lessons there for us. And the bit about “lukewarm acceptance being more baffling than outright hostility” describes my feelings exactly.

  6. J. Michael Neal, hi! Good to see you on my blog. I am glad that you read the rest of the post, so you could see that I actually agree with you. Well, except for one thing. I would place health care as equal to repealing DOMA and DADT. They are all in my top five. I don’t think Obama is a bigot, nor are most of the commenters on BJ. Again, it’s priorities. I don’t read Aravosis’s site, by the way. P.S. I am really sorry to hear about your health problems. Health care in this country sucks.

    BethanyAnne, I really appreciate your comments on BJ, and it’s great to “see” you on my blog. Thanks for stopping by. I really like your last sentence here about lukewarm acceptance, although, the outright hostility baffles me as well. I really need to read Dr. King again. I’m feeling particularly close to him right now.

  7. And the bit about “lukewarm acceptance being more baffling than outright hostility” describes my feelings exactly.

    I hope this doesn’t count as lukewarm acceptance, but what it all comes down to for me is that it isn’t my concern who anyone is boinking except, perhaps, my wife and my daughters (until they’re of legal age). It isn’t my place to even go so far as to accept anyone else’s sexuality; it’s none of my damn business.

    As far as DADT is concerned, though, I’d be more impressed by its supporters if 1) they weren’t using a lot of the same arguments against racially integrating the Army (and, coincidentally, the anti-gay-marriage folks weren’t parroting a lot of the arguments against interracial marriage rejected in Loving v Virginia), and b) the military didn’t seem so willing to turn a blind eye to so many cases of sexual assault of its female troops.

  8. Gregory, that’s not lukewarm at all. You have a firm idea of why you think DADT is wrong, and you think private lives should be, well, private. To me, lukewarm acceptance is, “Yeah, ok, you’re equal, but don’t talk about it.” Another word for it is tolerance.

  9. Well, to be perfectly selfish about it, the *main* reason I think DADT is wrong is because it deprives the service of vitally needed specialists, such as Arabic linguists. The obvious injustice aside, that idiotic practice makes *me and my family* less safe. As Joseph Fouché said, “[that] was worse than a crime; it was a mistake.” Please understand that this reasoning is *in addition to* the injustice of the policy, but when it’s wrong *and* it’s strategically harmful, again, I’m pretty darn disappointed Obama didn’t take advantage of an opportunity to change it.

    I understand what you’re saying by tolerance, and not to get all semantic on you, but that isn’t the right word for me. I *tolerate* those whose beliefs I think are dead wrong, and actually harmful, but who are at least sincere and intellectually honest about it. Someone else’s sexuality — LGBT or straight, kinky or vanilla — doesn’t enter into it at all (unless, perhaps, like Senator Ensign, you have someone who campaigns as a moral paragon who’s actually a hypocrite; “adultery for me, but not for thee” gets us back to wrong and harmful territory). But yeah — private lives should be private, unless you’re making a point about being a moral scold in public and yet can’t keep it zipped.

    Off topic, I was considering discussing a thing or two off topic, and am not sure if the comments are the right forum, or if I should just post a comment to an older thread (yes, I read some). Kindly let me know what you prefer.

    And I hope the day is as beautiful there as it is here in Indiana.

  10. Gregory, feel free to get all semantic on me. I love semantics and words in general. You are right. Tolerance is not the right word. I will go back to lukewarm
    acceptance, except I’m substituting the word tepid for lukewarm.

    You know, I get why some people may say, “I don’t believe in marriage between two men or two women. I just can’t support that. It’s not what I believe.” What I don’t get (well, I do, but it still bothers me) is the vitriol and hatred.

    As for off topic things, you can post them in the old threads if you like. I get an e-mail notifying me of each comment, so I will see you. You can also post it here if you like. I am not particular about that.

    P.S. It’s hot here. I hate the heat. My air conditioner is broken. I want snow!

  11. You’re very kind, Minna. I’ll post a comment (about Alan Rickman, whose work I admire) in another thread.

  12. Well…

    Since I got a shout out, I do have to say that I was incensed in the thread. Straight white guys unsurprisingly suggest 1) we should wait to be treated equally and 2) it is our fault that things aren’t changing. I wonder if white guys ever get tired of telling discriminated minorities those things and if it will ever cause them to think about it.

    As to whether gay rights will cost Obama too much, I suppose that’s true. Look at how much pushback we got from our allies in that BJ thread. And it is apparently too much to ask our allies to examine their attitudes and how that contributes to the inertia.

    One thing I want to say is after digesting that thread, I am beginning to thing the time to fix this is now, when there *are* more important things. What we learned during the go-go 90’s is that when everything is hunky-dory is precisely when Americans get themselves all hot and bothered about culture war issues. The salience of these as political hot buttons has waned precisely because Americans are worried about real issues. Waiting until more important things are dealt with will just mean that Mr. and Mrs. Christian Middle America will no longer fear losing their exurban McMansion, won’t be worried about filling up their Ford Excursions, and will have all kinds of money to give to their homo-hating pastors and campaign against gays.

    I really think it is about waiting for people to die and not waiting for our current allies to care enough. As you said, it just does not affect straight people. The can care, but it will never be a make or break issue for them, so politicians do not get meaningful signals about the issue. I did manage to refrain from telling the BJ commenters to just FOAD, though. Barely.

  13. gex! I’m glad you saw your shout-out. I was impressed because you kept your cool, even though you were livid (I could tell. You’re a hot-blooded queer Asian woman like me). I am not a good debater as I tend to want to say, “Why the fuck are you such an idiot?” which, of course, doesn’t go over very well. I mean, it’s “alienating” and all.

    I was out with my best friend the other night, and we were talking about this issue. It’s the same in the context of race. I used to do diversity training, and I really wanted to come up with a minority town in which only minorities had any power. The majority people (aka white/straight/Christian, etc.) would have to stay there a week with only five or ten of them allowed in at a time. I don’t think most people can truly understand how it feels to be the other if they haven’t been in the situation.

    So, on queer issues, I said, jokingly, but half-seriously, that there should be a queer town in which straight married people had to act like they were the minority and in the military. In other words, no talking about their loved ones. No PDA. No getting to say wife or husband or spouse. No benefits. No hospital visitation. I think many can’t really grasp what not being able to marry actually means.

    My best friend, who is married, said that to her, the queer issue is more important than the health care issue because being allowed to love whomever you want is the most important thing of all.

    I agree with you about the culture wars flaring up when people are fat and happy. If that’s true, then the time is, indeed, now.

    Oh, and yes, it makes me angry, too, to hear people of the majority saying, “Work harder”, like queers have just been sitting on our asses doing nothing. Yup yup yup. Again, that’s why I admire you. You can get in the fray and discuss the issue with people who just don’t get it. I either get flustered and cry, or I just say, “Fuck it. You are not worth my time.”

  14. gex, P.S. No. Straight white guys, especially those who used to be Republican, do not get it. Even queer white guys who used to be Republican (*cough cough, Andrew Sullivan, *cough cough) won’t get it. That’s my biggest frustration with Sully. He has to re-learn every single fucking time. If it doesn’t affect him, he just simply can’t imagine it. Like Nancy Reagan being for stem cell research because St. Ronnie had Alzheimer’s. Or, Darth Cheney being for gay rights because his daughter is gay. Or, Grover “Death to Taxes” Norquist speaking out against some of W.’s “War on Terror” bullshit because his wife (Norquist’s) is Muslim.

    And so it goes.

  15. Indeed, Gregory. That’s the tough part in this. The dominant culture is straight white male. It is difficult for us to discuss what a minority group goes through without invoking this demographic, which unfortunately can make us sound like haters. So I do want to take this opportunity to agree with you whole-heartedly. There are a lot of good guys out there. And I in no way meant that to read “all” straight white males.

  16. Oh, we’re cool, I didn’t take it that way. I was just sayin’, and a little — albeit not entirely — tongue in cheek at that.

    Plus, I think a lot of guys are simply jerks. But then, I think a lot of people are simply jerks. No culture, dominant or otherwise, has a monopoly on virtue or vice. Sadly, hompohobia is far from exclusive to white culture. And we all have our moments. I’m far from holding myself up as a paragon. I was fortunate to have been raised by liberal parents who taught me to value diversity.

  17. …and you and Minna are right. No amount of sympathy or admiration can make me understand what it’s like to be you.
    At best, I’d like to try.

  18. Gregory and gex, I would just like to chime in if I may (and, of course, I may, because I am the mistress of my domain (name)), that I don’t think isms are exclusive of any one group. It just happens to be that if you’re in the majority, it’s easier to not have to face your isms.

    For example, I had a white woman tell me once that she just didn’t want to think about racism sometimes. I said in a very pleasant voice that she’s lucky she has that choice. At a “racism in the feminism” conference, no, session, no, damn, the word is escaping me at the moment, but you know what I mean, I attended in college was dominated by white women saying how they felt about feminism in general. One white woman said (in defense of asking people of color about race all the time), “All my friends want to talk about is boys and shopping. Sometimes, I want to talk about something more.” I said in response, “Well, sometimes all I want to talk about is boys and shopping. It is not my job to educate you.”

    Gregory, I would say that no one can know what it’s like to be anyone else. It just irks me when people assume they know best for others when they (the original they) have never been in the situation. Again, I would prefer to hear someone say, “I have no idea what it’s like not to be able to get married, but it must be shitty” rather than have someone say, “I know how you feel. Now go out and do this about it.”

    P.S. I agree that most people are jerks on different levels. It just happens to be the straight white male who wields most of the power. However, that is slowly eroding, which is another thing that drives the far rightwingnuts absolutely bat-shit insane.

  19. You’re absolutely right on that last bit. Call me cynical, though (Hey Greg: You’re cynical!), but ISTM that it is exactly about power, and whoever has power will, for good or ill, be in a position to abuse it.

    Speaking of which, it must suck to have people who haven’t walked your path try to lecture you. Please forgive my poor expression, because nothing I write here is intended as such.

    But one of the brilliant thing about the social contract is that individuals cede some of their power for mutual benefit. From my perspective, I like to think I lead a much richer and more fulfilled life by rejecting, as best I can, the values of white-male-jerkdom.

  20. Hi Minna,

    I just read your blog. I know I am a little late, but I usually don’t participate on blogs during the weekend. It’s my free time. :-).

    I hope, I didn’t offend you. I also hope that you understand that I am for gay rights. I pointed out that civil rights comes at small steps instead of sloppy leaps. And as I read today, Obama is slowly doing things for the LGBT community. I believe whoelhearted that DADT and DOMA will definitely be repealed under his watch.

    Good job on your blog by the way!

  21. Greg, if I were to call you cynical, I would have to call myself a hypocrite. Power corrupts. I don’t think many people are exempt from that. The thing about social contract, though, is that many people are afraid to cede a little bit of power. I think the observation that those who think a certain way such as, “This is what I would do if I were in power” are convinced that EVERYBODY else thinks the same way. And that’s a sad, lonely way to live.

    DaBomb, hey! Nice to see you on my blog. Good for you for not reading blogs on the weekend. I need to start limiting myself as well. You didn’t offend me at all. I agree that measured steps are the way to go. I was more concerned about the disconnect I was sensing between what Candidate Obama had said and what I saw President Obama saying and not doing (or his team by proxy). That’s why, I think some pressure on him and the Congress people from the queer communities is a good thing.

    I am not as optimistic as you that DADT and/or DOMA will be repealed during his first term, though. It’s just not a priority to him or to the Congress people or to most of the country.

    P.S. If you are worried about offending someone, chances are, you’re not the one doing the offending.

  22. those who think a certain way such as, “This is what I would do if I were in power” are convinced that EVERYBODY else thinks the same way. And that’s a sad, lonely way to live.

    Given the way Republicans project, not to mention their behavior under Bush / Cheney / Rove, I believe that’s exactly the way some of them — I’m talking the politicians here, not necessarily the voters — think. There just isn’t any reasonable argument that Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, John Boehner or John McCain act in good faith. Which *is* sad — our system needs both sides to act in good faith or, well, you get our current mess. But 2006 and 2008 said to me that the voters — if not the so-called “liberal media” — have figured this fact out, are roundly sick of it, and rightly blame the Republicans.

    It may be sad and lonely in the political wilderness, but the GOP has earned its time there.

  23. One advantage of the gay rights issue is that it isn’t playing out only at the federal level. In fact, speaking in terms of long term efficacy, rather than morality, I think that it is better pushed at the state level. I think it will be easier to gain traction. It’s the type of issue that’s more likely to engage a state legislature rather than Congress. It also is more likely to advance the cause, particularly marriage rights, in a way that doesn’t turn it into the sort of political football that abortion has become; people simply feel less threatened by actions taken locally rather than those taken in Washington.

    I understand that this doesn’t do much for gay people in places that aren’t going to enact marriage rights in the foreseeable future. (I also understand that DADT *is* a federal issue.) I think it’s a trade off. However, in a case like this, where the tide of public opinion is so obviously flowing the right way, I also think that it’s the way to go. If we can get California and New York on board, look at the swath of the country that will be covered. Then, when the world doesn’t end, you can pass it in a few more states, and so on.