Friday, 2 November 2012

I am not alphabet soup

"That's just Identity politics" is a card pulled, almost inevitably, by people with power in a particular context who don't want to share.  It is dismissive and often used to shut down complexity, implying that the person raising the original issue is reducing progressive political struggles to "this is what I want to focus on". 

I'll be honest, whenever I see it being used to shut down debate, I perk up, knowing I'm getting to see who sets the agenda in that group.

It's no secret the queer community has issues around power and representation.  Even the term "queer" is contested.  In the early 1990s, I attended a Wellington City Council meeting, with another member of the Bisexual Women's Group, to ask that bisexual people's experiences be included in the drafting of anti-discrimination policy.  We said we'd be happy to work with the just formed lesbian and gay group; or happy to draft our own, but believed there were many areas of common discrimination based on "shared experiences of being queer."  The lesbian representative got to her feet and said "That's the problem - we are not queer."

We wrote our own policy.

So in a way, the fact that Out in the Square - the "annual Wellington event that’s been running for more 25 years for queer people, family and friends" is having a public discussion about why the tagline continues to call it "Wellington's Gay and Lesbian Fair" is just business as usual.  If an event is supposed to be for all queer identified people, is it really ok to reduce it down to just gay men and lesbians?


Unsuprisingly, this bisexual woman thinks not.  Leaving out trans folk, intersex people, bisexual people, genderqueer people, to borrow another overused dismissive tool, is so 1980s.  Especially when there are so many beautiful alternative and inclusive options to choose from.

The public discussion is essentially some people asking how this tagline can change to be more inclusive, and one commenter, who it seems is an ex-chair of the Out in the Square board, repeatedly dismissing the need for change.  He says:
GLBT-WXYZ I think covers everything with a bit of humour. Sheesh, where does it end? It can never end if you try and include everyone.....

This debate has gone on for many years, especially in terms of the fair. Do you think it hasn't been discussed at length?....

GLBT-WXYZ is meant to be facetious because it really is becoming a joke how this whole queer umbrella/alphabet soup thing is going. We are aiming to include everyone while excluding ourselves at the same time. Identity politics is so boring and tedious.
I have been going to this fair for years.  So have lots of my queer friends who don't identify as lesbian or gay.  We hold stalls, speak, sing, provide entertainment, distribute information, feel safe for the day kissing our lovers in Civic Square, enjoy looking at other gorgeous queer people in the sun.  Just like all the other queer people there.  The tagline should reflect who our community includes, and it shouldn't provoke such a terrified reaction when we ask that the name not explicitly exclude us.

The luxury of dismissing everyone who isn't you as "joke identity politics" is only possible if you think you get to decide who belongs.  It's shameful, bigoted and ignorant.  It reduces people other than yourself to annoying, nagging voices that do not need to be heeded.

So it's good to see Out in the Square are promising to hold a vote on the tagline at the event itself.  It's a sign of some kind of movement.  But will it be enough?  The power of naming always belongs to those with most power.  "Holding a vote" assumes we all come from the same power base.  On this issue, within the queer community, we don't.

So my challenge to Out in the Square - ask the groups not currently included in the name.  Like Agender and Tranzform, the Intersex Trust and the Bisexual Women's Group.  Deliberately canvas all the queer youth groups - Rainbow Youth, School's Out, UniQ - all of whom take a very inclusive approach to naming, to make sure everyone they are working with is welcome.

Then hold a vote based on the options those groups offer.  Off the top of my head, I'll be campaigning for "Our Queer Fair," though if I can find some punning brilliance between now and January 19th, who knows?

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Three out of three of the last three posts on this site have been about identity issues. Meanwhile, the most important recent issue for women - the outrageous assumptions behind Business New Zealand's submission against Sue Moroney's extended paid parental leave bill - have gone unremarked.

It means you have a readership roughly equal to that of the Palmerston stamp collecting society website, only with somewhat less influence. That utter isolation and lack of constituency is what makes for "joke identity politics".

Personal Responsibility said...

Perhaps you could start with hearing that many gay and lesbian people do not identify as queer and that your continued insistance on and adoption of Queer Theory as the way, the truth and the light is in itself disgraceful and offensive to those who do not and will not ever identify as Queer. If you want to have your cause heard and addressed, then it would be wise for you to drop the hostility and enter into some peaceful diaglogue with the gay and lesbian community instead of belting out these unbridled rants about how hard done by you are in this world.

Brooke No-Nonsense said...

Dear LudditeJourno. Thank you so much for this post. Bi-phobia is not a joke to me, and both comments above mine would be laughable for demonstrating exactly the kind of silencing you call bullshit on, if they weren't so damned offensive. Please know that every word you have written here is appreciated by me (and I'm pretty sure there are more bisexuals in New Zealand than there are members of the Palmerston stamp collecting society).

Yours warmly - Brooke No-Nonsense

Personal Responsibility said...

The issue of Bi phobia gets lost in the hostile determination to label everyone queer regardless of what they want.Queer Theory was the brainchild of the well educated white middle- upper class. It isolates more than it includes and is a concept that many in the gay and lesbian community dont relate to. I didnt come out as lesbian in the 80's to be flippantly called a Queer (a word so offensive to me at the time that I still have no desire to 'reclaim' it), sneered at when I dare to object and have my entire community accused of bi-phobia. To me luddites approach is divisive and offensive.

Brooke No-Nonsense said...

Yup. I hear that some gay and lesbian people don't like the word queer. I also hear that you are unwilling to support this person who feels excluded whenever events are called 'Lesbian and gay', and you are using silencing tactics to express your views.

Personal Responsibility said...

Its not 'some', its 'many'. Lesbian and gay people have every right to name events they organise as their own events. This isnt a silencing tactic and to think it is beggars belief.

Personal Responsibility said...

Was meant to include
"Lesbian and gay people have every right to name events they organise as their own events AND ensure policies for our respective communities address the need/issues unique to our communities.

LudditeJourno said...

Wow - Personal Responsibilty - I'm gobsmacked you are assuming that Out in the Square is and event in which only lesbians and gay men have organised - today or historically. That's one of the major problems here I think - bisexual people, transpeople, intersex people, queer people have been and continue to be active in all kinds of ways within the LGBTIQ communities. Please acknowledge that - you don't seem to have noticed us - which is a little horrifying.

I would not use "queer" to describe an individual who didn't like that word, I completely agree with you, but I am going to keep using it as an umbrella term. Your history of the word is a little partial - some of us like it precisely so we don't get left out, in ways you've just done above.

Brooke - thanks - yep, chose not to engage with the earlier comments because actually just wanted those people to try and read the post again. Appreciate your comment - and I'm pretty sure this post is relevant to all lesbians and gays who want inclusive events to feel welcome to all; all queer identified people who don't identify as lesbian or gay; and all people interested in language and power. Hahaha who knows how many people are in Palmerston collecting stamps anyway? ;)

Personal Responsibility said...

You spend alot of your time being gobsmacked but lets go back over a few of your gobsmacking blogs where indeed you did complain about the lesbian ball being called the lesbian ball. How dare we! That is the basis of my comments regarding 'events' so we are clear.
I have always acknowledged and respected the many ways in which bi, trans and intersex people have contributed to our overall community.
You cannot seriously think you are not noticed? REALLY?
In my partial world, I identify as lesbian and I choose to put my limited energy and spare time into my own community. I wont be made to feel bad about that or be accused of invisiblising others for putting my own family first.
I find your way of thinking too idealistic and in no way realistic.

LudditeJourno said...

Personal Responsibility - commenting on one post when you're actually referring to another is hard to follow for me and I'm sure others. Can you link to the post where I make the statement you're claiming, and I will respond more fully.
So I assume too that this reverting to another post means you acknowledge that Out in the Square is not a "lesbian and gay" event, and has often included non-lesbian and gay people in the organising as well as participating?

Personal Responsibility said...

Ok so your past comments don't count. Perhaps you should delete them in that case. OUT IN THE SQUARE as a name excludes who exactly. Why advocate for a name change when the current one is actually inclusive? What you don't seem to take notice of is your continued insistence of the word queer amongst those who don't like the term and don't want to be 'umbrella-ised' Its almost like being confronted with fundamentalist Christians trying to force feed their agendas down our throats. This strategy isn't working Luddite and its not a tactic on the part of the lesbian and gay community to invisibilise other communities. It's about too many people not relating to your ideology. It alienates and irritates.

LudditeJourno said...

Personal Responsibility - it's the tagline "Gay and Lesbian Fair" which is the problem, as I've said above, not "Out in the Square" which is a gorgeous way to make sure everyone feels welcome in my opinion.
I'm done with this discussion with you. I invited you to direct us to the post you seem troubled by, which you haven't done, unsurprisingly as it doesn't in fact exist - or at least not one written by me. I'd invite you now to think about how to include people other than yourself in open community events, because bisexual people, intersex people, genderqueer people, trans people and queer people are going to keep asking for our community names to include us until they do - we are alienated and irritated by some people's refusal to admit exclusive language is unacceptable.

Personal Responsibility said...

Ok so you are done with me and cannot remember your rant about the lesbian fair therefore it must not exist. I'm not going to troll through your blog to find it. I can't be bothered to be honest. You are hell bent on your cause and and we disagree about there being real intention on the part of the gay and lesbian community to invisibilise other communities. I am of the opinion that many gays and lesbians do not wish to be umbrellaised . We dont need to have our past and current projects and achievements critiqued and/or expanded to include hostiles such as yourself banging the door down, making fundamentalist demands and violently throwing gllitter in our faces for not measuring up to your idealist views on what the world should look like. Where we have come from matters to us.

meg said...

Crikey...

kindredspirit23 said...

How about "I am Me: Alternative Identities" Fair? Just a thought.