"I was at the fights last night and a hockey game broke out."
It's an old joke, but maybe it says a lot about something that's begun to happen over the past 24 hours here at Daily Kos: some real conversations. Maybe, just maybe, we're starting to get past screaming at each other over Barack Obama's invitation of Rick Warren. Maybe, just maybe, while we've been at the fights, a hockey game is breaking out.
If so, it's perhaps the best holiday gift we could give each other.
More below the fold....
As ems97007 tries to explain, white LGBTs don't understand racism simply because we're discriminated against for being LGBTs. Claiming what we experience is "just like" the experience of Blacks and Latinos is a lie. It's not.
But as BoiseBlue tries to explain, straight Blacks and Latinos don't understand homophobia just because you've suffered racism. Claiming your experience is "just like" ours, except worse because we get the option of the closet, is equally a lie. It's not.
That we both suffer discrimination, however, is not a lie. And arguing amongst ourselves over whose is worse serves only The Powers That Be, because it keeps us fighting against each other and not them. There are differences. But we dare not let them divide us.
First, the obvious: we LGBTs can choose to closet - a form of bandwagoning - while Blacks and Latinos don't have that choice.
Note: Bandwagoning is a term from international relations, coming from the phrase "jump on the bandwagon." It means to ally with a dominant power, in the hope that dominant power will protect rather than destroy. The converse of bandwagoning is balancing, allying with other opponents to the dominant power to balance against and thus neutralize its dominance.
As a lesbian, I bandwagoned until I was 33 years old. While I knew I was lesbian at age 4, I grew up in a strict, fundamentalist home where I was taught that LGBTs were an abomination before God. I handled that the way most LGBTs of my day did: I stayed in the closet. I did whatever I could to blend into straight society, including marriage. And like most LGBTs, I was successful with it. It isn't difficult to fool people into thinking you're straight; straight people want to believe everyone they know is straight, so you simply don't disabuse them of that belief. It hurts to be living a lie, but as Shane Henninger heartbreakingly notes, the alternative can be even worse.
Blacks and Latinos don't have the choice to stay in the closet. In most communities, even the few who are light-skinned enough that they might "pass" as white will have been outed by their relatives, who are known to be non-whites. Blacks and Latinos who bandwagon must do so by rejecting their communities and families, and even then they are never fully accepted as part of white society. Racist whites may find non-white bandwagoners useful, but they never overlook the skin color and are always alert for the first sign of "going native."
So while sexual orientation is not a choice, whether to make your sexual orientation public is very much a choice. It's a choice non-white people do not have, and many blacks and Latinos rightly feel that's a critical distinction in the stories of our respective civil rights movements.
But there is another, arguably more important difference. We LGBTs were not marginalized from birth because of our sexual orientation. Because human sexuality is usually latent for most of childhood, most LGBTs don't know they are LGBT until early adolescence. I've known older lesbians who didn't realize they were lesbian until were well into adulthood. They weren't happy in their relationships with men, but had not dared imagine a relationship with a woman. I've not talked to any gay men who relate similar stories, but I suspect they exist.
Blacks and Latinos are aware of race - and of being marginalized for it - from early childhood. They don't get to blend into white society until their early teens, or even later, when they finally begin to wonder if they might be "different." That is important because research shows much of our core personality is built in early childhood, before we LGBTs experience discrimination for being LGBTs. Our experience of anti-LGBT discrimination is one of having taken away what we once took for granted, rather than never having had it at all.
So yes, there are differences.
But it seems to me that while understanding those differences may be important, we ought not to use the differences as a way to divide ourselves. And as ChristieKieth writes so poignantly, we've been doing way too much of that here lately. We can recognize that our experience of discrimination is different, yet also recognize that we do share a common struggle. We can learn from each other, and admire each others' heroes, and we must.
For if we focus solely on our differences, we validate the very narrative against which we both struggle. If we highlight every real or imagined distinction, sanctifying our side and demonizing the other, we are no different from the dominant culture that will be ever so happy to see us fight among ourselves while they continue to dominate.
The third choice, for those who neither bandwagon nor balance, is defeat in detail, to be crushed individually by the dominant power.
We've been at the fights, and a hockey game has broken out. And whether we realize it or not, we're on the same team.