Saturday, 26 November 2016

My response to Owen Jones's "Racism in the LGBTQIA Community" Guardian Article

Well well well. Owen Jones dropped an extremely important article (No Asians, no black people. Why do gay people tolerate blatant racism? 24th November 2016 yesterday morning that critiques the sheer concentration of racist attitudes that are seemingly tolerated in the LGBT community. As I expected, Right Wing Twitter and Facebook went bat shit cray cray on it. "You can't tell me who to find sexually attractive", "you can't thought police me" yada yada yada. As usual the "freedom at almost any cost to others freedom brigade" waged semantic war on Owen without reading his article with that much needed open mindset. Why would an Oxbridge educated white gay journalist want to talk about race now when he hasn't written in such a nuanced way before? What prompted him to start his article with a focus on online dating but end it talking about the need for white members of the LGBTQIA community to be willing to listen to those who may happen to be Afro-Caribbean, South Asian or Latino/Latina/Latinx? Maybe it was the confrontation with David Duke over Duke's celebration of Trump as a "white nationalist hero". Maybe it had something to do with receiving testimonies from fellow gay guys who are not White European that concerns dating app experiences or real life experiences of racism and he wanted to let their voices be heard...who knows? Regardless of motive, the article is a must read for any LGBTQIA activist who wants to use their social media platform in a positive way!

In some ways social media commentators have proved Owen right on his opening premise that "there is a serious problem with racism within the LGBTQ community that needs to be addressed". Is it at all acceptable in 2016 to wear racial fetish preferences so openly on your sleeve? Yes to some extent physical discrimination fundamentally exists and perhaps it is "folly" to try and apply civil rights so rigidly to dating situations, as Ultra Light Beam has mentioned in the Guardian comments section (24th November 2016). Commentator Nathan Young retorted that "if you happen to have been affected/scarred by white supremacist beauty norms in your upbringing, don't wear your twisted preferences like a badge" (24th November 2016)- such rhetoric seems a little harsh to me but the point is relevant: is it so important to openly declare "I only date white guys with muscular bodies who are British Citizens and I'm not interested in anyone else". If an African American guy or Saudi Arabian businessman happens to contacts you on Facebook and compliments you on your activism or style and then a few minutes later proceeds to asks you out on a date (or to "hook up" on Grindr which I myself will never ever will use), do you immediately say "sorry mate, I only date white muscular men and you're neither so piss off back to Riyadh and suck on camel humps?" or do you say- "thanks for the offer but I already have a date lined up this week and I don't want to let him/her down". You may be telling a little white lie with the latter reaction but at least you are letting the guy down gently. You don't need to insult the guy by making reference to his nationality, racial origin or religion to make your point. You don't need to shove physical/racial disapproval so openly into someone's face. Decorum matters, even in the world of online dating. I know it's touted as "ruthlessly impersonal" and to many games Grindr-ing is just a "game" to satisfy bodily lusts or secret desires but manners don't cost anything and a simple decline is all that's necessary to let a guy know you're not interested. Grindr users just tend to swipe their way into ignoring any individual who pops up and for that sort of platform I'd say that is probably within the realm of acceptable responses; after all we are taught that "if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all". Ignorance is bliss in some circumstances.

See the thing is Owen's article went beyond talking about dating app banter dressed up as possible racial discrimination. If readers only focussed on the rather bolshie social media dating scene you miss Owen's overarching point that there could be a level of systemic racism built into the LGBTQIA community and that sort of conclusion simply cannot be ignored. It would be disingenuous to ignore the story of Michel, a Southern Asian gay guy who was turned away from an LGBTQIA friendly nightclub venue based solely on his appearance and assumed nationality. I don't know about you but if someone told me I couldn't come into a nightclub in Lincoln dressed to the nines in an expensive gold metallic Jacquard jumpsuit number I'd spent £200 on (and my first night out in ages) because my confidence in my gender identity offended the door person or because I was "too Scandi milky white" for their liking, I'd be absolutely furious. I'd not take it lying down. Yet so many LGBTQIA people who come from ethnic minority groups feel that there is no point trying to change the current narrative because nobody in a position of authority chooses listens to them. We can't just shrug off their concerns and say - well they need to "get over themselves" because "it's not personal". Just imagine if the boot was on the other foot like I have and try "sucking up" the bad vibes. I guarantee you as someone who has enjoyed an privileged level of freedom to express myself (in no small part due to my race and upbringing)  you wouldn't want to take the shunning lying down.

Michel doesn't just face prejudice based on his race or nationality. It's disheartening to see that prejudice within the LGBTQIA community towards LGBTQIA Muslims has been increasing. It isn't their fault that they happen to share a name similar to that of Radical Islamic Terrorists. The form of Islam practiced by Orlando different from Michel's because Michel is peaceful and not involving himself in Jihad against the West. Why should he and many other LGBTQIA Muslims pay the price for the actions of a few terrorists who mistakenly murder LGBTQIA people in the name of Allah?  Michel doesn't perpetuate a victimhood narrative as some on the Right allege. All Michel and his friends want to do is to go out, have a few (soft) drinks, have a dance and/or do a bit of harmless flirting. If we alienate Michel, does that make us any better than the ISIS regime the US and UK are meant to be fighting against?

I believe Owen was correct to call out gay publications for their lack of LGBTQIA narrative coverage of British Asian and British Afro-Caribbean/ African voices. It's all well and good inviting Louis Smith to do an erotic photo shoot to help raise awareness of HIV/AIDS organisations or ask
Laverne Cox to do an interview about her American TV career and why Dr Frank N Furter appealed to her as a musical theatre role but Louis isn't even openly LGBTQIA and Laverne's story doesn't necessarily resonate with members of the LGBTQIA community in the UK. Yes it's important to celebrate success stories to show LGBTQIA they can achieve their potential through hard work and lucky breaks but soppy celebrity hero worship is just not going to cut the mustard anymore.

Since I started using my Twitter account in early May 2016 (despite having joined in 2011), I've been in contact with grassroots LGBTQIA activists who are working in their local communities to challenge stereotypical attitudes towards LGBTQIA people with ethnic minority backgrounds and to help empower their peers to speak out through the use of social media platforms such as Twitter, Tumblr and Youtube. Owen says that white LGBTQIA journalists and creatives have to listen empathetically to other voices within the community. Listening is just as important as speaking and we must be very careful not to try and take credit for schemes and initiatives that were started by LGBTQIA people of colour even if this happens accidentally. Promote, don't appropriate. Owen adopts this important mantra by giving the example of Chardine Taylor-Stone, a young black woman who is a member of our community and who founded the Stop Rainbow Racism campaign in direct response to blackface drag act "Laquisha Jonz" created by Charlie Hides that was hosted by managers of the famous LGBT London venue the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Now I'm all for freedom of expression and drag satire can be an effective way of challenging societal norms but a blackface act reminds me of the olde-worlde Black and White Minstrels troupe that besmirched my grandma's TV screen in the 1960s and 70s. My grandma didn't approve of "blacking up" then and I don't think she'd be best pleased to find that in 2015 a drag act freely chose to  incorporate such phoney stereotyping into their routine, even if it was intended to make folks laugh. The humour was at the expense of stereotyping working class black women and I must say hearing about the simulated oral sex scene between "Laquisha" and a police officer made me sick to my stomach. What sort of  message does that send to Black British women, including those within our community? That even though they might be not attracted to men, may be asexual or may have been raped/sexually abused/ physically abused by a police officer or suffered domestic abuse/violence at the hands of a police offer they still have to placate them to stop themselves from being thrown in jail because "that's what sassy  black working class women do?" No way can I support that as art form. It's absolutely ridonkulous! Yet Chardine faced threats of violence, accusations of being a "killjoy" by white people, Facebook censorship and most deplorable of all, being told by members of her own LGBTQIA community that she wasn't welcome and her identity was invalid. All because she spoke out against undertones racism in the arts community and she even managed to convince Charlie that she was wrong...Chardine held that "mirror" up and Charlie took a "long hard look at herself" and realised the folly of the act. Charlie's now a much needed ally in the fight! I do wonder what would have happened if the situation was reversed. I also wonder if I'd have received such a hostile reception if I'd been the one speaking out against the act. I doubt it. Anyways enough about me-  read more about Chardine's story and the positive steps she has taken to address LGBTQIA racism here:

I can only show my deepest respect and admiration for trans pioneers like Sylvia Rivera, a Latina (of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent) woman who helped found the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance who took part in the world famous Stonewall riots in 1969 and later went on to establish the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries movement with fellow Stonewall protestor and famous drag queen Marsha P. Johnson which still aims to help young drag queens and trans people of colour in New York City. Trans people deserve to know about their history and not to hide it away with shame or disdain. Trans people who come from ethnic minority backgrounds in the UK should know that we respect their efforts to work with us to help change stilted mindsets that still exist, even within the LGBQIA community towards trans people which occurs regardless of race, nationality or religion.

Most importantly and perhaps most annoyingly for those on the far Left, we must be prepared to listen with LGBTQIA people who are conservative socially and/or politically. I must admit I often struggle being empathetic towards trans women who lecture Afro-Caribbean trans men who get pregnant and decide to have the child with a trans female partner or denounce women who freely choose to undertake an abortion due to the current circumstances they have found themselves in -e.g. if they are homeless or jobless or have been diagnosed with cancer. As a trans person I have asked to have control over my own body and to be allowed to change it so that I can align myself with my chosen gender (or choose not to go through gender reassignment surgery or hormone replacement therapy because I'm happy in my body or I may be trans non-binary or even just non-binary...who cares?). I don't have the right to tell any trans man how they use their own body. I don't believe I have the right to demand a woman stops "killing a foetus" because we "disapprove of it". I'm pro choice and that means empowering people to make their own decisions about their bodies free from guilt tripping. I used to very much anti-Abortion until I heard firsthand from women who made the incredibly hard choice of aborting their foetus so they could undergo chemotherapy to help save their own lives. It was heartbreaking but I empathised with that and that process of realisation was incredibly empowering for me. Conservatives will disagree but I'll never stop fighting against prejudice and discrimination when I see it. That includes racial and religious discrimination.

Part of the "fight" for me - (aka super intense ideological discourse) includes grassroots engagement with Conservative or "Alt-Right" Millennials.  If we are unwilling to listen to those with conservative views who live on our doorstep we will be unsuccessful in our efforts to engage positively with them and dare to hope we have started the process of changing their mindsets regarding racial prejudices. Most of the time Alt-Righters don't even realise their views might be interpreted as racist. They dismiss online trolling as "banter" and that if you've taken them literally it's your fault you are "butthurt". Yet there are those in the LGBTQIA community who openly declare racist prejudices by using the words "sand nigger" to describe Saudi Arabians/Muslims (anyone from a country that have a desert in the Middle East). When a gay friend comes up to you and declares that he will not date a Southern Asian or Middle Eastern guy because he might be Muslim and consequently a Trojan horse terrorist, don't just shut down his discourse by branding him immediately a racist and make him go off in a huff, never to speak to you again. Try and challenge and break down the racial and religious stereotype that's been created in his mind. Firstly state that there are Middle Eastern guys who are Christian, Jewish or even atheist in the UK and that you can't just assume that just because someone comes from Saudi Arabia it doesn't mean they are Muslim. Explain that the Orlando terrorist was his own man and made decisions in the name of a radical form of Islam. Introduce him online to stories of LGBTQIA activists in Saudi Arabia who are members of the Green Party fighting to overturn the draconian policies imposed on the LGBTQIA people by King Salman Al-Saud and his nepotistic government full of his family members. The fact that there are openly gay Saudi men and women, even in the UK is a testament to survival and the absolute need to be authentic to one's identity. Knowledge is power and the more Alt-Right "gun toting"conservatives get to know about the fight against fundamentalist/radical Islamic teachings in Saudi Arabia, the better!

Owen Jones's article hopefully struck a cord with the LGBTQIA community. We need better online social etiquette. We need to be more understanding of the dangers of stereotyping and be able to acknowledge our hidden or overt prejudices whether we work in the media or in nightclub security. Most of all we need to be able to listen.  Listen to LGBTQIA voices that come from brilliant activists who differ from us in terms of nationality or race or religious belief. Listen to LGBTQIA voices which come from different ideological background but be prepared to challenge the bias and prejudices contained within. The LGBTQIA community may have a systemic problem with Establishment based racism and prejudices concerning nationality and religious belief but we can make the effort to alter this. We just need to collaborate and not be afraid to do it.