Thursday, 10 May 2012

In which I pour cynicism over the squee in my inbox

I have received innumerable emails asking me if I’ve heard that Obama has (finally) agreed with marriage equality (I won’t say endorsed, as I’ll explain later). After waiting a day for everyone to get their squee on, I’m going to comment because people are wondering if it will be part of a “good news” post to balance the bad ones.

Take a deep breath guys, because Sparky’s about to unleash the Debbie Downer of Doom.

First and foremost I do not now nor ever will consider a straight person acknowledging that I’m actually a human being deserving of rights to be “good news” or otherwise praiseworthy. This is a basic standard of acceptable behaviour. Someone who doesn’t meet it is to be condemned, but people who achieve this bare minimum of basic humanity doesn’t get cookies for it. You don’t get praise from me for acknowledging my humanity. Acknowledging my humanity isn’t an achievement or a great task or astonishing discovery.

So don’t expect me to sing the praises of anyone who makes a speech saying gay people deserve equal rights, no matter who they are. I value myself too highly to do so.

But we also have to consider 4 years.

4 years. It took the man 4 years to decide that GBLT people deserve equal rights. It took him 4 years to “evolve” to the point of finally acknowledging GBLT people were equal to him. It took him 4 years and conveniently waiting until AFTER the vote in North Carolina (ugh, human rights going up for a vote is always so very wrong) to say something – and that after Biden delicately tested the water with a “plausible deniability” gaffe first. That’s 4 years telling everyone what a struggle it is to acknowledge GBLT people are people too.

And his language is far less than ideal. Now Eumelia explains this perfectly so I’m just going to link to their post. But basically, his framing is that equality is something we had to earn. He mentions the soldiers and the people he met who he decided where good and productive couples. GBLT people had to meet his standards of acceptability before he finally decided to concede that we have earned equality.

Equality is not a prize to be earned. Equality is not a gift given. Equality is a debt that is owed. Equality is justice denied. We don’t have to play nice, play by the rules and convince straight folks that we’re WORTHY of being considered as good as them.

I also don’t praise people in positions of power for saying something without steps laid out how they’re going to fix it. Platitudes are fine from the powerless, not from the guy holding the reigns. By all means state their position, this is good – in fact, it’s bad when they don’t (or if they spend 4 years EVOLVING on the issue) but you get praise for reaching the end of the path, not stepping your feet on the beginning.

Furthermore, the wording and endorsement of state’s rights here is highly problematic. It suggests that Obama doesn’t see GBLT equality as on par with other marginalised groups’ human rights. Frankly, state by state is the same argument used by the hate groups and isn’t how a human right should be treated.

I also think that this has proved, if nothing else, how important it is to be cynical and keep demanding more. Obama didn’t wake up one morning and decide “hey, marriage equality! Totally cool!” No, it took 4 years of cajoling, nagging, poking, prodding, screaming, yelling, threatening, begging, roaring and generally kicking up a fuss. Clearly, this is what it takes – so don’t stop now.

There’s also something to be said at how easily GBLT affection and praise can be bought.

I think that the GBLT community in general has had a lot of negativity thrown at us. For unrelenting centuries, pain, hatred and contempt have been the order of the day. We often have little in the way of support networks from a young age since so many of us are born into hostile families and very few of us are born into families with people who share our own marginalisation. Hearing nothing but bad things about us is the norm.

Which means, I think, we tend to be excessively eager for anything that is remotely positive. Or even that isn’t positive but sounds positive. Kind words are seized upon sometimes with desperation – and that’s understandable since kind words and any kind of affirmation are so often in short supply.

But I also think that that lack of affirmation, and that hunger for affirmation so many of us have and that low expectation so many of us have, has been exploited a great deal by would-be pseudo allies.  There are a lot of people out there who know that they only have to make a few gestures, make a pretty speech and they can get a large number of us gambolling around them like joyful puppies. And we’d be naïve to think that isn’t being used against us and isn’t being exploited – from politics to net liberals, there are a lot of people who think that kind words or basic 101 awareness makes them Bestest Gay Ally Who Totally Deserves Fanpoodles.

And I think we need to fight that. We need to oppose people exploiting our wounds and part of that means being cynical, means looking at praise for its actual value, looking for substance and looking for context. In short, it means being wary at being bought too cheaply even when we have an overpowering instinct to yell “zomg they like us!” and start fawning

Am I saying people shouldn’t be happy? No. Am I saying he shouldn’t have said it? Certainly not. But my reaction isn’t “oh gods yesss!” but more “good, about time – now what?”

Things I do not want to see or hear because I am up to my very last nerve and may result in me hitting you with a fish:

Political necessities!
These are vital human rights we’re talking about. Not just an issue, not a game to play, these are people’s lives you’re playing with and dismissing.

And how many people fall through the cracks while you cry about patience? Or, as it’s better worded, “get to the back of line”

Baby Steps! Progress!
It’s a speech. If a speech counts as shuffling forwards no-one’s ever going to reach the end of it unless you keep pushing

Do I have to link to this again? How many more of these vids do we have to see while everyone is “patiently” waiting for “progress” and taking “baby steps” around “political necessity”.