Can’t We All Just Get Along? Part 2
In my last post, I talked about various examples of division. While I think differences across the political spectrum (such as Democrats vs. Republicans) are harder to remedy, we also seem to have major differences among those mostly on the same side (left-leaning Democrats vs. centrist Democrats, or the various “factions” within the LGBTQ community). We are so polarized right now that even subtle differences elicit strong reaction, division, and even hate.
In the examples given in the last post, I really don’t see much reconciliation with the Transphobic high school friend or the Trump supporting receptionist at the dentist office. I think our world views and life experiences are too different. Nothing I say is likely to change their minds. It’s not really worth adding the stress of argument to my already super stressed life. Sure, I could unfriend the high school friend. I grew up in a rural backwoods area of Virginia, so his comments are likely shared by a host of other high school friends. If push comes to shove, I could always delete them all too. I could change dentist offices or make a complaint. Maybe I will do these things. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I can hope that these people will glean some bit of enlightenment by seeing me and the things I say and post to my own page. Direct confrontation only leads to direct confrontation back and folks become entrenched even more in their own beliefs.
What I want to talk about and explore today is not the division across party lines, but all the divisions among folks who are mostly on the same side. Maybe we don’t agree on everything. Just because we are in different lanes doesn’t mean we have to be enemies. We can actually be allies and support each other, but still go off and do our own things. It’s an extremist and inflexible view to say that we can’t.
“Maybe we don’t agree on everything. Just because we are in different lanes doesn’t mean we have to be enemies.”
Since my college activist days, I have never considered myself an assimilationist. I believe we live in a pluralistic society. I think it is okay for us to have differing interests, cultures, ideologies, groups and so on. We can do this and still come together as allies on things that matter to us all. I don’t think everyone has to be exactly the same or to have exactly the same ideals and goals. I remember the days when the LGBTQ community (usually led by white middle-class gay men) put forth calls for diversity back in the 1990s. Back then “diversity” really meant including women and people of color who held white middle-class male values. These groups were often gentrified and didn’t really address the issues of women, people of color, or other groups of people. It’s a nice ideal for a utopia, but it really wasn’t a diversity of ideas or backgrounds. I supported the rights of Lesbians and women to form groups and events of their own. I also supported the rights of gay men to form men’s groups and events. I supported the sovereignty of African American LGBTQ groups. I supported the rights of LGBTQ folks not to follow the dictates of heterosexual society, as well as the rights of those who wanted to get married and live in the idealized house with white picket fences. I still support the notion of a pluralistic world rather than a monolith where everyone looks and thinks the same. Such monoliths breed dogma, as well as stigma to those who dare to be different. Isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid? I support a world where differences are celebrated, not denigrated. In a pluralistic society, there are niche groups, ideologies, and events; but there are also times when we form alliances and come together toward a common goal.
“Such monoliths breed dogma, as well as stigma to those who dare to be different. Isn’t that what we’re trying to avoid?”
I think our world is moving even more in the direction of pluralism and niches. Population increases and the capacity for very specific niche groups on the internet is helping to facilitate this. The weird thing is that the more niche and pluralistic we become, the more we seem to want the rest of the world to reflect our world view. We all live in our bubble and expect the real world to conform to our idea of an ideal world. We want every group, every event, and every television character to reflect who we are and what we believe. We have no patience that our goals take time, or that sometimes we have to make compromises.
What most folks don’t realize is that not everything is about “you”, nor does it have to be. My experience doesn’t invalidate yours. You’ve dealt with your unique challenges and I’ve dealt with mine. We’ve all come into this world with our own unique struggles and unique life paths.
“What most folks don’t realize is that not everything is about “you”, nor does it have to be. My experience doesn’t invalidate yours.”
The next section is dedicated to the women and the Trans folks who feel that men’s groups and identities somehow threaten them. This is a snippet of my own unique life path.
As a gay man growing up in the 1980s in a Christian household and Christianized society, I struggled to come out both to myself and to others. While I realized I was gay in high school, I really didn’t come out until college. I’ve had friendships end for coming out as gay. I’ve experienced harassment for being out and gay. I once even had my life threatened by a group of men holding tire irons in a parking lot (http://www.melmystery.com/index.php/about-mel/past-projects-involvements ) . In college, my car was vandalized because I had a pink triangle bumper sticker. I feel like subtle job discrimination in my early career probably kept me from having a better job and finances than I do now. I feel like as a gay man that I’ve had to work harder and do more to prove my worth at both work and in the world.
As a gay man, I also actually like masculinity (contrary to popular belief not all masculinity is toxic) and I like the company of other men. Throughout my life I have had to make a concentrated effort to be among other men. In childhood I lived out in a rural area without many other children around and I always yearned for a male best friend. Things got a little better from middle school onward, but the few close male friendships I formed were tenuous at best. Before I came out (and when I thought I had to like girls), I was always drawn to the masculinity of tomboy types. In my early teens, I thought I had a crush on Jo from Facts of Life (you know the one who wore the leather jacket and drove a motorcycle); and my favorite Doctor Who companion was the tough and tomboyish Ace. My point is that I’m naturally drawn to masculinity for whatever reason. In college, I got along better with the Lesbians than I did with other gay men. I’ve wondered if this were possibly because they were more masculine than my gay male peers. I know it’s a stereotype, but it was also true to some extent. There’s also this idea that gay men distrust other men, so maybe that was at play too. (I touched on this topic of gay men distrusting other men in one of my earlier podcasts, I believe it was in my review of the book “Gay Warrior” in Episode 5 — http://melmystery.podbean.com/ )
As a gay man, I also actually like masculinity (contrary to popular belief not all masculinity is toxic) and I like the company of other men.
As I got past college, my career has been in largely female dominated fields (education and libraries). When I first became involved in Pagan men’s groups in the early 2000s, it was very liberating for me to befriend and hang out with other men of all sexual orientations. Experiences and feelings of brotherhood with other men was something largely lacking in my life. Most were straight, but they were still very accepting. When I attended Coph Nia (a now defunct Pagan men’s spiritual gathering) in 2014 and 2015, I felt like I’d finally found my people. These people were gay men who are Pagan, countercultural and activist inclined, and welcoming rather than judgmental of other gay men. Shortly after I found them, the event ended.
That is my truth and my reality. As I said, it doesn’t invalidate your experiences or make us enemies. I support equality and justice and fairness for all, not just for gay men. I’ve done much over the years to advocate for all sorts of disenfranchised groups, not just my own.
Relatively recently, I ran an online “alternative” paper for a while. I tried opening it to LGBTQ folks across the spectrum as well as to Pagans, Polyamorists, and all sorts of folks living other “alternative” lifestyles. I tried to make it everything for everybody. I spread myself thin trying to make sure everyone was represented and happy, and very few people across any of that spectrum stepped up to write articles or to help even the load. I do appreciate the Trans folks, women, and People of Color who did help (notice again the relative lack of men and gay men involved in this endeavor). Ultimately, I realized that my path is niche, and that niche is easier to manage. I’m still involved in orchestrating an annual “Alternative” Pride Picnic that came out of the alternative paper. That event does draw a heavy Trans and Lesbian presence. As already mentioned, and as with everything else I involve myself in, there are generally very few men involved — straight or gay. This perpetuates my need to make a concentrated effort to be among other men.
I do support women’s issues and events. I marched in our local women’s march in 2017. In 2018, I also sat through several city council meetings in support of our local Lesbian bar that was being closed due to gentrification of its neighborhood. I also periodically attend our local Transgender Days of Visibility and Transgender Days of Remembrance. Unlike many of the haters I find on the internet, I don’t make these events all about me or my demographic group. I don’t attend the women’s events trying to fight the matriarchy or shouting that men’s rights matter too. I don’t go to the Transgender Day of Remembrance asking why they aren’t honoring Matthew Shepard who was killed for being gay (not Trans). I don’t make an *ss of myself asking why they are being exclusionary for not including him or other gay and Lesbian folks who may have died to homophobia. These events aren’t about me or my specific demographic, but that doesn’t mean I can’t or don’t show my support. I also know that sometimes I need to step back or out of the picture altogether. It’s not always about me. In a Pagan setting a few years ago, I was considering going to an OBOD Druid event. I consider myself a Druid, but I’m not an OBOD Druid. I ultimately decided not to go because it looked like they had all sorts of initiation rituals and other private OBOD events going on. Unlike many of the “woke” people on the internet calling for total inclusion at all events, I didn’t send them a nastygram asking them why other types of Druids weren’t represented (let alone Wiccans, Witches, or other Pagans). I realized this event, no matter how interesting, wasn’t about me and moved on.
In the last post, I mentioned the Female-to-Male Trans person who attended our men’s retreat last spring. He was the first Trans person to attend one of our events, and this was also his very first men’s event since his operation. He proudly went shirtless at our event and you could still see the fresh scars from his breast reduction surgery. He was welcomed with open arms and at our main ritual he broke down with emotion because it was such a powerful experience for him to be welcomed into a brotherhood of men. Our men’s events aren’t necessarily all-inclusive, but they are not meant to be exclusive either. A Male-to-Female Trans person probably wouldn’t enjoy our men’s retreats, though perhaps might gain something if welcomed into a sisterhood of women. To call our men’s event Trans-exclusionary might fit someone’s narrative or maybe their own hatred or distrust of men and masculinity, but that is a prejudicial judgement that doesn’t fit with actual reality.
I know some LGBTQ folks out there want to overthrow the idea of gender altogether. I don’t think that’s the answer. I think the answer is respecting our differences whether they be gender or other factors. That’s not something we’re particularly good at in this day and age. I think many Trans folks are just as attached to their inherent (not birth) gender as many cisgender folks are. As evidenced in the story above, I believe that gendered events can be very powerful and affirming to at least some Trans folks. The real problem is when we start suggesting that someone is something less because of their gender identity – whatever that may be.
Part 3 of this post will be coming out later this week.