a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

What the Rest of the World Can Learn from the Progressive Queer Community

Posted on: January 10, 2012

Since the Shit White Girls Say…To Black Girls video and my related post, I’ve had a lot of conversations about race, ethnicity, and of course Judaism.  One of the best and unexpected things that happened when Francesca put her thoughts to video was that it opened the door to conversation.  I’ve had conversations on and offline from many different types of people.  The question begs to be asked, why weren’t we always engaged in this type of conversation?  Not wanting to sound like an ass is one reason, not wanting to sound ignorant is perhaps another.  Not having an “in” is possibly the biggest one.  Fancesca has almost 5 million hits on her video and as her #1 Fan (come on, one interview, please?) I’ve been keeping tabs on Ms. Ramsey.  This may be the first time the great-big world has seen her, but it definitely won’t be the last.

Back to the post, what can all of ya’ll learn from us homos?  A lot, let me tell you.

First, some qualifiers:

  • When I say progressive queer community, I tend to mean the queer people and community I’m in contact with.
  • Just an FYI “Queer” can be an all-encompassing word that covers a wide spectrum of folks either falling into the lesbian, gay, bi groups or gender-queer, gender non-conforming, transgender spectrum.  I personally use gay or queer as common identifiers for myself, though gay can come off more male than queer does.
  • I often find that queer people, more than gay people, are engaged in really amazing and radical work, work both within and outside of the queer community.  This is not to say that there isn’t amazing work being done by gay folks-there is.
  • When I think of my queer friends, I’m often most inspired by them, more than any other groups of friends.  The work they do is important, meaningful, and necessary work.  These are the folks the world can learn from.

Queer/Progressive People Aren’t Afraid to Ask Questions

When you walk into a queer space you’re most likely going to have to self identify.  Right after putting on your “my name is” sticker you’ll most likely be asked which gender pronoun you prefer.  This can be a little strange if you’re not used to it, but I think it’s brilliant and something that the world should consider.

Asking gender pronouns is important because you’re allowing the person to self-identify, rather than making assumptions.  It’s easily applied to other things as well.  For instance, I don’t self-identify as African American, I identify as black and prefer it to African American for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost, I’m not sure if I’m actually African American and second, sometimes African American is used incorrectly.

In my previous life I worked as a manager for a retail company.  Occasionally, we’d get shoplifters who were black.  100% of the time the e-mails we shared to be on the look-out for the shoplifters went like this, “African American woman with a Jamaican accent.”  What the what?  Just say “a black woman”!  The problem with the PC-bullshit that happened in the 90s is that it lumps people together for the sake of being politically correct.  What about being racially, culturally and ethnically accurate?  While there are definitely black people who identify as African American, everyone with dark skin isn’t African American.  This has never been so clear to men than when I moved to NYC.  People who look like me are from all over the globe.   From the Dominican Republic to Brazil to Germany.  Calling every black person African American is problematic because you’re assigning an ethnicity to people without considering who they really are.  So ask, even if it feels uncomfortable.

Queer/Progressive People Sit with Discomfort

That last section feeling uncomfortable?  A group of progressive queer people would sit with it for a bit longer.  I’ve been using “sit with discomfort” and “lean into discomfort” a lot since returning from the big ole Gay Trip To Israel.  We used it a lot, but it’s also used in progressive and queer spaces.  It basically means exactly what it sounds like.  If you’re in a situation that feels uncomfortable, deal with it and get to the bottom of what exactly makes you feel uncomfortable.

I often have conversations that are uncomfortable with my Jewish friends around my theory of the perpetuation of Judaism being equated to whiteness in the United States.  It’s not my theory, it’s an actual fact.  If I was sitting on the subway next to an Ashkenazi Jew and a random person came in and was asked to point at the Jew, I’m fairly confident they wouldn’t point at me.  I’ve had this conversation with a straight Jewish man most recently on Shabbat who was very comfortable sitting with the discomfort…so it’s catching on.

I think being uncomfortable is a sign of things we’re not willing to or ready to deal with.  Whether they be issues about race, religion or sexuality when something gets uncomfortable our first reaction can be to escape.  Our second may be to defend.  Instead, most queer and progressive spaces allow space for just sitting and dealing.

Queer/Progressive People Aren’t Afraid of Hard Conversations…(and are okay with not having a resolution)

Sometimes a group of people will not come a resolution to a problem, and that’s okay.  I find that queer people tend to realize that, but more than accept that realization, accept the person who has the realization.  I can’t have the expectation that every person who reads my blog will agree with the things I have to say.  Ideally, we’d talk it out and come to a place where we respect one another.  Maybe we’ll disagree, but hopefully we remain respectful.  One of the reason people get banned from commenting is because they bully and aren’t comfortable having hard conversations.

Having hard conversations doesn’t mean one person yelling without letting the other person speak.  Having hard conversations means listening rather than hearing and reflecting on what the other person is saying, even if you don’t agree right away.  It’s having the expectation of mutual respect knowing that the other party is just as important and their opinions are just as valid as your own.  It’s the expectation that you may not come to an agreement and you may not see eye-to-eye, but when we get up from this desk, board meeting, sign off of the computer all parties involved were heard and their opinions and feelings respected.

Queer People Tend to be More Open

To be sure, there are many fractures in the LGBTQ world.  Gay clubs are almost exclusively gay (ie. male) Lesbian clubs are almost exclusively lesbian with little overlap of sexual orientations.  Dig a little deeper and you’ll find lesbian parties that cater to a black lesbian crowd and those that cater to a white lesbian crowd, the same can be true of gay spaces.  There are trans parties, queer parties, bear parties, dyke parties…the list goes on and on.

Queer people sometimes don’t fit into neat boxes and therefore tend to be more open to diversity across the board.  Open to having discussions, open to accepting people for who they are, without qualifiers.  Open to experiences that allow you to be surrounded with people who are not like you.  And open to learning about people who are different from you.

Queer People Know When To Laugh (and When Not to Laugh)

When I interviewed Schmekel last year, one of the things that struck me was Lucian’s comment about seeing queer people more easily than seeing Jewish people.  I noticed that I’m the same way.  I’m more likely to notice and identify with someone who looks queer than someone who is Jewish or black simply because I’m almost positive we have more similar experiences as queer people.

We’ve all seen our fair share of shit.  Black folks in the U.S. and abroad have been and continue to be racially discriminated against, Jews have been and continue to be subject of anti-Semitism and queer people have been and are constantly and continually been subject to discrimination, bigotry, hatred and misunderstanding.  Sometimes you need to laugh to keep from crying.

I’m not saying that all queer people are this way, I’m not saying LGB and straight people are not.  I’m not really saying anything accept that we should always be open to conversations.  We should always be open to having conversations, even when they are hard.  Most of all, we should all be accepting, rather than tolerant of people who look, sound, believe and think differently than what we’re comfortable with.

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