To me, being anything doesn’t mean already being it, it means embracing a conscious journey of becoming it. For me, this applies, in the words of the late writer Paul Monette, to “becoming a man,” but certainly in my reckoning also to becoming an ally, and, for my purposes here, becoming a feminist.
So, bear with me as I think out loud in writing as a gay man about the connections between preventing gun violence and feminism. My apologies to the trans folk, lesbians, bisexual people, and our straight female allies and friends who already got this down a long time ago. Thanks for your patience.
It was heartening last week to hear President Barack Obama become the first sitting president to refer to himself as a feminist, in front of the 5,000 attendees at the inaugural United State of Women Summit in Washington, DC.
PERSPECTIVE: Focusing Our Love and Anger
That, along with Hillary Clinton becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee for president and accepting that mantle at the Brooklyn Navy Yard June 7, seemed to indicate a sea change and welcome the moving forward of this country in its understanding of and embracing of feminism and the complexities of gender issues.
But in between those two events was the Orlando shootings. How can we as the queer community best understand and help direct productive energies to the campaign against such devastating and devastatingly common occurrences in our country?
Here’s my answer: by understanding that the solution to gun violence in America is feminism.
Let me trace this thinking.
First, we as queer people need to clearly realize that homophobia is a form of sexism. Gay men in particular need to engage and affirm this understanding to combat our own unavoidably internalized sexism that we carry simply by being males in our society.
I have come to understand homophobia as a traumatizing, culture-prevalent sanctioning of any violation of gender norms. Setting aside — for a moment — developmental considerations of trans folk, lesbians, and bi people, little boys like I was once are taunted and bullied not because they may eventually grow up to suck dick or form romantic attractions and relationships with other men, but rather they are shamed and humiliated as a form of social control for being sissies. That means acting like or sounding like girls and women. Lisping, dancing, playing with dolls, wearing the wrong colors, harmonizing with the vacuum cleaner, being “too emotional”: these are the ways that boys break our intensely held and enforced rules about gender performance and call down the wrath of our families and communities against us.
While girls may enjoy a slightly broader expression of emotion and gender variance, the limits are made crystal clear when one steps across the line. Bisexuals still face enormous anger from others — including from within our own community, disgracefully — for not fitting into some pre-packaged role and lifestyle. And transgender people or those exploring or stretching across the gender spectrum incur perhaps the most intense disapprobation. It’s a great good that trans rights and the right to gender confirmation have now emerged as major social justice priorities of our time.
But if homophobia directed toward gay males is society’s way of extending sexism to boys and men who defy gender conformity, what’s the connection to gun violence and its eradication?
It’s two things.
One: cultural male dominance is enforced by violence, whether that violence is expressed by slurs, subtlety, laws, or the permission granted to enact the gun-related violence of so-called “crazies,” terrorists, or the NRA. How do we know this? Simply by dint of our society’s perpetuation of violence against women and children, minorities, immigrants, the poor, people with disabilities, anyone who isn’t a man who acts like a fucking man.
Two: Making feminism our central philosophy against violence generally and, specifically, the unfettered access to guns designed for the most efficient killing of humans possible is the way to win. Why? Because it will create both an ideological and practical center of density and power both to direct and focus our love and our anger.
Like Shakespeare’s amazing, but also sexist and war-loving St. Crispin’s Day speech in “Henry V,” the right rhetoric inspires and energizes. So, as a queer community, as we celebrate our Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride this year, let’s join our president and name ourselves as feminists, and declare feminism as the rallying cry against the massacre at the Pulse nightclub, against trans-, bi- and homophobia, and against violence enshrined and perpetuated against women, minorities, and anyone who in fragility, difference, or need has felt the marginalization and wrath of the powerful against them.
I’ll gather the nerve now to rewrite Shakespeare and the ending of the St. Crispin’s Day speech — and to heck with the verse and meter:
This story shall the good women teach their daughters;
And Gay Pride Day shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered —
We few, we happy few, we band of sisters and allies;
For she to-day that protects her and others’ blood with me
Shall be my sister; be she ne’er so beautiful,
This day shall make even more gentle her condition;
And men in American now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us women, children, and allies
upon this Gay Pride Day.