All over but the shoutin’

Posted on 11 Apr 2014 at 8:45am

The insanity of infighting in our community weakens in the battle against our real enemies

Emerson-Collins

GAYS BEHAVING BADLY | Emerson Collins, pictured left (with Matthew Scott Montgomery in a still from the film ‘Southern Baptist Sissies’), thinks the LGBT community needs to show unity, even when we have disagreements.

EMERSON COLLINS  |  Contributing Writer

The biggest blowup fights often happen with the family and friends you love the most. You know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, all of the buttons to push, and you have the greatest vested interest in the outcome.

There are going to be times within the great LGBTQIA family that we don’t all agree. The very thing that makes our giant tent so strong — welcoming anyone and everyone who wants to make a home with us — is also the thing that leads us inevitably to internal conflicts. There are smaller groups within the big group, and our priorities, concerns, opinions, experiences and aspirations are not always going to match up. On occasion, they are even going to come into direct conflict.

There is nothing wrong with that. Celebrating the great variety of individuality that can be expressed in gender identity and sexuality means that strong voices with strong opinions will sometimes clash as we work to define ourselves as individuals, larger groups and one giant community and create our place in the world and society-at-large.

And that’s OK. Or it should be. In fact, it’s ultimately necessary and vital to our continued growth as a community. Challenging each other and learning from each other is how we continue to grow and ensure that everyone remains welcome and included.

Conflict isn’t a bad thing, but how we operate and conduct ourselves and the words we use in a conflict is another matter. Those can all be truly terrible things. It’s happening again right now.

There is an ongoing dialogue on the use of the word “tranny,” with many voices contributing to the conversation. (I’m being generous in the use of the words “dialogue” and “conversation” here out of respect for the minority who are managing to engage in intelligent discussions.)

We’ve done this before on other subjects as well: The validity of bisexuality. The use of racial preferences in dating profiles. The lack of representation of LGBT people of color in gay media and advertising. The perceived preference for or celebration of masculinity over femininity in gay men or vice versa in lesbians.

The problem is not the subjects of these discussions, but the nature of the back-and-forth jabs in the arguments. In entirely too many instances across various social media, it has devolved into a screaming match more appropriate to the dregs of a Duck Dynasty forum or YouTube (in case you didn’t know, YouTube commenters might be the worst people on the planet).

One of the silver linings of growing up, coming out and standing up as a member of a persecuted minority is many of us learned early we could arm ourselves against opposition by learning to articulate ourselves quickly and incisively. We might not be in a position to win a physical altercation, but we can probably make someone cry. We wield words like swords with a skill honed in the harsh reality of being dismissed, disowned or bullied. Therefore, it can rapidly escalate to a truly terrifying place when we turn that defense-mechanism-turned-talent on each other.

With our collective experience at being shut out, shut down and shut up for too long, when we have a problem with each other it should be a given that, at the very least, we can listen to what the other is saying and acknowledge the opposing party’s experience. There often seems to be so little of that. The leap to dismissing, belittling, mocking and generalizing each other’s opinions and experiences happens so quickly, and the conversation is over before it has started — everyone determined to be the “winner.” As a result, no one is — we all lose.

History demonstrates that nothing unites a people like a common threat from an external enemy. Our rainbow is built from that very thing.

Persecution for being anything “other” brought us together. What people forget is that, in victory, the coalitions and alliances built to survive the external threats often collapse under their own weight as differing priorities break down the unity that allowed them to succeed in the first place.

When we need to fight with each other, we have to remember there are valid experience-based opinions on all sides, even if we disagree.

One of the things we as a community usually do best is understand that someone else’s experience can lead him or her to a completely different perspective we may not have seen before. We can do this because most of us have spent our lives attempting to show a new perspective to so many in the communities we grew up and live in. It’s a shame when we refuse to do it with each other. Conflict doesn’t make us weaker. How we engage that conflict, and the damage we do in looking to win the argument rather than reach an understanding — that does make us weaker.

The main reason it matters is not because all of us have to agree on everything. It’s not even necessary for us to all like each other all of the time.

Or even some of the time. We know that our varied sexualities and gender identities are just one small part of who each of us is, and they are no guarantees we will have anything else in common. For as long as discrimination exists, however, we should all be on the same side.

It seems clear we will eventually win this war, but we haven’t won it yet. Until we win it for everyone in the rainbow, when we need to call each other out — and it’s important we do so when we are not respecting or championing each other — it should not look, sound or feel like the way we argue with those who are truly against us. Save the greatest vitriol and the biggest guns in the intellectual, argumentative arsenal for the real enemies.

They’re still out there, and it would be a tragedy if we brought our community down with friendly fire before we defeat the adversaries completely.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 11, 2014.

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