I went to an Out Youth event last night and it was fucking amazing. There were many amazingly talented young queers and a warm fuzzy sense of community. It showed me once again why it is that I do what I do. It reaffirmed my belief that inspiring queer youth voices is life-saving and life-changing. And it was really nice to have everyone like my poem.
There was one problem, however. Well, there were two problems but I’m only going to go into one of them. That problem was the emcee. The emcee was a gay white man, and from what I could tell he was middle-upper class. This emcee, who’s name escapes me at the moment, made two comments that really bothered many of us, and he was mis-pronouning our trans youth left and right. The first comment went something like this:
Performer:”This song is about a chicken.”
Emcee: “Is it a Chinese chicken? You know, like chickity china the Chinese chicken?”
And the second comment went something like this:
Emcee: “Just a shameless plug for my event blah blah blah which happens at this place on the east side. Its on the corner of 7th and homeless! No really, the ARCH center is right down the street.”
At that point, I had had enough of this guy so I booed him and told him that the “homeless” comment was not okay. Those two “jokes” were inappropriate because they were racist and classist. Moreover, the audience was mostly queers and a lot of them queer people of color. Homelessness and poverty effect queer young people, and queer young people of color more strongly than their white and straight/cisgender counterparts. That makes the comment even worse because some of the young people there that night have been, or are presently affected by, homelessness and poverty – either because they were kicked out of their homes for being queer or trans, or because they were raised in impoverished neighborhoods.
The other comment is also problematic because of the way it objectifies and dehumanizes Chinese folks, and, by extension, all folks of color. It exotizes Chinese people, which, in turn, perpetuates the exotification of different cultures and all people of color.
This behavior is endemic to the gay white male community. The reason for this is that since they are gay, they think that they are an oppressed group. And rightfully so because gay people are oppressed. However, the problem lays in the fact that because of their gay identity, most of them fail to understand that they still possess a whole hell of a lot of privilege. They still have the privilege that comes with being white and being male. And since they don’t examine their privilege, they think it’s cool to make racist and classist comments; not to mention giving transfolk all kinds of shit from mis-prouning to invalidating their identities.
This, then, is where intersectionality comes in. By understanding that the multiple identities we hold can afford us different privileges, or subject us to different forms oppression, we can see how they interact to keep each other in place. Let me make one thing clear: this is not about comparing dick sizes. This isn’t about seeing who can win “the Most Oppressed Game.” This is about understanding the realities of the world we live in and how different forms of power and oppression work together to keep them in place. It is about how we all contribute to the status quo in one way or another. And by achieving that understanding we can attack those systems that keep us all oppressed.
Another thing that I think must be understood is that the emcee in question is a product of our society. He can, of course, go through the transformative process necessary to fight against these systems, but it would be very difficult to do that on his own. I don’t write this as a personal attack to anyone. In fact, nothing that I write should be seen as an attack. Rather, it should be seen as a critical call to action for all of us so that we can continue to grow and, in the process, save lives.
Understanding and dismantling power and privilege is something that needs to be done everyday. It is something that needs to happen if we are going to change this world for the better. This is especially true of ourselves. We need to understand our own privilege and how it manifests in order to dismantle power.