Diane Padilla is a Mexican activist who has been victim of systematic online harassment in recent weeks. She put a claim in against her abusers to the Human Rights Authority in her country. But Diane has had to deal with backlash from the LGBTQ community. She explains in her Facebook:
I respect the activism of LGTBQ community, but I am surprised by the tolerance some of them have to the sexist and misogynist attitudes of their friends, to the point that they intercede on their behalf against my claim. What’s going on? Is it that I am a cisgender woman that prevents them from empathizing with me? This is internalized misogyny.
Singer and actress Rose McGowan talked about the misogyny that she has suffered from gay men: “Gay men are as misogynistic as straight men, if not more.” In Chile, journalist Maureen Bairroilhet, conducted a degree’s research for UNIACC University about Lesbians and LGTBQ activism I was interviewed for last November, where she observed that in queer spaces dominated by gay men it is possible to find the same invisibility, machismo, and power dynamics against lesbians as those that affect cisgender women in a patriarchal social world.
Just as being a woman does not make you a feminist per se, being a gay man does not make you free of misogyny. We live in societies that normalize demeaning the feminine. Gay men are men, with the privileges that this entails; often, their gender expression and behavior are highly compliant to heterosexual expectations, including those related with seeing women as lesser.
Misogyny among gay men is very difficult to tackle. In my experience, comrades react surprised: “Impossible, we are the oppressed” or resort to distracting arguments:”What about homophobic women?” Talking about this is controversial. On behalf of political correctness many feminists I know don’t dare utter a word about it; they fear being branded as homophobic. However, it is dishonest to fight patriarchy out there without dealing the patriarchy inside – patriarchy internalized. Building partnerships for inclusive activism involves unknotting internalized cultural constructions that reproduce injustice at both personal and social levels.
Last year I was in South Africa as part of a training program on Islam, Gender and Sexual Diversity for queer activists and allies. During my time there, I was harassed by a gay man and subjected to a brutal form of misogyny first-hand. I knew months before my trip that he disliked feminists. When I realized we would be classmates and roommates for 3 months, I never thought his antipathy would go further than social networks. I was wrong.
He called me “Miss Vagina”, not Vanessa, to talk about me in the Trainee’s WhatsApp group and at social gatherings. One day he mocked me loudly about my sexual organs on the train ride all the way back home (a 30-minute trip). On another occasion he tried to shame me for having my period, saying how disgusting menstruation was. After I shared my experience of rape and sexual molestation in the group, he started to make rape jokes to my face, recurrently.
This spiral of violence had a rising point when he invaded my personal space and I answered by putting all my energy to push his hand away from my face. Despite the patient mediation of our facilitator, the harassment persisted through social networks and at each occasion he found. I had access to messages where he called me a “bitch” and celebrated that my “fat ass” had been the object of sexual violence.
I tried to get along with him but it didn’t work. I tried to control my temper but I didn’t think I had to be nice for so long to a bully. The point of no return came on a Friday night I stayed locked in my room (until the next Monday), with the bed blocking the door, while he was shouting threats of violence against me and other participants. Upon the completion of 6 weeks, our facilitator, my group, and I decided it was best that I leave the training. I received this decision emotionally drained but spiritually relieved.
He eventually left the program also. He got along very well with two female trainees who celebrated his sexist jokes. One of them still blames me that due to my “anecdotal issues” her gay best friend left.
I want to be fair. I could not have survived those six weeks without the loving support from my other roommates, gay and effeminate men all of them, and the staff of the organization that sponsored my trip. They listened to me, without judgement and offered me the help they could.
I talk about this because the personal is political. Speaking up for myself is a basic act of self-owed gender justice. This article is not a backlash against gay rights movements. If you think so or feel annoyed because I am exposing this, then you’re part of the problem. I am not saying “All gay men…” I am saying that, like in other instances in activism, “Friendly Fire” exists and should be addressed. I wouldn’t be a real ally if I turned a blind eye to this.
This misogyny also affects effeminate men. In Broadly, gender queer Sean Faye says he suffered “misogyny by gay and heterosexual men because of my apparent femininity”. Other non-conforming expressions can be a target too. Drag Queen Victoria Sin said:
The worst acts of misogyny that I have suffered, has been perpetrated by gay men. And it’s more disgusting than those from a heterosexual man. They are not even trying to express sexual interest in me; they are only reasserting their control over my body because they are men. They do it because they can.
Trans-feminist activist Frieda Frida Bautista says that what we call Homophobia is actually another form of misogyny:
This alleged homophobic violence for not being the man expected, it is actually a de facto misogyny. These men are targeted due the degree of femininity they express according to all these social stereotypes that have been internalized. Homophobia is nothing more than misogyny, hatred and revulsion toward those traits of “being a woman”. It is mockery towards a gender category considered and built as lesser. They are punished with scorn and ridicule not because they are not the men they should be, but for what they have that is Female.
Misogynist violence is not merely “an anecdotal issue,” but is a daily crime endorsed by the logics of oppression and is taken very lightly because the physical and psychological brutalization of female bodies, identities, and gender expressions is normalized. Neither sweeping the problem under the carpet nor blaming, alienating or defaming victims will stop its damaging consequences to their safety and integrity.
The situations here described make all endeavors of queer activism to deconstruct the paradigm of male superiority and decolonize minds and souls from patriarchy VERY RELEVANT. The struggle for social justice demands a movement-building where all oppressed can be allies and recognize each other as deserving equals. These alliances should be based in honesty, transparency, and braveness in order to deal with the misogyny within, that “Friendly Fire” acquired through socialization that teaches (gay) men to hate women.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a Writer, Mentor and Community Educator in Capacity Building for Grass Roots Female Leaders and Advocates. A Feminist who is an Independent Researcher of Gender and Islam on Feminist Hermeneutics, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. She blogs in Spanish at Mezquita de Mujeres, a site dedicated to explore the links between Gender, Religion and Feminism as well to Women from the Global South as Change Makers in their communities.