From the Archives: Genderqueering by John Erickson

Moderator’s note: Today’s blogpost was originally posted March 24, 2015. You can visit the original post here to see the comments.

This post is a response to a recent blog entry titled “Who is Gender Queer?” on this site from Carol Christ. It was posted yesterday. I want to thank my friend, advocate, and upcoming scholar Martha Ovadia for reasons only she knows!  Stay brave, speak up, be heard!

Leelah Alcorn, Ash Haffner, Aniya Knee Parker, Yaz’min Shancez

It is terrifying to know that something is wrong but not be able to speak truth to power.

It is even more terrifying to know something is wrong, be able to speak to it, and then silence those voices that do not have that same privilege, power, or position.

The struggle that many of us in positions of privilege and power face is not just that of being ostracizing and essentializing forces—it is that we, as allies, members of communities, or even those dedicated to a cause, can ourselves participate in the oppression we are fighting against and can do harm.

It’s taken me a long time to not only be comfortable with who I identify as, but also how I go about fighting and defining my life based on said identity and experience. However, the one thing that I have the ability to do is choose that identity more freely than others. Unlike Leelah Alcorn, Ash Haffner, Aniya Knee Parker, or Yaz’min Shancez pictured above, I did not have to face the types of oppressions they did, to which they sadly lost their lives, as a result of the fact that we exist in a society that can’t deal with the inability to leave things undefined or to allow people to define who they are on their own terms.

It is vital that although my lived experiences could never meet nor match the same types of oppression that these brave individuals had to face, I, as a white, cisgendered gay male, do not become part of their oppression through my own position and privilege.

As a man who exists in the world of feminism and within various women’s communities, I walk a daily tightrope of privilege and power to insure that I do not silence those that I consider allies, friends, mentors, or colleagues. As a man who exists in the world of the LGBTQ community, I walk an additional tightrope to additionally not take away from or diminish the experiences of those members of our community that do not have the same type of lived experiences as myself.   Even within minority communities, there are positions of hierarchy and within these hierarchies of knowledge, identity, or power, comes a responsibility to insure that the oppressed do not become the oppressors.

We find our versions of home in these communities and it is within these spaces where our home not only begins to define who we are but we, as a reflection of that space, begin to outwardly redefine the spaces we exist in. If we slowly begin to shape our homes based on privilege and power without self-reflection and acknowledgment of others, then we are no better than those oppressive forces we say we’re against.

I can’t speak for what identity feels like –I can only speak for what essentializing does, and what it does is reflected in the deaths of Lelah, Ash, and the many others who die nameless.   It is our responsibility, as allies, members of communities, and those fighting to end sexist, patriarchal, and, even now, homonormative oppression, to make sure that no more deaths occur on our watch or that truth is spoken to power even when power is masquerading around as truth.

BIO John Erickson holds a Ph.D. in American Religious History as well as two MA’s from Claremont Graduate University. John served as a commissioner on the California Commission on the Status of Women. He is President of the Hollywood Chapter for the National Organization for Women, a Planning Commissioner for the City of West Hollywood, President of the Board for the ACLU of Southern California, the Legislative Action Chair for Stonewall Democratic Club, and a board member for the National Organization for Women. 



Categories: Abuse of Power, Activism, Community, Gender, Gender and Power, General, Identity Construction, LGBTQ, Sexual Violence, Social Justice

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. But you didn’t tell us why and how those four people died. Alas, it’s no doubt truer today that LBGTQ people are in danger. Thanks for your writing. Come back in 2022 and write again! Bright blessings to your work.

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  2. Thank you, friend. I’ll be back.

    Several of the individuals listed committed suicide and the others were murdered. It’s a sad reality that has only grown in the years following this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear John, This post comes several months after the fact – I ‘m trying to catch up on the ones I missed this year before the month runs out. I hope you will get it because I am so grateful for your words. You speak so honestly about a situation in which I find myself. On two counts really,

    First of all because I also have to maintain that tightrope vigilance you describe so well. The effects of power are insidious. Gay or not, being a white, educated, comfortably employed American male is just about as high on the pyramid as it gets. A straight white, educated, comfortably ensconced, feminist ranks pretty high in her own cultural hierarchy. I struggle all the time with the more subtle manifestations of privilege. I thought well of myself when I first grappled with the concept of privelege as power and felt scales drop from my eyes. It didn’t take long to be brought to my knee by the myriad tiny, every day ways privelege blinds and binds me and hurts those around me.

    Secondly, I live with a lovely alpha male who, while embracing feminist concepts, is often unconscious of the way he exercises the privileges of his inherited position as a person endowed with almost every blessing this culture can bestow. So I get the picture from both sides.

    Anyway, all this to say, Bravo! for talking about a subject very rarely mentioned. It gets lost in the larger discussion of our culture’s many blatant issues and outrages, but its the subtle manifestations that actually do the damage inside those enclaves of like-minded and friendly people with which we so naturally surround ourselves.

    You are a blessing.

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