On One Hand

November 30, 2004

Chapter Seventeen

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 1:08 am
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I got an A on my essay, the one that drifted drastically off topic, and believe me, I’m as surprised as anyone. The essay was for a GLBT literature class (it was more of a mini-essay than anything, only three pages long), addressing a book called Stone Butch Blues (Leslie Feinberg, 1993, 2003) about a very masculine lesbian-turned-transgender who works in a factory and organizes several strikes. (The novel also goes through her rocky relationships and experience with the butch-fem dichotomy in the bars in the sixties.) The book was great, but I thought my response drifted too far into politics and away from the literature. Evidently drifting is OK in literature classes; once for a Women’s Lit class I talked about why women writers are predisposed to suicide and insanity (it wasn’t as controversial as it sounds), instead of addressing Kate Chopin as I was supposed to, and got an A on that one too. Since I have nothing better to write right now I’m posting my entire GLBT lit essay here.

Matthew Pizzuti
LGBT Lit.
Essay on Stone Butch Blues.

Chapter seventeen of Stone Butch Blues describes a worker strike at an unsafe computer chip factory. Though Stone Butch Blues is a novel of gay and lesbian issues, chapter seventeen discusses workers’ rights more than anything pertaining exclusively to GLBT people, and draws both groups together. Like gay rights, workers’ rights are a part of a movement that was active during the time that the book was set, riding the wave of social reform that shook the entire decade in which it took place.

In the aftermath of the 2004 elections (I consider “aftermath” to be the only appropriate word to describe its outcome), issues like these are heavy on my mind. We are at a point in our nation’s history when many are wondering if the seemingly unstoppable mass movement of social progress, liberation, and change that spanned much of the 20th century is more like a social wave that ebbs and flows among many others, soon to be lost in the endless sea of ideas. Workers’ rights seem to be growing less popular as economic conservatism reaches down through and beyond the middle class, while queer rights suffer a punishing “backlash” because they “went too far” in striving for what should be already rightfully theirs. Pressing issues of fairness and equality are separated, analyzed one-by-one, and considered unrelated to each other: “social” and “economic” issues are thought of as two opposing categories, while “domestic” and “foreign” policies not recognized to be coming from one might-makes-right or alternately analytical attitude.

The connection between GLBTQ rights and a universal struggle for social justice is what allows me to face what I have to when life gets hard. Though GLBT rights may seem an end-all to us in the midst of their prominence, the forty or so years that they have been thrust into the limelight are only a blip on the timeline of human history, and are pivotal only to a small portion of the population – even to the point that a popular argument put forth by GLBT rights advocates is to insist that little would change for most people if gays and lesbians were to win equality. But to me the struggle isn’t just about my right to marry or to walk down the street hand-in-hand with a boyfriend unharassed: it’s inexorably linked to a working woman’s right to feed her children, a janitor’s right to a living wage, an inner-city child’s right to an equal education, and a poor person’s right to opportunity. It’s a part of a broad, never-ending cry for dignity and fairness for every person that began when the first seeds of democracy were sewn thousands of years ago and will hopefully continue as long as human societies change and evolve.

I see GLBT rights and other social movements as inseparable, but not all people feel that way. There is this phenomenon, a strange current in the GLBT community, that seems to flow upstream in relation to the rest of us. They’re called the Log Cabin Republicans and gay Conservatives (in a strictly political definition of the word “Conservative”), and they believe in GLBT rights but stop with those issues. To them, equality for GLBT is an end upon itself, and when it is achieved, civil rights are to be seen as completed. To me, such views seem hypocritical: when the gay teenage boy gives up and commits suicide because he feels like the world is too much to handle, the gay Conservative reaches out with love and compassion, cursing the prejudiced world for being too much for some poor kid. But when a lower-class inner city teenage boy feels like the world is too much to handle and turns to drugs or gives up on trying to better himself, the gay Conservative is in line with other Conservatives, saying that the kid needs to be kicked off welfare, as he would only abuse it, and doesn’t need or deserve any special help. I devote my life to the inner city boy as much as the struggling suburban teenager. I see my queerness as offering insight into all marginalized groups, and believe that we have a responsibility as disenfranchised people to fight not only for ourselves but for all others who are cast to the sidelines with us. To do otherwise feels selfish to me. And because connecting queer rights to other issues is what allows me to be as passionate about them as I am, the Log Cabin Republicans, who separate GLBT rights from worker’s rights or other groups’ rights, seem more threatening to my values than the powerful white homophobic politicians who made our lives this way in the first place.

After such a damning statement I feel I need to offer a concession: I don’t really think that Log Cabin Republicans are “immoral” per se, or that they are worse than homophobes, and I understand the need for GLBT people to be present on all ends of the political spectrum. I certainly wouldn’t say that a GLBT person doesn’t have the right to be conservative. But I do believe that when minorities align themselves with the powerful, distancing themselves from other minorities, it seriously threatens the solidarity among them that is necessary for progress on their issues to be made.

Leslie Feinberg wasn’t the first writer to connect GLBT rights with other issues. E.M. Forster introduced class issues into his sexually deviant writing nearly one hundred years ago and Audre Lorde discussed race, class, women’s, and immigrants’ issues as if all were one. Andrew Holleran describes a community of sorrowful people in Dancer from the Dance, in which all New York City queer men are isolated from their families and from other movements that could be meaningful to them. The dominant tone of the novel is an overpowering sense of loneliness and disconnection: the price of isolation as a community. The need for writers, novelists and artists to connect GLBT issues to wider struggles in their quest for meaning and understanding is even stronger than my own need to connect them as the reader, student, and community member.

I was surprised by the sense of empowerment I got from the passage about the strike in Stone Butch Blues. Though I think that rational, intellectual ways of handling issues are ideal, the egocentric dialog of individual reason can be frustrating to follow, especially when rational arguments have been so uninfluential over the last few years. The sheer democratic force of a strike is, in contrast, a powerful image that shows the potential of large groups of people who have had enough. The description of the strike in Stone Butch Blues reinforced my perception that queer people are an important part of a struggle that reaches far beyond themselves, making their efforts all the more worthwhile.

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3 Comments »

  1. Somehow it seems if an essay argues a point strongly and seems at least somewhat inspired by the topic at hand, it’s acceptable.

    I remember a beautiful paper I wrote last year about gift economy in our modern society. The requested topic: an analysis of an art object. Got the grade it deserved regardless of its evolution away from the original topic.

    Comment by not_a_freak — November 30, 2004 @ 10:56 am | Reply

  2. Agreed with above poster. It’s one of those things you learn that make writing for classes easier.

    Not a bad essay though, even if I disagree with its premise. I mean, I believe in a working mother’s right to feed her child and gay rights, but I don’t believe they’re necessarily connected, or that one should need to accept the whole platform.

    Comment by spacemanspiff04 — December 1, 2004 @ 12:09 am | Reply

    • I dunno, I guess I’ve connected all civil rights issues to each other as long as I’ve known what civil rights are. And, being strategic here, I realize that the biggest inhibition to Democrats being elected to office is that hispanics won’t vote for blacks, blacks won’t vote for gays, gays won’t vote for muslims, and on and on (Sociologists have been trying to pinpoint why exactly that is for a while, and decided that each minority feels threatened by the possibility of becoming even more marginalized by no longer being the BIGGEST minority, now farther down the list of priorities, because the other group has gained power). Minorities need to stick together if they want progress.

      Comment by ononehand — December 1, 2004 @ 12:20 am | Reply


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