Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Straight Problem

But what is really much worse is the system of lies, evasions, and naked oppression designed to pretend this isn't so. It is one thing to trample a kid half to death or to death -- that is bad enough -- but it is quite another thing to then be told by the agents of that oppression, "Be patient; we will do better tomorrow." The question will cross your mind just for a moment: "You will do what better tomorrow?"
These words come from "What Price Freedom?" by James Baldwin, originally published in 1964, now reprinted in The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings, edited and with an introduction by Randall Kenan, published in 2010 by Pantheon Books. The quoted passage is on page 69.

Baldwin was writing about the Negro in America, but though I don't intend to equate the situation of American blacks and the situation of American gays (Baldwin was both, by the way), these words seem to me no less relevant to what we face, especially young kids still in the grip of the schools and their families. That doesn't mean that the problems faced by African-Americans are any less urgent, only that gay kids, lesbian kids, sissy kids, bulldagger kids, also face urgent problems, problems of life and death. Though we have certainly made progress in the past fifty years, it is not only our avowed enemies who are fighting tooth and nail to drive us back into invisibility and silence, it is also too many who, if not claiming to be our friends, would at least claim to be neutral. Consider how many gay or lesbian-themed films have come out of the American movie industry (as opposed to independents) since Brokeback Mountain scored a breakthrough five years ago. That was supposedly going to open the door to a slew of long-stalled projects (The Front Runner, say, or The Dreyfus Scandal) that, I think it's safe to say, remain stalled forever. Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right made it into general release this year, so that's probably it until 2015 or so.

Meanwhile, kids are still being harassed and shoved and kicked by other kids, and by adults too, for the crime of being gender nonconformists. Those who assault them too often get off scot free. They're able to hide behind "faith" and similar shields. I must say, I liked Dan Savage much better for telling off an antigay Christian who complained that having their faith criticized hurt their feelings. "Fuck your feelings," he wrote. Exactly. What we need is much more of that, and not so much of "It Gets Better."