Editor's Note: Guest blogger Michael Eichler is a co-founder and primary contributor to The New Gay.
Q: What's worse, being gay or being black?
A: Being gay. You don't have to tell your parents that you're black.
I apologize for the offensive joke starting off this piece, but it conveys a great point that has been resonating with me a lot lately. While personally, I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with either being black or gay, there are challenges involved with both. One obviously has greater challenges (at least in some respects) than the other, as indicated by the joke.
We gay men and women and trans-folk aren't born into our community. We have to go seek it out. We don't have GLBTQ parents teaching us the history of our people. We don't hear about Stonewall at sermons during Sunday mass. We don't discuss the ongoing oppression of our people at neighborhood rallies or block-parties attended by our extended families. In order to learn about our people and our history, we have to go out and seek this knowledge. But first we need to realize that we are different ourselves from the community we are born into, which can take years if it even happens at all.
One commenter on a recent post on The New Gay lamented that the majority of queer gatherings happen in bars. And the fact that the majority of queer spaces are bars doesn't bode well for finding other venues in which community can be built. But sometimes I wonder, is there really even such thing as a gay/queer community? Most events, venues and websites that claim to be "for the GLBT community" are often dominated by one facet of the community. Queerty claims to have a "sharp eye for news, entertainment, shopping, fashion, and travel for the GLBT community" yet its homepage is rife with photos of shirtless men. Local pride celebrations are too often segmented into separate celebrations targeted towards different groups (black pride, trans pride, etc.). New York City is sprouting with new and different events geared towards specific niches.
Queer people come in all colors, genders and gender identities. When it comes down to it, the only thing queer people have in common is an attraction to people of the same sex (or gender, if you will). And even that is untrue, since Queer also embraces transgendered individuals who may or may not identify same-sex attracted. The only real uniting factor is that we are a "sexual minority" which, on its face, isn't much to cling to.
What I mean by that is that community based on same-sex attraction or transitioning gender identity ends up being a bunch of people who have little else in common.
Despite all these differences, the one thing we do have in common is a lack of acceptance from society at large, and a continued denial of equal treatment under the law. Now, that's something worth bonding and uniting over.
The recent murder of a transwoman here in DC, in broad daylight, is yet another example of the continued oppression that we all face. However, on its face, I have a hard time seeing how many members of this queer "community" would really care that this occurred (besides, of course, the horrific and senseless loss of life, that everyone should be concerned about). I shutter to think of how many gay men and women will be enjoying a Friday happy hour or a quiet dinner at home instead of showing their support for DC's trans community by coming out to the vigil scheduled for this evening. My stomach turns as I think about all the "VGL straight acting" dudes who would never spend energy showing support for a "tranny hooker" who got murdered for fear of being associated with them.
Why is it that we can't be supportive of one another instead of unleashing upon our peers the criticism and judgment that we all experienced as we struggled to come to terms with our own sexual or gender identities?
Our shared struggle for equal rights will NOT happen until we queer people, all of us GLBTQI folk, find appropriate venues for discovering our common interests and gain mutual respect and compassion for one another. I would like to think that TNG is part of the solution towards such a solution. The purpose of TNG is to help focus not only on the importance of our common thread, but also help people aspire towards individuality instead of adopting stereotypes in order to feel accepted. With its focus on individuality and diversity, one could almost say that TNG is the antithesis of queer community. (Perhaps that's why we receive so much criticism!) But the fact that TNG provide a forum for sharing all different perspectives within the queer community speaks to its uniting ability.
I do know that all that we have is not yet enough. I beg of you, please reach out and connect with one another. Attend one of the queer or queer-friendly events around the country listed on TNG. Or start your own. Create a monthly queer townhall meeting in your area where all members of the community can gather to find common ground. Organize a charity event welcoming to all GLBTQI people. Let's all make an effort to meet queer people who are unlike ourselves, find common ground, unite, and succeed at gaining the respect and rights we deserve as a valid disenfranchised community.