Bil Browning

Comment of the Week: Desiree Renee Arceneaux

Filed By Bil Browning | January 02, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Site News
Tags: Desiree Renee Arceneaux, Frank Kameny

This week's comment was left on guest blogger Zack Rosen's post "If Frank Kameny Was a Pop Star." While Rosen highlights Kameny's positive additions to the gay rights movement, Arceneaux argues that Kameny's assimilationist tactics ended up costing the LGBT community more than it gained - Frank-Kameny.jpgespecially the transgender portion. If you can stand the heated back-and-forth, the thread is well worth the read.

You fail to understand the history. The Stonewall Inn was the only gay bar in all NYC which would admit genderqueer gays and lesbians; all of the other ones were for "straight-acting" gay men only. The Mattachine Society movement which Frank Kameny played a major role in starting, was closely tied to this segregationist movement within the gay community and built its tactics entirely around promoting "homophilia" within the existing power structure. They played no role in the Stonewall Riots; indeed, their immediate reaction was to side with the police and condemn the rioters in tremendously transphobic ways.

To quote an eyewitness of the actual events, "A prominent Stonewall myth holds that the riots were an uprising by the gay community against decades of oppression. This would be true if the "gay community" consisted of Stonewall patrons. The bar's regulars, though, were mostly teenagers from Queens, Long Island and New Jersey, with a few young drag queens and homeless youths who squatted in abandoned tenements on the Lower East Side. I was there on the Saturday and Sunday nights when the Village's established gay community, having heard about the incidents of Friday night, rushed back from vacation rentals on Fire Island and elsewhere. Although several older activists participated in the riots, most stood on the edges and watched.

The established gay community he's talking about are Kameny's lot, the upper-class gay white men whose cowardice paralyzed LGBTI activism for decades, who insisted that the ONLY way to secure gay rights was to pander to the prejudices of the majority until they accepted straight-acting gays as "normal".

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That right there is made of 100% win folks.
Boy that sounds like a lot of today's "leaders"

So the 1969 homosexual “community” was fragmented. The various elements were going in different directions. Much like today.

The bottom line is simply that the "homophile" movement was built around assuring upper-class straight white cisgender men that tolerating the "respectable" upper-class gay white cisgender men didn't mean they had to tolerate anyone in the LGBTI spectrum.

That's why the Mattachine Society instantly leaped to condemn the Stonewall Riots; it was all about making sure that the establishment knew that the Mattachines were on the side of law, order, and business as usual. It came down to "Stop discriminating against us because we're on your side! We're not like them; we're just like you!"

Quite true, Both the Mattachines and the Daughters of Bilitis hewed a very narrow and "straight appearing" path.

Today they would probably be members of GOProud.

One of my worst insults to he hurled at an accomodationist or incrementalist is "Neo-Mattachinist"

It's incredibly easy to stand 50 years in the future and tell Frank Kameny and everyone else what they should have done back then, isn't it?

Real Response | January 3, 2011 11:25 AM

The commenters used examples that were contemporaneous with the events of 50 years ago. So - fortunately - they didn't do that.

Volumes have been written about how some blacks thought that MLK was "going too fast" while others thought that MLK was "going too slow" while others thought that "non-violence will never work in our lifetimes" ... etc. etc. etc. In fact, there are still people today who try to armchair quarterback MLK.

Not to necessarily imply that Kameny had all the same qualities as MLK -- still, I can only hope that history will someday give Frank Kameny the same level of balanced scrutiny, warts and all.

I would say that Frank Kameny is very similar to Booker T. Washington; both of them staunchly opposed equal rights and instead supported rapprochement through subservience and compliance.

Chitown Kev | January 3, 2011 2:10 PM

Uh, no, I wouldn't say that at all.

That would be an insult to Kameny, actually.

I acknowledge and accept your POV as a transgender person, but to import today's attitudes onto the world of 50 years ago is a bit of a stretch.

The tactics Booker Washington advocated for African Americans and the tactics Frank Kameny advocated for gays are virtually identical.
Play by the rules of the social majority without complaint, ingratiate yourselves with the establishment so that they will see fit to throw table scraps your way, and if anyone in your community dares fight for equality stab them in the back so they don't "ruin it for everyone".

Chitown Kev | January 3, 2011 7:46 PM

Kameny complained, though.

A lot. He filed a federal lawsuit to get his job back.

The Washington Mattachines protested in front of the White House.

Kameny was neither greeted nor accepted in the White House, as Booker T. Washington was.

Nor could Kameny have ever claimed that he spoke for all LGBTs or even other Mattachine groups at that time; there were many Mattachine Groups that disagreed with Kameny's tactics.

Very different from the activities of most (if not all) other Mattachine groups (which were decentralized).

Very, very different from Booker T. Washington. And you still refuse to acknowledge that whre LGBTs are today is very, very, very different from 50 years ago.

Kameny complained, though.
A lot. He filed a federal lawsuit to get his job back.

Filing a federal lawsuit falls well within the bounds of, "Play by the rules of the social majority without complaint". Booker T. Washington also supported the filing of federal lawsuits.

The Washington Mattachines protested in front of the White House.

No, the Washington Mattachines marched in front of the White House. Those marches were very aggressively policed by the Mattachines to only include "respectable" gays and to prohibit "provocative" behavior such as standing too close to your partner or carrying a "combative" sign.

Chitown Kev | January 3, 2011 9:17 PM

And what would you have done differently at that point in time? Seriously, I would like to know this.

Yeah, stand to close to your partner at that time and you get taken away on a sodomy charge, as sodomy was illegal in all but one state at that time.

And when did Booker T. Washington ever support the filing of federal lawsuits?

Yeah, stand to close to your partner at that time and you get taken away on a sodomy charge, as sodomy was illegal in all but one state at that time.

Not even the broadest definitions of sodomy have ever included standing too close to a person of the same sex or holding hands with a person of the same sex. The Mattachines prohibited it solely because they didn't want to "offend" straights.

And, of course, your rabid defense of the Mattachines fails to address the much more important point of their excluding genderqueer gays and transgender people of any sort.

And when did Booker T. Washington ever support the filing of federal lawsuits?

It's not well known but fully documented; Meier, August (1957). Toward a Reinterpretation of Booker T. Washington. The Journal of Southern History, 23(2), pp. 220–227.

Chitown Kev | January 3, 2011 9:58 PM

Far be it from me to "rabidly defend" the Mattachinists.

And categories like "genderqueer" and what we know today to be "transgender" weren't even thought of until the 1970's.

What would you have done differently in Kameny's situation. You still haven't addressed that question but you feel free to engage in historical anachronisms.

And Booker T. Washington was only about consolidating the power and influence of Booker T. Washington. If I had to hazard a guess as to what might be in that paper you cite, the only reason that he may have favored federal lawsuits at a certain point in time was to ward off the increasing influence of WEB DuBois.

What alternative was there 50 years ago? STAR! There may have been different words for gender variant and transitioning folks back then, but they were still organizing. And being kicked out of gay and lesbian organizations. And criticizing those organizations for excluding them.

Sure, it's easier to be an armchair activist today, but the idea that nobody knew any better and there weren't any alternatives to playing on societies fear of gender variant and/or transitioning folks is bunk. Plenty of people knew better -- consider for a moment gender variant, transitioning folks, and their partners.

And are you really going to rely on the argument that trans people didn't exist because the word wasn't invented until a decade later? Haven't you noticed all the historical figures that are claimed as "gay" centuries and even millennium before the word existed?

I can not believe that there are people criticizing Kameny for his actions of almost half a century ago, when there was barely even a movement to speak of. And to the extent that there was a movement, he was a very large part of it. A commenter above is totally wrong comparing Kameny to glbtq leaders of today. Kameny worked out of his own house, and out of his own wallet.
And guess what else? In those days, you could be fired from your government job (as he was, a govt astromoner) simply for suspicion of being gay. Lots of gays were tossed out of the State Department, and every other federal agency simply for beiong gay, or thought to be gay.
He organized the first gay demonstrations ever in many places - in front of the White House, at the Pentagon. These only drew about 12-15 persons demonstrating, but they got huge news coverage. Kameny is the genuine article.
I would like to know exactly what was slowed down by all of his activism, espcecially when there was barely anyone else OUT, let alone demonstrating. You gotta remember, that the movement worked DECADES just to get members of the glbtq community to COME OUT, let alone to do anything else, like work or contribute money. The critics live in a fantasy world in which they either forgot or never knew exactly what society's discrimination against us was like in those years. Our own community was SUPER CLOSETED. Huge numbers then never came out, or had painful marriages, in which they hid their sexuality from their spouses. In many parts of the country, that was the norm.
20/20 hindsight is a wonderful gift, isn't it????

This quote of the week is a bad idea. The statement (quote) was totally uninformed,by someone who has become a Sarah Paln like personality on Bilerico now, who should have remained in anonymous obscurity (an ignorance).