Gay rights, hold the ageism

The thought of waiting for one generation to loosen its political grip so that the next can ‘take control’ is foolish. Indeed, what fear-filled tactic is one of this kind?

What saddens me is the ignorant desire to scapegoat something. Sadly the victim of scapegoating is always a group of some kind–but always a group of people. In the discourse of gay politics it tends to fall onto two groups of people: (1) religious group(s) and (2) old people. These are problematic and regressive for any social movement.

I seek to open the dialogue and begin to unpack these groups as scapegoats in an effort to illustrate a point of departure for contemporary queer political activism to take root. It is clear that many oppressed groups suffer from the same pitfall of scapegoating some group–finding some group as the “Actual” reason why they are unable to move forward in society. To this end, the actual perpetrator is never held accountable and accordingly, is never put under scrutiny and analyzed for the deconstruction to take place. And this is my starting point. The proper location of blame should always rest on an ideological belief. To scapegoat a group is to be sidetracked from what is actually the problem. Whether it be patriarchy, class division, racism, heterosexism, ableism or any other ism that operates in an oppressive fashion.

(1) religious groups. Looking at the recent Prop 8 dialogue. The post election fanaticism and common mobbery that took root outside of Mormon temples exemplifies the problem at hand. Sure, many Mormon’s contributed to the “yes on 8” campaign. However, people are allowed to contribute to whatever cause they seem fit. Whether or not actual churches contributed is another issue entirely. The fact is that the money backing any proposition on this level is not the churches fault, nor is it the members of any religious congregation. What any anti-Mormon, pro-gay marriage discourse routinely left out of the dialogue was the mention of homophobia and heterosexism as a systemic apparatus of state control and hegemonic knowledge production. What began to take shape was a retaliation of hate brought forth by angry queers (and I hesitate to use the term queer to designate these protestors, for most queers remain opposed to any institution of oppression, including the hetero-pinnacle of marriage) in the name of wanting credibility from the state. I understand and believe in needing to release anger, especially political anger. However, it was too late. The problem at hand remains the exact same culprit that created an atmosphere that allowed this proposition to pass as the Knight Initiative (prop 22) back in 2000 and as proposition 8 more recently. That culprit is an ideological system of heterosexism and homophobia. Working in conjunction, these ideological processes can dominate and take hold of any discussion in the name of normality and with the goal of destroying any BODY that does not fit into the well documented (fictional) case points of boy and girl and opposites attract nonsense. Had the queers desired a more fruitful and collective movement, the anger would not have been against a handful of temples but rather a movement of collective education and collective consciousness development to make even the gayest of queers aware of the presence of heterosexism and homophobia in their own lives.

I ask, how do YOU, my queer reader, perpetuate heterosexism and homophobia? In what ways were the protests of Mormon temples (a group of scapegoated people) regressive? I ask these questions in a way that helps you to acknowledge and see through the haze of mob mentality that seeks to chastise a group rather than a system. The hardship rests in helping yourself and others to see these ideological processes at play.

(2) old people. Recently, a good friend of mine commented on the regressiveness of gay/queer politics. He alleged that he knew why it was so hard for queers to move forward. I questioned. He responded, “It’s the old people. When they finally die off then we will be able to move forward.”

I was, and remain, sickened by this thought and belief. The collective belief that we are held back, no bound, by old people’s old traditions discounts the thousands of old progressives and leaders of old who took the first steps for any of us to be able to voice our beliefs today. It discounts the transgender warriors of Stonewall. It brushes aside the work of suffragists. It negates the willpower of R. Parks, of ML King, of E. Jo Baker, Bayard Rustin, Leslie Feinberg,  and so many others.

What upsets me most is that a belief in old people as the problem sidesteps the possibility that we/you are the problem. That it is you who hold yourself and any movement back. That it is you who have yet to converse in any progressive manner with the hope of cultivating a collective consciousness.

The belief in old people as the problem also assumes that change is just around the corner, dependent upon their forthcoming deaths. Why isn’t the discussion around changing the minds and opening the experiences of old people. Contrary to popular belief, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. In no way am I insinuating that old people are dogs. What I am saying is that age is not the factor to be held accountable. Rather, and just as the above argument that I developed for religious groups entails, blaming old people is lazy thinking. It is. 

It is lazy because scapegoating signals the ability to say, “Yup, THEY’re the reason I am oppressed. Alright, let’s kill them.”

And that is all wrong. What should be taking shape in this day and age is a call to illustrate the beauty of difference. Indeed, the social climate of America continues to change, and with this change comes many legislative possibilities for queers and heteros alike. However to blame old people is to assume that queer people aren’t old as well. I challenge you to find an old person. Talk to him/hir/her and begin to open a vibrant dialogue which encourages bridging a divide that we see as vast when it is just a handful of years; for you too will be old soon and I would bet that you would not want to be found as the cause of all social ills for your outmoded thoughts and beliefs.


About Benny

My name is Benny LeMaster. I am an academic, activist, and artist. I research questions of identity, culture, and representation. I am interested in exploring ways to relate to one another in critically affirming ways. In terms of identity, I identify as queer, trans, mixed-race Asian/white, fat, and, frankly, fabulous. Let's talk!
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