I remember a couple years ago when the marriage equality movement was taking off and every day the New York Times had reports of victories in one state, pushback in another. And people fell all over themselves to support the It Gets Better Campaign encouraging queer youth not to top themselves. We were a bandwagon even the last few moderate Republicans were jumping on, or at least shrugging at. We were the It civil rights movement.
A couple of idiots even described LGBT folks as the new blacks. As if black issues and black people themselves were passé, not just that the movement had faltered.
The foolishness of declaring black issues and black people obsolete was made all too obvious on July 13, 2013 when George Zimmerman was acquitted for murdering Trayvon Martin, and Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi started up #BlackLivesMatter. A couple months later, when a cop killed yet another unarmed black man, the young Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the hashtag exploded into a movement that has itself invited comparisons, usually to the African-American Civil Rights Movement of Martin Luther King. Nevertheless, the three founders are queer, are female, and it’s hard to imagine that there aren’t links to be acknowledged with the LGBT and women’s movements as well.
A Dyke Abroad
In fact, lately, I’ve been wondering why nobody ever compares the LGBT movement to the women’s movement. Like queers, women are dispersed across races and ethnicities, creating conflicting loyalties, erasing histories, and making it difficult to create a radical sense of what a woman might be. Girls born into heterosexual families are likely to experience the gender wars of society writ small in the same way young queers are forced to confront the straight world almost from birth.
So why ignore the women’s movement? Because it chased dykes away and has never been particularly diverse or queer-friendly? Though most other movements of the left have historically been equally anti-gay. Or is it because the cool quotient for Susan B. Anthony with her lacy collars and puffy skirts will never come close to Nat Turner’s, not to mention Martin Luther King’s or Malcolm X’s? When Angela Davis raised her fist with Gloria Steinem I suspect we saw her blackness, not her breasts.
Or is it just because the women’s movement is full of — women? And anybody in that category is perceived as a loser. Since winning the vote, it’s all seemed downhill. Abortion rights won, but then eroded. Title IX, and a big parade for our victorious female soccer stars who are still pressured to slap on lipstick, get a nice ‘doo. Caitlyn Jenner’s celebrated coming out was the usual leap from the frying pan of transphobia into the fire of glossy magazine covers and female stereotypes that many women have been fighting for generations.
Many other dramatic changes, including the entry of women into every area of the workforce, have passed from memory, like the contributions of Simone de Beauvoir. And even though three women, three black queer women started the #BlackLivesMatter movement, they’ve been hard pressed to prove #AllBlackLivesMatter. The slaughter of black trans women are mere footnotes. The assaults and deaths of other black women at the hands of cops are almost seen as incidental compared to those of black men, even though the deaths of Kindra Chapman and Sandra Bland have given rise to the tag #ifidieinpolicecustody.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent book, “Between the World and Me,” earned a blurb from Toni Morrison as “required reading,” though the full comment not printed on the front cover qualifies it as an “examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life…” Josie Duffy wrote that “…In the 152 pages Coates writes about the Black body, he barely acknowledges the unique ways that Black women’s bodies are destroyed.”
Shani O. Hilton, a friend of Coates, was more forthright. “Black womanhood in real life isn’t — as it largely is in “Between the World and Me” — about beating and loving and mourning black men and protecting oneself from physical plunder. It’s about trying to live free in a black body, just like a man.” Hilton reminded us that Coates’ omission must be a acknowledged because “the black male experience is still used as a stand in for the black experience.”
If that’s true, a comparison is appropriate, even urgent for the LGBT movement. In fact, as we celebrate the Supreme Court decision giving the L, the B, and the G the right to homo-marry, it’s a good idea to ask what would have happened if it had only been lesbians, dykes, women of any race demanding the legal protections of marriage, especially for our children. Would we have been treated any better than straight women, or dismissed as single moms times two? Did we only win this right because there were men involved? Particularly white ones willing to write big checks.
How can we build a future from that?
Kelly Cogswell is the author of “Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger,” from the University of Minnesota Press.