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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Question for You

Here’s a question for you: Do all immigrants to New Zealand, or any country, share the same issues? I mean, do a multi-millionaire French immigrant and his American wife settling in Marlborough and running a vineyard have that much in common with an IT peon from Shanghai in Wellington? How much does either one share with a Samoan wife joining her husband and his family here in South Auckland? They all have to adjust, they all come from somewhere else, they’ll all feel a bit different here, for a while at least, but their social and material conditions are vastly different, and this will affect how they adjust to life here.

I ask because from among the mailing lists I’m on, I received one the other day that had this acronym - GLITTFAB = gay, lesbian, intersex, transgender, takataapui, fafa’afine, asexual, and bisexual. What an assortment! And why on earth are we all grouped together? That’s what I don’t get. As a gay man, I think I do share a few interests with lesbians. We get to wear a few of the same labels and get some of the same shit thrown at us by wider society. But otherwise, my dyke friends and I often see things differently, where they mainly come at political issues from a feminist perspective, and I don’t nearly as much.

Thinking of my ACT supporting gay male friends who base their politics in libertarianism, they just want all and any regulations regarding adult sexual behaviour removed. But they sure as hell don’t share my lefty feminist influenced ideas on sexuality. And they take more drugs than I do. Which they also want deregulated.In fact they want pretty much everything deregulated.

Transgender? It’s not the same thing as gay – nothing like it in fact. It’s an entirely different issue. Whether FTM or MTF, they’re not gay men or lesbians. They aren’t same-sex attracted and I honestly don’t see what interests we share. And some of the MTFs I’ve met just seem like heterosexual men in a dress. They cling to old pre-Feminist ways of being “a lady”, some stay on with their wives, and some I can think of even beat their wives up still, but then claim they’re oppressed. It’s not the same sort of oppression though, is it

Intersex – well, I accept that the issues facing those born intersex are real and serious, but don’t really speak to or impinge on my life as a bumboy I’d have to say. They occupy a difficult place in society, and I’m supportive of them, but do we really belong in the same group? I don’t think so

Asexuals? Please! Fucking and who and how we fuck is one of the key characteristics that sets us fags apart – asexuality doesn’t really speak to this side of life at all. Just don’t have sex – is that really that hard? Does it need a civil rights based political liberation movement behind it as gay rights did? Really? When was the last time someone leant out a car window and screamed “Asexual pervert!” or they got denied a job or a flat because they aren’t into sex? On a subjective level, I’m sure it matters to them, but I have to say not so much to me.

I know some Maori gay men who entirely reject the label takataapui, and find Maoritanga completely irrelevant to their lives, they relate to the world and themselves as gay men first, and I know others who rate being Maori first, and put their sexuality down as a minor issue.

For some reason we’re all expected to be adequately addressed by being in this grouping. Doesn’t work for me. (apologies to Mr Herkt)

It’s not that I’m blind to the difficulties or oppression that others who are outside the sexual norms of society have, far from it. But to lump us all together as one, as this seems to do, is starting from a false premise: to me it’s saying that just because we fall outside the bounds of heteronormativity we all have a shared set of political, material, social or cultural issues. I don’t think so. And to some extent it is defining ourselves by heteronormative terms.

I blame the academic rubbish heap known as Queer Theory for this. Theresa de Lauretis is usually credited with coming up with the term “Queer Theory” in a 1989 (I think) paper. I don’t think that where it has gone now is necessarily where she envisioned it going, but that’s by the by – academic theories often get picked up and run away with by all sorts.

Yes, there are many ways of being sexual (or even asexual) humans outside the restrictive norms of mainstream society. But just because we’re not sitting in the majority doesn’t mean that we all share common interests either. This grouping moves from biological categories (intersex) to arguably more socially constructed ones (gay & lesbian, though the nature/nurture debate on that still isn’t closed by any means) and one only made possible via modern medical technology (transgender). We can all be labelled “queer” but I think that masks more than it reveals. And by doing that it silences some.

In New Zealand today, the oppression that used to rule over so many of us has lessened considerably, especially if you’re a gay man or a lesbian. And we got those rights through concerted political effort made over decades.

Am I unsympathetic or politically unsupportive of the rights of intersex or transgender people? No, not at all – but do we all fit into the same category? I think not.We’re just as varied, just as diverse in where we sit in society as the group of immigrants I listed above. As they are, we’re from minorities within a larger society, but some of us are going to be able to settle in with far greater ease than others.

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