Friday, November 30, 2007

Power, The Straight White Man, and the SECRET Code behind Homophobia

Sandra Scoppettone's comment on yesterday's post of her book, "Happy Endings Are All Alike," raised a pretty great question:

She said...

Thanks for the nice attention. I think it was the first book about lesbians. A few years before that, I wrote Trying Hard To Hear You, which was about gay boys. The one about the girls was reviewed less and sold less. Hmmm? What do you suppose the reason was for that?

What sticks with me about her question is

"reviewed less."

Now these books came out a while ago, but more attention to a book about gay teenage boys than about lesbian teenage girls doesn't surprise me...

It brings me, in fact, to the fascinating issue of our Western culture's horrified fascination with gay men's homosexuality - it's soooo threatening to many straight people - and our same culture's blasé take on and dis-interest in lesbian women's homosexuality (lesbians don't seem threatening at all, in fact they're seen as objects of sexual titillation for straight men!)


Why? It's so odd - but I think the roots of it go down into our culture's misogynistic perspective, seeing everything as a reflection of The Straight White Man's interests and lives. Gay men (especially ones who don't act feminine, but share masculine traits with them) are threatening to The Straight White Man because - well... um... it's not that they're afraid they're really going to be jumped on in the gym showers!

Maybe it's because for many straight men, their own self-image is so tied up with being "The Man." They exist and thrive on the power dynamic of dominant over submissive, of male over female, where someone else's lack of power seems to inflate their own power (like bullies!) Anyone that doesn't fit neatly into this power dynamic threatens them and their power directly, purely because they don't fit where they "should"!

Perhaps this is the code that unlocks so many mysteries of our culture:

It's why there's a huge fear (and odd culture of jokes about) prison rape - as terrible as any rape is, I think the fear and discussion of this is really an expression of straight men's fear of losing power, of surrendering - for then they fear they will have lost themselves.

It's why we're always reading in the news about older rich men marrying younger pretty women.

It's why there's all this fear and discussion of "gay marriage" destroying and de-valuing straight people's marriages.

It's why so many straight people think in queer relationships there's always the roles of a "man" and a "woman." The idea that two men could have equal power in a relationship is baffling...

It's why there are so many countries that have laws against gay male sex but not against lesbian sex (Our own United States of America only just got rid of our last laws in 2003! Check out this wikipedia article.)

In fact, from another wikipedia article, there's this statistic:

Today, consensual homosexual acts between adults are illegal in about 70 out of the 195 countries of the world;[3] in 40 of these, only male-male sex is outlawed.[4]

It's why women of power (like Senator Hilary Clinton) are so hated and are de-sexed (by accusing them of being lesbians) to make them seem less powerful.

It's why in some cultures men tell themselves they're not really "gay" if they are the "top" (the ostensibly dominant partner in the sexual interaction.) They've made the label of 'homosexual' only apply if they're submissive to another man! In fact, there are whole new categories of sexuality that have been coined to avoid using the terms "gay" or "homosexual" to apply to these men, such as "M-S-M" (Men who have Sex with Men.)

It's why "fairy" and "sissy" and other submissive, power-less put-downs were synonyms for being gay when I was growing up. And maybe it's why we have the slang today, of when something's bad, or someone's a loser, people sling around "that's so gay" or "you're so gay" as a put-down. It's a put-down of that person's power.

It's why gender variant and trans-gender people are so marginalized in our culture, and are so scary and unknown to straight people that even many 'leaders' in our GLBTQ community are willing to let the "T" drop for now in the civil rights struggle for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act! (for an overview of the issue of transgender inclusion in the ENDA, check this out.)

Now where does this leave the fetish-ization of the female S&M Mistress? (think black leather, thigh-high boots, and a whip...) I think it fits, because this powerful woman is seen as existing solely to focus on the pleasure of the straight man she's dominating. He's sort of humoring her to let her have this space where she gets to "pretend" to be in charge... But the power dynamic is kept intact, with The Straight White Man feeling ultimately in charge.

By recognizing this power dynamic that underlies some straight people's fear of GLBTQ people, perhaps we can better understand the obstacles to our attaining equality, and see the wisdom in building bridges and alliances with our natural allies - feminists and other minorities, groups and enlightened individuals (even some straight white men), who all struggle as we do against the world view of the Straight White Man on top, in power, with everyone else submissive and below him.

And maybe even more importantly, by understanding this secret code exists, we can fight back by refusing to have our power put-down. And we can claim power for ourselves, in our own lives, each and every day.

We can recognize that coming out is an act of claiming our POWER.

We can recognize that POWER is also INFORMATION!

Back to Sandra's comment, the book about lesbian teenagers

"sold less"

Could this be a direct result of the lack of awareness of the book among people who might want to read it?

Which, in a lovely circular way, brings me back to this blog, and the reason I'm doing this:

To EMPOWER YOU to know about these amazing books that are out there - so you can get them into your hands and read them!

Know that YOU have the POWER!



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Anyone that doesn't fit neatly into this power dynamic threatens them and their power directly, purely because they don't fit where they "should"!

This mentality applies to a lot of things, definitely. Many people think in dichotomies. Whether it's nurture or an individual's way of coping with a too-complex world, it's a much more comfortable (easier?) position to take when solving problems. What's there to think about in this case? It's either black or white, weak or strong, female or male, us or them (with us or against us). It's simplistic and dangerous.