“But we can’t do it alone, we need everyone…” Gay rights, “slut” othering, and pizza…?

Joel Diaz, your opinion on Huffpost got me thinking a little, well a lot, about oppression, and queerness­­–oh, I apologize, I mean ”equality.” Not as much as the shock you felt when you almost had your night ruined and your pizza taken away by a “bigoted” “oppressor,” but I too was shocked. Well, okay, at first I was shocked at myself for not taking your message to the world seriously. But then I realized, why should I take you seriously? Contrary to your post, a story like this doesn’t in fact give the ‘hope and courage’ my friends and I need. Just because you and I don’t sleep with girls, doesn’t mean we’re friends–see, quite honestly, I am not your friend, Joel Diaz. I am your queer enemy. I think that you would think that in some ways I am as bad if not worse than that guy who called you out on your “gay shit.” In fact, I think that you would think that I stand in your way for annoyingly criticizing your every move toward equality when all you want is love…love is all you want.  Well, is it love that all you want or is it something more? If it’s just love and desire, why does Llyod Blankfein speak on behalf of the organization you’re involved with? Just curious… 

But after reading your opinion in Huffpost, I see that even you (Mr. I “co-chaired the Human Rights Campaign dinner in Columbus’) want more than just the HRC. You want your allies and business to stand up and speak up against oppressors. You want more localized, more embodied, and more Stonewall-esque approaches. An HRC dinner party/benefit won’t cut it, you want something more direct and uniting–something more responsive that lets you see equality mantled to even where you get your damn slice of pizza. You even note this:

“I’ve been involved for a number of years with our movement for equality having co-chaired the Human Rights Campaign dinner in Columbus and being involved as a community organizer but I had never witnessed such a public display of support. It was incredibly moving.”

Yet, I question the pedestal on which you stand (well, I kinda just wanna knock you right off): How delighted are you that “straight” people and their “straight” businesses are standing up for you? Are you that surprised? Does it make you grin with joy–do you want to run down the clean, renewed and gentrified service-sector blocks of Columbus, Ohio, blanketing every business, every home, and every person with a rainbow flag? Our rainbow flag? Well, you can keep your flag. Your flag stinks with pride. It makes me sick to my stomach. Your expectations are in the wrong place. 

As sick to my stomach, I truthfully did go out and get pizza (which is probably the only convincing thing besides this rant that your opinion encouraged me to do). As any other visit to the pizzeria (or honestly anywhere in the radius of 10 miles from my Coney Island apartment where I live with my mother) I transformed my identity–I didn’t wear anything that would upend my masculinity, making me vulnerable to being publically outed (no V-necks, skinny jeans wrinkled down to give them a more baggy and thus masculine look, and my hoodie over my face). I was safe. Phew! As I lowered my hoodie, after getting my slice, I turned around and got a couple of smirks from the high school kids that live on my block. (Unlike you, I wasn’t shocked…) The usual.. rather. Although I do not share the same sensationalized version of people standing up for me, should I still expect another straight person to always stand up for me? Had I not been used to all the looks, the smirks, whispers and the occasional epithets thrown at me, I would probably have expected the man behind the counter to have stood up for me. Yet, I don’t except the man behind the counter to stand up for me, because like the teenagers that shoot aggressive stares at me, as my change was tossed to me, the man behind the counter was no exception. I grabbed my to-go slice and left. No twitter post, no facebook status, no online “hits.”

But, don’t get me wrong, I am not asking for an intervention–for a group of activists from Columbus, Ohio (since that’s where they’re all at) to queer-out my local pizzeria. I actually find the repudiation somewhat crucial to the construction of my own non-normative identity. For me being queer has less to do about who I sleep with and more to do with my gender presentation. I find it more difficult to resist (or to even get people on my side) because of my gender non-normativity (which seeing your face via Huffpost video I see that’s not something you might have an issue with). Moreover, since not all of us get our slices of pizza in “inclusive” neighborhoods, I have to take a different route. I have to ignore not just one “oppressor” but many many more.

Although I face daily intimidations to the point where I constantly police my expressions of gender and sexuality, these attitudes and actions beg larger, more structural questions. Unlike you Mr. Diaz, I am careful to call the people that toss glances and epithets at me as “oppressors”; additionally, maybe perhaps this is the reason for which I am even more critical to when others, in general, defend and “stand up” for me. I ask, always, what’s in it for them? I think you should be asking this as well.

If equality and love is more than just desire but enters discourses of social, political and economic relations, how surprised are you that the “straight” people in line “chime [d] in and let this guy know that his hate speech wouldn’t be tolerated”? Are you that surprised that the “pizza guys” stuck their heads out the window in lieu of the “oppressor’s” “bigoted ideas,” and hate words? Mikeys’s Late Night Slice (where you got your pizza) responded to your status and writings in the HuffPost, with a merchandise line which specifically include shirts that read, “No Slut Sauce for you, Mr. Homophobe.” Clearly, the possibility for a bunch of “straight” pizza guys to speak out against “homophobia” without reproducing other forms of discrimination can only be accomplished by evoking the “slut” discourse. That aside for a moment, I question whether “Mr. Homophobe” was actually homophobic, all together.

To pin point “Mr. Homophobe’s” actions as merely homophobic (in lieu of the merchandise and your opinion on Huffpost) seems to obscure the situation at hand.  To my understanding it seems as though the comments were directed at your public emotionality  (holding hands, hugging, loving, etc.), which are actions that have been labeled stereotypically feminine. Thus, the situation at hand calls for larger questions about gender inequality and gender policing rather than just homophobia. The production of the t-shirts discursively manifests the way in which gay rights and “equality” gets streamlined… typically reproduced along an inequitable, and uneven topography, excluding others. 

(So when a guy calls another woman a “slut” outside the pizza truck (which I’m sure it has been done) will it also get an opinion of Huffpost, a video interview, and a production line, or is the slut sauce too good, too sacred, too appealing, and too ravishing to throw out just yet… hm, just a thought.)

I do not think that the movement toward equality should be streamlined to account for the moral expectations of pizza guys and other ‘straight’ people. What we get are queer politics reduced to a bunch of slut sauce/Mr. Homophobe shirts. Is this really “one step closer to equality”? Additionally, the proliferation of the gay community in Columbus, Ohio is part of a larger neoliberal trend toward the cleaning up of undesired identities (in this case ‘Mr. Homophobe’)  that threat the social, economic, and cultural trends of tourism and cosmopolitanism. Putting Columbus, Ohio on the map via “Gay Voices” on Huffpost is a shame as groups of residents in Columbus, Ohio have disproportionally been subject to being taken off the map. I am speaking about lower-class minorities that have for more than a decade been subject to localized changes in housing codes and regulation making their ability to live in what were once historically tied Black and lower-income communities financially impossible. Of course, this is not just your fault Mr. Diaz, but the result of larger social, economic, and cultural changes. Yet, reading your story made me worry about the expectations that you have for the welfare of queer Americans. Who are your allies here? Are they the same allies who evoke and repudiation the “slut”? Yes, you live in Columbus, Ohio but I live in Brooklyn, NY and it seems that no one has stood up for me yet. Granted, I do not live in a gay niche, which I probably wouldn’t be able to afford anyway, but more importantly I don’t want to conjoin by queerness and my politics of resistance to heteronormativity with my normative counterparts.

I do not see liberation in assimilation. I do not see it in the acceptance and validation of straight people, but more importantly I do not see it happening, at least successfully, in the way that you’ve posited. Although you write about this as an eye-opening experience, as an act of morality and justice, “we” and “our” are words that annoy me. Your “testament to the diversity of [the] community” is not one I stand by. I do not stand by the emphasizing of  “straight allies,” because not all of “us” live in communities that promote middle-class bystander intervention.  The eyes on my street are closed and looked the other way, and that’s fine. I rather be stared down, pushed, and shoved then constantly look for acceptance and inclusion. At least then I know that for me the fight toward my own right to the city starts with my self: an examination of some of the privileges I carry (surprising, right!) and how social marginalization intersects with my race, class, and gender. I look for larger explanations of “oppression” and larger reasons for why we respond to certain “oppressions” (such as yours) and more importantly I ask how addressing my own marginality can be tackled without trivializing, obscuring, or even reproducing the oppression of another human. Sorry.

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