Great progress, grave threat

Two recent items about great progress in the acceptance of lgbt people in my country, with an alarm bell in the second about grave threats to us. First, a posting about a piece in Out magazine. Second, a comment on the Queer Linguist(ic)s Network (QLN) on Facebook.

Out magazine on Mike Ruiz. From my 8/20/20  posting “Hard-cruisin’ Daddy” (if you’re uncomfortable with the designator fag in my posting, substitute the noun queer)::

(#1) The Out cover showing hard-cruisin’ Daddy Mike Ruiz

[Out] magazine’s core audience is fags (like me); virtually all of the male editorial staff are fags;  in particular, the writer of this piece, Richard Pérez-Feria, is a fag; the photographer for #2, Rick Day, is a fag; the subject of the piece, Mike Ruiz, is a fag; the designer of the suit Ruiz is wearing in #2, Franco Lacosta, is (quelle surprise! a gay fashion designer!) a fag. All of them quite open in their sexuality. This is all fabulous to me; when I was struggling so painfully with my homosexuality as a young man in an intensely homophobic place, I could scarcely have imagined that anything like this would ever be possible.

It’s the offhand, taken-for-granted, openness about sexuality that’s so impressive.

The QLN comment. A comment of mine on Facebook on 9/17, reproduced here verbatim:

(#2) The QLN logo (no, I will not attempt to explicate it)

Today, on the Queer Linguist(ic)s Network on Facebook, a contributor wrote a request for assistance beginning: “I’m a queer Polish-speaking PhD researcher in sociolinguistics at the University of Sheffield.”

I am pleased to live in a world where there is a Queer Linguist(ic)s Network, with young linguists who can openly (indeed thoughtlessly) post things like the above. When I was this young man’s age, that would have been pretty much unimaginable. This part of the world has changed significantly, and for the better. (Yes, I feel seriously threatened again, as lgtb folk are being demonized, since demonization of minorities is the first step to pogroms — apparently friendly people become willing to murder those in a demonized minority; numerous 20th-century examples.) Still, it *is* an advance, and heartening.

A careful note about QLN, in its own words:

Intended membership: – queer* people who are linguists; – (any) people who study/research queer linguistics (past, present or future)

*queer here encompassing all non-normative/marginalised gender, relationship, romantic and sexual identities / practices / subjectivities/ embodiments and intersex (acknowledging that “queer” is imperfect shorthand with which not all those falling under such an umbrella may identify)

The threat: demonization and pogroms. Here, a (consequential) digression about my moral education as a child. The signal event was the uncovering of the truth about the Holocaust, in which people who had been folded into the social fabric were demonized by the authorities as Others and then destroyed in huge numbers, with the knowledge, and often enthusiastic partication, of a great many ordinary people, including many who had previously served as neighbors, friends, and even family of the victims.

(This pattern was then replicated many times thereafter, in Rwanda and Burundi, in several of the successor states to Yugoslavia, and elsewhere. Once a group was demonized, ruinous prejudice followed, often leading to campaigns of murder in which as many as half of those close to the Others turned on them.)

The thing was, as a child I realized that I was Other in every setting of my life. Even in my family; my parents were loving and incredibly supportive, but I was unlike any child they had experience of, and hugely far from their expectations. Fortunately, I was a sweet child, imaginative, forbiddingly intelligent, and creatively talented, also amiable and empathetic, and they treasured me despite their bafflement at my nature. My amiability and talents allowed me to find a place on the edges of many groups I was an Other in (though I was frequently harassed and openly despised, especially by male affiliative groups). Then and in the rest of my lfe.

The truth of the Holocaust came to me as an electric shock: my being an Other could make me subject to murderous rage, even by those I trusted and felt close to. It happened to the Jews, it could happen to me. This was a very hard lesson for an 8-year-old.

The larger lesson was that I had to be extraordinarily wary, fitting in amiably wherever I could, but looking to test whether apparent friends were in fact genuinely trustworthy.  With brutal simplicity: if I were publicly demonized, would they turn on me?

Very very few of my straight male acquaintances have passed this test, in my judgment. Now that I am genuinely old and don’t expect to live much longer, I wonder whether I should thank those guys for their friendship, which has lightened my life. (Although I’m a fag, my sexual identity is firmly male and my gender-role identification is firmly masculine — just my own brand of homomasculinity — so that fitting in with the world of men is in fact important to me, and these trustworthy guys are my precarious, and precious, connection to it.)

(I’ve always found it easy to establish close friendships with women — in grade school, that was one of the things that got me harassed as a fairy-boy; real boys don’t hang out with girls — and of course I’ve established a number of close friendships with gay men, including many who were never sexual partners. But even in those cases, friendship doesn’t guarantee trustworthiness; every relationship has to be scrutinized.)

And now demonization of lgbt-folk looms. Already well advanced in Poland and Hungary, and in my country it has never gone away among fundangelicals (who are perfectly capable of explaining to me, in superficially polite tones, that their god requires that I be put to death for my sexual practices, but that man’s pesky laws currently prohibit that). Now a new Supreme Court appointment threatens to undo not only Roe v. Wade but also Brown v. Board of Education and, significantly for my people, the series of decisions on same-sex relationships. (Jacques and I considered ourselves to be married-equivalent and looked forward to the day when we could make it legal. Alas, he’d died by the time that happened.)

And on that note. On Facebook, Phillip M. Carter, the notable sociolinguist at Florida International University, has just responded to the news that “A new Supreme Court justice could boost religious liberties at the cost of  LBGTQ protections” with an open and unsparingly honest account of the agonies of his coming to terms with his homosexuality as a child. Painful to read, and it made me cry.

Phillip was born 40 years after me, and I had hoped that by his time, things would have improved more than they had. But he managed to hack out a good life — and more important, a life of great service to others, involving not just the sociolinguistic study of hispanic and black communities in Florida, but also of active advocacy for the people in those communities and the nurturing of students at FIU. Deeply admirable.

[Digression. Along the way, he turned himself into an amazing muscle-hunk. That’s just the entertainment portion of the program (he posts a lot about his workouts), but it is fun to watch, mostly because he’s so enthusiastic (and entirely aware that he’s putting on a show). (I say this as someone who is normally deeply cool to bodybuilders.)]

Still, with Phillip, I have considerable anxiety about the way the government’s line is trending. A general climate of acceptance, especially if it’s been establishing itself for some time (roughly 50 years now for lgbtq people), can easily lead a minority group to think that demonization can’t happen here — but the sad record of history is that it can.


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