Gender / Personal Is Political / Race/Ethnicity

Holier Than Thou

Today, I received news the Canadian government — my government — is allegedly taking steps to dissolve thousands of same-sex marriages. Specifically, marriages which involve persons whose home country does not legalize gay marriage. I know people whom this decision effects, am aware of celebrities such as Dan Savage who this will impact in a negative way, and see this as a completely unnecessary step backwards for the greater LGBTQ(+) Rights movement. In fact, my thoughts immediately go back to where they were on New Years, with the Canadian government trying to “liberate” Muslim women immigrating to Canada, by violating their rights and reducing their legal status to that of a second class.

Instead of honouring the personal choices of lesbians, gays, queers, and bisexuals; to take a trip to Canada and marry the same-sex person they love where it is legal — even if they know it won’t be recognized in their home country upon their return–this decision would amount to effectively take their money and say “Now go fuck yourself” when they shake hands with the Justice of the Peace. This is a process not at all unlike taking tens of thousands of dollars from a prospective immigrant’s family, and handing them an ultimatum that amounts “You’re not fucking welcome here” on one hand and “Fuck your personal choices” on the other.

I’m clearly very angry about this issue (you can tell by how much profanity I use). I think any sane and reasonable person should be. We all owe it to every person we know, have known, and will know, who just doesn’t consistently experience romantic or sexual attraction to individuals of the opposite sex. I personally am queer and trans, and I feel I owe it to myself and all of my friends and allies, to defend my right and theirs, to marry who they want regardless of which country they call home now or in the future. I say this, even though I personally have no intent to exercise this right at any time in my future. But I also say this as a person who knows many people in the local LGBTQ(+) community who have exercised this right or want to be able to do so. For some of these many individuals, their love crosses the arbitrarily assigned line that is the Canada/U.S. border — on the South side of this border, same-sex marriage isn’t recognized, and as a result, wouldn’t be recognized on the North side even though it’s legal here.

But some people disagree, with disappointingly misplaced passion. And this is where the political — once again — gets personal. Where the personal is political.

One of those individuals declared that the answer is simple: if you live in the states and want to get married to someone of the same sex, move to Canada. That this is as easy a decision to make as moving to Oregon to access physician-assisted suicide, when you’re busy dying miserably elsewhere in the states, and would prefer it get it done faster with less pain and suffering.

I declared that this was an inappropriate use of analogy I explained that a comparison between marriage and death is just terribly bad logic. I added that a comparison between moving within a country and immigrating to a new one is an unfair comparison. And most importantly, I emphasized that comparing a systematically marginalized class of people who are treated as second-class citizens because of who they love, to an ethically controversial practice that is not specific to any group of persons, is dismissive of the oppression experienced by lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and queers.

When they responded by arguing that this decision on the part of our government would make Canada a safe haven for the LGBTQ community world-wide (adding that the shared identity of the oppressed group isn’t relevant to the construction of a relevant analogy, which I disputed), I answered by stating that this decision is a measure towards creating a ghetto — unless you report back to Canada-land at night, you can’t fully be yourself, because you don’t have the same rights as everyone else outside. This individual proceeded to remind me that they are Jewish, suggested I be careful who I use the word “ghetto” around, and told me to go look it up because I obviously don’t know what it means. I stopped following the conversation, but saw him continue to respond with a statement that started with the words “You’re not Jewish.”

But I don’t have to be Jewish to know what a ghetto is. I don’t have to pray at dawn and read the Torah to know that Jews were rounded up and locked up in gated communities at night, all across Europe, for hundreds of years. I don’t have to know how to read and speak Hebrew to know that, like Permanent Residents in Canada today, Jews have a long history of being deprived of a great deal of rights that were granted to everyone else. I don’t have to be Jewish to understand what systematic marginalization means and to see a ghetto as a concrete example of this concept in action. I don’t have to be a devout believer, that I am one of the descendants of the Chosen People, to understand what anti-Semitism is and why it’s ignorant. I don’t need Google to tell me what a ghetto is. And I don’t need to be born into a Hasidic Jewish family to know what it is to live in a ghetto, because as a member of a number of identifiable groups who are all systematically marginalized, I already do.

He also sent me a message when I stopped responding to his accusations about the validity or relevance of my ethnicity, asking me if I’m queer and he (as someone who identifies as heteroflexible) is not. What he doesn’t seem to get about what queer means (probably because he’s never thought about it as any different than being gay), is that I’ve written an entire essay about what it means because it’s not merely about who I fuck or how I fuck them. No matter who I fuck or how, it’ll never be straight — that’s a start. But comparing being a publicly out queer to entertaining relatively private thoughts of “Well, if the right guy comes around, I might suck his cock” is like comparing a sex-positive activist to someone who simply swings both ways in private. They aren’t the same.

But there’s more to my identity than queer (and trans) — faulty arguments and shitty analogies aside.

My mother’s side of the family is all Eastern European. Many of the surnames of my relatives in past generations (specifically, of those who would have been teens and young adults, living in Eastern Europe at the time of World War II) were anglicised when they immigrated into Canada. Without spoken word, their original identities would have been forever erased. My relatives come predominantly from Russia on this side of the family, but with research, I determined that a few had also come from a Polish background. In all likelihood, about half of my mother’s family is of Jewish descent. And given that in her generation, just she and one of her sisters has had children, out of a total of 19 descendants of the immigrating generation, I think this is a significant contributor for everyone’s silence, and the lack of descendants. No one talks about what it was like growing up. No one talks about the homeland. No one talks about the war. No one talks about our history.

My father’s side of the family is all Western European. No one anglicised their names when they immigrated into Canada, because they didn’t need to. In the generation who would have been teens and young adults at the time of World War II, only one story has ever very briefly been imparted to me, and it was directly from my paternal grandfather. He was a teenager in Denmark when the occupation began. He told me he had to learn German as a survival tactic. That’s all he told me until I asked him about his family. That’s when I learned that there are 7 other siblings and cousins in my father’s generation in my family, and between them, they have 10 children. We don’t know any of my cousin’s names, or their exact birth dates. No one talks about that with my grandfather. No one talks about why there is this schism. He tells me to visit Copenhagen and tells me he would like to be there with me. He doesn’t talk about his history. No one else does either.

The point is, this individual has no idea who I am or where I come from. Though I can never be logically certain, I am confident that he and I are both descendants of the same history. But he thinks he is holier than I am, because he is devout and I’m an atheist, and because he feels entitled to make assumptions about my ethnicity (or perhaps about the validity of a Jewish ethnicity in the absence of Jewish faith). I haven’t shared my history with him. We haven’t even met face to face! All he knows about my identity is little snippets here and there, assuming he bothers to read, and the parts of my history and interests that I feel are relevant to share at a given point in conversations with him.

It is experiences like these that teach me important lessons about why empathy is such a necessary aspect of daily living in our global community. No matter how outraged I am today, for having (false) assumptions about my (mixed) ethnicity thrown in my face to facilitate rebuking an argument for empathy towards LGBTQ(+)s, it will simply empower my voice tomorrow, to stand up for empathy towards those who experience oppression. It simply reminds me of why, every day, I show empathy and listen to someone else’s experiences — because even if we aren’t the same, I have similar experiences that evoke the same feelings, and can relate even if I can’t understand exactly what it is like.

I may exercise my right to silence towards an individual, but I won’t be silenced.

2 thoughts on “Holier Than Thou

  1. Turns out that two things are now inaccurate about the context in which this entire blog entry was inspired, in light of new information:

    1) The actual sociopolitical impact on marriages that were performed in Canada, involving non-Canadians is real.

    2) The government is now attempting to back-pedal and change the law, which in the words of a friend of mine, speaks to the strength of the back-lash yesterday.

  2. Now it seems that the outrage about this issue is forcing our government to change the law, so that these marriages are fully honoured by my country, even if they aren’t honoured by one or both of the partners’ home country.

    I’d like to see this kind of rapid turn-around on the rights of trans people to be recognized at last as people, without requiring us to subscribe to being considered either men or women (because for some of us, neither fits); and for Muslim women who choose to wear a facial veil.

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