The Privilege Of Tolerance

Russia recently passed an explicitly anti-gay law, under pressure from an anti-gay advocacy group equivalent to the Westboro Baptist Church or Real Women of Canada (who, in case you aren’t familiar, argued to Canadian parliament that all transgendered people are crossdressing pedophiles preying upon vulnerable children in women’s bathrooms). As a result of Russia’s new law, which is a human rights violation in several distinctive ways, a veritable fountain of news relating to hate crimes against gays in Russia (at least one of which was at the hands of a gang of neo-Nazis) has sprung up in a non-stop showering of righteous anger and misdirected outrage by hand-wringing North Americans. Somewhere on the internet, someone started spreading the idea that because the Olympics were once hosted by Adolf Hitler despite his vocal anti-Semitism, that this means that what’s happening in Russia to gays is exactly equivalent. [sarcasm] YUP. SEEMS LEGIT. [/sarcasm]

Here’s the grossly inappropriate image attached to this idea:

BEHOLD: One of the most offensive things I've ever seen on Facebook

BEHOLD: One of the most offensive things I’ve ever seen surface several times in the same week on Facebook

Welcome to another “horrific application of analogous reasoning” hall of fame post from your friendly neighbourhood Pissed Off Queer—with Caucasian and Jewish heritage (i.e., my grandparents on my mother’s side were immigrants to Canada from Russia, and this is also the side of my family from which I’ve inherited my Polish and ethnic Jewish heritage). If you can’t tell already or haven’t been paying attention to the news, this post is fucking loaded.

I would first like to point out that Russian is a word that describes a civic identity. When the word Russian is used to describe an ethnic or cultural group, it’s equivalent to using the word “Aboriginal” or “native” to describe a vast diversity of independent cultures and ethnicities. Or in case you had a pre-existing subscription to pan-Indianism that means that this metaphor fails on you (I wish for you that there was a pill for that), it’s like using the word “white” to describe all Europeans.

That Kind Of Really Important Detail aside, it’s almost as if no one in North America knows a goddamned thing about Russian cultures except for “That’s where vodka comes from, right?” And in fact, based on how North American self-declared “allies” of LGBTQs around the world are responding to the anti-gay laws passed in Russia (such as with that image above), you would think that they unanimously agree that no one exists in North America with personal ties to that particular crisis, so it’s totally OK to go off on an offensive outrage bender because no one who is witness to it will have any cause for hurt feelings. Well, I’m right here, directly connected to this crisis through several facets of my identity as an individual, and I’m not impressed in the slightest. For my own mental health, and for the sake of sparing anyone I respect from my anger in relation to how this issue effects me, I’m actually socially isolating myself while I deal with this by writing about it.

I’d also like to point out at this time that there is already an existing legacy of hatred and bigotry against LGBTQs that spans the globe, and occurred throughout history and into the present day. There is already so much material to draw from in relation to what people have had to endure because they had romantic/sexual feelings for people of the same biological sex, or because they had powerful feelings that they were born the wrong biological sex, that there is quite literally zero need whatsoever to compare Russian gays to Holocaust Jews. For the sake of fuck, in case everyone forgot while they were too busy photoshopping themselves into a tizzy, gays were persecuted in the Holocaust too.

I’d like to point out as well that no one compared Ugandan gays, facing the death penalty for their same-sex affections, to Holocaust Jews, even as they held their own gay pride parade under the imminent threat of imprisonment and being sentenced to death. But if homophobic neo-Nazis kill a single white gay guy (as if neo-Nazis are known for their compassion and tolerance towards gays)? WELL ALL OF A SUDDEN IT’S THE FUCKING HOLOCAUST ALL OVER AGAIN.

Just before the kick-off of pride weekend in Vancouver, internationally renowned Gay Guy and incredibly intolerant asshole Dan Savage proposed a queer boycott of Russian vodka in protest of anti-LGBTQ laws. So take that, Russia! The only problem with that strategy to “sway the Russian government” is that the vodka is actually made in Latvia, so the boycott he was (and possibly still is) proposing is actually punishing people under an entirely different government, who have no more sway over Russian politics than he does. Additionally, a corporation that produces and distributes “Russian vodka” is not in any way equivalent to a national government, for the sake of fuck! No word still on how exactly a queer boycott of Russian vodka would speak for the ignorant straight masses who consume several times more of the same shit in their bars over the same fucking weekend. Also no word yet on how decimating the livelihoods of families who depend on that work is going to “sway the Russian government”, whether or not they are even citizens of the same country.

After pride weekend in Vancouver, other internationally renowned Gay Guy and incredibly witty social media ninja George Takei, along with several other (North American) celebrities backed a petition along with about 50,000 other completely fucking ignorant dickshits, to move the 2014 Winter Olympics to Vancouver in protest of the anti-LGBTQ law recently passed in Russia. Great. I’m sure that’ll make about a few dozen Russian gays safe… for… a few months. Why, we could even just slap a rainbow somewhere on everything Olympic, and that’ll automatically make it LGBTQ-safe and gay-friendly, right? Because that’s about how LGBTQ activism works in the minds of about 98% of Vancouverites. I’d say about 96% of those who show up in head-to-toe rainbows and/or participate in Vancouver pride are straight, cisgendered, self-identifying “allies” who only “participate in activism” on that one day a year, while essentially nothing else changes — including but not limited to a notorious rape crisis counselling organization (i.e., Vancouver Rape Relief Society) that actively perpetrates and promotes trans-bashing, and has only continued to magnify the scope of this wound since exposing the scale of their bigotry to the light of the BC Human Rights Tribunal (i.e., the 1995 Kimberly Nixon complaint, which was ruled in favour of Nixon, then overruled in favour of VRRS after it was taken to appeal — and it seems immediately obvious to me that that Wikipedia page was written by someone who allies with VRRS on this issue). No word yet on how moving the Olympics to Vancouver would rid Russia of its gay-bashing neo-Nazi population, or how it would bring those responsible for gay-bashing and other hate crimes against gays in Russia to justice.

Here’s a little excerpt from the caption attached to that image above, which just brings all this fucking clamouring back down to earth for a moment, right before it takes off to the moon again (it is, after all, attached to that image):

The passage of the law banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” essentially became a state-sponsored green light for homophobes across the country to harass and in some cases murder LGBT Russians. The law fines and imprisons citizens (foreign or domestic) and media organizations that provide information about the LGBT community to minors; it bans gay pride events and forbids anyone from speaking in defense of gay rights. Just stating that your lesbian sister deserves the same rights as heterosexuals like yourself could see you spending 15 days in a Russian prison.

Indeed. A 15-day sentence in a Russian prison for civil disobedience is exactly like dying in Auschwitz simply for existing; and if only it weren’t for this one law, gays and straights all across Russia would be holding hands and painting each others’ pubic hairs with rainbow hair colour. I’m not fucking buying it. Unfortunately, as of this writing, 451 other people are buying it.

It seems to me that at the root of the problem I’m identifying here, there is a suspiciously selective memory at work. For example, when indigenous peoples and Blacks stand up for their civil rights, “it’s ancient history” (even though it’s still very much an issue of present tense); but suddenly every white person on the face of the planet can remember the mass slavery of whites across Europe 2,000 years ago as if it was yesterday. It’s the very same thing in relation to the hard-won (and very precarious) tolerance towards North American queer communities (generally—not across the board, as the fight for marriage equality rights immediately demonstrates) that seems to be taken for granted, especially by straight and cisgendered “allies”, as soon as gays anywhere else in the world are in any degree of trouble. So I’m going to list a few reminders about the legacy of violence and oppression LGBTQs across North America have had to fight against, in just the last 50 years, for the privilege of watching their “allies” wringing their hands today at what’s happening in Russia, at the risk of making grossly inappropriate and horrifically offensive gestures such as the topic that is otherwise central to this blog post.

Remember how, in Canada, it was actually a crime to be gay until 1969? This law was habitually enforced by police raids on the bars and lounges where gays would pick each other up, and in the United States, these raids finally erupted into full-blown rioting in the streets in 1969 (i.e., Compton’s Cafeteria and Stonewall). Prior to that, in Canada (even in Vancouver), lesbian and transgender communities in particular were most often condemned to the red light district for a location to cruise each other. This was also a time period when burlesque performers were almost all from lesbian communities, and patrons of those establishments were legally free to grope the dancers (which they often did while keeping their other hand down their pants right next to the stage). Gays also often cruised each other using a form of non-verbal communication known as the hanky code in order to subvert police harassment. Horrifically, lesbians all across the country experienced a high frequency of police harassment, abduction, beating, and gang rape; and this is still a problem faced by transgender communities all over the continent today. Even in Vancouver.

Remember how, in North America, it was actually considered a mental illness to be gay until 1973? Psychiatric facilities subjected gays to the same “treatments” as convicted pedophiles continue to receive to this day (“treatments” which are also administered to HIV-positive people convicted of sex crimes because of their HIV status). Failing attempts to systematically desensitize, electroshock, or otherwise torture “the gay” out of people, they might even be chemically castrated to remove the “threat”. To this day, it is still legal all across North America to operate a camp that explicitly exists for the purposes of attempting to brainwash “the gay” out of people.

Remember how, in North America, when deaths from HIV/AIDS first started sky-rocketing in the 80s, it was initially called “gay-related immunodeficiency syndrome” until it was finally determined that being straight doesn’t give you immunity to it? Despite the development of drugs that may have held the promise of saving thousands of lives in gay communities, the FDA held those drugs back until gay communities across the continent reached the very brink of rioting on Big Pharma’s front door step. Until the FDA approved the drugs for the general public, thousands of desperate people across the continent, facing an inevitable death one way or another, were using themselves as illegal guinea pigs to test the efficacy of stolen or illegally imported pharmaceutical interventions for HIV/AIDS.

Remember how, in North America, children who were born medically ambiguous (i.e., intersexed) were receiving involuntary sex reassignment surgeries as infants, often without the prior consent or knowledge of the parents, even in the 90s? And how some of those children underwent involuntary second (or even third) sex reassignment surgeries in the years to follow, based on whether or not their gendered behaviour was considered straight enough to match the sex they had been assigned to? Yeah, that actually happened. In Canada too. Parents of children who had been operated on unnecessarily, and adults who had been reassigned one or more times without their consent or knowledge, brought the issue to light through activism and law suits until it finally stopped.

Speaking of which, remember a man by the name of David Reimer, in Canada, whose parents and doctors attempted unsuccessfully to raise him as a girl in the 60s and 70s when a horrible circumcision cost him his penis and his parents consented to let a US doctor reassign his medical sex and attempt to brainwash him into a sexist stereotype through systematic sexual abuse? You can read about the case here if you aren’t yet familiar with it. I learned about this man’s experience in particularly grim detail at an acutely sensitive time in my life, while still living with my horrendously abusive, homophobic, and transphobic parents, and trying desperately to keep my sexuality and gender dysphoria safely contained. This is a horror story that gripped onto me and instilled an unquantifiable fear of disclosing my gender dysphoria to medical doctors in general. Reimer ended his life in 2004, while I was still desperately trying to avoid dealing with my gender dysphoria by acting out in extremely high-risk ways that could easily have ended my life several times over. In the meantime, the outcome of Reimer’s case has served a significant impetus among medical doctors against male-to-female transsexuals seeking sex reassignment, that is still needlessly erasing lives to this very day by depriving intensely transsexual women of much-needed medical care through an elaborate gate-keeping system.

And remember when, just within the past few years in North America, so many gay and trans teens were being bullied and antagonized into committing suicide, that LGBTQ communities starting hosting candle-lit vigils, declaring a day each year to wear pink to stand up against bullying, and declaring another day each year to wear purple to show your solidarity with trans and gender-variant people who struggle daily against transphobic bullying and violence? And do you remember when LGBTQ people (especially LGBTQ celebrities) all across North America started recording videos in which they shared their personal stories of how much bullying they had to face when they were in school, before they grew up and moved on to a better life, urging gay and trans teens in trouble to hang in there because as Dan Savage says, “It Gets Better”? Is our memory really that short already?

I just want to close this blog post by making myself as clear as fucking possible here:

There is just about nothing more triggering of the several kinds of traumas I have been through, or that my family has been through, that connect me directly to both Russian gays right now and Holocaust Jews whose histories and experiences are being co-opted by this grossly offensive comparison, than the constant venting of helpless outrage by people who are not connected to the issue at all except by force of will.

I’m talking to you, straights and cisgendereds, who identify yourselves as “allies” and yet constantly wring your hands about how much harm is coming to Russian gays if we don’t all start clicking that share button—every 30 seconds at the rate these articles and blog posts are currently being published.

I’m talking to you, straights and cisgendereds, whose only contribution to LGBTQ activism aside from sharing these news articles and expressing your terrors and anxieties, is painting your hair, clothes, boots, or skin in rainbows once a year for your mandatory walk in the gay pride parade. Especially those of you who don’t even explicitly identify yourself as LGBTQ allies while doing so, because you’ve decided that some other facet of your identity (e.g., that you’re an atheist) takes priority during this event, as if in the hopes that your once-annual participation will lend some of your tolerance to everyone from that community who can’t be arsed to be there themselves.

Do you think you are an ally? Then support the community, and I don’t mean by just putting a rainbow on something you’re wearing once a year, or planning to wear drag the next year. Instead of spamming Facebook and Twitter with graphic pictures and descriptions of hate crimes against gays in Russia, spam your fucking Facebook and Twitter with community programs and information about outreach for gays, lesbians, queers, and gender-variant people. It’s a miracle this isn’t common sense!

Get involved in the community, and listen to what the community needs from you instead of trying to lead the revolution without even asking the community you’re standing for if they even want your fucking help!

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