Comments: "We Are Not Freaks"

Yes, people who are not male, not attractive, not tall, not perfectly formed, not intelligent enough to understand calculus, not heterosexual--oh, on and on--are freaks. Guess who else are freaks? People like me. Why? Because I'm 70 years old. Constantly, consistantly, openly, and ever-so-casually, I'm made to know I am unable to grasp current realities, have stupid opinions, and don't seriously count anyway or anywhere. If I know my place, I'm "cute," in the same way an infant and a puppy are cute. The one thing I must never, never forget is that first, last, and always, I am physically repulsive.
It's a bitch for all but a handful of humans, kid--get used to it.

Posted by Rosemary Molloy at February 17, 2007 05:54 PM

Jon, I can't go with you here. I'm a straight, white, male and I've found that most of the criticisms made of us turned out to be...inaccurate. Stereotypes usually are.

The path out of the mess isn't for white, straight, males (or any group for that matter) to cop to being whatever people in other groups say they are. That's just a variant of egotism--it's still all about being white, straight, and male.

I have cerebral palsy, and I can tell you that prejudice, ignorance, fear, and exclusion is practiced by everybody. (Even by people with disabilities.) While it may be comforting to direct one's anger at "the white male power structure," unfortunately the problem is with the human animal, and any reclamation has to come from inside oneself on an individual basis. So the issue is not bringing those evil white males to heel; it's recognizing that each one of us finds it exceedingly difficult to "understand the perspectives and reactions of others." Which is why we all must try.

Life is suffering, and to suggest that one group, no matter how mistreated, has a monopoly on it, or that one group, no matter how privileged, is the root cause of it all, is purest mote-spotting. It's living in the same old trap.

Posted by Mike of Angle at February 17, 2007 07:31 PM

For Silber to suggest that it's straight white male insensitivity that allowed Iraq to happen is to ignore the contributions of lovely folks like Colin Powell, Jeff Gannon, Andrew Sullivan, Ms. Rice, et al.

Posted by Lloyd at February 18, 2007 06:06 AM

Oddly enough nothing makes straight white males more nervous than *not being in the majority* and not being the "unmarked category" any more. Within a few minutes of being in the minority and not in control of the definition of the situation (imagine a straight white male in a barroom full of gay men, in a feminist meeting, in a room full of chinese business men, etc...etc...etc... those guys pleading to be understood as "just plain folks" with the same insights and the same experiences as people who have been either consistently in the minority or consistently in a degraded majority (women, apartheid south africa) start to weep and wail about oppression. Jeezus christ straight white males whine about getting stuck in line at the bank--their ability to tolerate true discrimination, bone deep discrimination, the discrimination non white people and women face when they *look in a mirror* and don'tsee a favored nation face looking out just doesn't exist.

Reminds me of the remark by STeinem "if men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament." Why did she say that? Because the things that men need, in general, are not only validated by society but often even mandated. Take away that privilige and you will see a lot more sympathetic understanding of the position of minorities, women, and gays. But absent the experience of confronting discrimination on a daily basis? You won't see it.

Its not incumbent upon striaght white males to confront their own privilige and learn from it. No one's gonna make you do anything you don't want, Mike. The problem with the original post was that Tom Schaller (who I otherwise respect politically) wants to have his cake and eat it too--he wants to run with the homobigots, express understanding and acceptance of heterosexual fear of queers, naturalize and generalize his own fear of queers to everyone else *and also* pretend that what he is doing is harmless. When people called him on this shit he simply tried the oldest ploy int he book "but some of my best friends are gay" and I'm a really nice guy. Sure he is. No one's doubting it. But some of his readers no longer want to play with him or invite him over. That's the price you pay for being not only a bigot but proud of it and trying to naturalize it for everyone else. So mike, please don't change. No one expects you to. But be happy with the shrinking circle of entitled friends around you, because minorities, women, and gays are ultimately in the majority and pissing off the majority in a society is never a good idea. Just ask minorities, women, and gays how much they have enjoyed bucking the system all these years.


Posted by aimai at February 18, 2007 11:49 AM

Aimai, I was responding solely to Jon's intro, and didn't think my comment had anything to do with refusing to change, precisely the opposite. I was merely pointing out that the mental rigidity of reducing people to their race/gender/preference is the problem, not the solution. Sure, it gives us rhetorical leverage on each other in conversations like this one--"I'm a this, and you're a that, so how could you know and you've had it easy and I..." This is completely understandable and cathartic, and I do it later in this comment. But any positive change--which is infinitely more important than anybody's cartharsis--will be due to our hard work as individuals. I try to do the work, so I refute Jon's blithe insinuation that because I glow in the dark and have testicles, I'm the problem. Maybe I AM the problem--but it's because I've made choices that make me a jerk!

It's funny that you bring up Gloria Steinem. You clearly mean her as a person who's been given special insight due to her experiences as a member of a disadvantaged group. That is surely a facet of her experience; but from where I sit, Gloria Steinem's been fantastically favored from the time she left rich, white, upper-class Smith College and headed down to r/w/u-c Manhattan publishing, and thence to the r/w/u-c celebrity firmament. Gloria Steinem is many things--smart, able, driven, telegenic--but oppressed isn't one of them. I'm not denying the essential truth of the quote you gave; I'm just saying that who deserves the goodies can be a matter of where you're standing, and since it is so subjective, it's probably not a sound basis for positive change.

Has my disability put cracks in the bullet-proof arrogance that most straight, white males seem to possess? Yes. For time immemorial, people like me were smothered, exposed at birth, or hidden away. We were killed, not shunned. There was no closet for us to choose, we couldn't be slave Jim, or Shakespeare's sister. Because we were dead.

I'm not equating my experience with anybody else's, or saying it protects me from criticism. What I've gone through doesn't give me a right to deny your perspective. But just as I don't know what it's like to be you, you don't know what it's like to be me. All we can do is try to understand, and stereotyping--no matter how understandable--is the opposite of that.

All I mean to say is this: all of us suffer. In that suffering we can choose either anger or compassion. If Helter Skelter comes and all us straight, white males pay the price for "pissing off the majority," well, I'll go into the Playdoh People Pumper right along with all the assholes who tormented me in school. But the new boss--whatever her race, creed, gender or sexuality--will be just like the old boss, and is that what any of us should want?

Posted by Mike of Angle at February 18, 2007 06:22 PM

Mr. Silber-
In the essay I was responding to you start out asking how it came to be that the US attacked Iraq -- and how it is that more people aren't outraged. This is followed by some stuff about white hetero male privilege and your being branded a 'freak'. I'm sorry I mistook an implied link.

Posted by Lloyd at February 18, 2007 08:00 PM

Hi Lloyd: I thought that might be the source of the confusion. But please note that in those introductory paragraphs, I was talking about the very general issue of *cultural repression* and its numerous effects. I tied that repression only to our country's failure/refusal to acknowledge and come to terms with exactly what we've done in Iraq, and why it is so criminally wrong. In this context, I intended no connection other than the one between this kind of widespread repression and denial and the Iraq catastrophe.

Moreover, my sole paragraph on Iraq does not at all focus on "how it came to be" that we attacked Iraq; I've answered that question in numerous foreign policy essays. Having said that, it is true that a certain sexist/racist perspective is involved in foreign policy matters, especially with regard to the central idea of "American exceptionalism." That issue, too, I've dealt with in many articles, including the Dominion series (see Part II in particular).

But how that perspective affects and plays into much more general concerns is immensely complicated, and I would never condense any of these inordinately complex matters in the manner you suggested.

Posted by Arthur Silber at February 18, 2007 10:06 PM

Thanks for this post Jonathan, and thanks Arthur for your original post (assuming you read this thread). You've hit this gay person's experience and frustrations head on.

Also, Jonathan, does your site accept trackback pings from haloscan? I tried but get this message:

Problem: Server said 'You are pinging trackbacks too quickly. Please try again later.'

Posted by n8nyc at February 19, 2007 11:00 AM

Jonathan, you write

The interesting thing to me is, while I had to completely reconstruct my personality in order to perceive this, I'm now much more relaxed, much less guilt-ridden, and generally much happier. I recommend this total personality reconstruction to anyone.

How did you do this? What relevant reading material can you suggest to the aspiring would-be self-actualizer, in addition to Life and How to Survive It, by Skynner and Cleese, of course? And then there's the necessary element of praxis.

No doubt, there are many roads to the same goal. Personally, I did it the hard way, with a full-blown nervous breakdown including arrest, incarceration, and hospitalization - but I'm kind of a stubborn person, in some ways - not nearly so much as I used to be, however. And did I mention I'm much more modest now?

"Uncle Sam" needs to go through a process like this, too - in a metaphorical sense, of course.

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at February 19, 2007 11:40 AM

Mike of angel,
you are absolutely right. I don't think oppression is unitary, monolithic, or much of a priviliged position from which to view the world. For example, I think that oppression arises through class differences, absolute levels of poverty, physical disability, sex, age, there are some categories of oppression that people can rise or fall into (as we age, get disabled, get old, get ugly, move to a new country, etc...) and others that we inherit and are stuck with in a fairly constant social system.

Within the category of priviliged people, among whom (in this country with its current racial and social history) I'd count straight white males there are, of course, levels of privilige and there are and always have been what we might call "beta" males and what we might also call "honorary straight white males." Just like in apartheid South africa and in Nazi germany you had honorary aryans (the japanese) and in many societies you could have "honorary males" (women of such high social status that for all intents and purposes they were treated as males our own society is rife with places in which money or political connections can soften or alter the level of privilige offered to an individual.

Nevertheless, there are some pretty persistent patterns in discrimination and oppression that seem to recur over and over again which leads me to doubt that it really makes sense to argue (I'm not accusing you of arguing this) that we can throw out major social categories like "straight" or "male" as pretty signifcant markers of privilige over and against categories like "gay" or "female." The recurrence of legal and social discrimination against individuals who refuse to accept their given status (women who demand rights reserved for me, gays who demand rights reserved for straights, blacks who demand the treatment that whites get tells us that those categories are pretty signicant and enduring. They can't be dismissed as idiosyncratic--oh, *any* person can overcome racial prejudice, just look at colin powell! or "oh, sexism isn't a problem for most girls today, divorce law tends to let women keep their children!" Or whatever.

However, I do apologize for misunderstanding your original post, for taking you up sharply, and for not fully addressing your second post to me.


Posted by aimai at February 19, 2007 03:33 PM