The Beauty of Dissent

I want to be a voice for my community, but fuck being a spokesperson.  You know the kind of thing spokespeople are.  I’m definitely not that type of thing.  One person, almost always thin and white and upper-middle class, serves as a non-threatening watered down distillation of an entire minority.  That way, privileged people can demand education from that spokesperson without ever having to confront a very scary idea:   Not all members of oppressed groups agree about their oppressions.

Or about anything.  What’s the easiest way to provoke a spirited debate about different methods of queer activism?  Put James Neiley, SLCSpeaks fashion editor, and myself into a room, caffeinate us, and ask whether you think marriage equality should be the focus of the queer movement.

And get this: James and I are friends!  Good friends!  Allies together in the fight against evil!  Queers aren’t a hivemind.  Straight people are consistently surprised and titillated by queers in conflict.  They can’t wrap their heads around the idea that we might be complex enough people to disagree with one another but maintain a stable community.

What’s really scary is when queers try to stifle the dissent in the movement, because they believe the straights.  Straights tell us that we’ve all got to present a united front.  It’s one of their many charming ways of telling queers how to be queer.

Why do you think they want that?  Didn’t you take eighth grade biology?  Do you remember why biodiversity is something species want to have?  It’s because if you’ve got dissent, if you’ve got varied skills, abilities, and opinions, you’re harder to kill.

A group that’s all the same, with the same opinions and ideas, can be lined up against the wall and shot no problem.  Of course the straight implant us with the idea that dissent in the movement will hurt us!  They do it to destroy one of our last defenses: our diversity.

When we give the queer movement a spokesperson, they’re inevitably the most palatable queer possible.  White.  Almost always cis, unless they’re a super special trans spokesperson.  Thin.  Almost always rich.  Always at least middle class, unless media about their lives is poverty porn.

The spokespeople themselves shouldn’t be vilified.  They’re queers.  They’re victims of this toxic culture too.  Instead, we must critique the system that demands individual queer people must be representatives for their entire community.

No one “represents the community”–it doesn’t matter if they’re famous, or if they’ve got a famous family member, or if they’re a politician.  No one elected them.  The community is complex and, like any group of fully realized human beings, endlessly peculiar.

Straights have to take us in all our complexity.  Spokespeople exist to make us seem less complex.  The next time someone mentions a spokesperson, whoever they are, whatever they’re saying, say, “Well, that person may be queer, but they don’t necessarily speak for me.  And I wouldn’t presume to speak for them either.”

Stephen Ira is a queer activist whose poetry and fiction have been published in 365 Tomorrows and Spot Literary Magazine. He co-chairs Sarah Lawrence's trans identity group, Trans Action, and keeps a blog as the Super-Mattachine, queer anti-oppression avenger, at As David Foster Wallace would say, he does things like get into a taxi and say, "The library, and step on it!" He believes there is nothing more radical than kindness.

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