Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sorry, No on 8 isn't really no on hate

I tried my best to ignore Proposition 8, I mean to ignore all the attention around marriage, even as I received a voicemail message featuring a recording of Barack Obama, a message from Barack Obama himself, another announcement coordinated by various gay elected officials, and then was that really Bill Clinton? All urged me, or someone like me, to vote No on 8. $40 million can get you a lot of attention, but I do think it's now as important as ever to question what exactly all this money pouring into pro-marriage coffers is doing. One thing we can say for sure: it didn't achieve the desired result in this particular electoral battle.

If we take a look at the failed No on 8 campaign, we can see the usual "we're just like you” charade, and it seems to me that this whole gay marriage effort already cedes the battlefield to the homophobes. Accept us on your terms, without making any structural changes except for a copyedit in marriage documents, that's how this argument goes. We want to spend just as much on bridal gowns and tuxedos, diamonds and bachelor parties and showers and honeymoons, we’re ready for the white picket fence and the 2.5 children and the gas-guzzling SUV, we can wave the stars-and-stripes just as feverishly as any other pro-war patriots. In fact, we are so much like you that we are ready to arrest homeless queers for getting in the way of happy hour, to oppose queer youth shelters for interfering with property values, and to endlessly cleanse our gentrifying neighborhoods of undesirables like trans women, sex workers, people of color, disabled people, the elderly, people with AIDS and anyone else who might terrorize the great white American dream. No, we are not men lingering in toilets or alleys for a taste of cock, we are not women teasing with whips or turning tricks on the corner, we are not furious gender deviants or ferocious sexual perverts, we’re just like you -- we tuck the children in at night and we wage war inside the home where no one else can see.

And guess what? I know it sounds awfully strange, but somehow this argument doesn't exactly challenge structural homophobia. In fact, it furthers the violence by declaring that anyone who doesn't want marriage and all of its centuries of baggage is not worthy of "equal rights" like food or shelter or healthcare or the rights now procured through citizenship -- never mind sexual splendor or gender self-determination, remember we just want platinum wedding rings and participatory patriarchy, our space in the kitchen or battering the TV during Super Bowl season. What I'm saying is that all the money and attention and energy going into the fight for gay marriage may be doing just as much to perpetuate homophobia as any religious bigots.

Sure, the messages might be slightly different. Right-wing homophobes say we all deserve to burn in hell, God hates gays, sodomy is evil, and so on. Meanwhile, gay marriage proponents systematically wipe out any representations of queerness other than the straight-friendly, job-holding, America-loving, monogamous, middle-class coupled partnership.

Furthermore, with this single-issue struggle, everything else, including anti-gay, anti-queer, and anti-trans violence gets swept under the beige carpet. Gay marriage proponents appropriate civil rights discourse while saying “it's the blacks that voted against us.” They promote religious tyranny (marriage is the answer), while pointing the blame at religious bigots (“it's the Mormons”).

Unfortunately, with all the protests emerging nationwide, no one is asking what on earth happened to that $40 million? Instead, it seems that marriage proponents are anxious to funnel millions and millions more into dead-end “LGBT” institutions? Are we going to continue protesting on the terms of the right-wingers, with signs like "God Supports Gay Marriage?” Could anything be worse?


gina said...

yes yes yes.
i want everyone to read this.
i love you and all your writing thinking making everyone think.

Furthermore, with this single-issue struggle, everything else, including anti-gay, anti-queer, and anti-trans violence gets swept under the beige carpet. Gay marriage proponents appropriate civil rights discourse while saying “it's the blacks that voted against us.” They promote religious tyranny (marriage is the answer), while pointing the blame at religious bigots (“it's the Mormons”).

kateg said...

i'm surprised to read on your blog "unfortunately, with all the protests..."

I agree with your political point, but not with the conclusion about the protests. it seems to me that self-organized nation-wide protests by gay and queer people is good. That people have begun setting our own tactical agenda seems like a hopeful step that we might be able to get it together to set our own political agenda, and leave the "leadership" of the "gay rights" movement behind.

Wagnerian said...


My foster parents are a male couple. 20 years ago, I was 'best man' at my foster parent's wedding. it was a very small, unassuming ceremony with very close friends. It was nothing like you describe. There was no lavish spending on tuxedos or pro-war flag waving. My parents are notoriously cheap, actually, so they didn't even rent a room or for the reception or get catering. My one dad made all the food and they had the reception in their apartment, which became unbelievably packed with people one almost couldn't move.

My one dad was involved in gay liberation in the very early 70s. A few years ago, in response to Gay Shame broadsides that I was seeing around the Mission, I asked him if the movement back then was working for civil marriage. He said yes...but they simultaneously wanted to create new kinds of relationships, wether that was within or without marriage.

The thing that really irks me about yr marriage critique is how it really disavows the complexity of what's happening. And you seem to wallow in creating new gay stereotypes. You paint such a detailed picture... as if all gay people fighting for civil rights were akin to racist caricatures of affluent jews who control the media... you paint a bigoted cartoon picture. It's a shame.

I think you need to be more careful and more truthful.

Civil rights for gay people do not stand in the way of other struggles for justice.

All the petualant whining and stereotyping on your part does not make that so.

ms mel said...

exactly. exactly. exactly.

Thank God I'm not the only one.

What follows is a snippet of my reaction:

"I’m not convinced that as member of this A/american queer community, marriage is my battle. I feel like fighting for marriage is the gay equivilent of “Drill Baby Drill.” It’s antiquated. It’s a short-term solution and it’s only useful to some of us. I wonder why our relationship status affects our taxes or our health care.

(I’m going to say that again.)

I wonder why our relationship status affects our taxes or our health care.

I wonder who sets the goals for the community at large, (I don’t wonder. I know.) and why their priorities are so different than mine. I wonder why we’re spending SO MUCH MONEY on this particular issue. I wonder why the queer community doesn’t seem to give a shit about my transmen friends who can’t seem to get jobs, despite their master’s degrees. I wonder when the name Sakia Gunn is going to matter as much as the name Matthew Shepherd. I wonder when crystal meth is going to be less of a problem, and why no one has put any money into figuring out why so many of us are addicted to drugs that will kill us. (Can I get a shrink over here?)

Furthermore: One of the things that queer communities have been really good at is imagining new kinds of family structures and new relationship bonds that aren’t necessarily parallel to the tradition we’re calling marriage. While we’re fighting for marriage, we’re forgetting our roots and the multiplicity of formats our relationships take, privileging only the ones that look like theirs. Which is ok, but we can do better. We can, at the very least, pretend to care about the entire community, and not just the parts of it that seem comfortable and familiar to the heteros. Just because they don’t care about our wounded members doesn’t mean we don’t have to. We’re family, right?

So thanks to the haters in California for raining on our parade, and for reminding us that to them, even the monogamous cracker queers aren’t okay in the eyes of their Lord, and that our relationships aren’t as important or meaningful or devastating as theirs are. And to the queers who have found themselves swept up in the idea that if we have marriage, we’ll be legit, double back. Make sure.

As always,
peace or justice,
ms. mel kozakiewicz"

(full text available at

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Gina, I love you and all your thinking make everyone think -- and now we're in the same city!

Kateg, of course I'm all for protests, but the limited agenda of these particular events is depressing to me.

Wagnerian, what I am describing is the exact way that gay marriage proponents, national gay organizations, media "spokespeople," etc. stereotype themselves -- of course there is a wider diversity, but we would never know it based on me appalling messages and methods of those in control of the marriage push. Gay marriage proponents are absolutely not creating space for others struggles, but actually funneling resources in the wrong direction and away from basic needs like housing, healthcare, gender self-determination, the right to stay in the country of your choice, etc. So yes, they are absolutely standing in the way of most struggles for justice.

Ms. Mel, you are certainly on a roll -- and I'll check out the full text...


Anonymous said...

"Participatory patriarchy"--I love that phrase!

I've been really disgusted and angered by the racism that so many white gay people have been expressing in the wake of Prop 8, but really it's only the unveiling of a lot of unexamined privilege and institutional racism that's been going on for a long time.

I feel conflicted about the surge of protests around the country--on the one hand, I think it's great that people are feeling inspired and taking action. But on the other hand, I don't think that many people are thinking about the issues you raise so eloquently here, or challenging the agenda which leaves so many out and doesn't reach for the deepest, most needed forms of justice. I read in some blog comment recently about a white queer man who realized that ninety percent of the people at the Prop 8 protest he was at were also white men--I'm concerned that the protests will only further (or at least continue) the classist and racist dynamics in the mainstream LBGT movement. I'm white myself, but I still feel alienated from mainstream LBGT culture.

Yasmin Nair said...

Oh, my,

I just saw that you had this in the queue over at bilerico, and nearly cried with relief - and that's without even seeing what you'd written (and then hopped over here to tell you, and lo and behold, here it is!)I love it of course, and am so glad for the company! I mean, everyone else seems to be drinking the Kool-Aid.

All I did was post photos, with one teensy note asking whether we'd protest Prop 9(Eric's post on FB reminded me of that), or the prison industrial complex, or draconian sex offender laws - and people are already mad about my not savouring the moment...

Makes you wonder... what, and whom, do "we" really care about anymore?

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Phoenix, "I'm concerned that the protests will only further (or at least continue) the classist and racist dynamics in the mainstream LBGT movement." Right you are to have those concerns!!!

Yasmin, we care about that Kool-Aid -- mmm, so tasty -- let's go jump off a bridge together, I mean make some signs that say God loves gay Kool-Aid, or something like that...

Yay for weeping in relief, and I hope to talk soon...

Love --

stephen said...

i've known this message for awhile and it still remains refreshing every time i come across it. thanks Mattilda! a lot of young people love you and what you are going for!

what is your reaction to the decriminalization of prostitution not passing in san francisco? i feel like the proposition was a good idea but i don't like what it's done now that it hasn't passed. personally i feel like it obviously should be decriminalized but i don't like the attention the proposition brought to the community. i feel like it has brought a lot of attention to us and because it didn't pass the police seem to be watching more closely and sites like craigslist are infiltrated with assholes trying to tear us down and harrass us. and craigslist makes sex workers pay now... so kamala harriss's vision of pimps gaining power from decriminalizing has been seen by keeping us criminals.

i feel like it is getting worse and worse for people that have alternative view points and dream of living life outside of the corporate wasteland. but you help keep me inspired.


mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Stephen, thank you, darling -- it's nice to be refreshing!

Of course I agree that prostitution, and all forms of sex work, should be decriminalized. I wonder about some of the messaging around that fight, like the notion that San Francisco should be a "sanctuary city" for hookers like it is for immigrants, when really it isn't a sanctuary city for immigrants either -- especially when hundreds were deported in one single day just a month or so ago. So I guess the question is how to go about decriminalization in a meaningful way, I mean if it eventually passes.

Kamala Harris' idea that pimps would gain power from decriminalization is absurd -- pimps gain power from people like Kamala Harris who keep stigmatizing sex workers and anyone else they can get their hands on.

And yes, it's hard to figure out how to deal with the tragedy of increased harassment after the failure of decriminalization, like double jeopardy -- and I didn't realize that craigslist made hookers pay to posts now -- shouldn't the tricks pay to post?

And I can totally relate when you say:

"i feel like it is getting worse and worse for people that have alternative view points and dream of living life outside of the corporate wasteland."

That's sweet of you to say that I help keep you inspired, it helps keep me inspired :)

Love --

Anonymous said...

I've lurked around your blog for awhile and never commented, but here goes. I don't always agree with you, but I do find you provocative and feel the need to commiserate on a few points.
I volunteered for the No on 8 Campaign, and while it basically amounted to a few phonebanking sessions on my end, I share your assessment that they have ceded to the homophobes. For one thing, not even the most picket-fence gay couples were vanilla enough for their TV ads, and their "focus grouped to death" phone script was devoid of any mention of the terms gay or lesbian. Their win (or in this case lose) at all costs strategy seemed to view any actual queer folk as an inconvenience, which I guess pegs anyone with a more radical expression as a leper. There's really no second thing but that first one was pretty big.
Anyway, I actually enjoyed the protest on Saturday. The crowd was fairly diverse, and for the most part I think the SF march avoided the racism that has marred others, or at least the more overt racism. The chickens didn't fare well, and I can't for the life of me figure out how granting an animal the ability to turn around before it's torn to bits by machinery and then shrink wrapped is even really giving her "rights".
Anyway, I guess I'm done with marriage for now, and was never the marrying kind to begin with. My big hope is that maybe this protest energy can be channeled to things like universal health care, ending the war, and legislating the hell out of our country's criminal financial sector. Maybe that's too hopeful.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Tofuqueen, thanks so much for this insider's take on the hypocrisy of the No on 8 campaign -- I really appreciate the details, and would love to hear more...

Love --

stephen said...

Thanks Mattilda!!!


I went to the No on 8 campaign for one day too... I went cause I figured I should help people gain the rights they want and then hopefully they would in turn help people like me but I met a buncha uptight assholes that made me feel uncomfortable (maybe it's just my own internal paranoia) but i was trying to ask the guy that worked their for some more phone numbers and he was being a total bitch, and my friend who came with me, we were trying to incorporate some humor to keep our spirits up and the stale environment just looked at us like we were insane. It was really boring. Almost as boring as marriage, probably. Anyway, thanks for reminding me about not being able to use gay or lesbian (and what about trans????), it's a great point on the homophobia of the proposition that I totally didn't even think of, I thought it was weird but yeah, you tied it nicely together.

The other weird thing about working the phones was, if I called someone and they didn't agree with prop 8 the people working their wanted me to not engage the person in any conversation. All they wanted me to do was call people for money and to tally up potential supporters. What a huge waste of time! Calling people and not even being able to engage in conversation with opposing sides. I was pretty taken aback and felt no need to waste any more time there.


mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

"It was really boring. Almost as boring as marriage, probably."

More money, please...

Love --

Anonymous said...


This is a HUGE breathe of fresh air!

Thank you.

davey said...

I totally agree that the money spent on the campaign to marry is misappropriated when it comes to equal rights for all LGBTQ people. I also agree with you that people need better insight on who gets left out when we advocate for marriage rights. I still find public protest necessary however, when, even though I disagree with the platform in so many ways, there are homophobic bigots seeking to remove what's already been fought for.

It's my understanding that saying no to gay marriage is saying no to the privileged parties that benefit from it passing. But why are these issues so separate? Why does one have to totally disassociate with marriage rights and people who are advocating for it? Am I alone in thinking that this separatist perspective is slightly flawed?

I am not sold that protesting these protests is the answer. The bottom line to me here is that this is a hate-driven proposition that seeks to strip rights from a minority, even though it's not rights that we all want to participate in. Sure I don't want to give MY money to make gay marriage happen, I don't want to marry anyone either, but I also don't want to sit idly by while oppressive laws want to prohibit rights based solely on hateful driven moral values.

I know this is a moderate approach and not as 'radical' as dismantling the entire campaign with all of its fallacies and oppressiveness. But to not rally against hateful initiatives, at least from a point of view that is opposing the "moral majority" and it's attack on sexual preference (even if it's one I personally don't identify with), is a step back in my opinion.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Thank you, Tony :)

Davey, of course I'm all for public protest, but the tragedy for me is that these protests further the same narrow agenda that actually supports structural homophobia, rather than challenging it.

Love --

Jory Mickelson said...

In Seattle, there were 6,000+ people protesting Prop 8. I think that was more folks than attended gay pride this year. That number of people marching is nothing to sneeze at. On the other hand, where the hell were the queens?

Some blogs and papers are calling this protest "Stonewall 2.0" but it is not. Where are the drag queens, the leathermen, transfolk, the poor, sex workers,and people of color? I didn't see them, no matter where I was looking for news coverage on the protests.

This protest was about keep your trousers clean and ties straight. We already tried these tactics in Philidelphia with the homophile movement. Where did this get us? Nowhere.

I am tired of looking at the television screen and computer screen and seeing white wedding dresses, white smiles and white white skin. If we are going to protest, let's at least show them the full spectrum of queer life.

I would rather be seen in full color and feared than married and sneered at.

Anonymous said...


I am of two minds on this issue.

First, let me state that I agree with EVERYTHING you wrote. Without exception. I have never donated a dime to the "gay marriage" movement, nor have I engaged in activism on its behalf. I believe that no one deserves to receive special rights due to their relationship(s) status. Most of my activism has been geared towards eradicating ant-queer and anti-trans violence, opposing patriarchy, militarism, and especially the assimilationist tendencies being forced on us by rich white faggots and dykes. It makes me want to cry when I think about how much money the rich whitewashed queens (um, I mean "Caucasian gentlemen who happen to have a homosexual orientation") have funneled into the gay marriage campaign in a country where there are legions of homeless queer & trans youth and queer people of color with no health care but they don't REALLY exist, do they (at least not to the rich white faggots who bankrolled No on 8 because they want to register for expensive gifts and throw gigantic tacky parties for themselves that people HAVE to attend because if they don't then how RUDE)?

So, I would never FIGHT for marriage (gay or otherwise), gay adoption, or the "freedom to serve" in the military (I had to go scream into a pillow after typing the part about the military, I mean really what the FUCK?)

As a working class queer of color however, I live in this country as it exists now. I have no health insurance. My lover has a job with health benefits and I NEED to be able to go to the doctor. So we went to the court house and signed that paper that said that we were married and now suddenly I was allowed to get health insurance back in our state through his employer's benefits package.

Yes, it is fucked up and no, it shouldn't be that way. But I refuse to feel guilty for being pragmatic and doing something that can help me gain access to much-needed medical care.

That doesn't mean that I want the white-picket fence, or kids, or the "right" to kill people in illegal wars (or any wars) or any of that crap. It CERTAINLY doesn't mean I support the Human (except for trans people and queers of color who make less than $1000,00/yr and people living in so-called "third world" countries) Rights Campaign's assimilationist, proto-fascist agenda. I saw using the brief opportunity that opened for me via gay marriage as being akin to how I lived when I was homeless. It was a hustle. And I harbor no delusions that the HRC crackers had the welfare of people like me in mind when they were spending their millions to win the "freedom to marry".

I was also disgusted that the messianic militarist HRC-loving "gay community leaders" and their minions blamed black people for their loss at the polls. That's SO gay! And yeah, I just said "that's so gay" cause I am NOT gay, I'm a queer homofaggot cocksucker. So all you Ellen Degeneres clones need to chill the fuck out before losing your minds about the fact that I just used that phrase. Maybe Black people DID vote overwhelmingly FOR Prop 8, but how do you expect the average black person to feel when the HRC et al aggressively promote an image of the "gay community" as an affluent bunch of white people claiming to be oppressed because they are being denied their "civil rights"?

While we're on the subject, there are a lot of things that are just SO gay, you know? Like opposing homeless shelters for homeless queer and trans youth, white Republican fags, gentrification, misogyny, transphobia, military service, patriotism and "straight acting".

So while I agree with your stance on gay marriage, don't forget about how trans and queer hustlers can take advantage of the self-centered white rich gay capitalists spending millions of dollars to secure their "place at the table", because it might help some of us get medical care and therefore survive to continue the fight for free health care for everyone.

At the same time, I am glad they lost because now those rich white faggots (er, I mean "manly men who happen to be gay") have to recognize that no matter how "straight acting" they consider themselves to be in their Abercrombie garb, the rest of the world views them as being on par with a Latino trans sex worker wearing fabulous pumps. I LOVE that.

Here is what I predict will soon happen: the only part of the HRC agenda that will succeed over the next 8 years is the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," and they will be deluded enough to declare that to be a victory. Hah! They are so desperate to assimilate that they won't be able to see the clear subtext: "Oh SURE, please, you 'ladies and gentlemen of homosexual orientation' go ahead and fight and die in our wars. But meanwhile, we will never let you get married, adopt kids, or pretend to be just like us because you are nothing but a bunch of fags and dykes."

So, Mattilda, mad props for your post. I just hope you'll forgive those of us who signed that paper in the court house who did so for some very pragmatic reasons. That doesn't mean we aren't out there fighting to tear down existing institutions and structural oppression. I mean, you gotta do what you gotta do to survive, right? Even sex work (as transgressive as it clearly is to the current social order) is simultaneously a hustle AND a capitalist transaction in certain respects.

God, I love that you exist and that you write. Thank you for being you and making people think.

But fuck the Mormons. And not because of Prop 8. Fuck them because they are Mormons.

hug to you

Anonymous said...

...sigh... I totally agree. I went through this issue in West Hollywood many years ago with Queer Nation. Some of the members decided that gay marriage was THE issue to pursue, in order to get the recognition we deserved. Of course, this was totally ignoring the fact that many of us were in very different types of partnerships and/or open relationships as well as the more traditional one-on-one.

So when some of us were trying to focus attention on queer youth, equal rights, AIDS funding, gender equality, among others, we were pretty much passed over as a minority of crazy extremists. I fully admit that we were the pierced, tattoo’d, rebellious part of the crowd – the ones who heartily and proudly embraced the term queer. We were for the most part, not white, not neat, not well-behaved and most of all not safe. And, sure enough, the more mainstream looking gays, who were the driving force behind the marriage issue, were able to raise more money, and get more press time than those of us who were not mainstream. Not that it did them much good.

It hurts to hear all over again some GLBT mainstream type person, who probably doesn’t think of himself or herself as bigoted, complaining "with all the normal gay people around why does the media have to focus on the freaks!" Abuse as usual rolls downhill and the most un-conventional and queerest of the bunch gets thrown under the bus again. History repeats itself. Thanks for keeping it real.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Ohthehorror, what brilliant thoughts! Caucasian gentlemen who happen to have a homosexual orientation always look much better in fab pumps, that's for sure...

And yes yes I think your prediction about don't ask don't tell and all the gays ready to kill for America is right on the mark...

Getting married to access benefits is certainly not something to apologize for -- I think the tragedy is when this is described as progress instead of a deal with the devil, we all make those deals in order to survive...

Sexxyred1, I love it that there were people in Queer Nation who didn't fully embrace the term queer! And yes yes yes for all of us freaks trying to keep freaking it, okay?

Love --

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

And Jory, Stonewall 2.0 -- wait, is there a myspace for it?


"This protest was about keep your trousers clean and ties straight."

"I am tired of looking at the television screen and computer screen and seeing white wedding dresses, white smiles and white white skin."

Yes yes, fear and sneers are much much better...

Love --

saffo said...

i, for one, sure as fuck hope they never allow queers in the military, because whenever they bring the draft back, i want out!

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

And, of course, we want abolition of the military, not inclusion within it, right?

Love --