by contributing writer Quinlan Mitchell
Let’s get real. For just a minute, let’s get really real. Anthony Michael D’Agostino’s oh-so-lauded article in the HuffPost, for all its fanfare and academic jargon, is essentially a new dress for old and tired rhetoric. I repeat: it’s not new. So everyone stop spilling tea all over the place, and let’s unpack the issue.
To the article’s credit, it does an adequate job of picking apart Sierra Mannie’s highly controversial Time Magazine opinion piece, “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture”. D’Agostino skillfully takes issues which are compressed in Mannie’s piece and unfolds them in all their complexity within his own.
But that’s where the credit ends, unfortunately.
Anthony Michael D’Agostino’s response to Sierra Mannie’s article is often completely delusional. And it is truly ignorant of how the underlying power relationships that define how this country function, even at its best.
Mannie’s article in Time Magazine represented a first, and earnest stab at dismantling some of the extreme patriarchy and racism that pervades gay culture. When she tells white gays to stop stealing from black women, she’s touching on a long tradition of appropriation and mockery that hurts black women deeply, and allows white gays, even as minorities, to exert control over another minority group for community gain.
Which, coincidentally, is exactly what D’Agostino does (and ignores that he’s doing) in his response essay.
What the esteemed doctoral candidate failed to realize (in his obliviousness) is the larger role his article plays in a society that punishes African-Americans and women for speaking out about race or gender. His vituperative, condescending, almost foaming-at-the-mouth response to Sierra Mannie’s article enacts the hateful disposition that so accurately defines the basic response towards women and African-Americans in racist, patriarchal society.
Right from the start, D’Agostino comes off as exasperated and tired. In the very first sentence he says, “the white gay male blogosphere has given its really kind of inevitable reply: We Agree”, in response to Sierra’s claims about the power imbalance between white gays and black women. (Oh, and to be clear, that’s what’s at the heart of appropriation. Power. Not impersonations.) But in what way was that response inevitable? And does anyone detect the resentment in D’Agostino’s voice?
What D’Agostino seems to forget is that he is still firmly entrenched in a culture. Specifically, he’s entrenched in what’s become the widespread post-Civil Rights white cultural fatigue with racial justice, in general, and black people, specifically. Basically it’s, “We gave you the Voting Rights Act (which we had to take away last year, so sorry), so now let’s finally be racist in peace and quiet, okay?”
Yeah, that’s still not cool. Sorry.
But D’Agostino’s overall racist approach to the topic notwithstanding, he also totally squashes the issue at stake. He may believe appropriation (read: cultural power) is “distracting critics from zeroing in on [Mannie’s] homophobic and transphobic logic”, but what he fails to see is just how his article serves to evade and invalidate her claims—i.e.-reaffirm white, male privilege (and smack down an uppity black chick, as a bonus).
Let’s be clear: Anthony Michael D’Agostino is trolling by derailing a conversation about race and gender through arrogance and condescension. (Can someone on HuffPost remove him, please?)
And his cries of homophobia are hopelessly misguided. In 2014 the claim that white, gay men aren’t black women was enough to start a veritable internet firestorm? Are we serious?! Well, let’s see if this starts off another one: White, gay men aren’t black women.
Drop the mic.
For some reason D’Agostino gets it into his head that Mannie is pushing “gender normative rhetoric that de-legitimizes gay men and trans-women”.
N.B.— For all the trans- men and women out there, I can’t speak to that reality because it’s one I don’t know. So please, in the comments, add some thoughts about what he says here. You’re certainly not invisible or marginal in this discussion. But I won’t do you the disrespect of speaking for your community without having the benefit of more knowledge on the issues.
For gay men (and gay men only), his claim about Mannie’s argument doesn’t hold water. Despite his jargon about gender expression D’Agostino seems to conveniently forget that he’s talking about cisgender gay men. What goes under the radar in 2014 is the fact that we all still live under a social reality that believes in and enforces a hierarchical gender binary. That is to say, even the most femme, cisgender gay man doesn’t live out the social reality of womanhood. Sorry. His struggles to fit in are precisely in relation to his manhood. Problematic? Yes. Related to womanhood? Not in the way D’Agostino thinks.
Part of the issue is that American gay culture is part and parcel of American patriarchal society. We understand ourselves through a larger cultural and historical lens of gender inversion. In short, gay subjectivity is predominantly defined and understood through an axis of gender, not sexuality, per se. And gay disenfranchisement largely operates through a basic metaphor of feminization. So women (as femmes par excellence in patriarchal society) are the unspoken negative denominator off of which value is accrued. As long as gay men resignify aspects of femininity solely for their own gain they do little to disturb this basic value-hierarchy of gender. And they can be argued to capitalize off of it.
What Mannie is protesting when she calls out white, gay men is exactly that–the appropriation of women’s experience and a simultaneous exploitation of patriarchal privilege. That goes in tandem with a trend of appropriating the black experience while still being racist. So basically, on the one hand, white gay men are all “sisters” (yes, double entendre) when it suits them, but turn around and get racist/sexist whenever they want in order to hold onto power. And on the other, in their very act of appropriating an identity as “sisters”, white gay men implicitly re-enact and re-engage the cultural power structure that enables them to do so in the first place. (And when did we decide that gay men couldn’t do this kind of racist/sexist stuff? The same day liberals all became un-racist?)
And for the record, Mr. D’Agostino–if I can address you personally for a bit– authorship is a great example of this process.
Appropriation isn’t bad in and of itself. But your trivializing of the issue just fuels a larger cultural ignorance about how disenfranchisement works. So let’s break it down:
(And since there seems to be so much repetition going on in this back-and-forth, let’s just go for it!)
Appropriation is about power.
Appropriation is about power.
Appropriation is about power.
It’s hard to believe you don’t know this already as a doctoral candidate in english literature studying queer theory. Power is key. So it’s strange that you use yours so crudely. When you make the claim that the black, female identity is authored by the white, gay male (despite your pitiful and strikingly uncomfortable attempts to speak for black gay males, of which I am one) you reaffirm the truth that has existed all along. Public black femininity (as exemplified by Beyonce) is often distorted beyond recognition to meet the warped perceptions of white, male viewership. Black women in the public eye perform blackness and womanhood in ways that are acceptable to dominant white, middle class patriarchal culture. So I’m glad that you can see your hand in the creation of public black female figures. In a perverse way, that image was constructed with you in mind all along.
On top of that, complaining that famous black women are somehow appropriating gay culture ignores the ways in which those cultural products created by gay men are pushed onto women in response to the contradictory and limiting constructions of womanhood in patriarchal society. In short, gay men may have made the skimpy dress, but don’t be so basic as to believe Beyonce is dancing onstage in ten-inch heels with her blonde-ass hair and all that skin exposed because that’s just her black-woman’s prerogative. Get real.
At the crux of the matter, white, gay men seem to hold the mistaken belief that they are unable to oppress others because they are sexual minorities. They brazenly mock, impersonate and infringe bodily on women of color as a result of some kind of affinity through co-oppression. False. Your oppression is not theirs. It is not yours to co-opt, nor to use to ingratiate yourselves with others.
An anecdote may help clarify the issue. Not long ago I witnessed a conversation between a friend of mine and one of his acquaintances. While discussing structural racism, at a certain point the acquaintance, who was white, made the claim that black people living in the inner-city aren’t able to advance for one reason. …They go around acting like “jungle creatures” (his words).
Say it with me: Jungle. Creatures.
White, gay men, when is the last time your race caused people to question your very status as human beings? Your opportunist adoption of womanhood, in general, and black-womanhood in particular doesn’t upset the fundamental privileges you were born with as white, American males. And as a direct result your current behavior is a cultural reenactment of the basic gender and racial hierarchy that makes life hell for a lot of people in this country.
So let’s wrap this up.
Intersectionality doesn’t whisk you away from the messy reality of power in America. On the contrary, it embroils you even further.
“Gay men do not experience patriarchal power or white privilege in the same way gender normative white men do.” What the hell are were supposed to take that to mean? Gay, white men: You are still the beneficiaries of white privilege and male privilege. Period.
Here’s an analogue: “Gay, black men do not experience systemic racism or patriarchal privilege the same way gender normative black men do.” Even so, I still can’t get a taxi in New York (sigh). But I realize that as a male in the black community I systematically receive more privilege along that axis than a woman in my community.
What I’m saying is, I can acknowledge my privilege in conjunction with my simultaneous oppression.
Why is it so hard for you to acknowledge yours?
It’s time for white, gay males to grow up. You’ve created a dominant gay culture that still clings to patriarchy and racism. That’s a fact. But the party is over.
You are a minority community. And you can be part of a larger community of allies. So get down with the struggle.
When you come around, we’ll still be here doing the work.
…And, honestly, we’d like your help.