Sapphic Salon: We're Here, We're Queer, But Our Successors Think We're Incapable of Change
I think I'd have a love/hate relationship with Karla Jay, were she my professor. As a Distinguished Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at Pace University, and the author of books like The Gay Report: Lesbians and Gay Men Speak Out about Sexual Experiences and Lifestyles and The Amazon and the Page: Natalie Clifford Barney and Renée Vivien, I have no doubts that she is my superior. She was writing about living as an out lesbian before I was born, so my respect for her is a given.
However, Karla Jay assumes that my generation is ungrateful. This isn't the first I've heard of this, but she does put her complaint quite eloquently in the current issue of In These Times. In an open letter to her students (and, presumably, young people everywhere), she writes:
If I blame anyone, though, it is my colleagues and those of us on the Left who fail to lead and involve you.
Fail to lead and involve us in what? Well there are several things we aren't doing, as young people, as queer people, as feminists. As Karla writes, we "aren’t out at the barricades in the fight against the interminable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, widespread genocidal acts against women, the lack of equality for the queer community and evildoing by the banking industry."
"I want you," she writes, "to become the next generation of activists."
In Karla's mind, and in several other elders' minds, we are not doing enough. She argues that we don't feel connected to the issues; that nothing is "real" to us unless we see it on reality television. And while I am aware that this can be true for many, many people (of all ages, respectively) I am a little perturbed at the assumption that because some of us are lazy and uninterested in politics and think "racism is over because there's a black president," we are not all like that, particularly the queer community.
And I write this after seeing my community come out full force against Prop. 8, and continuing to do so in states and cities where gay marriage hasn't yet hit the ballot. Yes, we use the Internet, as you point out, but I think you're wrong, Karla, when you say you "don’t think that blogging or texting will get hundreds of thousands of people out in the the street." I would argue that yes it will, and it has.
When I was in college, my Gay and Lesbian Studies teacher had the mantra, "I'm here, I'm queer, I'm tired." As in, it's our turn now, 20s and 30s and 40-somethings. The work for our elders is done, and now they are able to sit and point us in the right direction, steer us from wrong ones, and quite generally give us judgment instead of support. Like I said, it's a love/hate relationship because it can feel like no matter what we do, it will never be enough.
You think feminism is passé ... There’s a Stonewall Coalition at the university, but you don’t need that because New York City has so many queer bars and you have the fake I.D. to get in. You’re oh-so-out, though most of you can’t apply the LGBTQ words to yourself in my queer courses.
I don't attend Pace University, but I do know firsthand that the elders in my LGBTQ community view any young queers similarly. And yet it's strange, as I see my peers working for equal rights and throwing fundraisers in support of one others' transitions or personal health bills or rallying to keep a television show with a a teen lesbian relationship stay on air, I feel empowered and inspired by them more than I do my successors. Perhaps it's because they see me as someone who'd rather Tweet than stand in the street. I wish they'd accept that I am able to do both.
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