Friday, April 12, 2013

Presenting "Both Sides" and Such at Zach Wahls

Zach Wahls went to my campus recently.  He gave his typical spiel about same-sex marriage and we had a silent auction to raise money for an LGBT scholarship.  I bid on and won a basket of dog stuff.

Ike solidly approved.
I wouldn't call myself a Zach Wahls fan.  It's not because I don't feel he's a useful speaker, mind you, it's because he's very much the symbol of assimilationist marriage-minded LGBT activism for me.  He went into this whole speech about the legal benefits of marriage (which are an important topic whether you're an advocate of same-sex marriage or of marriage abolition), told this really moving and touching story about when his mom was in the hospital and his other mom wasn't allowed in despite having all the legal paperwork to do so, and then at the end kind of ruined it by making the issue about weddings.  Same-sex weddings are perfectly legal and have been for a rather long time.  He gives this relatively well-done speech and then misinterprets the difference between a domestic partnership and a marriage as "marriage has weddings."  I don't know that he actually knows he made this point in error, but he did.

But I'm not going to write a bunch about the facts and myths perpetuated by Zach Wahls.  His is a very specific narrative and I have a hard time individually faulting him for doing and saying basically the exact same things the mainstream gay and lesbian community is.  In other words, "meh."

There was a guy--a teacher no less--who decided to go on a rant about "traditional marriage," which is pretty transparent code for "I'm a bigoted ass who didn't listen to anything Zach Wahls just said."  So anything bad I would have had to say about Zach Wahls was pretty much dissolved by the fact that somebody actually sat in this audience, listened to a man give a pretty clear example of how the legal disparity between opposite-sex marriages and every other relationship is harmful to real families, and yet he still found it appropriate to go on a rant about how same-sex marriage "destroys" so-called "traditional" marriage while simultaneously spewing a load of crap about how same-sex couples should be "respected."  I'm not going to try reproducing his hate-lite speech.  It was infuriating, though.

After this, I overheard somebody--I think he was a member of the administration, I have no idea who he is--smile a really condescending smile as he explained to our advisor how as a public institution it's just wonderful that we can "present both sides" of such an issue.  He spend a really long time essentially explaining to her why we need to respect this asshole's rights.

I can't wait until my minority statuses get to the point where it's finally no longer socially acceptable to demean me and people like me and publicly denounce my rights while people who proclaim they are supportive present their offensive behavior as a "win" for free speech.  To get to that point where people roll their eyes and say "well, he does have free speech, unfortunately" like they do around here when the KKK decides to organize instead of having their eyes glaze over with  happiness over their first amendment freedoms.

The fact that these are things being done by teachers makes me even more infuriated.  I actually had a class with a guy who labeled himself a firm supporter of the Tea Party and went on political rants in class.  He made some transphobic jokes (mostly relating to Michael Jackson).  He has a history of basically pushing women out of his program.  And I never went to class.  I couldn't handle even being around him. His "free speech" could have halted my academic success, and definitely compromised the academic success of plenty of women in IT.  So for LGBT students who are taught by this man--and there are definitely LGBT students in his program--this is a clear message that "I do not support you and there is no reason you should feel safe around me."

This is why I fucking hate the "both sides" lens of this discourse that presents irrational, unconstitutional, and bigoted ideas as worthy of equal representation.  They absolutely fucking are not worthy of equal representation for the same reason my school doesn't invite people to speak out against interracial marriage or some other obviously bigoted viewpoint. Could they stop somebody who chose to use my school as a platform for that sort of thing?  Absolutely.  And there would absolutely be students who agreed with it.  Racism is, after all, alive and well.

But would it be painted by the administration as a wonderful thing?  Absolutely not.  That's where there's the disparity.  Homophobia is still disproportionately presented as respectable and even admirable (how brave of him that he would say these things!) where other forms of oppression aren't.