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I wrote this rant before, but I erased it.
I wrote this rant before, but I erased it because I worried what others would think.
I wrote this rant before, but I erased it because I worried others would think I am militant.
I wrote this rant before, but I erased it because I worried I was militant.
The exact words escape my memory, but it went a little something like this.
I know two words, six letters long each, that shape my experience as a human. They are both old words, with long histories of linguistic, social, and political transformations. One is the perverse derivative of a color that now implies the oppressive superiority of one group over another. One is the perverse transformation of a neutral, inert object that was used to eliminate people now dehumanized and disempowered by the word. One has been reclaimed by some of the very people oppressed by the word and what it represents, but too many are repulsed by the word to successfully reclaim it. Instead, most refer to the word only by its first letter – N. The other word has not been met with systematic efforts to reclaim it. Yet, ironically, the word seems to repulse fewer; as such, referring to it by its first letter – F – world confuse most as another word we regularly censor.
Despite their differences, these two six-letter words share similarities, some odd. Similar in length, beginning and ending with consonants, home to two Gs in the middle, with vowels sandwiched in between. In use, the two are similar in their function of reminding me that I am subhuman, or maybe not human at all. At least, as a partial human, the word nigger reduces me to my skin color and, as such, that my status is inferior to those of white skin. The word faggot reduces me to a sexual act considered immoral, pathological, and revolting. Only six letters long, yet each conjures up a reminder of my place in society – always outside – even when included within.
The simultaneity of these experiences infuses their dehumanizing potential. Indeed, in society, this racist, sexist, classist, heterosexist society in which I live, places me at a subordinate status as a racial minority, as a sexual minority, and as a racial-sexual minority. This marginalization is compounded by the dual betrayals of the predominantly-heterosexual Black community and the predominantly-white gay community. In the former, I am just as likely to be reminded of my subordinate status as a faggot as I am in white-dominated society. I am likely told my efforts to fight homophobia are distracting. In the latter, my racial identity is erased and any attempts to attend to anti-racist projects seen as irrelevant. Unfortunately, both communities have fallen prey to white heterosexist efforts to “divide and conquer,” and too rarely able to forge lasting coalitions. Both, too often, forget that individuals cannot be reduced to a single status: fighting racism, yet putting up with sexism; fighting homophobia while ignoring the whiteness and middle-classness of gay movements. Invisible in Black spaces as a faggot, invisible in gay spaces as a nigger, and invisible as both in society.
But, for as much invisibility is regarded to these statuses is the granting of hypervisibility. Due to the presumption of whiteness and heterosexuality, one always stands out as something other – the Other. I know the ironic reality of invisibility as a Black person, yet the hypervisibility as a black man approaching someone on the street at night. I know the invisibility as a queer person, yet the hypervisibility as a gay man in sex-segregated spaces and situations. It is quite odd that one is simultaneously invisible and powerless, yet hypervisible and threatening.
I use these stereotyped threatening images to my advantage. Or, I at least attempt to do so in desperate attempts to protect myself. When I feel the sense of danger arising in white people as I approach, I trade off my Blackness for my gayness in an effort to seem harmless. Who’s ever heard of a gay thug anyhow? Flipped, in scenarios where I feel unsafe as a queer person, I emphasize my Blackness to appear threatening. To what extent this is simply hypervigilance every minority faces, I am unaware. To what extent these trading-off efforts work, I cannot assess.
The possibility of trading off race for sexual identity and vice versa is made through their intersections with gender. An emphasized Blackness to appear threatening presumes a tough, masculine demeanor, one that implies heterosexuality. An emphasized gayness to appear non-threatening implies a meek, feminine demeanor, one that is at odds with the stereotypical image of Black men. When laid out this way, their opposing nature becomes apparent. One cannot be both the stereotypical Black man and the stereotypical gay man. The former implies the opposite of the latter, and vice versa.
What, then, is the category of Black queer? How does one inhabit these two identity spaces defined as opposites of one another? One’s mere existence resists narrowly defined racial and sexual categories. But, many face what feels like pressure to choose: choose your status, your identity, and your allegiance. Are you Black or are you gay?
I reject this notion of opposition between Blackness and gayness just as I reject the labels nigger and faggot. I am not defined by the histories of oppression, enslavement, and discrimination faced by Black people. I am not defined by the history of oppression, exclusion, and collective closetedness faced by gay people. These histories shape who I am and my consciousness, but I cannot be reduced to either.
This time, I will keep this rant.
This time, I will keep this rant to share with others.
This time, I will keep this rant to share with myself.
This time, I will keep this rant to accept my militance.
Note: this was originally published on Kinsey Confidential.
When we talk about sexuality, specifically our own sexualities, we sometimes fail to consider other forms of differences (and similarities) among humans. We need to be sure to consider how our race, ethnicity, sex and gender, social class, age, ability, religion, and nationality shape and influence our sexual identities, desires, preferences, and community memberships.
The Tendency To View One Form Of Difference At A Time
Often, when we talk about difference and, more specifically, inequality, we tend to talk about one form of difference and inequality at a time. That is, we talk about race, racism, and racial inequality. Or, we talk about gender, sexism, and gender inequality. It is rare, however, that we talk about how these forms of difference coexist and shape one another.
In gender studies, sociology, psychology, and the humanities, we use the term intersectionality to describe how forms of difference operate simultaneously and intersect and interact with one another.
So, for example, rather than simply looking at the experiences of bisexuals (i.e., sexual orientation), we could look at the experiences of Latino bisexuals (i.e., ethnicity and sexual orientation), or bisexual teenagers (i.e., sexual orientation and age), or Catholic bisexual immigrants (i.e., religion, sexual orientation, and nationality).
Why Is This More Inclusive View Important?
Although we can get a good sense of someone’s life experiences and sense of self just by looking at their sexual orientation or self-reported sexual identity (e.g., lesbian, heterosexual, bisexual, gay, queer), we may be overlooking how other forms of difference shape one’s life.
We are not simply sexual beings; we also have a particular race, ethnicity, sex, gender, religion, age, ability, and nationality. For example, if we were only to look at the gap in income between women and men, we would fail to see that Black, Latina, and American Indian women are at an even further disadvantage in pay relative to white men.
Simply considering one form of difference fails to paint a complete picture of individuals’ lives.
A Clear Example
As a Kinsey Confidential site visitor pointed out in a comment to the April 30th blog post, “Dine Out for Life – HIV/AIDS Fundraiser” by Natalie Ingraham, one glaring oversight in research on HIV/AIDS rates among Black men who have sex with men (MSM), who may or may not identify as gay or bisexual, is the consideration of race, or, more specifically, racism.
Two researchers found that the higher HIV infection rate among Black MSMs is not due to riskier or less safe sexual practices (i.e., not using condoms regularly and effectively), but is due largely to a smaller pool of potential sexual partners.
The researchers found that among a sample of Black, white, Latino, and Asian-American MSMs, Black men were rated the least preferred sexual partners and perceived to be the most likely to be HIV-positive.
Thus, because Black men are considered least desired and most dangerous in terms of HIV/AIDS, they have a harder time finding partnerships with non-Black men, which severely minimizes their pool of potential partners and increases their risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. By simply considering sexual orientation, we’d see that men who have sex with men have higher rates of HIV/AIDS relative to men who have sex with women (MSW), but we would miss the racial and ethnic differences among MSMs and MSWs.
It might be a neat exercise, and certainly helpful in a self-reflective sense, to consider how your own race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, ability, age, and nationality shape and influence your sexual orientation, identity, desires, relationships, preferences, and community memberships. And, making things a bit more complicated, think about how your sexuality shapes and influences these forms of difference in turn.