Cue the racism, homophobia, and ignorance of gay culture and intersectionality all rolled up into one.
A UK student union has adopted a highly controversial policy: They have banned white gay men from, and I quote, “acting like black women.” The key point in this policy, put forth by the LGBT committee of the UK’s largest student organization, the National Union of Students, seems to be contained in the following quote:
This may be manifested in the emulation of the mannerisms, language (particularly AAVE- African American Vernacular English) and phrases that can be attributed to black women. White gay men may often assert that they are “strong black women” or have an “inner black woman.”
Now, as a woman who is both black and gay, I can appreciate what they are trying to do. The student union has adopted the policy under the heading of preventing cultural appropriation. However, this way of going about it is problematic on many levels.
Also, as if the “no acting like a black woman” (whatever that means), wasn’t problematic enough, they have also banned drag shows and the like, citing offense to the transgender community, saying that this motion’s purpose is:
To issue a statement condemning the use of crossdressing as a mode of fancy dress.
To encourage unions to ban clubs and societies from holding events which permit or encourage (cisgender) members to use cross-dressing as a mode of fancy dress.
Now, this causes problems on many levels, as I mentioned above. Firstly, anyone familiar with gay history and culture realize that impersonating women- both black and white- in the form of drag and other “camp” type shows dates back many decades, to the 1970’s and 1980’s gay club culture, perhaps even further, though, of course, prior to those years the culture was largely underground. This is not recent; in fact to ban such activities is to, essentially kill a vital part of gay culture and history.
Secondly, yes, there are issues with racism and misogyny in white gay male culture. There’s no doubt about it. However, to suggest that all black women act a certain way is racist, not to mention absolutely ridiculous. We are all, first and foremost individuals. Further, no white gay man is a black woman, no matter what he says, and they (most of them, at least) know it.
White gay men certainly can never know our struggles. Also, white gay men are the dominant faces of LGBT culture, at the forefront calling all the shots. But, again, the phrases and behavior the student union is taking issue with are generally not being said in a serious manner; it’s all part of camp culture. These policies seriously seem to me to be political correctness taken to a level that it doesn’t need to go.
They’ve even gone so far as to ban jazz hands, calling them “triggering.” Really? Something often associated with drag queens, and made mainstream by Jack from the old Will&Grace sitcom, is triggering?
I don’t see how, personally. There’s no doubt that oppression, privilege, and intersectionality are complex things, particularly within the queer community. For instance, I am oppressed because I am gay, but I have privilege within the community because I am the “L” in LGBT. I have cisgender privilege, but enjoy no racial privilege. I could go on, but you get the picture.
In short, issues of intersectionality, minority culture, and cultural appropriation cannot be addressed by banning every little thing that just might offend someone. In the end, all you wind up doing is disallowing a conversation that needs to happen, and killing a rich and vital culture in the process. Hopefully, this student union rethinks this horrible policy. There has to be another way.