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February 02, 2005

Straight Liberals

It has been a long time since I have called myself a 'straight liberal', but I recall the occasion that made me think so. It was a visit to a club in Los Angeles called Catch One which was, at the time, a eye-opening if not mind-blowing experience.

During that particular point in my life, around about 1989, I was getting tired of my old buppie cadre and decided to go out on a limb, experimenting with such radical concepts such as reggae music and fashion, Pacifica Radio, and Multicultural Politics. I ended up being something of a spoken word artist and a host of other things, but I never forgot where I had come from or why I left. And it was this sense of realism that made me choose the term 'straight liberal' because while my new girlfriend who very much resembled Joie Lee suggested that I explore my feminine side, I wasn't at all conflicted about my own sexuality nor my distrust of 'the personal as political'. Still, I was not averse to letting such ideas run free in my mind, and I surely recognized the power of such artistic endeavors as Marlon Riggs' 'Tongues Untied' and Mapplethorpe's photographs.

I think that my experience of those years was instructive in that I got enough of a taste for the boho lifestyle to understand its limits, strengths and weaknesses. After about 4 years of it, I got married to my old buppie girlfriend and never looked back. More recently I have viewed much gay activism with skepticism, especially that over the question of marriage. It may be the particular set of politically and culturally active gays I came to respect, but I never could see that wedding rings and mainstream social acceptance were their endgame. My recent smackdown of Larry Kramer speaks to this.

Trolling Negrophile for potential ways and means to improve my blogtraffic, I came across the following:

The black gay movement has been hijacked. Yes hijacked by these —self-promoting ambulance chasing looking pretty for the camera manufactured cookie cutter stepford fags who are into activism because they could not cut it in Hollywood. Or America's next top male model. Or the AIDS divas who are mostly, though not all, terribly dysfuctional. They hold groups of black men hostage with their self-righteous rhetoric and "brothas are dying" proclamations while they finance their trips to get manicures and wear their designer clothes to AIDS conferences bringing to mind Mother Teresa in Manolos. Not that people doing good work should not get paid and wear what they want. But thinking of some AIDS divas that are not doing good work, who I would not let run my little cousin’s lemonade stand, or my grandmother’s yard sale, let alone an AIDS agency, brings to mind the corrupt preacher stealing out of the collection plate.

I can't say exactly what I expect from hearing sexuality discussed intelligently, but I have to admit that if there's something to be learned, you could do a lot worse than Charles Stephens.

I've not expected much from, nor invested much time in black gay blogging or writing in general. In the long view of things, I think that our intimate relationships speak more to issues of self than they do to issues of society. I believe that the gulf between the personal and the political is, and should be wide - that ones duty to others is a matter of selfless obligation. To bring ones sexual history into it is simply inappropriate, and quite frankly selfish. I thought of that in particular yesterday as Terri Gross interviewed the black daughter of the late senator & arch segrgationist Strom Thurmond. His sexual exploits were legendary to the Washington insiders. To the rest of us, he was something else entirely, but we needn't have known the whole man to know enough, and none of us should have been the ones to judge. His paternity serves no political purpose, and yet I recall the outrage and theorizing that went into much of the verbiage of that scandal. In the end what good did it do us? None. That woman is no political symbol, she's somebody's daughter.

And so we are faced with the problem of this blurring of lines in American politics in which people put greater and greater amounts at stake in having their own existential situation confirmed or denied in the personal politics of the days or the personalities of politicians. Meanwhile, I think men of goodwill are turning their backs to the entire charade. That spells trouble.

We should not confuse the personal with the political and it's about time people started standing up and saying so. I care about the health and robustness of our pluralistic democracy, but I don't care about what you do on your knees, religiously or sexually. I think more people should make the distinction and I'm glad to find one whom I think has.

Posted by mbowen at February 2, 2005 11:42 AM

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When people in the growing civil rights movement began to use kids as part of their protest--making them go to white schools that had been desegregated, and in the case of Birmingham actually using them as shock troops--Hannah Arendt argued that the personal and the political should be separated as far as could be humanly done. The kids should have been allowed to be kids.

Ralph Ellison laid her out. Our blackness has embued our politics with meaning. Whereas Arendt privileged the various white Freedom Riders because they didn't HAVE to be involved, Ellison took a very different turn. I'll try to dig out the citations if you are interested.

Posted by: Lester Spence at February 2, 2005 02:19 PM