Saturday, January 24, 2009

Racism in a queer world: fact or fiction?

Now I consider myself a film-fan, not a buff (my knowledge of directors, lighting, sound tracks is lacking) and not a connoisseur (my taste is not refined - I do not prefer Bergman films to ones starring Jim Carey - in fact it is usually exactly the opposite) - but I do watch a lot. On a good day (or bad day if you are my supervisor and want me to be finishing my sodding PhD) I watch three - most likely I have seen them before, because I like the comfort of popping in a video (yes, VHS wins hands down over DVD right now as a local charity shop sells them for 20p each and there is nothing like a quick detour back from the library to pick up 6hrs of entertainment with enough change from a quid to buy a choccy bar; though my poor hearing and my fascination with words means the subtitles on the DVDs means it is a tough call when browsing my film shelves) and hearing the familiar dialogue and action in the background as I tackle more academic endeavours. The movies are normally ones that I have seen multiple times, otherwise the new scenes and plot will distract me. A familiar movie is much better to study along to than a music album, with which I will be tempted to type in tempo or sing along.

Given this self-belief in my film-fan status, I was surprised to see that I only own ten movies with an LGBTQQ theme or main character:
Ace Ventura Pet Detective
Kissing Jessica Stein
The Birdcage
Four Weddings and a Funeral
East is East
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (I continue to hold that Idgie and Ruth had a non-straight romantic love for one another, perhaps Idgie more so than Ruth)
Unconditional Love (which I only own as I worked as an extra in it - though buying the DVD was a bit useless as our scenes were cut)
Priscilla Queen of the Desert
To Wong Foo, thanks for everything, love Julie Newmar

There are a handful of others with minor LGBTQQ characters or scenes or themes: The Shawshank Redemption, Dude, where's my car?,The Constant Gardener, American History X, etc. I have however watched a gazillion other movies which would broaden my meagre collection of ten if I should ever find them in that Age Concern charity shop.

My thought of the day is that racism and gender/sexuality/queer issues are rarely tackled together. Now I am either guilty of not watching enough movies (possible) or there really aren't many ethnically diverse queer characters and themes. East is East and To Wong Foo stand out - and it is only the latter that actually seems to tackle the race issue by making sure the comedy and clashes, arguments and insults are usually centred on the ethnic differences - racial slurs being bandied about maybe was designed to distract from the LGBTQQ issues and make it more accessible to a wider audience (men in dresses, ooh, no; men making jokes about swaybacks, honkies, etc, whilst wearing dresses, hmm, yeah, okay). There actually wasn't any real intelligent discussion about racial differences and what they meant to one another - maybe that was the point, to make it a non-issue as if racial dissimilarities within the queer world were not a problem so not worth talking about - which I think is codswallop - there is no rule to say those that are non-straight will ignore all other differences and bond together as one queer group - just see the mention of the black lesbian bars in that episode of The L Word (Life Cycle? - bike ride)...

Racism for me is about how one is judged badly, denied goods and services, treated less than others because a physical difference - manner of speaking, accent, skin colour, nose or eye shape, hair texture. This might be because of ethnicity (one's biological heritage - mine is mostly Scandinavian, I think) - but such differences might just as well be a result of illness, disability, accidental injury, as deliberate surgical enhancements and 'beauty treatments', random chance and natural gene pool diversity. I guess it is easy for me to comment on what it means to experience racism, as most would think it has never affected me. On census forms I would tick (if forced - for I hate labels and pigeonholing) white/Caucasian female (I guess I am genetically female, though I've never had a DNA test, and I feel mostly female - what ever that really means - and have done for the past 27 years). But I have dual-nationality, was born in a country that is 'traditionally' unpopular with its geographic neighbours - went to University in a country where being from the country that my accent sounds like it originated was a occasionally a desperately unpopular thing (only a few weeks back another blonde like me was beaten up because her accent, like mine, was not local - it was not the colour of her skin, it was the mere fact that she sounded like she had spent time, lived, was born, or had parents from another nearby rival country).

Why are there no significant black characters in movies? I have read that non-hetero lifestyles are taboo in many African-linked communities, either in the continent itself or in those Americanised families in the USA. I have African friends for whom homosexuality is a puzzle - they cannot understand why anyone would do that, they think it is a deliberate political/fashion statement rather than a genuine lifestyle choice (let's not argue here about whether living a non-str8 life is a choice or not - you can see this website for more information), they speak of men from their home village who never marry and do not have kids and they are seen as strange outsiders, unlucky in life, but not as having different romantic and sexual desires (see The Constant Gardener for a taste of this taboo and news story of people married to supposedly hide their gayness are being dobbed into the police in Zambia). I have read articles (research by man undercover about hip black homophobes actually being gay) and websites (see my comment after the video) that suggest that there is a not-so-subtle challenge to being queer in an ethnically-diverse neighbourhood/family. Though there are websites of support!

...and we are not talking about religion here - nothing about liturgical bans on queer behaviour and identities, there have been these issues (the Pope, the recent Iran survey and their President's opinion as expressed in USA about the lack of homosexuality in his country). This is not about a profound belief in morality based on faith in a higher power who has decreed what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in human behaviour. It is not about morality in the most part - when asked to identify why LGBTQQ issues are taboo in their culture/ethnic community/neighbourhood I don't imagine many would offer reasonable moral evidence about it innate evilness or intrinsic unacceptability. I expect the answer would be mostly, it is wrong, gross, not done, weird, unnatural, etc. There might be suggestions of it being offensive to look at (well you don't need to watch queer couples together - don't buy that sort of porn, don't hang out in the pink district if you don't want to see same-sex pecks on the cheek, holding of hands or snogging that obviously has a romantic or sexual meaning to those involved), you fear it will corrupt others into joining in or copying them - what is your worry that the species will die out if we are not all heterosexual and reproductive? Many straight couples don't help populate the earth, whereas many queer couples do. Are you worried that you will be asked or expected to join in? Are you fearful that you would be overpower and forced to engage in acts you find so distasteful? Do you think the likelihood of you being a victim of gay assault or rape is high?

I just don't understand what people are worried about. If it is simply the 'natural' instinct to heard with others who are similar and fear/avoid those who are different, then that is silly. We are not a planet of clones, we are all different - that is the beauty of us. Even monozygotic twins fancy different people, prefer different ice cream flavours, laugh at different jokes .

What is this obsession with labelling, then identifying with and huddling together those that are like us, and disregarding and fearing those that are not. In the end we are all on our own, we are all our own island, as we are all individual, there is no-one exactly like us to form a huddle. Why base these categories on physical differences? Black, fat, tall, bespectacled, big chin, dressed like a goth, mohican hair, posh accent, camp manner, feminine habits, etc.

It is all very confusing to me.

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