Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"All Men" and the Problem of Privilege

Today, a rant, but just to be clear: my main source for this is Wikipedia. I can't find the kingdom's website, if such a thing still exists, so take these details with a grain of salt. But please, take the message to heart.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."
-- United States Declaration of Independence, 1776


Well, sort of.

It's also from the Gay & Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands Declaration of Independence, 2004.

Steam came out my ears when I learned that, and a little bit of my hope for humanity died.

I believe that nothing we create exists in a vacuum. When you look at any text, speech or movie, you have to consider the cultural and historical context.
That's why when people nowadays read the Bible, most dismiss things like prohibitions on cutting their hair, the idea of women on their period being unclean, and the many passages talking about slavery. We accept that cultural context of this book shaped those rules.

As the amazing Rachel Held Evans says here:
We must remember that every poem, every letter, every list of laws, and every historical account of the Bible had an intended audience that shaped its content.
And that specific intended audience was never us, several thousand years in the future. Which is why, as long as people are willing to move past the culturally based problematic statements in the Bible, I can forgive those statements. They are simply the product of their time.

By the same token, I can forgive the founding fathers of the US for not making their iconic statement about people or humans. In their day women couldn't vote and had limited (if any) property rights. In the context of 1776, the founders' statement is a message about freedom and rights, and so I can forgive them.

But by 2004, you'd think things would have changed a bit. 

So when a group of LGBT activists decided to found their own micronation off the coast of Australia to protest the Australian government's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages, you might think they'd update the language of the classic Declaration.

Not so. And I for one cannot forgive people in the 21st century for excluding me from their definition of equality.

I'm trying really hard to not make this about how my concerns are more valid than theirs. I know they don't have to "take care of me" when we talk about their issues. But this is not about gay rights. It's about the discrimination within their community that is supported - some might say even allowed - by their Declaration of "Independence". 

They named their micronation the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom. But somewhere between the idea and the implementation, women's voices got lost. After all, I find it hard to believe any female activist would approve of copying this most annoying thing in the Declaration.

I hope this was a simple error, just an oversight. But even so, it is one born of male privilege.

Before I tell them off for privilege, I should acknowledge my own. On the Straight White Cisgendered Able-Bodied Male scale, I rank a 4 out of 5. So I know I have privilege, and I'm sure I don't realize it a lot of the time.

But my lack of male privilege gives me a window of insight into the other privileges that I do enjoy, and so I try to understand what's invisible to me, and when someone who sees it every day says something, I do my best to shut up and listen.

I would have hoped that not having straight privilege would help the men among the founders of the Gay & Lesbian Kingdom to understand what's it's like not to have male privilege. I guess not.

After writing all of this, I'm not angry anymore. I'm just sad that we live in a world that's so complicated and messed up, and that has "difficulty levels" the people on "easy" don't even see.

I just wish - for them, for myself, for everyone - that we could all work together to fix a broken system of invisible privilege.

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