by Teresa W. Lau
Bisexual, Gay, and Lesbian Awareness Days (BGLAD) are again upon us, and once again, it's that time of year when the GaMIT Thistle takes the opportunity to wonder aloud, "Why BGLAD?" Presented with the task of exploring this question, I sat down to write about the ways in which I am glad-glad to be a student at a school whose medical department refuses to provide anonymous HIV testing and insists on keeping documentation of who has and has not been tested (see "HIV Testing," pg. 12), glad to be a queer student at an institution with a Gay and Lesbian Studies program that hasn't offered a single class in over 2 years (see "Whatever Happened to Gay and Lesbian Studies?," pg. 10), glad to be a lesbian investing inordinate amounts of energy in events attended mostly by gay men, glad to be the general coordinator of a group pathologized as a pack of perverts (see "Mommy, Where do Perverts Come From?," pg. 2), glad to be Asian Pacific American in a predominantly white queer community that refuses to address race as a cogent issue-one that is used as a tool of marginalization and exclusion from that community. Knowing all this, why should I be glad? I began to wonder then whether the question was even directed at me; just who is supposed to be glad anyway? Or perhaps more interestingly, who is allowed to be glad, and at whose expense or exclusion? Recently, factions of the queer community have taken to seeking societal acceptance by catering to the traditional values of the so-called straight community, assimilating as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. The now familiar chorus, "We're just like straight people" dominates their approach, hence distilling the goals of gay liberation into a solitary aim-to eradicate the distinction of the homosexual from the heterosexual, to regain the privilege lost after coming out. But what, or rather whose, privilege is being so passionately defended? These so-called assimilationist gays presume a specific narrative of prejudice against queer folk, one which considers one and only one form of oppression as relevant, ignoring the ways in which people of color, women, drag queens, bulldykes, transgender people-anyone who is neither white nor a man, are discriminated against. The perception of homophobia as singular, uniform, and universal for all queers is childishly simple, and is indicative of a ridiculously narrow conception of the freedom that we as queers are supposedly fighting for. To be sure, there are those who go so far as to believe that we already are free, or at least that we will be free once we, too, enjoy tax breaks for getting a marriage license (see "For Better or For Worse," pg. 4), and once the armed forces trust us enough to give us M-14s and fatigues of our very own. But this approach to gaining acceptance from the so-called straight world is endemically set up to fail; aping mainstream postures and discourse serves only to kowtow to the very structures that have established and are perpetuating our oppression. Touting themselves as the opposing camp, self-identified "queers" scoff at the idea of donning the robes of the Order of the Mainstream. But all too often, they nourish a very visceral connection to those same notions of reclaiming privilege. But again, what are the implications of the privilege they seek? These queer folk share with the so-called straight-acting gays both the assumption of a singular source of prejudice, as well as a sense of self-evident entitlement. When asking why be glad, there is a presumption that everyone has the same access to gladness, the same opportunities to be free, or to feel like they are free-that everyone has the same access to anger, righteousness, and passion. For some, the fight for gay rights is motivated by a perceived entitlement to opportunity, a somehow deserved right to be glad. People who have been allowed to and have indulged in privilege react to prejudice with self-righteous anger and indignation; discrimination is an affront, an unwarranted threat or attack on their "inalienable" rights. The perspectives and analyses of those who are not allowed to enjoy such an arrogant perception of their place in society, of their status in the queer community, are either overlooked or deemed to be counter-productive to the queer movement, and perhaps even self-hating. In their frenzy to reclaim privilege they believe has been so unfairly robbed from them, self-identified queers refuse to recognize or examine the ways in which privilege and power play out in their own backyard. Any challenges to the accepted sense of entitlement, any objections to the implications of privilege being fought for, any criticisms of dynamics within the community that systematically and repeatedly marginalize certain groups of people in the name of Community-these are all dismissed as cluttering the issues, as muddying the waters with unnecessary complaints. In the dank silence that surrounds issues of race, people of color suffer being repeatedly ignored, tokenized, and then held up as testimony of a defensive insistence on enlightenment and savvy in the realms of race and racism. Any attempts at insisting on visibility, at being out about your difference from other queer folk, are seen as either hostile acts of disloyalty, or eccentric displays of racial furor that are tolerated with benevolent condescension, at best. Anger and hurt fester as race is continually dismissed from queer discourse, with communities of color categorically belittled as "especially homophobic" or too culturally alien to be taken seriously. The atmosphere of silence in the queer community surrounding race influences not just the ways in which people of color are perceived and their communities marginalized, but also extends to the treatment of queers of color who bring these invisible issues into focus. The task of ensuring an honest examination of specific instances of explicit (and implicit) bigotry, of victimization within the community, of the mechanisms through which that victimization occurs, of certain answers to the question "Why BGLAD?"-the difficulties in engaging the privileged in these kinds of conversations are yet another aspect of the idea that gladness is more complex, more layered than the question inspiring this article suggests. For those who would prefer not to think about their privileged position as white people, criticisms made by people of color about the status of race as a non-issue for the queer community prompt immediate indignation and are seen as affronts to the sensibilities of "the Progressive Queer." And even when the conversation is finally begun, it is those who are being challenged who somehow end up doing the interrogating, and who don't wait around to hear the answers anyway. The consistent dismissal of people of color and women is only a symptom of the underlying need of queer white men to be central, to be normal, to be "straight," in at least one community. Indeed, this perpetuation of marginality is analogous to the so-called straight-acting gays' aping of mainstream values and assumptions; someone must be the strange, the abnormal, the "queer," in order for the rest of us to feel secure in our own normality, in order for the rest of us to claim some domain of power. You would think that having to deal with all this shit, queers of color would not remain in predominantly white communities, drag queens and bulldykes would not continue to rally behind the political issues of those who would in turn exclude them from whatever gains might be achieved, and lesbians and bi women would not return time and again to organize and lead efforts for the sake of gay men. But they do. Isn't it interesting that the folks with the least privilege in both the mainstream and queer communities are so often the ones to commit themselves to working for queer liberation-that the demonized, marginalized, and scorned members of GaMIT are so often the officers? Isn't it interesting that it is so often the women and the people of color who plan and put on the events, the dances, the study breaks for the entire community? Some people get to come out, be glad, and have a party, and some people get to come out and clean up afterwards. But at least we're allowed at the party. Transgenders are even refused access to the margins; they hold effectively no position within the queer community, not even that of cleanup crew. We glibly add transgender to the litany of identities that the "G" in GaMIT is supposed to stand for, but the inclusion is in name only. There is no space for them, they don't feel welcome, they aren't made to feel welcome. It's all just so much farce, really, because transgender people are set apart as the truly (i.e. medically diagnosed) queer. At the same time that they are included under the banner of gay liberation, transgenders represent the deviants among the deviant; it is the post-op transsexual, the F-to-M transgenderist, and the drag queen who are the real "queers" the so-called straight world has been complaining about all along. Queer folk engage in the same tactics of pathologizing transgenders, of (cross) dressing them in the same kinds of stigmatized notions of sickness and perversion as the mainstream applies to queers when it seeks to define itself as "normal". The idea that being "normal" should be a goal of queer liberation is indicative of the extent to which queer folk are entrenched in the traditional values of the mainstream and how those values are preserved. By failing to recognize the paradigm behind this insistent distinction between the natural and the perverted, between the healthy and the sick, queer folk effectively recreate and reinforce the power relations we are supposedly battling against in the first place. The difficulties around issues of race, privilege, and legitimacy within the queer community are the places at which our efforts should be focused. The paradigms of exclusion, of deserved privilege and assumed access that permeate the queer movement must be acknowledged, examined, and challenged: why is it that certain people are allowed to claim legitimacy, while others are not? And how are these roles maintained?