On Saturday, January 21, 2012 the OLA Queer Affinity Group hosted an all Queer Themed General Assembly -- 78 members of the assembly were present to hear a Queer perspective on the occupation and issues that affect our diverse communities. It was informative, lively and interesting! We also had the opportunity to discuss Queer caucuses in other occupations and shared and handed out the Occupy Wall Street's Caucus' statement on Queer/LGBTIQZ2Z issues are economic issues. Available here for anyone online who wants to read along as well:
We had members of our local, downtown GSA share their experience in the high school environment and progress that Queer youth are making. We further discussed "Privilege" (as read in our Solidarity Statement) and Hetero-normativity as a privilege and how it marginalizes Queer peoples experience.
Provided below is the introduction to the concept of Privilege that I presented at the GA … a number of people suggested that I post it, so here it is ;)
We read it out loud at every GA:
“Recognizing individuals’ inherent privilege and the influence it has on all interactions”
But how often do we really think about it, or pay attention to what that statement means in our own interactions and lives?
What exactly do we mean by this Privilege thing?
I would say that Privilege basically boils down to the idea that some people are just better than others, that they deserve more, have the right to dominate, that their ideas and way of living are just better – they DESERVE IT because they are just inherently BETTER or that they HAVE EARNED IT – This concept, the concept of privilege or better-ness runs through all aspects of our culture. It is the ultimate idea that justifies the existence of the 1%. It is the concept that rationalizes oppression – and it often expresses itself in individualism – how often have you heard, “EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF” , “MAY THE BEST MAN WIN”, “HE’S A SELF MADE MAN” ETC and those are already inherently gender privileged statements in that they define humanity as male.
I would ask you to all think back to your childhoods where we are first indoctrinated into the world of privilege on the playground and in school, where we begin to learn the rules of competition and that some of us are winners and some of us are losers. I ask you to think back on high school – which one of us didn’t suffer pain and humiliation in the game of status, popularity and social stratification? It’s a brutal environment where the socialization of jockeying for position is learned and practiced – and there’s all sorts of institutionalized learning lessons – cliques, popularity, the prom (or whatever it’s called today), grades, dating, looks, sports, etc. etc. And we learn very early that we can be tarred by association – so you better watch who you’re hanging out with, who you’re seen with – you better make fun of the right people, lest you fall into the category of reject or outcast.
One of the key lessons we learn in the toolkit of establishing and maintaining our own status or position, is to ostracize and make fun of the lesser privileged – the fat kid, the ugly kid, the retard, the fag, the slut, the loser, the retard, (I don’t even know how it all plays out in today’s high school culture, but I know it continues to play out and it varies from community to community, but the rules are always the same – who’s better, who’s cool and who’s a reject) And we learn these lessons not only within our own local environment and set of peers, but in the larger social constructs of gender, race, class, gender appropriateness and sexual orientation, attractiveness, intelligence, “whose most likely to succeed … you name it, you get the idea. These are the lessons we walk into adulthood with and then pass on to the next generation.
Some of us succeed better than others, but we are all scarred by the struggle and the knowledge that one’s position can always fall – that the struggle to stay on top, to be better is always subject to change and often times beyond any individual control – although we are all told we are individually responsible for the course of our lives. We learn to not trust each other and to compete. We learn to be individuals, we forget how to function in community, and we wonder why we feel so lonely.
And we come into the movement with all this socialization and then we wonder why the idea of consensus, community and collective action seem so challenging to realize. So I believe we need to think about our own experiences and be aware of them and to recognize that no one has escaped the privilege game and that we all come to this with a mixed bag of real life experiences and that all of us have experienced being privileged in one arena or another, and that we’ve all experienced being marginalized. We’ve all been taught to value individualism above all else, to fight for our own status and position, to insist that we are right. We need to keep this in mind as we learn to function in community and collective action, and we need to each check our own inherent individualism and privilege. We need to put our solidarity statement into action!
We have an opportunity here to re-examine the rules of the game and try to create something different. Hard work for each and every single one of us, but I’m an optimist, and I believe that by recognizing privilege exists, being conscious of our own use of it and checking each other in honest and compassionate ways, if we can listen to each other, we can perhaps learn to relate to each other better, and function in true community as opposed to individualized competition jockeying for position as to who is right and who is wrong. I think we need to have lots more conversations as an assembly, as a movement, about what privilege means and how it manifests in our interactions with each other.
Now before I turn it over to Sarah to talk a bit about Hetero-normativity as a privilege, I’d suggest that privilege manifests itself in many, many ways and that people are marginalized in many, many ways. So tonight, we are just focusing on one aspect, relevant to our Queer Themed GA – we will by no means do more than scrape the surface of the privilege investigation!
I’d like to introduce the idea that one way privilege manifests is in the concepts of what is NORMAL and what is ABNORMAL. Now that’s a big topic, but one that Queer People face on a daily basis because we are definitely pigeonholed into the category of that which is ABNORMAL, that which is aberrant, shameful, sinful, secretive, closeted, not for public display, not for around the children, not for polite society. We have, through great struggle and individual courage come out-of-the-closet and identified ourselves and demanded our right to exist as we are, but we continue to live in a world where Hetero-normativity is the NORM and in which our voices, our experiences, our desires and ways of expressing ourselves are somehow, at best, not legitimate or not as important as other struggles, are divisive or a distraction to the movement, or at worst are sinful, aberrant, destructive of ‘family values’ and need to be shut down.
Well, today we are speaking up. A number of us will share our own personal experiences with you. But before that, Sarah, will provide us some additional context on how Hetero-normative privilege marginalizes our voices.
Sarah then continued the conversation by exploring what Hetero-normativity is and provided a range of examples of how it marginalizes those of us who don’t fit that norm. We then had several members of our facilitation team speak to their own personal experiences of being marginalized and then broke into small group discussions with the whole Assembly. It was definitely a serious and productive session.
For those interested, we have a video of the first hour (until the camera ran out of memory!) here:
LIVESTREAM AVAILABLE HERE:
An interesting and exciting GA -- we plan to organize a few more!
More info about the OLA Queer Affinity Group here: