Friday, June 16, 2006

I Want the World to Know

This will probably come as no surprise to anyone that knows me but one of my all time favorite books of the Bible is The Book of Esther. It's all there for any drama lover to enjoy. History, bit o' romance, intrigue, betrayal, a beauty pageant and a girl who saves the day! Recently during my morning devotional, I have come to a whole new appreciation for this story.
Somehow Esther was able to "pass" as a Gentile and no one knew that the Queen was a Jew. Even when circumstances turned dire, her uncle didn't "out" her but basically just said "Why do you think God put you in this position?"
"Passing" is something I learned about while attending a lecture on differences between African-American and Anglo-Saxon cultures. The speaker noted that many white people have black ancestors they don't know about because they were able to "pass" into white society. That blew me away because knowing that you had that heritage would certainly change the way you viewed the world! How many fewer hate crimes and bigots would there be?
Most of my life I've been fortunate to be able to "pass" as a straight man. Much like those who "passed" as white, I would take note of my differences and try to hide them. I would have opinions on football and would go to sporting matches. I would see action films and drink beer. I would wear plaid and listen to country music. People generally see what they want to see and so no one saw me for who I was.
The problem with passing is that it takes waaaaay too much time and energy! And that's just not the life God intended for us to lead when he put us on this Earth. Another problem is that it's not fair to the others out there that aren't able to pass as white or straight or Gentile or whatever the preferred majority is at the time. This is why I have so much respect for drag queens and really effeminate men. They have no choice but to be tough and fearless. Sadly many of them pay for this with deadend jobs, deadbeat lovers or ending up dead themselves.
Furthermore, it has started to bother me that in the gay community, many of us specify that we are only interested in "straight-acting" men or "fem" women. I get that everyone has a flavor of ice cream they prefer. However the over-emphasis on wanting/wanting to be ubermasculine or lipstick lesbian almost seems to hint that we are ashamed our sexuality on some level. We want someone that can "pass" as heterosexual.
And the fact of the matter is that everyone knows several gay people but not everyone knows that those people are gay. Bigots aren't necessarily unpleasant/bad people. Mostly they're just people who are ignorant and afraid of the unknown. Would all these marriage ammendments pass if the voters had someone gay in their lives? To answer let me put it another way: Do you think King Darius would have signed off on the massacre of all the Jews in his country if he knew his beautiful queen was Jewish?
All of this came to a head I guess last Saturday at the 7th Korean Queer Culture Festival March. (Note that it's not called Pride.) It was a demonstration to increase visibility. I went as a spectator but ended up marching in solidarity with the rest, some who could "pass" and some whose "flame burned bright" bless them! It was one of the first times in my life I decided to be visible in an unfriendly environment, waving my rainbow flag and singing along with all the silly songs.
Let's just say Queen Esther inspired me.


Anonymous said...

Listen, wearing plaid and listening to country music are just plain old bad decisions, regardless of sexual preference...

Glad you marched in Seoul though. Toronto Pride is next weekend. Hurry up and get here already, man!

Jay said...

I like your comments on what would've happened had Esther been more open. Of course, we all pass at times. The person being "nice" to someone they don't really like at a meeting or a dinner party is also "passing" to a degree.

A lot of passing in the LBGT or Jewish or perhaps even Black cases is stigmatized as passing when it is really a matter of someone sorting out identity issues in a way the accuser (labeling someone as passing)doesn't like. This is usually because the accuser has some form of political agenda that the "passer" is inconveniently thwarting. My experience is that those who make accusations of passing tend to be purists who don't like complexity in identity issues.

Plus, there is a difference between someone who is of one group outright pretending to be something they are not and someone of mixed background sorting out what to emphasize. Immigrants do it all the time--how much of the old country should they hold on to and how much of the new culture should they or can they adopt? For gay men, is watching sports and wearing plaid "passing" and a denial of their gay reality or simply being gay in a way that LGBT orthodoxy doesn't like?

Jolie said...

Although you have been able to 'pass' through much of your life, there has been people (well, me) who have always known and have never cared. I don't think I have ever seen you in plaid.

I saw an interesting program on OPB awhile ago. A Black man was testing the DNA and finding out the ancestor origin of about 10 famous Black people. I remember Oprah was one person featured. Anyway, the results came back for almost everyone (Oprah was the only exception) that they were more white than black. The host himself was more 'white' percentage wise. This really blew everyone's reality and also made them re-assess their thoughts and beliefs.

The test results also were able to pinpoint the exact region in Africa that some of these people (some weren't from Africa at all) originated from. So instead of saying they were from generic Africa (which is all they could do beforehand since immigration records just don't exist) they could start to identify with a specific culture and people. Several people made pilgrimages to their homeland. What an amazing gift to be given your history and culture. Something so many of us take for granted. Instead of being from Europe, I know the exact village my ancestors lived in before immigrating to America. I know this was quite the tangent, but I think it speak to not judging a book by it's cover. The really interesting stuff is inside the book.

abogado-david said...

As if you don't actually like action movies. Come on--wasn't it you who said that Keanu Reeves got robbed when Speed got passed over for the Oscars???

Hmmm... maybe I'm thinking of someone else...