Here, Let me Explain Your Oppression to You

 

Recently, a friend of mine was subjected to bullying and mockery that several students – myself included – adamantly believed was homophobic in nature. He identifies as queer and posted a promotional dance video to urge people to vote for him for student government. Shortly after, a video was leaked parodying and mocking him and his way of dancing – an outlet through which he proudly expresses his identity.

After the video surfaced, the president of Queer Alliance took to Facebook and posted the parody video stating,

“Mocking a queer man of color for his femininity and gender expression is extremely homophobic. Let’s keep in mind that this is not an isolated incident such that queer people are often made fun of, disrespected, for being ourselves!”

The parody video has been viewed over 15,000 times since it was uploaded and has been shared 60 times from the original poster. Several students expressed disgust, anger, and dismay, stating that it was an instance of bullying and clear homophobia.

Other students claimed that that though they believe this act was done in bad taste, they wouldn’t call it homophobic. In fact, some people denied that this was a homophobic incident and tried to provide their justification for the parody video. They agreed that it was mean, but that’s the fullest extent to which they wanted to describe the video. Many insisted that the video was only meant to mock his dancing skills, not his sexuality or identity. Still, others argued that dance is one of the multiple ways in which people express themselves, their identity, their sexuality, and their gender and to make fun of how a queer man dances is implicitly making a joke of his identity and gender expression.

The following is my personal perspective on the incident and does not reflect FEM Magazine’s stance on the issue.

This line of thinking where people feel they have the power to brand the incident as just a mean way of poking fun at someone rather than claiming it as homophobic severely sugarcoats and downplays the seriousness of this incident. To call it anything but homophobic makes homophobia that much more taboo.

One must understand that someone does not need to explicitly state “I hate gay people” for them to be considered homophobic. Sometimes, homophobia emerges in ways that aren’t as obvious as we expect but it’s still equally homophobic and equally harmful.

Some might be blinded by their own privilege or by their allegiance to their friend who was accused of a homophobic act so much that they are unable to understand or see how this type of mockery is homophobic. Regardless of whether someone wants to brand the person who made the parody video as homophobic entirely, the person’s actions definitely perpetuate homophobia.

Additionally, this mockery wasn’t an isolated incident at all, but rather, a reflection of society’s general attitudes towards the LGBTQIA community which has led to so much hate and violence against them. People from this community have expressed time and time again how hard it is for them to be comfortable expressing themselves how they like without constant fear of being mocked or bullied for their mannerisms, the way they dance, the way they talk, the way they live, etc. Many live their whole lives being ridiculed by society and by their peers and it leaves lifelong emotional scars which can manifest themselves in depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. For some, one little act like this can tip the scale and be the determining factor in their decision to end their life or inflict serious self-harm upon themselves.

Something like this should be taken so very seriously. Claiming something as homophobic is such a serious accusation to make and it isn’t thrown out arbitrarily. When people claim something as homophobic, those claims should be taken very seriously.

Dear people of the world who think that instances of homophobia or any other type of oppression (sexism, racism, classism, ableism, etc.) is a subjective topic open to debate:

Oppression isn’t a matter of opinion.

When a homophobic incident like this happens, you do not get to negotiate or attempt to assess whether this was realllly homophobic or not.

When a group claims something is an incident of racism, sexism, etc. we must actually LISTEN to them speak the truth about their lived experiences, take it as fact, and ask ourselves how we can change for the better so that they don’t experience this type of marginalization ever again.

When there are multitudes of people, especially those from the LGBTQIA community coming forth and stating that something was homophobic, who the hell are we to claim otherwise, especially if we identify as straight? If we are allies, we must take their word as fact and truth, not as opinion or interpretation. If we believe that the words that are coming out of their mouths are just a matter of opinion and interpretation, then we are not true allies at all. If we were true allies to portions of our student population, how could we excuse someone who has done something like this? This person’s actions resulted in some students feeling unsafe and marginalized.

This is why representation of underrepresented communities is so crucial, especially in student government. And if not enough students from underrepresented communities are sitting on the council table, the ones that are sitting at the council table must be true allies at the very least.

If one person (or several people as evidenced by the 60 people who shared this video and the hundreds more who were outraged about it) tells me that this is an incident of homophobia, guess what? I’m not going to open it up for debate and say, “But is it realllllly though? I would argue that you’re wrong.”

If someone tells me they were subjected to a racist act, I wouldn’t chime in and say, “but it wasn’t racist in my opinion.”

If someone tells me they’ve experienced sexism, I’m not going to try to negotiate what they should and shouldn’t feel and argue about whether that incident was “truly” sexist.

If someone shares with me the truth about their life, I am going to validate it and make sure they realize that their feelings genuinely matter to me.

For someone to try to debate whether a queer person’s actual lived experience was, in fact, an incident of homophobia, they are thereby further oppressing them by attempting to police their feelings and reactions.

Your “opinion” of whether something was indeed homophobic is unwanted, unneeded, and unqualified. If you want to put forth the “opinion” that something wasn’t actually homophobic, even though there are several people of the LGBTQIA community who bravely vocalized that it was homophobic, you are basically implying that these people are simply imagining their own oppression.

People in marginalized groups live their whole lives being told that what they’re experiencing isn’t real and that the status quo is acceptable. Society already polices what is considered the norm and if someone doesn’t fit in with society’s restrictive notion of what’s considered acceptable, the repercussions are severe. In fact, they’re so severe that marginalized groups’ mental and physical safety is at risk when they choose to speak out against the mainstream. People in marginalized groups are already constantly beaten down for their identities, and their lives are a constant uphill battle of attempting to humanize themselves in the face of a society that will inevitably socially reproduce itself unless we listen to those who are speaking up.

If someone gathers the courage to take the risks associated with speaking up, it is not arbitrary, it is not imaginary, and it is not open for debate.

If someone experiences a lifetime’s worth of ridicule for how they express themselves, I’m pretty sure they are more than able to point out whether the bullying is homophobic in nature or not.

Plus, regardless of whether you personally saw the parody video as homophobic, the fact of the matter is it is still bullying at the end of the day. Why would you feel more inclined to come to the bully’s rescue and make sure their reputation isn’t tarnished rather than attempting to uplift the person who is clearly being torn down and made fun of? Why would you choose to be a bully apologist rather than stand up for the person who needs support?

Either something is oppressive or it’s not. Either this is an act of homophobia or it’s not. And it is clear what several members of the LGBTQIA community think about this particular incident and you are in no place to challenge them when they speak the truth about their everyday lived experiences.

Some presented the following “arguments” when their qualifications for assessing whether something was homophobic was challenged (paraphrased):

  1. This is ‘Murrica! It’s my opinion! It’s a free country with free speech and I can say whatever I want, goddamnit! You can’t tell me what I get to do and don’t get to do. You can’t silence my voice!
  2. No group should have a monopoly over whether they’re able to define something as oppressive or not. That’s so dictatorial.

And to that I would respond:

  1. Yes, you do have free speech and I’m not denying its existence or importance. All free speech means is that you have the legal right to say whatever you want without being penalized by the government so long as the speech doesn’t pose an imminent threat to someone’s physical safety. However, free speech doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want without expecting any repercussions or social ridicule. If the speech that you’re promoting is harmful or problematic, it will be called out, it will be criticized, it will be shamed, and it will be challenged. Keep that in mind.
  2. Yes, certain groups should have a monopoly over being able to define their own oppression… because these people have actually lived through their oppression. It is not imaginary or up for debate. Nobody is better able to speak about their lives and their experiences better than the people who have been subjected to oppression. They don’t need anybody else to come and explain the nature of their oppression to them and tell them how they should perceive it or react to it, especially someone who isn’t from their community. Furthermore, even if one is part of the LGBTQIA community and doesn’t see how something was homophobic, that doesn’t mean they can discredit or invalidate the several people who stated it was homophobic.

In conclusion, if you are not of a certain community and if a community speaks up to condemn the marginalization they face, you are in no place to challenge them or negotiate with them in hopes of try to explain their own oppression to them.

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