Friday, April 14, 2006

The Truck

GayProf has a tough truth to put out there today. We might not like to hear it. It’s key, however, to my reasons for why queer people must continue to choose a sense of community. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy entry.

About ten years ago or so, Noble-Prize winning author Toni Morrison gave an interview to 60 Minutes. Asked to explain her suspicion of Americans of white heritage, Morrison gave the following statement:

With very few exceptions, I feel that white people will betray me; that in the final analysis, they'll give me up. If the trucks pass and they have to make a choice, they'll put me on that truck. That's really what I feel. There are some white people whom I have known over the years that I know would not do that, because they know I wouldn't do it to them. But there are very few of those people. By the way, there are lots of Black people who'd put me on that truck also, so I'm not trying to demonize the white race. It's just a kind of a constant vigilance and awareness that maybe these relationships can go just so far.


Morrison’s statements might seem chilling to many (even most), but people-of-color instantly identified with her remarks. Historical examples abound of otherwise fine and decent white folk getting caught up in the fervor around them that resulted in African Americans’ brutal deaths. Lynching involved entire communities, even the allegedly “tolerant.” If one is part of a dominant majority, it takes unique courage to challenge that group, even if real people are dying in front of your eyes. Kind words might have been spoken during times of peace, but when push came to shove, most ignored or actively participated in the violence.

Sexual minorities, however, have been slower than racial minorities to realize this icy truth. We must not flinch, though, from thinking about our vulnerability. Without trying to sound histrionic, we simply can’t depend on most heterosexuals. Should a secret police force, or even an angry Christian mob, arrive at your apartment door tomorrow, are you confident that your heterosexual neighbors will defend you? Or will they simply shake their heads, saying it’s a shame, but relieved that they weren’t gay and therefore subject to the same abuse?

There are, of course, some uniquely brave heterosexual folk who would intervene. There are also way too many queer folk who would simply hide in their own apartment. I don’t mean to indict people wholesale. I am not always confident that I would have the individual courage to fight either. After all, I couldn’t even heckle John McCain.

However, we need to discuss more openly the real dangers about being a minority. The majority can turn against us quicker than you might expect.

Sound extreme? Maybe – but history is on my side. It’s time to trot out the Nazis. Because of the scope and horrors of the Nazi regime, it is tempting to dismiss the Nazis as “forever ago.” Let us remember, though, that most of our grandparents were alive during the Nazi period in Germany. We aren’t talking about ancient Rome here.

The Nazi regime gained an astounding level of support from the general public for their persecution of gay men. As early as 1928, the Nazi party released explicit statements about their agendas. “Anyone who thinks of homosexual love is our enemy,” the party announced, “We...reject any form of lewdness, especially homosexuality, because it robs us of our last chance to free our people from the bondage which now enslaves it.”

On January 30, 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. By the summer of 1933, the Nazi SA raided and destroyed gay bars throughout Germany. By 1935, the German government instituted a full-scale campaign against gay men. In July 1935, the German courts claimed any action was punishable as a crime if the “inborn healthy instincts of the German people” demanded it.

At the same time, the SS announced its support of the death penalty for gay men. Heinrich Himmler declared gay men “propagation blanks” and a menace to German health because they spread homosexuality as an infection. Being gay, the Nazis declared, was “unnatural.” The Nazi government even established a special office, the “Reichs-Center for the Fight Against Homosexuality and Abortion,” as a division of the criminal police.



The same callousness among the German public that allowed over 6 million Jews to perish in the camps also permitted the persecution and death of gay men. Sixty percent of the gay men sent to Nazi prison camps did not live to see the arrival of Ally troops. Tens of thousands of gay men simply vanished. Very few objected.

When the Allies did liberate the camps, gay men found little sympathy. After all, Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union all had their own laws against male homosexual behavior. Therefore, the allies declared that homosexual inmates of Nazi concentration camps had not been wrongly imprisoned and, as a result, deserved no compensation for their suffering.

If Nazi Germany seems too far removed, we need only remember the general public's depraved indifference towards the AIDS crisis in the early eighties. As Brian noted in an earlier comment, in the early days of AIDS, gay men, because of their sense of community and shared identity, united and worked to provide social and medical services that the rest of the nation simply didn’t want to give out.

We should not deceive ourselves that this can’t happen again. The current level of religiously motivated hatred against gays and lesbians in the U.S. is real. Remember that 76 percent of Texan voters, along with voters in many other states, amended the state constitution to explicitly deprive gay men of the right to marry. Where were our heterosexual allies? Most of them simply stayed home and didn’t vote at all. If they objected, they didn't take ten minutes out of their day to prevent this change. Can we assume, then, that they would really stand in front of a truck?

This entry has much reference to death. So, I will end with another incident of persecution against gay men that simply makes heterosexuals look foolish in their paranoia. Our neighbor-to- the-north’s homophobia took on comical proportions during the middle of the twentieth century. Canada, following the lead of U.S. McCarthyism, became committed to purging gay men from the government in the fifties and sixties. Canadian officials found, though, we queer folk can be a tricky lot. If only they had some sort of machine to easily determine which of us was gay or not. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Yep, the Mounties) supported pseudoscience attempts to create just such a machine.



The RCMP dubbed the project “The Fruit Machine.” Though ultimately scrapped, the RCMP invested a great deal of effort in trying to detect gay men in their ranks. They attempted to measure perspiration in response to words like “queen, rim, wolf, tea room, and top men.” Another “study” required subjects to view picture of seminude men in physique magazines along with Playboy magazines. Scientists attempted to measure their eye movements as a means to determine their attention span. Silly, scared heteros!

From the deadly reality of Nazi death camps to the absurdity of the Mounties’ fruit machine, gay men faced a hostile heterosexual majority in the twentieth century. Though we should hope that many heterosexuals will come to our aid, we need to renew our commitments to each other. We can only depend on those with shared experiences and a shared position. If we, as queer folk, aren’t there for each other, the reality of the truck will loom before us.

28 comments:

MEK the Bear said...

Working at Disney, a supposedly very gay positive employer, I have no doubts that I'd be put on a truck first. And my coworkers like me.

dirk.mancuso said...

I live in the mid-west, and have not a doubt in my mind that my friends and neighbors would gladly pitch my gay ass on the truck.

I even have a few family memebers that would would help gather the mob.

Shark-fu said...

You have forever broken it down!

That was excellent and needed to be said...

Chad said...

Thank you for writing this. It astonishes me how hard it can be for me to convince my straight, 'liberal' friends how horrifying it is to hear or read some of the rhetoric that comes out of Jerry Falwell, the AFA, the Constitution Party, elements of the Republican and Democratic Parties, and others.

Honestly, anyone who thinks comparisons between modern American homophobic rhetoric and Nazi rhetoric are unfair and exaggerated is simply a fool.

Roger Owen Green said...

Hitler's birthday's coming up next week; a timely piece.

I certainly understand what Toni Morrison was saying, and with the qualifiers she 9and you) provide, tend to agree.

Earl Cootie said...

Though I don't doubt the reality of the truck, it's hard to imagine. I don't know if it's because Seattle is so lavender-friendly, but I *think* most of my straight friends and neighbors here would try to demobilize that truck. But, then too, I've always been something of a naif.

Keguro said...

To invoke a very different, though not unrelated, context, I, along with other African activists, am terrified about Nigeria's new anti-gay bill, specifically that it will set a precedent for other African states.

Not only does it forbid gay marriage, it also criminalizes gay activism and gay-related activism, including forms of support. So, for example, if one chose to attend a friend's commitment ceremony, one would be breaking the law. It's heartbreaking to consider the effects of such legislation on anti-AIDS work targeted toward gay populations.

By all accounts, the bill will pass into law. If it does, it will make the anti-gay marriage amendments in America seem positively benevolent.

And, I fear, other African countries will follow suit.

Jason said...

This is exactly on the money.

WM said...

As a straight person, I can only agree with you. Chances are that we aren't to be trusted, in the main. However, I do think some healthy alliances can be formed, which may ultimately lead to trust, and even if not, may still be productive. As I said, I am a heterosexual (I think) but I am also black and a woman and a foreigner. These are the sorts of subject positions that make one, if one thinks at all, go hmmmm! "First they came for the Jews...then the gays...and now they'll come for me." Apart from questions of ethics and morality, a healthy understanding that oppression of any sort takes away from all our freedoms might have some ripples. Then again, I could just be a hopeless romantic. I certainly wouldn't bet my life, or yours, on that hope. So, yes, be suspicious.

Brian said...

Keguro makes an interesting point.Attention should be paid to Nigeria, Cameroon, Jamaica and other countries in the Anglican communion, in their treatment of gay citizens.It will be signal of "acceptable" practices in handling sexual criminality.
Thanks GayProf for this timely Good Friday post.

Bruce said...

Amazingly insightful GayProf! I don't think I have even consciously formulated such thoughts, but when I read them from you, they rang completely true. Even living in SF, the most liberal of straight politicians (Gavin Newsome excepted)can't be counted on to stand up for us if the tide of public opinion seems against us on any given issue.

tornwordo said...

Actually, you can only count on yourself.

I totally agree that we should strive for a unified voice in the face of such institutionalized prejudice. Sadly, as long as stupid white men are in control, the trend will continue.

ReggieH said...

This is a point Jamaican-American author Thomas Glave makes in the essay 'On the Difficulty of Confiding, with Complete Love and Trust, in Some Heterosexual “Friends”' his new collection 'Words to Our Now': we're accepted but only up to a point. There's always a moment when straight people pull back from us. "Its okay that you're gay - just don't show affection in public" or "Why do you have to talk about it". I'm sure there'd be dead silence when the trucks came to take us away.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thank you for the infomation regarding the mounties; actions for which they should remember to remind of common trust vesus public pressures.

While paragraph 175 which condemned did not target lesbians by name, those lesbians who were discovered by the SS were often put into living sexual servitude in the army brothels. The South African Army's war against gay individuals running up to the late 80's is the most extensive since WWII.

Toni Morrison reminds me that we must risk, not just for ourselves and those like us, but for all vulnerable minorities. Or, as the Bishop wrote, "Then there was no one left to complain when they took me away."

chiron said...

ACT-UP is back in Chicago. I haven't joined their meetings yet, but it seems like a good sign. What if more advocacy groups or mutual support groups formed in the near future whose agendas centered around ways of helping neighbors and caring for one another? Times may necessitate it.

bryce said...

Another good post. It should be noted that homosexuality is still only acceptable by a vast minority of the world's population. Most African, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries (containing the majority of the world's population) have laws (both written and unwritten)that would have us hanging by our feet in the public square if they existed here in the US.
Government sanctioned imprisonment, torture and murder of gays did not only exist in Taliban era Afghanistan. It's still happeneing today. It's easy to feel a sense of security here in America, but the reality is that much of the world is not so advanced.

cats said...

i am christian, white, and straight. if the trucks ever came, i hope i would be strong enough to lay down in front of them.

except that there ARE trucks all over that have already begun this work and too few people, like me, are even aware of them.

i question constantly how i can do more to stop them.

Charles said...

I'm from the midwest, white, christian, and gay. I'm sure there are people who know me, that would put me on a truck if it came down to it. But I have enough good friends, that I could turn to if things got to bad. I can say, that if possible, I would support a friend or someo

Fist time reader from over at Shadow-Void. I saw a link on Joe.My.God

Adam said...

One of the best posts you've ever written my friend. Absolutely amazing!

Anonymous said...

How true. Minorities only have rights when the majority are feeling secure. Any economic downturn, and administrations use minorities as handy scapegoats to distract people from the real problems.

I don't doubt that my urban midwest neighbors would be happy enough to put me on a truck, should a serious recession or a political upheaval occur.

And the rhetoric coming out of Nigeria from Archbishop Akinola is pretty much on the line of Die Ewige Juden - gays "lower than dogs".

NancyP

Brad said...

A brilliant post that got me going off on a dozen different tangents before it was over.

One thought I will leave you with. It is not always possible to be "open" as a gay man. I am military and though I long for that and to be able to have an open relationship, that is not possible for me. My family and my very closest friends know, but thats it. As soon as the military knows, the 16 years I have invested in this career will be over the same day.

Da Nator said...

Great post, and chilling. One thing I worry about, however, is how hard it is to live without ever trusting the "others". Not only is living in fear and/or vigilance emotionally draining, but it can wall us off from those who would like to be our allies.

Through much of my childhood, I lived it a neighbourhood where I was the only white kid. Although I had friends, I often felt unwelcome or threatened. As an adult and a gay woman, I understand the distrust and/or dislike of the majority I embodied to my neighbours. However, while we make sure to protect ourselves as queers, lets not shoot ourselves in the foot and spread the disease by pigeonholing heteros too easily. That's something I, for one, know I can be guilty of - and it's no more fair than the opposite.

L said...

I find it ironic that gay men were considered hazardous, while lesbians were simply 'anti-social'.

Though I'm too young too have a full-time job, I had the experience of being the only Presbyterian (by baptism only, not by practice) in a strict Catholic school. On top of that, I was relatively shy and starting to learn and talk about the feminist movement. The things you have to endure, simply by thinking differently was frightening for me at the time. And I will never forget the day I was told to 'get back in the bed where you belong you slut' by some good wholesome, honour students.

I won't blame people for being afraid of us straights throwing you on the truck. But after transferring this year to a public school, I can say while some may throw you on that truck, many of my generation are prepared to stop that truck from rolling down the road.

GayProf said...

L: Hail, Amazon Sister! Thanks for stopping by my little bloggy. I appreciate your story about Catholic school.

Keep speaking out about the need for feminism! We can unite to stop the truck.

Wayne said...

I've often wondered how bad things can get with the world steeped in fear and swinging further to the right...

In australia and in america we've already become second class citizens - and these things tend to develop little by little.

I think that all it will take is for a mainstream political party to decide that it's safe to stop paying lip service to secularism...and then we're down the toilet.

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