Last Saturday was a good time for multiculturalism at Macalester. All day long students gathered in focus groups to discuss the structural problems facing Macalester’s climate for multiculturalism. Lots of ideas were thrown around, some good, some bad. I wasn’t allowed to offer my own opinions on that day because I was moderating the discussions.
However, I learned a lot in my cloistered state. Students at Macalester have an amazing opportunity to focus on issues of difference in classes such as African American Studies and Urban Landscapes. Moreover, we have the opportunity to interact with individuals from a variety of different backgrounds. Throughout the day, however, queerness was never mentioned as being a part of multiculturalism.
That made me think: Do students at Macalester really not see queer kids as being different? Having different backgrounds? Contributing to domestic diversity? Apparently not. So, for all of you out there that don’t yet realize it: Queers are multicultural too.
Sure, turn on your TV on Thrusday night and you’ll see Will & Grace, the queer community’s least favorite form of representation; go to the movies and see Paul Rudd acting gay in The Object of My Affection; flip open a magazine and see the most recent nudie pics of Rupert Everett in Cosmo. Everywhere you look queers are there for breeders. But where are they for me?
I can’t turn on the TV and see someone like me (not even Jack has an accurate gay lisp). The bodies I see of gay men in movies only make me feel worse. The ads in magazines that feature gay men seem to think I want to wear mascara and tight muscle shirts. The reality just isn’t so. The queers ever-present in our society aren’t real. They’re bubble gum images of queer people in the same way Britney Spears is a bubble gum image of a woman.
These images seem to suggest that queer people are just like you straight folk. We talk like you, we look like you, we are just like you. The truth isn’t so clear. Queer people run the gambit just like any other minority. Some of us are gay, white, able-bodied, middle class, men like me. Others represent different races, sexes, genders, economic classes, abilities, etc. What unites us is a belief that the current social system of sexual politics doesn’t work. What unites us is that we are all different in some way. What unites us is that we all face daily doses of hate and bigotry based on sexual oppression.
This experience-our experience-is important. I won’t try and tell you that we form a culture of our own, as would other scholars. I will tell you, however, that we queer folk have experienced a great deal of discrimination based on our feelings about love and sex. We have learned about our difference through being thrown in concentration camps in Nazi Germany, being fired by the U.S. government during the McCarthy Era, receiving dishonorable discharges from the U.S. military, struggling to survive in the worst possible prison conditions in Cuba under Castro, and watching our friends and lovers die of AIDS as Ronald Regan and countless Americans stood by ignoring us. The list goes on. Throughout this history of queer discrimination we survived any way we could. The remains of our predecessors are many and significant: the writings of Oscar Wilde from his prison cell, Sappho’s epic love poems written on the Isle of Lesbos, Eleanor Roosevelt’s speeches written and delivered from within the closet, Reinaldo Erenas’ haunting poetry and prose smuggled from his prison cell in Cuba, recordings of Billie Holiday, orchestral works of Aaron Copeland, artwork by Basquiat, and the dance of Bill Jones. The list goes on.
The lists go on for a reason: the contributions made to today’s society by queer people are unending. We are a people who face many obstacles and do what we must in order to overcome. So why is it that what we do isn’t appreciated for what it is (that being solid and impressive work made even more amazing when one considers the historical oppression faced by its creators)? Why is it that when people consider multiculturalism they don’t mention queer people? Why does queer remain a subheading of white domestic students?
I think that the answer to these question lies in the images of queer people society presents as role models. People in our society and at this school are too quick to gobble up monolithic images of queer people that look like themselves. Queer people are thus seen as svelte, upper-class, white, gay men who contribute little to society. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The diversity of queer people is reflected in the numerous contributions queer people have made to society. This should not be overlooked in thinking about multiculturalism. Queers are a people with a rich and varied history that is important for everyone to understand. On this campus, queers should be thought of as adding to domestic diversity instead of being lumped into the category of white domestic student. Our contributions to this campus will certainly prove to be as rich and diverse as the social contributions of the queers before us. If this world were mine, bubble gum images of skinny, rich, gay men wouldn’t represent me to the public. Society would be more interested in studying the artistic and literary tradition associated with queerness than it would be in researching the causes and effects of homosexuality. If this world were mine, Macalester students and administrators would recognize and support the contributions of queer people as multicultural.