Gay Trauma Is Real: A Rebuttal
To the Editor:
I was deeply disturbed by what I experienced as the anti-psychological attitude of Ty Geltmaker and James Rosen’s letter in the March-April 2016 issue in response to Douglas Sadownick’s recent letter. In my opinion, Sadownick’s message was centered on how to acknowledge and heal the toxic gay trauma that each of us, to some degree, has experienced. I found his letter to be a thoughtful and important effort to describe gay spirit and how we might deepen our relationship with that spirit in light of such trauma. Geltmaker, however, is dismissive in his response, saying “get over it,” claiming there is “nothing ill or special about us,” and glibly saying: “sorry that others had a rough time of it.” Language like this reminds me of my own “supportive” but unconsciously homophobic father. While Geltmaker claims to understand that “no one doubts that we gay people … share the wounds and challenges of having been ostracized,” he minimizes these “wounds,” perhaps in an effort to relativize or ignore the trauma they represent. As a result, he denies the corrosive effects these traumas have on gay kids and the adults we become.
The effort to deal with these corrosive effects is the challenge that Sadownick, whom I know personally and professionally from a shared interest in gay psyche, addresses. In my own experience, I’ve learned that what “takes guts” is to face the dark side of the psyche and to try to take some measure of personal responsibility for the hidden, subtle, and often socially-encouraged defenses against the feelings our traumas produce. Over the years I’ve seen, and acted out, the ways in which that hidden trauma affects our community—drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, sex abuse, codependent relationships, vicious in-fighting, and callous scapegoating are good examples.
In contrast to Geltmaker’s claim that there is “nothing ill or special about us,” I agree with Sadownick’s idea that there is something special about being gay or lesbian. This belief is also one of Harry Hay’s central themes, one that seems under assault these days by aspects of assimilationist, anti-essentialist, and postmodern thinking. The question I wrestle with is: how do I work with my own trauma so that it doesn’t get in the way of what is special about my gay spirit? Sadownick’s letter seems to me to be a valiant attempt to lay out how that question can be richly, fully, and responsibly answered, and the challenges we face in so doing. In that light, childhood trauma doesn’t make us victims. Instead, the process of working with the dark material of the psyche gives us an opportunity to become our own gay heroes.
Jason Oclaray, Los Angeles
Confronting Israel on Human Rights
To the Editor:
I found the guest opinion by Sean Cahill, “Silencing Israeli Activists Accomplishes Nothing” [in the May-June 2016 issue]to be intellectually dishonest and offensive. It was replete with falsehoods and half-truths. What began with a criticism of the protest of Israel’s “pinkwashing” activities at the January 2016 Creating Change conference [of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force]quickly devolved into an apologia for Israel and Zionism.
In the piece, Cahill stated that “Israel is not a racist, apartheid, or colonial country.” But when, according to a recent Pew poll, 79 percent of Israeli Jews believe that Jews should get preferential treatment over Arab citizens and 48 percent want to expel Arabs from Israel, and when the Israeli government continues to confiscate more and more Palestinian land and allows “Jewish only” settlements to be built on it, any reasonable person must conclude that this smacks of racism, apartheid, and colonialism.
I would have much preferred to read what groups like Queers Against Israeli Apartheid have to say about this important issue rather than another Zionist propaganda piece crowing about how wonderful Israel is.
Paul McDermott, California State University at Northridge
A Dose of Reality on Social Change
To the Editor:
Whenever I read an article like that of D. Gilson in the January-February issue [“Homonormativity and Its Discontents”], I’m never quite sure what to say: the perfect is the enemy of the good? Things improve at incremental speeds, and differently for different things? Let me address a few of Gilson’s pronouncements that seem to me oversimplified or overstated.
On access to health care: Of course Gilson is right that it should not depend on marital status. And for the law to use marriage as a proxy determinant for child custody issues is problematic. But it’s complicated. A few years ago, before California’s Prop. 8 was overturned, I attended an LGBT Town Hall meeting on how best to fight the initiative. The crowd was mixed in terms of sex, age, ethnicities, and class. Two of the most outspoken individuals were a lower-middle-class Latina couple. They were concerned about health insurance, especially in times when only one of them had a job. They were concerned about legal protections for their children. And they wanted to be able to get married. The question is, how are you going to get those things for that Latina couple? What’s your plan, and how long will it take? Should they wait for universal health care for everyone before they get anything?
I worked with some of the organizations that ultimately won these women the legal right to marry, which gave them some very immediate, practical benefits and was also of great personal meaning to them. Then I got to go home and read articles about how the fight for marriage equality was a self-serving effort by white gay male upper-class douchebags who were only out for themselves.
On marriage equality as a goal: I’m friends with a pansexual woman who has been in a long-term relationship with a transgender woman with whom she shares her life, although they did not choose to get married even after it was legal. A few years ago they added a third partner to their relationship, a woman from Argentina who was attending school in the U.S. Recently my friend married her Argentinian partner, which, in addition to being the occasion for a lovely ceremony, also secured a number of benefits for them. The most significant one is that it will be much easier for the foreign-born spouse to remain in the U.S. after her schooling is over. The three of them seem very happy together. Gilson would describe this pattern as “homonormative.” Okay, perhaps the three of them should be allowed to enter into a three-way marriage, but I just don’t see that happening any time soon, if ever. But surely Gilson would not have them forgo the practical benefits of two-person marriage solely to avoid the pitfalls of “assimilationism” and complicity with a bourgeois institution.
On evil corporations and LGBT rights: Gilson is especially worked up about the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI), which ranks large companies according to their policies on LGBT issues (partner benefits, nondiscrimination in hiring, etc.). Now, the HRC is not my favorite organization, but I’ve found their CEI a useful tool in getting the companies I’ve worked at to improve their policies. Yes, Exxon Mobil has done horrible things to the environment, and I fully support efforts to hold them accountable for their actions. In the meantime, I want the gay people working there to be treated fairly. I don’t want them to be scared that they’ll be fired for being gay. And, yes, Pfizer is still overcharging for some of its life-saving drugs. On the other hand, it still matters that trans employees have their hormone replacement therapy covered.
There are a lot of different things that go into a company being a good corporate actor: environmental policies; decent wages; the pricing of vital necessities; diversity of all sorts. It’s a long list. Anyone that thinks that looking at HRC’s CEI tells them everything they need to know about a corporation’s approach to social responsibility is myopic or naïve. HRC doesn’t have the resources or the expertise to evaluate everything on that list. Fortunately there are other organizations that look into environmental policies, racial diversity, and all the other issues. There are activists working on all those issues, including LGBT activists. If you were to apply all of these standards to a single corporation, none would pass all of the tests, and the lot of them would be condemned as irresponsible, inhumane, or unresponsive to human needs.
Gilson talks a great deal about his relationship with Colby Keller, an activist intellectual who is most famous for his work as a porn star. As such, Keller’s career depends upon the operation of such large corporations as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and so on, all of which are characterized by the consumerism and capitalistic greed that both Gilson and Keller decry. Granted, this complicity with corporatism is unavoidable—this is the world we live in—but surely Gilson and Keller are also interested in how these companies treat their LGBT employees and how their policies address this community’s concerns. Given the social networks’ role as cultural filters, they may well ask whether they are undermining queerness while promoting homonormativity.
Gilson and I have some of the same interests, values, and goals. I’ve spent the last thirty years of my life trying to make some things better for some people—in those areas where I have passion, expertise, personal experience, and leverage. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think any other issues are important, or that I don’t support them, just that I did my work where I thought I could be most effective. I admit it: I haven’t tried to make everything better for everyone, simultaneously. I don’t think that’s a working strategy. I don’t think anybody can, including Gilson and Colby.
Roy B. Frost, San Francisco