I think this comment explains a lot...

It came fairly low in the Prop 8 thread, but it deserved to be higher. We pick up with ECL, mid-debate:

...Feels like I've gone through the cynicism and come out the other side.

As a bisexual woman, I came out with the idea that the glorious history of Stonewall et al was the history of my people, and that gay liberation had something real to do with my own liberation. As an out queer woman, I felt that I was part of that lineage. Imagine my surprise when I found out I was supposedly a lying nympho traitor. (See the work of Paula Rust for more on lesbian attitudes about bisexuals.) It hurt, angered, and alienated me.

In the end, I simmered down and recognized that I would be wise to be part of creating a social/political identity for bis that didn't count on gay people as 100% allies. Because while we have some things in common, we are not the same. I learned not to expect to be accepted as a first-class citizen in gay-dominated spaces, and I learned that I'd have to make a case for myself if I wanted to stay there. I learned to stand on my own feet and stop implicitly allowing gay men and lesbians to be gatekeepers of queer authenticity. What I'm saying is, I grew up already.

I see a parallel in some of the rhetoric around black voters and Prop 8. Coming of age in the seventies and eighties, in a city like mine, any white kid gets used to singing "We Shall Overcome" at school assemblies. The movement led by Dr. King becomes paradigmatic of all civil rights movements. It's practically mythic. The phrase "ur-text" comes to mind. So anyone working in a civil rights capacity is bound to feel (at least at times) like a spiritual descendant of the King era.

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For white GLBTs to be rejected by black people, therefore, can be particularly painful. Because black people get assumed by white people to be the arbiters of whether something's authentically part of the King legacy. My gay white friends thought, consciously or subconsciously, that the liberation history of black civil rights was in some way part of their own history of liberation. But, as they believed themselves to have been roughly informed, they were wrong.

It's not just a matter of "oh, liberality, blah blah, we white GLBTs should be able to take those black people for granted," though I sure wouldn't deny that there's some of that. (Also, the anti-8 campaign was plain stupid.) But it's not all that facile; there's also, I think, some deep, ugly emotional stuff getting stirred up here among the GLBTs in the wake of Prop 8. I'm using words like "lineage" and "descendant" carefully here, because we're talking in many cases about people who've been rejected by their families, or who have had good reason to fear rejection by their families. There's a resonance. And it makes people weird out. If they're Dan Savage, who's not exactly a clear thinker to begin with, it makes 'em entirely crazy. You get temper tantrums.

But you know what? That's too bad. We need to grow up already.

One thing we haven't addressed here, is how black people, mostly through the Civil Rights Movement, have become the most identifiable collective icon of struggle. Thus, I don't see the comparisons between gay rights and the CRM as an attempt to insult, but really an attempt to identify, and to reach for the most striking and poignant analogy.

Now, black folks need to be humble here, instead of proprietary, and here is why--we do the same damn thing. Think about the ancient tradition of the black clergy identifying themselves as the America's Hebrews, of thinking of MLK as a sort of Moses, and his allusions to the Promised Land. Think about the Black Israelites. More disturbing, I can't tell you how many rallies I went to at Howard designed to memorialize the "Black Holocaust." Which was fine up to this point--unlike folks in the gay community, I saw several speakers at those rallies claim that the "Black Holocaust" was ten times worse, and thus deserved more attention.

Now, there are reasons why that happened, but the fact of the matter is that it was ugly. We need to guard against our sense of virtue, against our own self-righteousness.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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