Gender Conferences Mean Always Having To Say You're Sorry

by Conor Friedersdorf

Over at Jezebel, there's an essay titled "In Defense Of The Gay White Male" that begins as follows:

I am a white, cisgender gay man. I'm Ronald Reagan at a bathhouse, the queer equivalent of "The Man." The oppressive, dingy pigeon in the flamingo pen. Parties become less diverse the second I walk in.

At the end of this summer, I had the fortune to attend a sexual freedom conference in D.C. A point made frequently there was that inequality is not equal. Race, gender, and gender expression conspire to strip a person of their freedom just as much as any outside prejudice or hateful legislation. I enjoyed this conference and what I learned there. At one point, however, an extremely (and admittedly) butch Latino lesbian took a genuinely moving speech about her resulting personal struggles to a crescendo. That crescendo was ending a sentence with something about "fighting against the oppressive tyrannies of white men." She paused then, as the entire room lit up with the kind of furious applause usually saved for a game-saving Steelers touchdown. I cheered too but didn't feel good when I was doing it.

Four years spent in queer media have taught me a fair amount about privilege, about the ways that my gay life is easier for reasons as basic as the color of my skin and the fact that my gender matches my biology. But the more I try to reconcile these privileges with my desire to create an equal queer world, the more I am left with one question: Can a nontrans, white gay man ever truly leave the comforts of his own identity without having to make frequent and loud apologies for the crimes of his ilk?

I sure hope that nontrans, white gay men can exist in this society without frequent and loud apologies, because I share Phoebe's reaction to this style of writing:

Stop! Apologizing! Stop apologizing for not apologizing while at the same time apologizing!


Is it a good thing to be cognizant of the advantages one has in life, and to appreciate as best one can that others experience the world differently? Yes! On matters of race and gender – and all sorts of other questions too.

But I dissent from the notion that worthy discussions are had only after everyone involved determines their place on the hierarchy of privelege, and explicitly addresses everyone "below them" with elaborate statements of apologetic non-apology. Or if you're among those for whom every matter must be reduced to privilege, consider what happens when your preferred mode of conversation is so complex in its jargon and etiquette that it disadvantages everyone who wasn't socialized into it at liberal arts school.

What do I suggest? Treat people as equals, respectfully, and with whatever empathy you can muster. And be nice. That almost always works, even for a "white cistern gay man" who somehow makes parties less diverse merely by attending. (See what I mean about the clubby nature of the diction? A Martian with a dictionary would be baffled by that use of diverse, but liberal arts college alum that I am, I get it.)