Voices Carry … by Sean Kennedy

This post by Sean Kennedy (who is Australian) will be controversial but when have I ever steered away from controversy? Sean does have a point, but GBLT allies may feel that they, and the work they have done to advance the cause of gay rights, are not appreciated. However I would like you to read Sean’s post with an open mind and as usual, your comments are welcome, but please be polite.

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This is going to be a difficult subject to talk about, because when we talk about privilege and allydom feathers always get ruffled.  But I think it issean kennedy important that these issues get discussed.

I guess I’m really bringing this up because this week the Macklemore song Same Love actually got to #1 on the Australian charts.  My first reaction was, “Great!”

And I still think it’s great.  A song about gay rights at the top of the charts? Fucking awesome!  Especially seeing how gay marriage is an issue of contention and one frequently brought up by voters despite both sides of government refusing to allow it – and although approximately 63% of voters are said to be in favour of it.

But then I began to think about it a little more.

Yes, it’s a song about gay rights.  But once again, it’s cushioned in straight opinions, straight feelings, straight reactions.  Frank Ocean, despite a burst of sudden popularity, is not #1 on the singles chart with his song of same sex love.  The queer artist is overshadowed by the straight artists singing about the issue (leaving aside the inclusion of Mary Lambert on the Macklemore single for one moment).

And that’s because the voices of the privileged always drown out the voices of minorities.  The Boxing Day tsunami wiped out hundreds of thousands of Asian people, yet the film that gets made and gets acclaimed, The Impossible, is about a middle class white family who get caught up in it.  Stories about minorities are always cushioned by a story about the privileged.  Dances With Wolves was more about Kevin Costner and Mary McDonnell rather than the First Nations.  To Kill a Mockingbird, Ghosts of Mississippi, The Long Walk Home, The Help, etc. are all about how white people were affected by the civil rights movement and how they helped poor downtrodden and oppressed African Americans.  I’m surprised Milk actually focused on Harvey Milk (but then, he was a white man, which is also its own privilege within the queer community).

Within the Macklemore song we are once again seeing the voices of the privileged rising above the minority.  It wouldn’t bother me so much if I haven’t seen the song be so lauded for it, as if it is a miraculous thing to be positive about gay rights.  I suspect that if it was by a gay artist it wouldn’t be as popular.  The majority likes the story to be about themselves.  If The Impossible was about an Asian family instead of Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor it wouldn’t be as visible to the mainstream public as it is.  Macklemore are also praised for being brave.  And, yes, within the hiphop community there is a lot of homophobia

But it’s not ‘brave’ to be supportive of gay rights – it’s actually just being a decent, hopefully normal human.

Being Brave is Frank Ocean, being queer within the hiphop community

Brave is Mary Lambert, a lesbian singer in that same community, even though she sadly ends up being the backup to a straight man in a song about gay rights.

Everybody is brave in their own way, but it’s disheartening when the actual voices of a community are drowned out by their supporters.

To prove that they’re out there, a song about gay marriage by gay artists, Tegan and Sara:

 

Sean Kennedy’s Contact information

email: kennsea@gmail.com

 

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

23 comments

  • Believe me, I understand where you’re coming from. I too have been frustrated when a straight person gets a lot of praise and recognition for a “straight but not narrow” stance, and they are viewed almost heroically, while an outspoken gay LGBTQ activist is all but ignored. It’s almost as if the attitude is, “of course that guy supports gay rights, because he’s gay”. Therefore there is nothing remarkable or significant about him (or her) taking a public stand.

    Yet on the other hand, when I was in the process of coming out some twenty-plus years ago, it was often the support I received from straight people that sustained me. Sure, it was embarrassing when my Mom joined PFLAG and outed me to the entirety of northern Michigan when she gave radio and newspaper interviews. But to me, her bravery in our small, close-minded town was beyond heroic.

    I do roll my eyes when Brad Pitt and Angelina get all of the media buzz because they make a pro-gay declaration. I do feel some frustration when Brokeback Mountain is lauded as such a groundbreaking film while hundreds of more direct independent films were ignored for so many years prior. And I do sometimes feel a bit of irritation even within our genre of literature that the non-gay authors are far more popular than those of us who are actually gay.

    But the bottom line is that we are a minority, and without the love and support of our PFLAG moms, straight allies, and heterosexual celebrities, we are likely to remain at the back of the bus for a long time to come. So I understand the point you’re raising, and I think it’s legitimate, yet I’m still proud of those who are straight but not narrow.

    Reply
  • I’m doing work for one of my doctoral nursing classes and reading the Institute of Medicine’s report on the future of the nursing profession in the United States. It’s a wonderful document that articulates just how nursing can and should advance itself as an autonomous profession. This is the second or third time I’ve been assigned to read it in a class–it’s a very important document.

    Only, there’s a problem–if you want to call it a problem at all. It wasn’t written by nurses. It was written by medical doctors. Ironically enough, because nurses have been struggling to establish themselves, and keep themselves, independent of the medical profession for over a century. (What unexpected allies!)

    So. Am I–are we–angry at medical doctors for being the ones to write and present this report on the future of nursing?

    No. We are, if anything, embarrassed that we were not the ones to write it, that we didn’t have a bigger part to play in producing it. And whose fault is that? If medicine is to blame, it isn’t the only one to blame. As a group, nurses are abysmal at speaking up for themselves as a profession, even to correct widespread, inaccurate media portrayals of themselves and common public misconceptions about what they do.

    I couldn’t help but find parallels between that situation, and this post about gay rights.

    As members of a group who find our voices “drowned” by “privileged” supporters, we should ask ourselves: Why is this happening? Do we have a united voice? Are we speaking LOUDLY enough? Are we reminding our supporters to include us? (In their enthusiasm to support our rights, perhaps they forget us–but not on purpose.) Is the public listening to us? If not, how do we get the public to see and hear us?

    Surely, discouraging our supporters and telling them to butt out is counterproductive–to put it lightly. We need to encourage our supporters and show them appreciation, but also–KINDLY–remind them who this show belongs to and readjust the spotlight. Pointing fingers and slapping hands doesn’t advance a movement. Honest dialogue with and appreciation of our allies stand a better chance.

    Reply
  • Great post, Sean. Although I think this is a complicated issue, ultimately it is vital that artists of all races, creeds, sexual orientation, etc, be allowed to represent themselves *and* have the support of those who are not like them, but are compelled by their narrative to voice their support.

    Small note on The Impossible – it’s even worse (the whitewashing, not the movie) than you think. The family whose story the film portrays are Spanish. They were made uber-white for the film, by Spanish filmmakers (!). Marginalizing their own people’s story… Sigh.

    Reply

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