Us

Personally, if someone extends a helping hand to me, from a place of love and genuine goodwill, I won’t be checking the colour, age, gender or sexuality of that hand before I embrace it.

“Nothing about us without us”, he spat, flicking the words in my direction, like holy water intended to burn holes in my heathen postulations. We were discussing the plight of Queensland’s Queer communities and the challenge of building and sustaining support systems in regional outposts.

I had just begun to promote the qualities of a colleague of mine – a stellar advocate for LGBTI rights – when my conversational adversary cut me off like a speed-freak on P-plates.

“But she’s bloody straight”, he protested and then, perhaps wishing to seem a little more erudite, “NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US! HAVEN’T YOU HEARD THAT?!”

Nothing+About+UsI had heard it. So we stood for a moment in silence, while he glared triumphantly, like a second-rate tennis player who believed he’d just served the winning ace and I deliberated over whether or not I had the energy or inclination to return the ball.

Now, I enjoy a punchy slogan as much as the next placard waving, bleeding-heart lefty, but I have to call ‘relevance’ on this one.

You see, the phrase in question comes from a rich lineage of social activism, reaching back to the European democratic movements of the sixteenth century. It supports the idea that decisions pertaining to the rights and welfare of a group of people should be made only with the direct participation of members of that group. No argument from me there.

But there is nothing in the spirit of this iconic doctrine that suggests that heterosexuals should not use the privilege afforded them to support the rights of gay or lesbian people. Surely we need all the help we can get.

Of course the subtext is that many members of minority groups have spent decades relegated to society’s margins, persuaded that they do not belong in the centre and should be grateful for what paltry crumbs of kindness might occasionally spill from the lips of the cultural overlords.

Queer Queenslanders, who lived through the tyrannical reign of Bjelke-Petersen, toiled long and hard for the right to meet in the local cafe with people just like them and, if only for an hour or two, not have to explain or justify their existence.

But now, liberal-minded heterosexual college types are turning up in their Suzuki Swifts with their ‘I Welcome Refugees’ bumper stickers and wearing their Yothu Yindi T-shirts, tossing around the word ‘queer’ like it was their freaking birth right. It’s enough to make a gay man with hard-won self-respect and some unresolved anger issues stand up and yell “Rack off, straighty! You’re not welcome here!”

Oops. Did I say that out loud? Well, there it is, I suppose. The pendulum swings. The oppressed becomes the oppressor. And reconciliation remains a distant aspiration.

Personally, if someone extends a helping hand to me, from a place of love and genuine goodwill, I won’t be checking the colour, age, gender or sexuality of that hand before I embrace it.

In the spirit of the great liberationist, Paulo Freire, nothing about us without us should always stand as a reminder that oppressed minorities must be the architects of their own liberation. But it takes many people to build a house and just as I take up tools in support my brothers and sisters of all colours and creeds, in their struggles, I wholeheartedly welcome them as they support me in mine.

 

 

 

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