Are Gay Men Our Oppressors, Too?


I was so fortunate to attend the unveiling ceremony for a sign on East 68th Street in Manhattan marking the new "Audre Lorde Way" on May 10th. Writers and dignitaries were present to praise the event and Lorde herself, including the president of Hunter College (from which Lorde graduated in 1959, and where she served as a professor for many years), NYC Council Member Keith Powers, former National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and MacArthur Fellow Jacqueline Woodson, and others. To end the program before the actual unveiling of the street sign, several Hunter students came to the stage to read Lorde's essay "There is No Hierarchy of Oppressions," which, of course, got me thinking.

I had just recently attended the GLAAD Media Awards a few days before, and had been struck by the numbers of drag queens, trans women performers, and gay men who walked the red carpet, as opposed to the comparatively small number of lesbians. GLAAD stands for the Gay AND LESBIAN Alliance Against Defamation, so why are so few lesbians being recognized by this organization?

Gay men's lack of interest in lesbians was recently parodied in a Saturday Night Live skit in which a fragment of the writings of Sappho was translated as reading, "Why don't gay guys invite us to their events?" It was a hilarious moment, but it is no laughing matter when it comes to the financial disparities between gay men and lesbians.

Kate McKinnon and Ariana DeBose

I was totally out of my comfort zone when I asked to walk the red carpet as a Lambda Literary Award Finalist. It is not in my nature to demand attention and shout "Look at me! Look at ME!!" But this is exactly what it takes to be a drag queen. Typically, drag queens represent a small percentage of the LGBTQ+ community. But you wouldn't know it judging from the red carpet arrivals.

Gay male organizers need to be sensitive to the fact that lesbians might not be as pushy as some of the gay men and drag performers whom they're used to dealing with, since testosterone is not coursing through our veins. Now that war is constantly in the news, it feels like testosterone has run amok globally. Vladimir Putin has enabled his military men to rape and murder innocent civilians, and nothing or no one can stop him it seems. Billions of dollars have been pledged by our own president to be spent on weapons to help Ukraine, while women and children starve in our own country. And now the Supreme Court of the United States is threatening to take away a woman's right to choose.

Men have blamed women for their own impotence since time immemorial. It was the same during slavery when white slave owners blamed the slaves for their impotence, instead of examining the effects of alcoholism on their bodies. This brings me back to the words of Audre Lorde:

"I have learned that sexism and heterosexism
both arise from the same source as racism."

                                                                               - Audre Lorde 

One can safely say that the majority of women have not been socialized to go out there and get what they want. Most women have been taught to sit back and wait for life to happen to them. That was certainly the case for my upbringing. Being aggressive was considered unfeminine and unattractive. After my graduation from Juilliard, it soon became clear that sitting and waiting was not going to result in any kind of success.

I know full well what it means to not be hired for certain gigs or engagements for no other reason than the fact that I was black. I also know what it means to not be hired because I'm a woman. The results are the same: no income, and economic powerlessness.

This brings me back to economic disparity. Men are able to afford expensive real estate, luxury vacations, membership in private clubs, etc. - because of their superior income as men - in a way that most lesbians are not. Heterosexual women, by virtue of their financial association with men, are economically privileged in a way that lesbians are not. Combine that with the economic deprivation that blackness brings to the table, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Even a lesbian icon like Audre Lorde felt the pressure to marry and have children in the 1960s. And her husband was a white man.

We all know that black women were the nurses and the ones cleaning out the hospital rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a significant number of them were lesbians. We all know that black women were dying in disproportionate numbers during the pandemic.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court - with its three Trump appointees - is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, though it isn't technically my issue, I will stand side-by-side with my sisters of child-bearing age to fight for their right to choose. All of us will need to stand as a united front when they come for us and our rights. It is only a matter of time.

The right wingers don't care about women having more babies. The point is to take a woman's power away, to force her into poverty so that she'll take menial jobs and submit to the whims of husbands, fathers, and boyfriends. Any man who needs a woman to be subservient in order to feel like a man is not a man. He will never be a man as long as he looks to someone else to prop him up.

Brittney Griner
I can understand how some men who may have been raised by domineering mothers might have a hard time seeing women as being oppressed. But the fact remains that women make only 82 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same job. WNBA star and out lesbian Brittney Griner is trapped in Russia right now because she was trying to make some extra money in the off-season by playing in Russia. WNBA players make less than ten per cent of what male players in the NBA make.

I am hoping that my white gay male brothers will take heed and notice when their organizations are disproportionately white and male. We may not kick the door down, but trust and believe that we are standing outside hoping to be invited in.


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