Stereotypes!

I really enjoyed some posts about Tom of Finland (since I have to admit to being a bit of an unconventional fan) and the transition away from this kind of stereotyping to more heteronormative models of masculinity in gay male identity post HIV from Trevorade and Queer Today.

I would strongly agree with the notion that endorsing stereotypes is bad stuff, but partly because I do feel from my own experience, in practice, that this can lead to cultural exclusions against ourselves. For example dyke unease against a perceived "invasion" of gay "spaces" by "fag hags" [i.e. straight women who socialise extensively with gay men] in a world where the stereotypying of gay women has broken down considerably, has in the past and still does lead to conscious exclusion of non-stereotypical gay women inside the womens community, as well as passing uncalled for and inappropriate judgements against straight (and not so straight) women who choose to socialise on the gay scene with gay men.

This is particularly powerful in cities like Cork, where there are well-resourced and networked traditional communities, that are very powerful in the local community. In fact I would strongly argue that for many years in Cork there was and still is a conscious and deliberate effort to cater exclusively to stereotypical-normative groups within the womens community in order to exclude and create an impression of the non-existence of gay women who didn't conform to the attributes that the existing power-group represents. Regular events proudly declare that they haven't changed in 25 years and go out of their way to represent a particular view - older, hyper-separatist, having come out later in life after a traditionally hetero lifestyle that in many cases has included marriage, children and the closet. This closet transforms into a highly ghettoized and misandric representation that is deeply at odd with what a lot of younger women, especially those from outside the region, educated and out since their early 20s or teens will have experienced. As the other groups are consciously excluded, they become "invisible" and therefore "non existent." But they do exist, and in the last couple of years, mainly due to the near takeover of Loafers by the traditional dyke community, they have largely migrated into the mainstream, male-orientated mixed gay community.

The two "womens communities" don't really normally conflict because they don't meet. The older group shies away from newer social networking - most of the events are thinkly advertised on media such as the web and forums despite huge readerships and concentrate instead on leaflet drops to "traditional" venues and word-of-mouth promotion. This ensures that "only the right kind of people" attend these events, while the remainder go along to mixed events, including events not particularly traditionally "gay." In a sense, this situation is reflective of Trevor Hoppe's comments that there is a breakdown in the identity of a "tangible" community. Its exactly what has happened here in Cork - and I think the older, more focussed group feel very threatened by the presence of a less stereotypical kind of lesbian - after all, they've got not only their community centre, their wimmins weekend and their womens camp, but there are jobs, specific roles, positions of "power". They quite understandably feel threatened by the breakdown of identity caused by the diversification of gay women locally, and thus have incentives to resist it, or to try to rein it in by attempting to try to include aspects of it in their activities. For example last year they finally got around to having a youth group. I'm not sure how successful it has become but if the community meetings are any signifier, its seems to be somewhat limited. The difficulty is that the younger generation simply don't share the common bonds of the older group, and the older group have achieved common bonds, unfortunately, by deliberately excluding undesireable diverse elements who threaten their homogeneity as a community.

It all sounds rather primitive and in fact it is. Rumours abound about how "wonderful" Loafers is for women on Thursday nights but a stranger going there for the first time is likely to experience the unique combination of dismissal that is commonly experienced here. Instead of being warmly welcomed, newcomers are stared at and scrutinized, but not spoken to at all or made welcome in any way. Its like a dog cocking its leg, making its territory clear. "This is our space - if you wish to enter, you do so on our terms, not yours." Perhaps this is why women who chose to "enter" via the L.Inc "drop ins" are made welcome as an antidote to this - they have bowed down to the "entry requirements" for the rather closed and exclusive clique, whereas those who choose to "invade" the territory on their own terms are very obviously shunned. This maintains a powerful representation and social grouping which still retains significant powers when it comes to feeding information back to groups, especially those who write cheques like the Equality Authority, the HSE, other funding groups. This particular loose arrangement sees itself as the authentic voice of the womens community and maintains itself as such by excluding and silencing those from outside of it. Rather like the Kremlin really, in Soviet Russia.

Now the interesting thing that is happening now are a number of things. Firstly, sex radical groups (many of whom really do conflict with the traditionally anti-sex-trade nature of 2nd wave feminist ideals) have increasingly popped up which have a strong and established lesbian/bi women minority. Secondly, denied a place to socialize, increasingly non-stereotypical gay women have colonized non gay spaces and areas, creating thinly veiled subscenes and social networks. And lastly, the creation of online networks - like GayCork, AngryPotato and Gaire and subgroups on regional discussion formums like Boards.ie, have mobilzed the involvement of people who are marginalized by the stereotypical elites. The mainstreaming of gay culture is hugely helping women from these groups, and images portrayed like those in Irene Chaiken's the L-Word have hugely reinforced the idea that not ALL lesbians wear boiler suits and refuse to socialize with men.

This is having a hugely positive impact on our culture. In a sense its also happening through the pro-gay marriage campaigns as those of Marriage Equality and LGBT Noise for example, seek to involve family and friends, and thus engage people into networks that move outside the traditional narrow political networks within the scene and form coalitions with other groups. Its all very postive and hopefully will help end the quango that is the case in places like Cork.

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