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2.9.04

Male Feminists And Straight LGBTrightsists

There's been a bunch of talk recently about the longstanding question of whether men can be feminists. The consensus, among both female and male bloggers, seems to be "no." They have some weighty arguments behind them. A couple years ago, when I first really engaged with feminism as such, I came across such arguments early enough that I never made the mistake of trying to label myself a feminist -- or of labeling myself "not a feminist," since the latter would require the same problematic declaration by a man of what feminism is or should be. Given the dispute among feminists about the nature of their own movement, agnosticism seems to be the only consistent choice for a man.

But it has occurred to me recently that I never extended that careful agnosticism to other issues of identity politics. Most notably, I never really questioned the legitimacy of being so outspoken (in print, at least) about gay rights despite being as heterosexual as they come. If I knew of a word parallel to "feminist" for this issue, I would have gladly applied it to myself. But really, who am I to make declarations about the struggles of a group I'm not part of? If anything, we in the dominant group need to be even more careful about appropriating voice and power with respect to LGBT people than women, since LGBTs suffer from a numerical disadvantage (they're less than 10% of the population, while women are half).

There's always what we might call the ampersand clause -- it's quite possible that, if I didn't say certain things about LGBT rights, my readers would never hear them. But even if everything I said was exactly what a gay version of me would say, there's more to it than simply getting the ideas out there to be considered on their own merits. The point of the "men can't be feminists" argument is that, independent of the message, oppressed groups need to be able to speak for themselves. It's problematic for me to get in the habit of pontificating about this issue, and for my readers to get in the habit of listening to a straight guy tell them about LGBT rights.

Then there's the About page clause. Under the "about" link above, I state that my purpose here is not so much pontification -- declaring "this is how it is, and you'd better agree with me" -- but a sort of public brainstorming. (Indeed, this very post skirts being self-contradictory if it's taken as pontification, for the same reason that declaring myself not a feminist would be.) Public brainstorming is about getting my own thoughts in order, so it's not as problematic as far as trying to claim control of the debate over LGBT issues. But of course my motives are not always so pure, particularly on an issue like this where I feel so strongly (I'd be far more likely to make a tentative musing on, say, tax policy, where my voice isn't confronted with any identity issues). And we have to keep in mind not only how we mean something, but how it's likely to be read. The dominant type of post for "political" blogs like mine is one of pontification, so readers are likely to take my writing that way. And the fact that I'm a straight white middle-class male doesn't help, as society is used to treating us as authority figures.

I guess it's appropriate that I don't really have a conclusion here. This is just something that's been on my mind, and as the About page says, it can be helpful for me to write it down.

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