I have the wonderful privilege of being the daughter of a feminist. My dear mother, whom I adore, raised me to question sexism and racism. She knew that as a Lakota woman in America, I was going to need to be equipped for all the obstacles that would hinder my success. She taught me that little boys (or anyone, for that matter) hitting me and calling it "liking" was not OK. When I was 9 she taught me to question why my three male cousins, ages 9, 10, and 11, could ride a small scooter alone and I couldn't. I confronted my grandfather about it being unfair and said the word "sexist." I specifically mentioned that my cousin, the same age as I, ran the scooter into the broadside of the garage. I was pretty sure I could handle not directly hitting the wall.
When I came out, my understanding of sexism became more complex and nuanced but still always very much informed by race as well. I am part of the most victimized group of women in the United States. The rates of rape, murder and violence against Native women are astounding and frightening. Coming out as queer helped me realize a few things. The first was that my attractiveness was no longer going to be defined by biological male eyes, and that my own sense of desire, beauty and attractiveness would evolve beyond white standards of beauty. The second was that sexism is rampant in the queer community. I've experienced a lot of sexism from my gay male friends. It occurred to me that I am part of a community in which most of the men do not need women in their lives for sex or love, so some are therefore willing to let all their women-hating behaviors run free and unchecked. As a queer woman of color, in some ways I experienced a different disheartening marginalization within the larger queer white community.
The other significant thing I realized was that my relationships were not going to look like the heteronormative model that I had been spoon-fed since childhood. That was frightening and inspiring at the same time. It offered me the opportunity to really understand what choice and consent mean for me. Because my relationships had no boundaries, I was able to imagine what love could look like in much different iterations and forms. I have been part of polyamorous relationships and monogamous relationships; I have dated men and women. The freedom I felt really allowed me to fully delve into my sexuality and my desire, and to find who and what it is that makes me feel sexy or whole or wanted. I was able to develop a vision and understanding of love that is so much more expansive than I could have imagined. To an extent, as a Lakota person, I view marriage and the idea of the nuclear family as an extension of the colonization that my people have experienced. Before the churches arrived on the reservations, folks had multiple partners. Even my great-grandfather had three wives and was told by the local priest that he had to choose one. Our relationships and love was not defined by the church but by our connections to one another and our ability to care for the relationships we created.
Last week I watched the coverage of the marriage equality cases before the Supreme Court and saw Facebook shift to a sea of red equal signs. I realized a few things and have felt really torn about the schism I have seen develop in the queer community on the issue of marriage. I know that the entire queer community is not on the same page, and I don't think we need to be, but I want to say why I haven't been jumping on the marriage bandwagon, and I want to really give context to my hesitation.
As a feminist, I never supported marriage to begin with; I have always viewed it as a way to own another person or to claim another person. Historically, it was about men being able to lay claim to woman, which is why women took their husbands' names. It served as a sexual fence for people, enforcing monogamy as a way to enforce ownership, but also as a way to ensure that any children produced were legitimately entitled to any sort of land transfer or inheritance. Honestly, I get frustrated by the marriage debate for queers, because I really think it's unoriginal. I wish that we felt more freedom to envision a different kind of love or relationship with one another rather than fighting for access to a historically sexist and oppressive state-sanctioned relationship. The reason that sexism is key to the discussion is that it has been used against our community to justify homophobia. It does not make sense to me that we turn to historic structures of oppression to find small, limited freedoms.
As someone who comes from a people who have experienced genocide and continue to wrestle with the question of assimilation, I know that we need to be clear that this too is part of the conversation here. Power structures demand that we change to be recognizable to them and acceptable, so we are led to believe that our ability to assimilate to their needs is going to translate to safety, or at least that's what we are sold. The reality, more often than not, is that a small number of people will experience a level of safety, because that needs to happen to prove the point. But there is always another part of the community that will continue to be at risk, because they are never going to be viewed as "normal" enough; some of us will never pass. And some of us come from long histories of attempts at assimilation and offer a word of caution to the larger queer community: Assimilation will cost more than it protects.
What troubles me is, again, the question of who is driving the agenda and what we are missing in the meantime. There are a lot of homeless queer youth on the streets every night. Some are homeless because of family rejection, and some come from families that are in poverty and simply aren't making it. We continue to let the myth of a wealthy LGBT community persist when we know that a significant number of older queers live at or below poverty level. When I look at the $64 million spent in California and the loss there and the blame that was placed on communities of color, I wince. When I look at Minnesota and the $12 million spent here and the way that the marriage equality campaign here tried to distance itself from discussing the voter ID amendment because they didn't want white racism against brown voters to tank votes for gay folks, I wince
What I don't like is that gay marriage is still a very single issue, and our community is not. I am not saying, "Don't get married," but I am saying, "What about the rest of us? What about the queer youth who are cold tonight? Where's the $12 million for that, Minnesota? Where's the $64 million that the gay community has put up to save the Voting Rights Act?" I want a world that honors love and honors liberation, and I want us all to get there together. So although we will win this victory, I want to know what other victories we need to win but are not paying attention to. And why is asking that question a problem? My good friend Ricardo Levins-Morales often says that anytime there is a conflict between the needs of two groups, and anytime there is a schism in the queer community, it means that we aren't asking the question big enough. For me, the question is not whether folks should be allowed to get married but whether equality for some will really lead to liberation for us all.