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21 January 2013 @ 10:35 pm
Voices Carry  

This is going to be a difficult subject to talk about, because when we talk about privilege and allydom feathers always get ruffled.  But I think it is important that these issues get discussed.

I guess I’m really bringing this up because this week the Macklemore song “Same Love” actually got to #1 on the Australian charts.  My first reaction was, “Great!”

And I still think it’s great.  A song about gay rights at the top of the charts? Fucking awesome!  Especially seeing how gay marriage is an issue of contention and one frequently brought up by voters despite both sides of government refusing to allow it – and although approximately 63% of voters are said to be in favour of it.

But then I began to think about it a little more.

Yes, it’s a song about gay rights.  But once again, it’s cushioned in straight opinions, straight feelings, straight reactions.  Frank Ocean, despite a burst of sudden popularity, is not #1 on the singles chart with his song of same sex love.  The queer artist is overshadowed by the straight artists singing about the issue (leaving aside the inclusion of Mary Lambert on the Macklemore single for one moment).

And that’s because the voices of the privileged always drown out the voices of minorities.  The Boxing Day tsunami wiped out hundreds of thousands of Asian people, yet the film that gets made and gets acclaimed, The Impossible, is about a middle class white family who get caught up in it.  Stories about minorities are always cushioned by a story about the privileged.  Dances With Wolves was more about Kevin Costner and Mary McDonnell rather than the First Nations.  To Kill a Mockingbird, Ghosts of Mississipi, The Long Walk Home, The Help, etc. are all about how white people were affected by the civil rights movement and how they helped poor downtrodden and oppressed African Americans.  I’m surprised Milk actually focused on Harvey Milk (but then, he was a white man, which is also its own privilege within the queer community).

Within the Macklemore song we are once again seeing the voices of the privileged rising above the minority.  It wouldn’t bother me so much if I haven’t seen the song be so lauded for it, as if it is a miraculous thing to be positive about gay rights.  I suspect that if it was by a gay artist it wouldn’t be as popular.  The majority likes the story to be about themselves.  If The Impossible was about an Asian family instead of Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor it wouldn’t be as visible to the mainstream public as it is.  Macklemore are also praised for being brave.  And, yes, within the hiphop community there is a lot of homophobia

But it’s not ‘brave’ to be supportive of gay rights – it’s actually just being a decent, hopefully normal human being

Brave is Frank Ocean, being queer within the hiphop community

Brave is Mary Lambert, a lesbian singer in that same community, even though she sadly ends up being the backup to a straight man in a song about gay rights.

Everybody is brave in their own way, but it’s disheartening when the actual voices of a community are drowned out by their supporters.

To prove that they're out there, a song about gay marriage by gay artists, Tegan and Sara:

Spark_in_darkness: Sparkysparkindarkness on January 21st, 2013 02:49 pm (UTC)
It's why, when you look at actors, straight actors get hailed for being "brave" and "skillful" for taking on gay roles, but gay actors know if they touch them it's going to hurt their careers (and that they're never ever going to be cast in certain roles anyway)

On one hand it shows the use of allies because, annoyingly, their voices will always, always, always be louder than ours, which is why we need them. It's why charities like the Trevor Project so often use straight celebrities and "icons" to be spokespeople and champions. Even why news debates and documentaries about us will have maybe a token GBLT person or 2 but will be primarily straight folk. But it also shows the need to elevate actual GBLTQ voices and recognise when we are giving disproportionate praise or when something is outright silencing through appropriation (like that fool who pretended to be gay for a year to write a book about our lives)
Sean Kennedykennsea on January 21st, 2013 02:57 pm (UTC)
Oh, we so definitely need allies, but you're right in that there's also the need to elevate the actual GLBTQ voices even higher. The voices of those affected should be listened to more than those speaking on their behalf, but also supporters should also listen to them more as well.
Spark_in_darknesssparkindarkness on January 21st, 2013 02:58 pm (UTC)
Yep, allies should be megaphones for us and lifting us up - not spokespeople for us
Sean Kennedykennsea on January 22nd, 2013 06:45 am (UTC)
cdn_tamcdn_tam on January 21st, 2013 03:41 pm (UTC)
But it’s not ‘brave’ to be supportive of gay rights – it’s actually just being a decent, hopefully normal human being

I agree, it should be a given to be an empathetic "normal" human. I wonder if until there are enough Frank Ocean's to speak loudy, we will be stuck with Katy Perry and Lady Gaga doing it for them? As you said, that's not bad necessarily, better some positive messages than stunning silence, but I think many celebs/politicians live in fear and are afraid to speak up.

Unfortunately, $$ is what it usually boils down to. If your target audience is white middle class folk with money, that's who you make the movie/book/song about.

It's funny that there was a discussion with the DJ's on the radio this morning about Tegan and Sarah following their song. The one guy said he's like to be friends with them. He also said Sarah lives in Montreal, not far from us.

Love your tags. ;-)
Sean Kennedykennsea on January 22nd, 2013 06:29 am (UTC)
Oh, fuck, I DO NOT WANT Katy Perry speaking for me, thank you very much! It astounds me that people think of her in that way when she did that song about thinking her boyfriend was gay and telling him to hang himself with his Hermes scarf.

Yep, $$ talks and so the bullshit flows.

They do seem like very well-put together young ladies!
Natasha Villionnatflat26 on January 21st, 2013 07:03 pm (UTC)
In a perfect world
I can understand what you are trying to so eloquently to get across (I did wonder if it was actually the Sean we know and love ) but don't you also understand that if a gay singer did the same song or one about same sex love he or she would be considered 'whiny' . I hear it all the bloody time and allies need to have something to make the dickheads think and then talk about. (Pathetic but true) I hate to be the voice of doom and gloom but sometimes it takes a het person to get the message across. It makes it easier for the majority to take in and understand. I got this song when it came out about 3 or 4 months ago and some of my friends heard it and they 'got it'. To be blunt most people tune off when they hear another bloody whinger go off about something. You know that's true, sad as that is. It doesn't matter if its gay marriage, save the whales etc etc. some people don't want to be constantly bombarded. In a perfect world a gay man would be No 1 with a song about same sex love and marriage but this isn't a perfect world, if it were we wouldn't even be having this conversation.
Have you seen the Aussie ad for same sex marriage. It makes me cry its so beautiful. Now that's the way to get the message across. Everyone I know has seen it and love it. It's not in your face, it's about love and everyone can understand that.
PS I heard you got K9. Did he make it to the tree in time?
Sean Kennedykennsea on January 22nd, 2013 06:44 am (UTC)
Re: In a perfect world
I know exactly what you're saying. Sadly, like sometimes only listens to like. And those who are fighting for their rights are often told to shut up or get their discussions derailed. If I had a nickel for every time I've seen "well, at least you're not in Uganda" used, I'd never have to work again.

The Aussie ad for same sex marriage IS beautiful, but still, couldn't they have used a gay actor? I know, I know...

He did, but only because I didn't take down my tree until last week ;) I'm a mega-procrastinator! Thank you so much. I'm hoping there's a glittery Rory one year.
BeeLikeJ: Les deux poupéesbeelikej on January 21st, 2013 10:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you for explaining the issue so clearly. I don't know this particular song, but understand the other examples you used. You managed to pinpoint exactly why those films (and by extension those kind of advocates) make me feel somewhat uncomfortable. You also made me aware of my own limitations as a so called ally. I'm saving this post in my memories.
Sean Kennedykennsea on January 22nd, 2013 06:42 am (UTC)
Aww, thanks J. We all have privileges of a sort, and I'm just as guilty in regards to other allydom. I think the best thing is critical thinking.
Sunitasunita_d on January 21st, 2013 11:11 pm (UTC)
Great post, Sean. Thanks for writing and sharing it.

It's unfortunately the case that minority rights are rarely advanced until the majority members of society decide it's something they care about, but then they have a tendency to take over the discussion and spend so much time patting themselves on the back for their efforts that they forget who did the heavy lifting in the first, second, and third place(s). You see it in just about every rights movement.

We joked when the film Gandhi came out that they had to have a white person in each segment because otherwise the American and European viewers wouldn't know what to do. It's the same thing, and it's frustrating that it's still happening, nearly thirty years on.

Sean Kennedykennsea on January 22nd, 2013 06:40 am (UTC)
Sunita! I've missed you! COME BACK TO TWITTER, PLS.

It's especially cloying when revisionist histories like The Help make it seem like the whites spearheaded the civil rights movement and saved the poor blacks who couldn't do it themselves.
tanisafan on January 25th, 2013 07:08 pm (UTC)
The Boxing Day tsunami wiped out hundreds of thousands of Asian people, yet the film that gets made and gets acclaimed, The Impossible, is about a middle class white family who get caught up in it.

Slightly off topic but, even more irritating, isn't the real family the movie was based on a Spanish family? Do we really have to make everyone blonde, Hollywood? Sigh.
Sean Kennedykennsea on February 15th, 2013 02:22 pm (UTC)
I remember reading about that and rolling my eyes. I guess defaulting to what we think of as the desired majority is a global phenomenon. Ugh.