Pensive Prowler #11 by Dmetri Kakmi
I am Not Your Faggot
In the documentary I am Not Your Negro, James Baldwin says, “The white population of this country has to ask itself why it was necessary to have the nigger in the first place. I’m not a nigger. I’m a man. If you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it and you got to find out why.”
It’s a singular observation and it’s been on my mind a lot lately. In October, Australia will be asked whether or not the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. Citizens will cast a voluntary postal vote with a Yes or a No. The poll will cost the country $122 million dollars. Furthermore, it is non-binding. If the government decides it doesn’t want to pass the law, it won’t. Thus wasting $122 million dollars of tax payers’ money. To add insult to injury, the same law was changed in 2004 to exclude same-sex couples from the marriage act, with no debate or plebiscite. So why do we need an expensive plebiscite now to rectify the situation?
The build-up to the vote has been nasty. It’s taken a toll on same-sex families, their children and on same-sex attracted people in general. Suddenly, everyone is free to publicly express an opinion on matters that do not concern them and about which they know little or nothing.
Yet again the majority is asked to vote on the legitimacy or otherwise of a minority. Does that seem fair? Is it right that in a democracy some people enjoy higher status and more rights than others? It doesn’t seem fair to me. In fact, it seems downright undemocratic.
Let me state my position in the marriage-equality debate. I don’t care for marriage. I would not marry my partner of thirty-one years if I was allowed to do so tomorrow. It is not an institution I believe in; and I always hoped same-sex attracted people would subvert expectations and find new ways of being in the world, not succumb to dominant ideologies that are, to my eyes, conservative and stifling.
But this isn’t really about marriage. It’s about equality. And so, because I believe in democratic principles of justice and equality I will vote Yes in the poll, even though it contravenes my beliefs and universal democratic principles.
It’s often observed that the disenfranchised are expected to educate the powerful. An untenable situation. The genius of Baldwin is that he asks authority to question itself. Which is why I am going to ride on his coat-tails and ask, why did the heterosexual invent the faggot or the poofter, as they say in Australia?
Over the decades, we have been killed, discriminated against, analysed, subjected to cruel experiments and sham cures. Even so, no one is closer to finding an answer to “the problem.” It does not occur to anyone that maybe homosexuality is a naturally occurring phenomenon and maybe we ought to leave well enough alone. There are far more important issues.
I’ve always maintained that I am not gay or homosexual. I don’t use the words in relation to myself, unless I have to clarify a point for a heterosexual. Like James Baldwin, I am a man first and foremost. I do not care for labels and categories, and I refuse to apply them to myself. Identity politics strikes me as reductive and headed for trouble. Nevertheless, I am boxed in, classified and categorised by society. Why?
The question brings us back to the earlier question: why did the heterosexual invent the faggot? Is it to make himself feel better? An anthropologist I know observed that this kind of behaviour is about the concentration of power. Ascendancy relies on separation and hierarchy. It is good to be at the top, setting the rules. The smaller you can make someone else feel, the better you have it. That means you have to find people to exclude. And unfortunately, black people and homosexuals take the brunt in a white, heterosexist society.
That is how majority and minority identities are constructed by the people who hold power. That is how ‘the other’ is born. ‘Otherness’ distances, dehumanises. It says, I am human. You are not. Therefore I can say and do what I like to you and you will not feel as I do.
But these are academic theories and I’m no academic. I am a human being and for now I’d like to ask heterosexuals three questions:
How would you feel if a nation was asked to vote on whether you are a legitimate human being, worthy of equal rights?
How would you feel if you were treated like an insect, something to be studied and eventually exterminated?
And why do you need the faggot?
Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.