The New Separatism: Assimilation, Appropriation and Authenticity

I love this article by Julia Serano ‘Considering Trans and Queer Appropriation’ partly because it ties together many things I’ve been thinking about from very different spheres, as any good article should. Mostly about white hip hop and pop, and the whole Macklemore vs LE1F controversy as well as the probably now forgotten Miley Cyrus Steals Black Culture thing.

How does this relate to this article? Well quite a lot – Julia was talking from a trans/queer perspective, but the contradictions inside any minority group of assimilation and integration versus separation and keeping an identity distinct from normative ‘mainstream’ culture – well the complexities and nuances they’re enough to power ooh, 9,000 PHD thesis alone.

As a queer pirate (YARR!) mashup artist who ‘steals’ from everything, the appropriation tag is really worrying for me. I know people learn through imitation, copying – appropriation is just a form of copying after all. I get that if you steal religious or ‘ethnic’ or ‘exotic’ cultural iconography, if you’re a tourist in another person’s culture that it’s crass and usually taking away that communities voice. I hate that, like when non-queer people claim to speak for me without asking any of us, it drives me nuts.

But you can never speak for another’s journey either, that sometimes that ‘Bloke In A Dress’ or that white Eminem fan is on a voyage of discovery to a new world. How many white kids have learned about Black Panthers, Angela Davies, MLK, Malcom X and Nation of Islam via hip hop? A lot I bet. And I also bet a lot of gender-queer, trans and the like started with drag or indeed being that bloke in a dress, or woman in king drag. We all have to start somewhere. Closing down the conversation as ‘you can’t own that’ or you’re not ‘authentic’ or are fake seems to be shutting out the spectrum of possibilities, from the queer spectrum to the diversity of the world. It’s stomping on the pretty flowers, really, because they don’t look exactly as you would if you ruled the world.

I even had someone white and female have a go at me and claim she was an expert in why Miley’s ‘twerking’ appropriation is wrong – err, how exactly? Speaking for others unless you are defending them in your own peer group is usually wrong, as dodgy as starting a sentence with ‘I’m not racist but…’. And I do suspect appropriation and privilege have become the new poltically correct, have you noticed it’s usually the white, middle class, politically accepted majority speaking over/for minorities saying ‘you can’t do that’? Hmm. I’m all for people reclaiming their voices, fighting back, but not the corporate and mainstream interest hijacking those voices for profit.

This does not mean others can’t reflect their own experience either – part of the damage of throwing around accusations of cultural appropriation is that the future Macklemores, the straight allies, might feel reluctant to communicate their viewpoints on minority cultures, issues like gay marriage or trans issues. It’s not fair to then say from a minority ‘that doesn’t reflect my experience’ – why should it? But it will speak to many who also like them look in from the outside. Breaking down those barriers usually does nothing but good, and they will learn from that too, but it isn’t actually appropriation. Like how you can’t own your public image when out in the street, you also can’t own how someone experiences the world including your own (sub)culture.

The comments about authenticity and assimilation being quite complex hit home too. Sometimes integration and assimilation for the sake of equality is the right political move, sometimes separation is needed. This is usually against the majority (hetero-normative, mainstream, etc) as the values of integration and assimilation tend to bend to the majority ‘normative’ values is really problematic, and must be resisted. This is opposed to internal separation as mentioned by Julia which would destroy unity which as Any Revolooshunry No Is A Bad Thing.This is why I struggle politically over gay marriage – it’s obvious that it’s a great step towards equality, but the double edged sword is that the mass acceptance it provides in older generations comes from the social norms which have been instilled in everyone since birth. This wedding rush to be seen as ‘just like you’ by wider society, well it sends me screaming in the opposite direction…

The New Separatism is problematic also. That article is full of nods – well some say feels but I prefer nods – even though I’m not trans nor female or gender-queer. The very political structures that people form, from OccupyLSX to your local gay swimming group are full of hierarchies and in/out posturing, money and class cues, keeping up with the Humblebrag Joneses and the like. I don’t do well inside groups for this very reason, as it seems as soon as the group forms people vie for attention and power, and restrict others from joining or diversifying the group, shutting down any dialogue usually by the old ‘well you can fuck off and form your own group’. I can’t stand these hierarchies, and being subtly or not so subtly reminded to keep within group norms or be out. It’s something I’ve struggled all my life is being constantly nudged to ‘not be too big for your boots’.

This kind of separatism, whether it be RadFem or Tumblr Trans I tend to rail against and get quite narky – because, reasons. No, j/k, because UNITY. Infighting never helps that, and tbh this queer man would rather the boring usually LGB-only scene and dreary politic be joined by all the misfits, because I feel at home with all the people who never fit, anyway, because, I am a misfit, and proud of that. I suspect I share more in common with you all than you think.

(via the excellent TransAdvocate which is not only a great blog, it’s funny too…which given some of the Y SO SRS moany Tumblr blogs, is a nice relief)

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