I recently began my stint as a regular contributor on www.queercents.com. The blog, devoted to queers and money, has a tagline that reads: “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going shopping without coupons.” My first post was about the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), widely touted by many in the gay community as the gay immigration bill. I work on and write about immigration a lot, and it made sense that a subject so intimately connected to labour issues should be discussed on queercents. To date, there has been no widespread discussion on UAFA. Instead, like gay marriage, UAFA has been thrust down our collective queer throat as something we should all support. My piece, to the best of my knowledge, is among the very, very few to explicitly critique UAFA. The immigration scholar Eithne Luibhéid has written about UAFA in a special issue of GLQ (14:2-3), but it’s not available to a general audience.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) is an ever-evolving beast. There will never be a perfect immigration bill. The persistent xenophobia and racism of anti-immigration activists, combined with a general ignorance about the economic reasons for our current crisis, means that it will be a long time before we craft an immigration policy that’s both sensible and humane. In other words, there’s no perfect solution. But UAFA is especially problematic on a number of levels, not the least of which is that it privileges certain kinds of couples over others and the fact that it might even distract from CIR.
I’ve written about immigration here on Bilerico and elsewhere, and I fully expected both opposition and discussion. I also know from my experience that some UAFA supporters are capable of incredibly nasty and vicious responses, even as they go on about why the world should recognize their love and commitment (clearly, they’re incapable of recognizing irony). So, I expected discussion and even fervent opposition. But I think it’s fair to say that Nina Smith (founder of Queercents), Serena Freewomyn (editor) and I were taken aback by the vitriol that spewed forth.
It began well, with comments, which, even in disagreeing with me or laying out new issues to think about, were thoughtfully phrased to engender more discussion. And then the incoherence erupted as several people began lashing out in comments that became increasingly personal and repetitious. There was, for instance, the commenter who tritely informed me that I’d misspelled “Philippines” and then proceeded to refer to me as Jasmin. Frequently. And compared UAFA to apartheid. Or the commenter who likened Shirley Tan, a woman who may have to leave her partner in the United States, to Rosa Parks (what is it with the gay community and its persistent appropriation of the civil rights movement?).
There were those who seemed blissfully unaware that UAFA is in fact designed to help permanent residents as well, not just native-born citizens, and huffily wondered why they should have to care about people on H1-B visas. Clearly, this is not a lot that knows much about the very constituents, their comrades, at which UAFA is aimed.
The discussion went downhill early on, with several people claiming, in essence, that I was a heartless beast incapable of comprehending their pain and suffering. The comments were becoming redundant, there was now little to no discussion of the issues at hand, and it was clear that the post was being swarmed by UAFA supporters who had decided to alight upon queercents and try to shut down the conversation. At one point, I snapped that if people couldn’t make new points, I’d have to start deleting their comments (oh, the power!). Serena gently reminded me, in a private e-mail, that perhaps the site’s managers ought to see to those kinds of decisions. She was right, of course, and I let the comments be.
Soon thereafter, Serena and Nina wrote to me that the comments were becoming increasingly hostile, and there was no longer any discussion of UAFA - what did I think about shutting down the comments section altogether? I felt, at this point, that the comments were increasingly pointless, and agreed. That's when Serena posted an Editor's Note: “Due to the nature of many of the comments on this thread, comments have been disabled for this post.”
I'm writing about this incident for two reasons. The first is to confirm that there was no censorship of comments on queercents, and to announce that the UAFA blog, with some added material, will be going up on bilerico in the next day or so. I never deleted comments. Yes, I expressed my intent to do so. But then, I may also have wished privately that some commenters would burn slowly in a hell of my choosing - I don't see any evidence of that having happened either.
The second reason is to raise questions and a discussion about the nature of blogging, the expectations it raises, and why some people seem to respond with the kind of vitriol that would get them kicked out of most real environments - including their workplaces, their friends' homes, and even their parents' dining tables.
The UAFA post has been migrating around the web. Dave Seattle, over at The Fake Mexican, posted it with some interesting points about his binational relationship. But beyond that, most re-posters have continued their mindlessly disengaged attacks. At one point in my responses, I suggested to a particularly long-winded person that he take his thoughts to his own blog instead on delivering disengaged and lengthy commentaries. He proceeded to do exactly that, with a blog titled “Yasmin Nair: Eat This!” This, from someone who claims that his blog is all about “building happiness and prosperity for all human beings” and “positive news, opinions, issues and ideas, to aid and promote the opening to Light.” He also pointed out my cock-sucking habits, and that brings me, first, to the misogyny of the gay movement (sections of the gay community seem oddly hostile to the idea of cock-sucking when it's not done between males, but that's another post for another day).
Sexist and misogynistic attacks are nothing new to me. In 2006, I publicly disagreed with Doug Ireland on the issue of the hangings of two men in Mashad, Iran. For having dared to disagree with him, Ireland and Jeff Edwards, a Chicagoan with whom I'd once worked in the now-defunct group Queer to the Left, sent an e-mail to the Queer Fist listserv about my sex life, in an attempt to discredit my politics. Among other remarks, they proclaimed that I was “damaged” and “only slept with men.” This has been, for centuries, the classic method used to silence a woman - question her mental health and then drag her through what you fondly imagine is the mud of her sex life.
So, I'm not surprised at this kind of attack. But I'm still curious about the different kinds of personal attacks that emerged on Queercents, and which I've seen here on Bilerico and elsewhere, and I want to discuss them on a general level. For instance, there's a genre of comments that goes something like this: "You're a horrible/bitter/angry/stupid human being and you have no idea what it means to go through [insert situation here]." Now, as to the "you're a horrible human being" part: what, exactly, is the point here? First of all, commenters generally have no contact with bloggers, so I'm not sure what authority they invoke in these remarks. Secondly: yeah, maybe, so what? And, thirdly, does a blogger always have to be the subject of his/her blog? In other words, are we completely incapable of having a sustained conversation on an issue without everyone having personal experience with it? To use the broadest example: several of us are absolutely against war - I don't hear people complaining that you have to have enjoyed killing someone before you dare complain about the inhumanity of war. Does writing about a subject require someone to submit a resume testifying to personal experience in the topic? Is it so out of bounds for someone to dare suggest that we ask serious questions about a piece of legislation or an action that could influence a lot of other policies without ourselves being directly affected by it?
And that brings me to the whole purpose of a blog. Every now and then, a commenter will fire at a blogger with the words he or she imagines to be the ultimate put-down: "This is an example of bad reporting!" What blogs enable us to do is have a public conversation about issues in a loosely constructed and interactive way. I like engaging with people on blogs because the discussions, with rational people who can express themselves without screaming and yelling, usually help me think through and eventually tighten my own arguments. I'm a writer who writes about political issues I care about, so for me a blog is a way to test out an idea and the soundness of its construction. So, to those of you who think all bloggers are reporters: come on, get real, people. How do we break this to you? This thing here, that you're reading on a site that, you might notice, says nothing like "daily newspaper? It's called a blog. B-L-O-G. Seriously. Look it up.
There are topics on which we're all supposed to agree on because the "leaders" of the gay community say so, or because some of us have decided that some positions are the only way to gain "full equality." The point in asking for a more honest appraisal of such issues is precisely that: to ask for a more honest appraisal. If there are factual errors, they should be pointed out and explanations should be demanded. The same goes for issues that no one voted on but which got shoved down our throats (for an example of which, see aforementioned gay marriage - who said it was "our" issue, and why should it be the only way to gain "equality"?) I, for one, don't think that the tone of comments need be overly polite - this isn't a tea party after all, but a place to have discussions that can be contentious and involve deeply held political beliefs.
So be sarcastic, funny, whatever. But do remember that you can be civil without being ingratiating. And if you can't prove your argument without descending into mindlessly personal attacks, or without repeating yourself, and without engaging with the issues at hand, or demanding a personal resume from the blogger - perhaps you need a break from commenting. Otherwise, you might simply be engaging in what my friend J. refers to as "narcissism masquerading as politics."
Let me add this: the fact that so many UAFA supporters are vicious, angry, xenophobic, and hysterical people doesn't mean that UAFA in itself isn't worth considering, at least in its intent. I do believe that people should be allowed to sponsor visitors/partners/lovers/friends into this country without the state poking and prying and examining their lives and emotions and without drawing arbitrary distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable immigrants. But UAFA, as it stands now, only replicates the worn-out gender paradigms and potentially exploitative regimes of power that the state already imposes on us (it has nothing to say about friends, but only "committed partners.") Can we, should we contest that? I'm willing to have a conversation on how to make that happen. The question is: can the vitriol from the loudest and angriest UAFA supporters allows us to have a conversation?
A concluding note about the title, "Yasmin Nair: Eat This!" (which I shamelessly borrowed): my friend J. (not the same one as above) positively crooned when he heard it: "Oooh, I LOVE it!" So...we're thinking about t-shirts. Perhaps with the words in black across a red background, in Barbara Kruger-esque font? What do you think?