Sunday, November 28, 2010

If it looks like a Carlos ...

Woodley Park, Washington, D.C. is an affluent neighborhood of predominantly white, highly educated, liberal Washingtonians. Single family homes start at about $800,000 and can run into the millions, while a renovated one bedroom apartment can be had by four interns sharing the rent.

I appreciate, for the most part, residing in this part the District. I take the Metro to work alongside well-scrubbed and clearly smart folk who keep the government running, ruminate at think tanks and serve at nonprofits. I like coming home to tree-lined streets with squealing toddlers chasing after squirrels under the watchful eyes of brown-skinned nannies on smart phones.

There are times however when I am reminded that just like everybody else, my progressive worldly neighbors have their own set of racial blinders. I am judged, in spite of my education, profession and surrender to the Washingtonian navy blazer and khakis drag, according to the color of my skin and facial features. Since I look Latino then I must be Latino. Never mind the fact that I am not.

During my first year at the "luxury" apartment where I live, the head of the tenants' association summarily assumed without looking me in the eye that I was one of the building's custodians. "You're coming up later to fix my cable, right?"

Just last week, a middle-aged woman admitted that though we have met multiple times, she can't seem to remember my name and wants to call me Carlos. "I don't know why I think your name is Carlos ... you just don't look like an Erwin."

The funny thing is, she pretty much solved her puzzle - I don't look like an Erwin to her. In her mind, I look more like a Carlos or a Mario. Admitting that however would be owning up to her deeply ingrained racial stereotypes. And we all know that well-off and educated liberals are post-racial.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Broader Understanding of Marriage

My husband John, from a Christian minister's perspective, offers a broader view of marriage during our interview with a local radio show.
John: There is a passage in scripture, Jesus is talking about marriage, not as an end in itself, but as something that points to a greater love. The marriage doesn't just exist for those two people. It's meant as something that overflows in love and generosity and happiness and joy.

Interviewer: And John says, as more gay and lesbian people marry...

John: I think all the more that excitement and that happiness does overflow and hopefully that can change hearts and minds.
He is picking up from a sermon he preached last Sunday.
Marriage is for those of “this age,” Jesus says—those who need to provide for a family or provide for the wellbeing of others. The typical marriage in First Century Palestine, like much of the first millennium, was more about property and possessions than it was about love and sharing.

But whenever Jesus talks about marriage, he talks about it as something that always points beyond itself. Marriage doesn’t exists as an end in itself. It doesn’t exist simply for the two partners, or even the nuclear family. Marriage is a preparation for something to come, a training ground for love, a hint of something even more incredible to follow, something that will be even better than the closes of human relationships, at the resurrection.
One need not be a Christian or a believer to see that this generous view of marriage is more beneficial to society than the prevalent notion which greatly limits the relationship and institution.

From a purely secular and humanistic perspective, extending the freedom and right to marry to all can only strengthen the community and improve everyone's well-being.

You can follow me on Twitter @ErwindeLeon.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Minority Hierarchies

It is important for most of us to belong to the right group - one that privileges us over others in real and perceived ways. And within any group, there will be jockeying for the better position, even among those who belong to a marginalized sector of society.

In the book Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, Gwendolyn Ann Smith, transgender writer and activist, writes that those of us who belong to the LGBT community observe "a hierarchical order of who is acceptable and who is not."
Let me break it down this way: some lesbians and gays feel that their issues are more important than transgender issues, because transgender people are freaks. Some transgender people - often, but not only, transsexuals - view transsexual issues as more important than the issues of say, cross-dressers. Some among the more genderqueer portions of our community look down upon those who opt to live in a more "normatively gendered" space. There are even groups that cross-dressers feel superior to: sissies, drag kings and queens, "little girls," and so on.
The same distinctions and divisions can be seen within communities of color - among races and ethnicities, between native- and foreign-born, and among haves and have-nots.

Smith assumes that this "is some sort of human failing that makes us always need to shun someone who we perceive as 'more different than thou.'" But she acknowledges that "this does not help move us further along in the world at large."
We can argue about who is this and who is that, we can argue about who does or doesn't belong. We can talk about how much more legitimate one or another of us is. In the end, we are all somebody's freak - and basic human dignity is not a privilege of the lucky superior few, but a right of all or none.
As progress of civil rights is stalled by the nation's current toxic and polarized political reality, it is crucial that those of us who are relegated to America's social, political and economic margins - queers, immigrants, communities of color - fight the urge to divide ourselves and remain conquered.

There is after all strength in numbers and power in unity.

You can follow me on Twitter at ErwindeLeon.