The Most Damaging Erasure Happened at the Voting Booth

acronyms

Almost a year ago, I wrote an article and a follow-up piece, "LGBTQIDONTKNOW: The Acronym Struggle Is Real" and "Don’t Forget Who the Real Perpetrators of LGBT Erasure Are." A few weeks ago I received yet another note of firmly worded dissatisfaction about both pieces, work that was published last June. Clarification is in order, for clearly a discussion about acronyms still has legs. So let me tell you what I really think.

The first essay, "LGBTQIDONTKNOW," was a mildly sarcastic, humorous, tongue-in-cheek satire about the quest for identity in a heterocentric world. Soon after publication, the response from older nonstraight folk was what I’d intended. They grasped the perspective of someone with a shared experience — someone who’d come out when coming out had profound social and legal consequences. 

They understood that our predecessors created Gay Pride. Our tribe embraced the pride of our elders and those gay, lesbian, bi, and trans folk who fought back at Stonewall so very many years ago. They were out, loud, and proud while the rest of the world was trying to digest the cause and implications of Rock Hudson’s death. I wanted to write about Gay Pride and unity under one rainbow flag.

But then came the tweets — the under-40 set was neither inspired nor entertained, and suddenly I was the enemy of bisexuals and trans folk. Three-hundred tweets of flaming hatred and I stopped reading. I’d been labeled as a cis-identified older gay man of no consequence, an irrelevancy who hoped to erase bisexuals and trans people and whoever else in this, the very latest acronym — LGBTTIQQ2SA.

According to one self-described “thick-skinned blogger who makes a living off the internet,” a champion of the underdog, I’d taken a “contentious stance” in writing those articles last year. This particular blogger, though more eloquent than most, was one of many who dismissed my contention that real erasure in life is death. He claimed my life experience wasn’t about erasure but instead, self-righteous pontificating done in poor taste. Death by AIDS didn’t fit his definition of erasure.

To that, I can only respond:

I dare you to attend seven funerals of close friends in one summer when you’re in your 20s. I dare you to contemplate a political environment and a President Reagan who simply could not bring himself to utter a statement about the unfolding devastation of an entire generation of gay men. I dare you, in those times, to fret about what to call yourself and I dare you to pontificate about “blanket terms,” like gay. 

I dare you to reconsider the meaning of erasure.

I wonder how every other hating tweeter would navel-gaze about the proper acronym while in the crosshairs of an incurable virus. There was no test for the AIDS virus — first identified around 1981— until 1985. Those were several very scary years, and every gay man lived with the possibility of erasure. So, no apologies for my poor taste and reminding a few generations that they are truly privileged to have this discussion. 

Once again, we’re living in a time of division. America elected a president who is all about "them" and "us." It’s an age of labels and we’re suffering the consequences, because God knows you can’t really fear or, for that matter, respect your neighbor until you have the proper tag. 

I will always question the helpfulness of dicing our own rainbow community, into smaller and smaller pieces. And I resist the notion that one piece of our community is more privileged than others, and that one dominant slice will drown out voices unless we claim a letter in an acronym. Ellen DeGeneres, Andy Cohen, Caitlyn Jenner, RuPaul, Sara Ramirez, and countless others are doing just fine. I don’t think any of them need a special letter in the ever-expanding acronym to be heard and not be overwhelmed.

The tragedy is that we’re still having this discussion. The LGBT community has made unimaginable progress since Stonewall. But now, 48 years later, we’re stuck. We’re boxed in, trapped in a divisive cage of our own making. Naively, I’d hoped for a day when gay or straight wouldn’t even be part of the dialogue. I dreamed of a time that none of this stuff would matter. I imagined an era when sexuality and preference and appearance were as fluid and inconsequential as hair color. Clearly, we’re not there. Yet I still hope that bickering about proper branding will cease. I have confidence that someday we’ll focus on the real haters, those who don’t give a fig what we call ourselves, not out of deference or indifference, but because they believe none of us have any rights at all.

There is one more thing, though, one more shake of my cane from this rocker on my front porch. Nineteen percent of millennials voted in the last election; 98 percent of college-age students use social media. If you feel bashed by that reality, then walk away from the glowing screen and walk to the voting booth next time. And that goes for each and every one of you who continue to gnaw at this bone of false indignity, and that goes for you too, Mr. Internet Stalker whose name I will not mention. 

Donald Trump is our president and Mike Pence, an avowed homophobe, is likely to be the leader of the free world sooner than later. Pick your battles. Choose your enemies wisely, and yes, this time this is a commentary, not satire.

KURT NIECE is an artist, jeweler, and author of The Breath of Rapture and Mercury Fields. He and his partner, Gary live with their beloved feline in the crystal valleys of Hot Springs Village, Ark.  

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