I'm old enough to admit that my age skews my politics. I don't have that idealism of youth you find in teenagers or 20-somethings. As I've gotten older, I've grown more liberal, but it has come with a healthy garnish of jadedness and cynicism. I have seen so many issue-of-the-moment causes fall apart or fade away that I'm skeptical of any new social movement's staying power, and especially of newfound activism. I have an inherent distrust of the underlying motivations of people passionately pushing ideologies that can serve as covers for personal agendas. This is why I have a healthy dose of skeptism for the burgeoning Democratic socialist movement in America.
Sure, I support universal health care, student debt relief, and an increased minimum wage as well as corporate and banking regulation. I have some views that are further left than that and have a few good friends who are members of the Democratic Socialists of America. Still, I remain skeptical of the movement. Firstly, I don't inherently believe that socialism cures social ills along with economic ones — money is no cure for racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia. In the Soviet Union, an LGBTQ rights group wasn’t organized until 1989; Russia, throughout their history, has consistently voiced it’s opposition to the community. Throughout the HIV crisis of the '80s, Cuba placed victims in camps not unlike an enforced leper colony.
I know some of you are bristling at the comparison to socialism in the Soviet Union and Cuba, which is why I want to contrast them with Sweden, who decriminalized homosexuality in 1944 and allowed transgender people to legally change their sex in 1977. Sweden is often held up as an ideal of a Democratic socialist state and considered one of the most socially liberal countries in the world, but socialism was not the sole reason for the nation's progressive streak; underlying social values mostly played a role in that.
I can't be convinced that raising the minimum wage will fix all issues for LGBTQ people, although it would help with the poverty part. As a Southern trans woman, I have seen social progress movements led by minorities, in need of help from allies, fall apart once those allies grew disinterested. One of the major reasons for the stagnation of the modern civil rights movement was the loss of interest on the part of white progressives. The government stopped passing supportive laws, and more subtle forms of discrimination replaced the more overt. The white progressives declared victory for the most part and lost interest in supporting local movements in the South and urban areas; while paying lip service to integration, they fought busing and housing equality with redlining and white flight. Being trans, even today I regularly encounter the attitude of "They're not like the rest of us" and have seen LGBT rights groups try to pass legislation that protected LGB people but left out trans people because "it's too hard right now."
After the achievement of marriage equality, some of the most organized, connected, and well-funded activist groups declared victory and closed their doors. This left job protections, discrimination, and many other issues in the dirt because those activists got what they wanted and then walked away, leaving others to fight for the rest. It was a perfect case of "I got mine."
This is why I often joke that if student loans, minimum wage, and universal health care got passed, the socialist movement in America would go back to being Bernie Sanders, two black women, and a Latino migrant worker activist. I know this is a cynical view, but a huge part of this socialist movement is white middle-class people with student loans and no money, a product of the Great Recession. Knowing a lot of the history of labor and, by relation, socialism in America, I realize the movement always found itself gutted whenever middle-class people felt secure in their prosperity. Even at socialism's greatest peaks, it still suffered from misogyny and racism.
This is why whenever I hear some socialist talking to me, I can't help but pick up tones of self-interest. They talk about universal health care, increased wages, and, most prominently, student loan debt. Very rarely do I hear them talk about rural health care issues or of jobs that don't cater to the middle class. I almost never hear talk of paying elementary school teachers better or even of school lunches and heaters for the schools. I never hear talk of LGBTQ workplace protections or access to medical care for transgender people when they pitch their beliefs.
Whenever I bring these issues up, they always say something like, "Well, we can do both," as if it's an afterthought. Much of their rhetoric and pitches seem to focus on the middle class and, often, the white working man, with much of their talk of LGBTQ, women's, and POC-centric issues tacked on the end. It doesn't help that for much of the 2016 presidential campaign, many of these newly woke socialists decried talk of identity politics, including Bernie Sanders.
Sure, the Democrats and Hillary Clinton might be neo-liberal corporatists, but it seemed they were better prepared at times to address those issues and give them a voice. It fundamentally bothers me that when I point these things out to socialists, especially when it comes to LGBTQ issues (which admittedly is my own self-interest), far too many of them get extremely defensive and attack me, even to the point of being straight- and cis-splained by a lot of these people about my own identity and community. I’ve had quite a few tell me that I don’t care about equality because I point out these movements being centered on money or the needs of the middle-class white man.
I want those of you who are social democrats to know I agree with so much of what you do. I want you and many of your policies to succeed. I do wish we had a better and more diverse political system that would give you a seat at the table. I also want you to know I don't trust you. It seems like many of your beliefs are very self-centered, and I fear that once you get your interests fulfilled you'll leave LGBTQ people to fend for themselves.
When you talk to me about why I should support you, you lead with what is important to you and tack LGBTQ issues on at the end, if you address them at all. I've seen this happen with other movements that said they were our allies, only to leave us holding the bag when they didn't need our vote anymore. People have treated us like we owe them our vote or claim they have always been our allies when they have never been around for the hard work, or want credit for the minimal lip service they give. If you folks in the newly awakened socialist movement in America want the support of many LGBTQ people, as well as women and minorities, you're going to have to earn it.
AMANDA KERRI is an Oklahoma City-based comedian and regular contributor to The Advocate. Follow her on Twitter @amanda_kerri.