Rebel Girl: The Price of Assimilation

Against the Current, No. 99, July/August 2002

Catherine Sameh

EVERY JUNE I look forward to Portland’s annual Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender celebration. It’s a two-day affair, and the jewel in the crown is the two-hour parade through downtown Portland.

Thousands of queers and their straight allies line the streets to cheer for the Radical Fairies, the transgender youth club, the boys in leather and the dykes on bikes. It’s a colorful day, full of pride and celebration.

This year, however, I was struck by how anticlimactic it all seemed. Sure, the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays contingent brought tears to my eyes as it does every year. And the dykes on bikes were strong and assured gender-bending women, a beautiful antidote to the Brittany Spearing of America.

But the truth is that millions of parents have accepted, even embraced their queer kids, and many tough women are breaking gender barriers every day.

The largest contingents weren’t the movement groups of parades past, but churches and companies showing their support. How queer it was!

With one protester taking on tens of thousands of marchers and their supporters, this year’s Pride was less about defending hard-fought battles than it was another day in the life of a movement whose victories have made it relatively complacent.

While it would be ludicrous to argue that having the Catholic Church or Hewlett-Packard march at Pride is a bad thing (after all, queers have demanded access to every institution in society), I can’t help but mourn the loss of a dynamic subculture whose demands were about an alternative way of being in the world.

Certainly there are traces of this subculture still around. Transgendered queers are challenging both the binary gender order and the health care system that denies them full access because they don’t fit into a clearly defined category. Many working-class queers and queers of color are organizing their workplaces and pushing their unions to fight for domestic partnership benefits.

As long as capitalism remains intact, not all queers will have the luxury of full assimilation. It will be their struggles, the struggles of those still marginalized, that continue to point the way towards a new direction for the queer movement.

As the war on terror escalates, there are also new opportunities for the g/l/b/t community to mobilize. As victims of scapegoating, queers must speak out in solidarity with the Muslims and Arabs now being targeted.

As anticensorship fighters and defenders of free speech, we must oppose the attacks on our civil liberties. And as gender-benders, we must fight the ultra-macho, hyper-masculinist, imperialist war machine that, in the name of freedom and women’s rights, is destroying life for all of us. While queers have many victories to celebrate, as citizens of the world we have many struggles ahead of us.

ATC 99, July-August 2002