Labels, boxes and gay Republicans

The Gray Area

This weekend, the California Republican Party became the first state GOP to officially recognize a LGBT conservative organization. I was there. And, as a member of that long-ignored community,  I was proud to be.

Now, I know you’re likely already confused about several things. So permit me to elaborate.

Saying that you’re gay and Republican, to many, is quite like admitting to being a fish out of water. Or rather, a fish working for a national seafood restaurant chain. Rather, I prefer being the unicorn of politics, but that’s just me.

Often, this stunning revelation is met with perplexed curiosity: “You’re gay and a Republican? Isn’t that some sort of paradox?”

And sometimes it’s met with outright contempt. How very stupid I must be to join a party that hates and works against me. (In fact, I might add, this particularly narrow estimation of my intelligence has sown the seeds for one or two failed dates.)

Now, I’m not here to lecture you about just how necessary it is that I am a Republican. How one small fragment of my identity does not dictate the totality of my views. Or how the activist’s horizon cannot simply stop at the boundary of party lines, because half the country needs the same sort of LGBT advocacy that changed the Democratic party just a few years ago.

No — instead, there is a more pressing issue at hand. With the recent release of the UC Berkeley Campus Climate report, there has been a great deal of talk about “communities” — what they are and what they want. How they feel and what they think. Students speaking for communities, as if presupposing their unanimity of opinion.

If our campus’s current obsession with dividing by identity has hitherto eluded your perception, a skip down Sproul Plaza will soon educate you, as scores of students station themselves behind the banner of their choice. And as nice as it is to spend time with the people you deem as “your kind,” this concept of hyper-diversity brings with it a not-so-pleasant byproduct: rules.

Here at UC Berkeley, depending on your chosen identity, you are afforded or denied a variety of particular privileges. And being gay is no exception.

I once listened in on a terrifying conversation between a straight male and a female friend about abortion. It soon became heated after the man made a comment that the other found offensive. She quickly pointed out that he could not speak on the issue because he was a cis-white male.

Well, first, I Googled cis-white male. As it turns out, I am one. A few minutes later, I decided to test a hypothesis that had been formulating in my mind for some time. I entered the conversation and argued the identical position to that of my male friend. Though I half-expected an identical response, she greeted me with a contemplative expression and a “Hm, I never thought about it that way before.”

A glaring spark went off in my mind, as I recollected all the times I had been coddled or treated differently because of my particular orientation — from high school friends who rejoiced in their good fortune of having a “gay best friend” to a college guy who insisted I accompany him clothes shopping at UNIQLO because I must “have an eye for fashion.” (First pro-tip: Don’t be shopping at UNIQLO.)

But listen to me whine, you might say. Poor little white cis-male thinks he knows what stereotyping is.

So enough about me. Let’s look at our campus, for we do more than just dictate identities to individuals when we label them — we are also then primed to treat them differently. Look closely, and you may see how our incessant subdividing of communities introduces an inherent nervousness to our campus society, requiring new proper terms and etiquettes. People whom we should treat like everyone else are now classified into categories separated from society as a whole. Not wishing to offend, we engage in near absurd hurdles of politeness.

See how people employ any number of semantic gymnastics, nervously rifling around for the most politically correct way to interact with students they deem marginalized. Such awkward social fumblings would be comic to watch, were they not so indicative of a larger problem.

We might ask ourselves: In all our well-intentioned efforts to encourage diversity, have we perhaps created a society that is itself confining? In our fetishizing the endless naming, naming, naming of identities, do we not also assign to these groups an effectively oppressive definition and frame? In attempting to show respect, do we not treat them differently — overly gentle and less genuine?

It’s a proverb often employed by libertarians that the smallest minority is the individual. They use this idea to argue for limited government, but let’s apply this a slightly different way. In each individual, there is a unique intersectionality of identities. And sometimes, we forget that.

It is as if, for a society so self-aware of its oppressive past, we now overcompensate in an endless apology that nevertheless continues to treat individuals differently based on their identities.

People, like realities, are complicated, and no one fits all too perfectly into our classifications. For myself, I have time and again failed to find a Sleep Number Bed “sleep number” that perfectly fits me, a fact that elicits a dull but present fear that I am in danger of being found out as a Sleep Number “divergent.”

So when we presuppose, when we argue on behalf of or when we attempt to speak “for” a “community,” let us do so with caution and understanding of the complex nature of personal identity.

Brendan Pinder writes the Thursday blog on the gray area between political standpoints on issues. You can contact him at [email protected].