FDL Late Nite: Who Are You?
Last weekend, I asked for nominations for Great Moments in Politically Correct Humor. No one responded. Does this qualify?
I'm half latino, as I've written about before. And, as some of you may have gathered, I'm gay, queer, homolicious. ¡Vivo mi manera!
My identity as a latino no doubt accounts for my particular identification with those rounded up by the ICE this last week, breaking up families and leaving children-citizens effectively orphaned. I know full well that many in the latino community don't similarly feel much of an identification with me, as a half-euro American gay man who speaks perfect English, limited Spanish and both of whose parents were born in the continental United States. That relative lack of reciprocity doesn't limit my desire or ability to speak up on their behalf with whatever platform I have at my disposal, to the best of my ability.
Identity is a tricky thing. While I identify as gay, I recently had an experience that highlighted for me the limits of signifiers of identity in creating quick ties with others. On the one hand, we use terms of identity to confer or communicate our membership in a particular group, suggesting a shared world view or life experience, but then again, not all members of any particular group define what it means to be part of the group the same way.
I recently was introduced to a gay man by a mutual friend, a straight woman. When he learned I was gay, he immediately launched into a kind of long lost best friend rapport with me, centered on dishy conversation about hair, nails and makeup. Oops. That's not me. For him, being gay meant we could talk about these interests and hold them in common, but that's just not my world. I think he felt rather put off that I was not really sharing his sense of new found intimacy, but then again, I felt a little annoyed that he would make all these assumptions about me just because the word "gay" applies to my identity. Labels can be limiting.
Sure, sometimes I banter about very "gayish" things like that here in the comments just for fun and laughs among our commenters, but it's not really me. I'd never get a job on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, because I'm no makeover expert (that, and I'm too ugly for teevee!). I dress okay – well enough not to lose credibility among members of my tribe – but that's it. At the same time, I have no problem with gay men who are more stereotypically "gay," and I put some effort a while back into describing some of that cultural experience for a wider audience with my post about drag. One thing I do share with most gay men is a level of comfort with very, shall we say, blue humor, imagery and language. Sometimes, that has gotten me in a little bit of trouble. Not everyone enjoys or appreciates that sort of thing, or where it comes from, in terms of the liberation of sexuality by aggressively pushing the boundaries of commonly held social, sexual taboos. Oh well.
I had a conversation online once – okay, it was an argument – where the other person said the experience of marginalization or exclusion confers wisdom. I disagree. The experience of marginalization can give one an education in social power and the ways it is wielded, and of the many modes of social control available to the majority. Wisdom, in my personal and professional, psychological view, comes from transcending one's own experiences, even one's own victim or traumatic experiences, to empathize with others ostensibly unlike oneself.
Wisdom transcends parochial views of identity, but does not negate them. Once a person has come through whatever traumas they may have experienced in life to recognize that others also experience traumas, and uses that understanding to identify a common humanity among members of all groups, that's wisdom. The fruit of wisdom is empathy, and perhaps also the understanding that even victims can become oppressors, that one's own group can occasionally, intentionally or unintentionally, victimize or oppress others.
Back in my days of clinical work, we used to recognize that one of the best prognostic indicators of future recovery from trauma was the presence of a sense of humor. Humor, by its nature, places pain in a new perspective, allowing the one experiencing trauma to transcend it and gain power over it. Tribalism and identity wars are exceedingly destructive things, but humor can provide a pathway toward some escape, as long as it's the right kind of humor: humor that helps transcend tribal categories to bring the experience of victimization into a common, human context. Richard Pryor did this with Mudbone and his other characters, masterfully. This is the genius of humor and empathy, humor that brings to the surface a kind of transgressive truth.
Some gay folks might take offense at the video above, seeing it as a trivialization or mockery of the deeper themes of love, oppression and isolation experienced by gay and lesbian folks in the wider culture. Feh. I don't see it that way. Carlos Mencia is playing with identity to transform the often painful, difficult experience of Mexican American integration within US society into humor. He does it in a way that is genuinely funny, reaching out to people who do not share the "wetback" cultural experience. Good stuff.
One of the things that drew me to this site, or at least, what really kept me here back in my commenter days, was the extent to which I saw Jane and Christy speaking from a position of empathy with those whose life experiences were not their own. Yes, based in part on my own experiences of marginalization, as well as my training and experience working on behalf of victims of sexual and domestic violence, I had already come to identify with, among other things, the experiences of women and the importance of choice: that made FDL feel like home to me. But what also kept me here was the playfulness and humor they and others here brought to their discussions of these and other subjects. In person, I've found a lot of folks from around here to be not only playful, but also, somehow, quietly happy people, even as they're frequently irreverent. . . which is to say, they're funny. The best part of Yearly Kos for me last June was meeting and hanging out with many of you.
Tonight, I want to open up the Late Nite discussion to everyone, even (perhaps especially) our beloved lurkers, to kick around the following questions: What labels do you use to identify yourself? What do these words mean to you? In what ways do you think people often misunderstand you based on their presumptions about your identity? What kinds of irreverent or politically incorrect humor related to your group feel okay to you, and which kinds don't? How important is it for someone making a politically incorrect joke about a given group to have legitimacy as a member of that group? Can you find and share any good comedic YouTube clips in the comments for others to see, relevant to this discussion?
See you in the comments. Oh, and I would so do Mario Lopez.