Sometimes you are in…
Posted on 06:00, February 2nd, 2009 by Anita
In many things in society there are (to paraphrase Heidi Klum) those who are in and those who are out. This contrast is necessarily judgemental (some are better than others), uninclusive and disabling. When addressing these divisions in society there are two possible approaches: one is to extend the “in” group, increasing the number of people in the dominant high status group and leaving a smaller number in the out group. The other is to dismantle the distinction altogether: decreasing the relative power of the old in group, and increasing the status of all members of the out groups so that their standing in society becomes level.
The two different approaches can lead to tension within people fighting for change: some set out to claim “normalcy” and consciously reinforce the way they are similar to the in group. Others in the same movement want to remove the normal/other distinction by reinforcing their difference and demanding acceptance.
This dichotomy exists between the older gay rights movement and the newer GLBTQ movement. The gay rights movement started off fighting for in group status; they aimed to be considered part of the mainstream – the orthodoxy – and to do so they showcased their similarity to the dominant group. They used older professional men in suits as spokespeople, they chose people who were either long time celibates or in long-term stable relationships: people who would fit in nicely at Rotary, church or Cabinet meetings. While they maybe have privately acknowledged the drag queens, the bi and trans, the public focus was on middle class gay men and, to a lesser extent, lesbians.
The more recent GLBTQ movement has taken the opposite approach, proudly showcasing difference and refusing the change to become part of the in group: “we’re here and we’re queer!”. The spokespeople would not get through the door, but that’s because they don’t want to be on the inside, they want to take the walls down.
With every social change that we campaign for, whether it is rights for the disabled or the eradication of child poverty, we have to decide whether we’re asking for more people to be allowed into the in group – where they will be rewarded with high status provided they blend in – or whether we are asking for a radical change in the social order – which will allow and enable more diversity and change, but will require change by everyone.