Ok, we’ve done this topic to death, I know, but hear me out. I had An Experience that I want to share, it’s appropriate for the site, and for some reason they let me write about what I want. Hopefully I won’t get tedious enough for them to stop me. If they can…
How many of you are sick of the accusation that because you, quite accurately, point out that the atheist movement is dominated by Old White Men, that you are somehow anti-Old White Men? My experience with the queer community is similar, but somewhat more complicated. In this case, I have far too often seen (and heard complaints about), Old White Gay Men who find themselves no longer attractive on average to younger men (another can of worms, we’ll discuss attractiveness as status and age another time) will go into a space and dominate it, eventually driving others out. I found out last night that that happened to the support group I went to when I was first trying to come out.
This particular group, even when I went, was primarily old white gay men. This is not to say that they weren’t very helpful to my coming out process, but as I realized I was the only reasonably young person there, that there were no women (some would show up for coming out help and never return), that there were no people of color, and that everybody there was cisgender, it occurred to me that things were getting a bit stagnant. Part of the problem is that while they were helpful to me in a lot of ways (e.g. coming from a similar socio-economic background meant advice about distancing myself if my parents were they not accepting was useful), there were other ways that they simply couldn’t understand (e.g. coming out in the 21st century is a lot different than coming out in the 1980s was, and much of their advice simply didn’t apply to me). Also, they were all gay, and didn’t have anything for me when it comes to things like coming out to potential partners since they were used to their potential partners being familiar with the possibility of same-sex attraction. In the end, I met one of my closest friends there and he and I ended up leaving and starting a different group for bisexuals and those who are bi-curious or questioning.
Again, I want to point out that this is not to say that these were bad guys, just that their experiences only took them so far. And I will admit that there were times that they would not listen to how things had changed or were steadfast in their opinions because they were comfortable with their conclusions.
And after all of that rambling, we come to the Experience. I met a couple last night who had attended that old group and was really disappointed to hear that it is not only exclusively Old White Gay Men now (not by rule, it just turned out that way), but also that they seem to be treating it like a social club. One member of this couple went because they were seriously questioning their sexuality and needed help, but it seems that the group was committed to discussing marriage equality, which, to quote this person, “sort of skips a step” for a coming out support group.
I don’t think these people are maliciously excluding anybody, just like I don’t think that many at the forefront of the New Atheist movement are actively against social justice organizing within atheist and skeptical communities, but having never experienced the problems these efforts attempt to solve, it never occurs to them that these things happen. These Old White Gay Men are so very used to speaking of things in the context of their youth (and now advancing years), from the safety of their race, from their visibility in the early struggle for what was just gay rights at the time, and in their security as the acknowledged face of being queer, that they are left unable to understand when others approach. There’s a confusion, like realizing that your new phone has a feature that you had never heard about, but also not being willing to learn how it works because you’ll never use it.
That’s why I am very proud of the bisexual group that I co-facilitate. We are an incredibly diverse group and have worked hard to make sure that we have people of many races, genders, ages, and socio-economic statuses. We even have people who attend the group (with permission of the participants) who are gay or straight, either to support partners or to get a better understanding of bisexuality (it made me smile so much to hear somebody tell me that we were helping him unlearn everything other gay men told him about bisexuals). By having a diverse group, we have people who can empathize with newcomers and help them along their journey or can reach out to other communities looking for those who would benefit from our group. Are you a male-presenting woman of color? We have somebody who knows what that’s like.
When we talk about diversity, we often talk about the dominance of one group over another, as if it’s obvious that that’s a bad thing. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to (if I’m being charitable) misunderstand or (if I’m not being charitable) strawman into “you just hate X, which is usually old white cis men of whatever sexual orientation is appropriate for this discussion.” Sometimes, we need to approach from the other way, explaining not that dominance by a group is bad (which it is), but rather that diversity provides solutions for specialty problems.