Dear Brooke Sopelsa: Stop Making Our Movement About Straight People

If there’s one thing I can’t stand more than a cis gay person telling me and other queers to calm down, it’s seeing that cis gay person get national attention on a Huffington Post article for telling other queers to calm down.

The examples Brooke Sopelsa cites as queer activists gone wild are:

  • Calling out Macklemore for profiting from a queer struggle while simultaneously stereotyping “other rappers” (black rappers) as bigots in order to show how wonderful and open-minded he is. Meanwhile, actually queer and black rappers still can’t make it big and Macklemore has made no attempts to fix that.
  • Lashing out when people use harmful language. (It’s quite telling that she characterizes this as just not knowing “the latest lingo”.) She acts as though marginalized queer people sit around coming up with new words so we can feel superior, rather than creating the nuanced language we have always needed in order to have nuanced discussions about queer identities and politics.
  • Having the audacity to tell straight people we barely know to stop asking us “when we knew” we were queer, because we got busy lives and shit to do.

Let me just address these three points real quick before we continue:

  • Macklemore still has a Grammy and a successful career, while many queer and black rappers who have first-hand experience about queer struggles still do not. Sounds like he’s survived our queer radical attacks just fine. Well, until he revealed that he’s also an anti-Semite and 9/11 Truther. That might put a damper on his popularity.
  • People who wish to engage in nuanced discussions have an obligation to learn nuanced language first. Wandering into a senior level class you’re not enrolled in and then demanding to be taught freshman level vocabulary everyone already knows is disruptive and rude. It’s the damn Internet Age, go do your homework.
  • Not wanting to divulge our history at the drop of a hat just because some straight people are “curious” is not radical. It’s establishing a boundary for our own protection. I don’t know about you Brooke, but my queer origin stories are pretty dark and I don’t like to tell them to people I’m barely acquainted with. All my loved ones already know, and the morbidly curious can read my work, because that’s what I wrote it for.

She says it’s gotten to the point where her straight friends won’t ask her anything without, “I hope this doesn’t offend you, but…” and then proceeds to say:

I hate to think about all the teachable moments that never happened because someone was afraid to ask me — or any of us — a question.

Brooke, honey, come here please. Sit down.

I AM NOT ANYONE’S TEACHABLE MOMENT! YOU ARE NOT ANYONE’S TEACHABLE MOMENT! WE ARE NOT TEACHABLE MOMENTS!

We are real people, living real lives with real feelings and real struggles. Brooke, ANYONE who sees you as a teachable moment first and a friend second is not actually your friend. And I’m sorry if you haven’t come to that realization in your queer activism yet, but maybe if you were constantly asked questions about your genitals you might begin to understand why some of us are already over this “we need to teach everyone as gently as possible so they can be better people” schlock.

I am not a teachable moment. But I am a teacher, through my writing, my public speaking, and my work as a queer youth advocate in my community. Do you know what the difference is? Teachers get paid and appreciated for their time and services, and the students who show up for class are respectful and already acknowledge which of us is the expert.

Teachable moments get used for someone to feel as though they’ve learned something at the expense of dehumanizing you.

So now that Brooke has dismissed all of these macro issues as petty: appropriation, respectful language, and establishing boundaries; she then proceeds to show us what “real” oppression looks like through personal micro stories of violence and discrimination.

Honey, I don’t want to sound mean when I say this, but you are not special. We all have stories like this. Yes, even us “over sensitive” queers that you’re trying to address. But we’re able to understand our personal traumas are nothing compared to the larger systems of oppression which created the environment for that trauma in the first place.

For example, dehumanizing language, which you so easily dismissed, is one of the first ways violence against us becomes acceptable. And you yourself even referenced slurs in your account of being assaulted! How can you still not see the bigger picture here?

Brooke then has the gall to use the bodies of trans women and the suicides of queer youth in the same paragraph as states who don’t have same-sex marriage, as though those issues are even remotely comparable. She says these are the “bigger fish” we should be attempting to fry, as though intersectional activists are incapable of frying fish of all sizes.

She says we should learn to pick our battles and focus our attention only on the obvious bigots. I say focusing your attention on obvious bigots is an obvious waste of time. Protesting in front of the Westboro Baptist Church might feel good, but it’s not going to create any kind of real change for our community.

Real change and real progress is painful. It’s awkward. It’s difficult to talk about. But it needs to be done, and it needs to be encouraged within our community, not shunned as the reason for why you can’t get married yet. We can’t fight the system without educating people about the system. And real education should make you uncomfortable with what you previously believed to be true, otherwise you’re not learning anything.

The straight and cis people who really love us, who really do want to see this world become a better place for queer people? Well, I respect them enough to know that even if they have to step on some eggshells and even if they get yelled at for their unintended offenses from time to time, they will continue to try to learn and educate themselves. I truly believe that our genuine allies don’t need any convincing or hand-holding to fight for our side, because they already know that injustice always deserves to be fought.

I guess Brooke Sopelsa thinks less of her allies than I do of mine. How sad.


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Dori Mooneyham

Dori Mooneyham is a psychology student at Texas Woman's University specializing in queer youth and their families. As a feminist, trans woman, and lesbian, she offers many unique insights and perspectives not often seen in the academic world.

7 thoughts on “Dear Brooke Sopelsa: Stop Making Our Movement About Straight People”

  1. “Teachable moments get used for someone to feel as though they’ve learned something at the expense of dehumanizing you.”

    I applaud all of the teaching work you’re clearly doing, but if that’s your attitude to folks asking you questions with honest intentions, is it possible that you’re letting some of your personal damage cloud your judgment?

    You’re right that it can get tiring for some members of our community. That is completely understandable. Especially for the folks coming after the letters LGB. And no one is saying that anyone is entitled to an answer or to your story, either. But it also shouldn’t be challenging to say “I’d really prefer not to talk about that right now. Thank you.” or “Can we talk about that another time?”

    I don’t think it’s a radical statement to ask our fellow community members to be more open and honest. THAT is how we’ve gained more equality. We didn’t gain it from attacking someone for asking a question.

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    1. Being queer is not consent for straight and cis people to ask invasive questions. Not now, not ever. There is an appropriate time, place, and person for all questions, but “any time, any where, any person” is never going to be it.

      People who are not queer should walk on eggshells if they’re not familiar with queer people or our culture, because that’s the best way for them to avoid engaging in microaggressions. If the worst part of a straight/cis person’s day is having to say, “I’m sorry if this is inappropriate…” before they ask a queer person a question, I’d hate to see how they would handle dealing with real problems.

      Equality with straight and cis people is not my goal. Assimilation into straight culture is not my goal. Queer Liberation from the oppressive cishetpatriarchy is my goal. Whether straight/cis people want to assist in that liberation or not doesn’t really concern me.

      Rights are not something you politely ask for, they’re something you demand and take by force if necessary. Ever heard of the Stonewall Riots? Ever heard of Act Up? Why don’t you go learn some of our history before you try to tell me what tactics do and don’t work.

      My queer activism is about liberating queer people, not making straight people like us.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. All of this. Just all of this forever. As a queer cis woman who grew up in the 80s with lesbian moms who were some of the original ACT UP members my whole goddamn life has been a fucking teachable moment. I’m done being your lesson plan. We live in an era of Google, books, academic journals, well written blogs. The onus is not on the disenfranchised to educate the bigoted. Take some initiative and educate yourself.

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  3. I never ask questions for a couple of reasons – a) it’s none of my business. If you’re my friend and you want to tell me your autobiography, I’ll listen, just the same as I hope you’d listen to mine. The second reason has to do with the pushback — reasonable or not — that I’ve experienced any time I’ve tried to participate in a conversation about gender identity. I just don’t want to be screamed at, and so I can’t be bothered. In some ways I’d rather live in ignorance than to be made to feel guilty for being born the way I was. So I’ve just made it a thing to just try to treat people the way I want to be treated. I’ve no expectations of you to “do your homework and understand my struggle”. I’m not your teachable moment, either.

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