50 matthew sheppards - how white queers consume and whitewash a qtpoc tragedy
June 17, 2016
Again I’ve been trying to stay out of the discourse around Orlando. Mostly because my own feelings of alienation and exile from teh community have me feeling numb and distanced from the whole thing. But… I saw the worst blog title this morning, ‘50 matthew shepherds’. Combined with this patronizing tweet thread people have been sharing, I’m about done with white queers and their whitewashing of history. The fact that someone thinks that in order to understand why Orlando was a tragedy, we need to pretend it was 50 white men killed, I just. I might be numb and disconnected, but this is fucking heartless and gross.
The blog post says, “For many of us, this tragedy represents 50 Matthew Shepards” and I can only sit here and blink at this. No, I haven’t done enough research on the writer to definitively say whether or not he’s white, but given that the most recent incidence of homophobic violence he can name is a white man ages ago… I feel pretty confident in my assessment. The framing of this sentence says it all… because who is ‘us’ in this sentence? Gay white men. Apparently being ‘Alejandro Barrios Martinez’ isn’t good enough for gay white men to relate to this tragedy.
Combined with a twitter thread yesterday by an ‘aging dyke’ (who must be white) talking to ‘our’ generation (35 and younger), this wasn’t supposed to happen to ‘us’. This act of violence is unusual, surprising, and this is why its so tragic. Because ‘they’ (the older generation) suffered and bled for ‘us’ to have safer lives. This wasn’t supposed to happen to ‘us’.
I just. Its hard to reconcile these worldviews with a reality where I’m constantly reading about violence experience by twoc throughout the globe. Sure, I’m unusual in the sense that I actively read trans-related news every day. Still… as shitty as it is, we still have a day every year where we commemorate all the ‘trans people’ (read: mostly twoc) who’ve been killed due to transmisogynist violence in the previous year. Every year we have this and yet we have to go back 20 years to a white man?
(As an painfully ironic sidenote: The fact that the ‘matthew shepherd act’ is called that despite actually being the “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act” is itself an instance of the whitewashing and historical erasure that I’m talking about. I’m curious as to how many gay white men also know the name ‘James Byrd’.)
The reality is that this targetted bit of violence towards the latinx and/or Black community isn’t an anomaly. The scope of it, yes, is terrible and awful. But it represents a point in a longer continuity of violence experienced by those communities and all qtpoc for centuries. Yes. Centuries. Because white colonizers also targetted our ancestors for basically the same reasons (sodomy amongst other things).
When I talk about white mythologizing and historical revisionism, this is the sort of thing I mean. The aging lesbian’s series of tweets only makes sense if we look at ‘lgbt’ history as a teleological progression towards ever greater rights. The teleological moment, of course, being Stonewall. The fabled beginning of the gays rights movement not only in america but globally. A beginning which has, of course, also been whitewashed.
And so we can build a narrative wherein a white queer person can, with a straight face, say with this wasn’t supposed to happen to ‘us’. A narrative where the last, most recent example of this kind of violence is almost 20 years ago and something that happened to a white man. And in so doing, turns this event into an aberration, something unusual. Rather than the lived reality of qtpoc around the world.
This wasn’t supposed to happen to us, because we don’t (aren’t supposed to) exist. We are not agents of history and we are not here in the glorious future where ‘things get better’. We cannot, and thus do not, exist in a world that has been getting better since Stonewall. To acknowledge us (and our passing) would disrupt and destabilize this narrative. And Gay Inc has too much invested already and hegemony must be maintained.
50 Matthew Shepherds. And the silenced wails of all the actual victims fades into the distance.