Friday, November 17, 2006

People before positions; principles before politics


I fancy myself a radical and at different times through different lenses others have seen me that way. I realized, however, yesterday in class that pressing my radicalism too much makes it retreat. The reason is quite simple. While I consider myself intellectually a radical, in practice in my life I have two fundamental values that I won’t alter. I believe in people before positions, and I believe in principles before politics. This isn’t to say that some radicals don’t believe exactly the same thing. I don’t mean to sound pious or self-righteous about it because in fact I found the realization of all of this quite disturbing. It didn’t make me feel better about myself or morally superior. There was no hierarchical positioning associated with it; it just seems to be the fact of how I want to choose to live my life. Look at that verbal construction: want choose live. That is the other part of this; it isn’t a default automatically chosen position; it is something that requires foresight, action, and persistence.

All of this came up in a discussion of comparing the political projects of Social Text: What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now and Black Queer Studies. Social Text is the cutting edge queer studies cohort. In many ways, I feel more politically and intellectually aligned with the writings in social text. They all are radically positioned and designed to resist and confront “mainstream” queer thought. In particular, for my professional project I’ve been working with the one about the law post-Lawrence. Yet, there is a tenor in the book that makes me bristle. I am constantly thinking about the people not represented. The people missing or maligned. I would almost describe them as ghosts whispering to me. They want to speak. While I am completely in agreement with Ruskola’s view of expanding the law’s understanding of sex so that it is not imitative of heterosexuals, I think of all of the folks for whom Lawrence reflected their view of sexuality. While I agree with the political project of Hiram Perez to attack the Gay Shame conference, I want to know what the people at the Gay Shame conference were thinking. I want them to have a voice. This makes me intellectually a “hopeless liberal,” which in many ways feels like how we used to talk about people who were bourgeois when I was a socialist. That made me uncomfortable, too. I don’t consider myself a “liberal” intellectual. In fact, I would position myself oppositionally to liberal intellectuals; I consider myself a radical, but for these truths that emerge when I am pressed to the wall. When pressed, I will always put people before positions. I won’t exclude people based on some sense of intellectual purity. I couldn’t really be a member of the Womyn’s Musical Festival collective - I would let people in; I would crumble under the pressure. I will always chose the more open and inclusive option. I will always draw the circle larger to bring in more people. Terribly liberal. I will also chose the principle over the politics. This was my challenge at HRC. I didn’t care that there was more power for incumbents. It mattered not to me that people were good on some issues and bad on others--that was politics. I wanted principles--the ability for people to stand with us, regardless on the principles of equality. I despise people who will not stand on their principles and let the politics dictate their lives.

The thought of being an intellectual liberal makes me shudder. I want to be an intellectual radical engaged in a life practice of liberalism. For liberalism in the life practice I want to ascribe the values and actions of kindness and generosity, openness and expansiveness. I want to do work that builds up others and doesn’t attack people or their work. I want to write alternatives not rebukes. I want to create new spaces not poison old. The more I read it, it sounds like liberal blather which makes me uncomfortable. Again, I shudder. Though perhaps it will not matter at all, I fear that I’ll do this two year MFA program and never find a place for myself to get a PhD and I’ll be expelled from the academy again (and there lovely library - which will be what I miss the most - those books! those resources! those articles!) and I’ll wander until I have to make money and am once again fundraising being a radical in the liberal environment. I should not write that - I should resist and write what I want not what I fear, but there it is and now I work.

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