Monday, 29 October 2018
An Open Letter to Vivek Shraya
I have not read your book I’m Afraid of Men. I apologise.
I am a man. I will not apologize for that.
I’m sure that you have had the best of intentions, and like so many of us, you have had a lot of pain in your life. And there may be truths in your book. But that doesn’t justify it’s title. (And it doesn’t matter if the back cover says ‘Men Are Afraid of Me’). I appeal to you. That title is hate. Hate, in any form is reprehensible. And any statement which vilifies any group on the basis of race, gender or sexuality is wrong to do so. What if someone titled their book ‘I’m afraid of Jews?’ (and they were not a Jew)? This book’s title, unfortunately is akin to the hate filled rhetoric that fills our public spaces and endangers us all. Can’t you see that no matter what your feelings are, and how deep they are — and I’m not questioning the depth of your pain — that hate will not relieve it?
I must speak on behalf of men. (I must speak for them, if no one else is willing to do so!) There have been some very great men in our history, and many are still living to this present day. They have put their lives on the line for gay people, trans people, and people of colour. I am thinking particularly of Marsha P. Johnson and Patrick Califia.
Marsha P. Johnson was a drag queen, and one of the founders of the gay liberation movement. People today call her ‘trans.’ But to be fully accurate she embarked on her brave crusades before the word ‘trans’ was in common usage. She identified as a proud drag queen — like so many who founded the gay liberation movement at Stonewall, like so many who fight so valiantly for our man rights. She was a man who loved to dress as a woman, and everyone loved her. She disappeared — was probably murdered — because she dared to declare her identity loudly and publicly.
Patrick Califia is a trans man who has been an active spokesperson on behalf of queer love and sex for nearly forty years. He identifies as male. He also thinks that masculinity can be sexy and empowering, And he speaks eloquently of the triumphs and adversities of being driven by testosterone.
These are just two of the many kind, brilliant men who have spoken out for us all. When you say ‘I’m afraid of men’ you erase these brave and passionate men from our history.
I have one more point to make.
Please do not be afraid. I know it’s hard to be brave. But fear looks backwards. Be angry at men who hurt you, at the men who are sexist, racist and transphobic and homophobic; but do not be afraid.
As a young drag queen, I strutted confidently in many ‘unsafe’ spaces. I read poetry in front of crowds of straight people, I led tours of my favourite sexual spots in the gay village, and I took a ragtaggle group of queers shopping for dresses with me in the Eaton Centre. I’m not bragging. But I am saying that to fight what is wrong demands courage. We must all have the courage to stride unabashedly into ‘unsafe’ space, straight space, alien space, oppressive space, and look the oppressor in the eye. Yes, we may be vilified, beaten, even murdered for our honesty. But we must do it if we are ever to win.
Vivek, I urge not to go the way of hate and fear, but instead to gather your courage and your gentleness.
It’s an old rage, and it must be cast aside.