If anyone needs more proof of just how small the gay poetry world is, they need to look no further than the various blog postings over the last few days in what has been named "beautygate" (which I love). I'm not going to specifically respond to this discussion/debate/fight, because I'm not sure I know enough to say anything particularly useful or different. I'll provide some links at the bottom of this piece to those who have written full responses.
I don't personally know any of the people involved. I have, of course, read their work and have heard things about them (again, the gay poetry world is small), but my opinion is still being formed. I don't know much about the Wilde Boys. I don't live in NYC, though I am planning to move there by late summer. I've never been included or excluded by them. I can, however, offer this opinion: the article published on Lambda Literary's website, that started all of this, was a poorly put together piece that shouldn't have been published. It contained very little support for its ideas and made very broad statements and connections. We need to hold each other to better standards of writing even on opinion pages.
This post, however, is not about all of that really. "Beautygate" got me thinking about privilege. My own privilege. I am an openly gay man and I have experienced my own share of discrimination. I've been called fag countless times. I had it written on my dorm door in college. I've been turned down for jobs because I'm gay, which is legal in most states. I'm discriminated against every day in this country by not having equal rights. In this way, I'm not privileged because I'm not part of the privileged sexual orientation. I am, however, privileged in many other ways.
I am white. Very white. This is a huge privilege in this world. I can't change that, but I can openly recognize it. It doesn't make you a bad person to realize that you are privileged because you were born with a certain color of skin. Acknowledging that privilege is useful, but also uncomfortable, which is why so many avoid it. It is a fact that I'm viewed very differently than if I was black, latino, or Asian. No one has ever been afraid of me because I was simply there. Simply walking down the street. I will not be shot because I'm mistaken for a criminal. Every day I am treated like a white person. I know this has made my life easier. Does that make me sad? Yes, but pretending otherwise is harmful. I don't know what it is like to be a person of color in this country. I can't imagine what it is like to be a gay person of color in this country.
I am male. Because I was born a certain gender, I'm also privileged. I will most likely make more money because of it. I might be promoted more quickly because of it. I will not have to fight as hard to prove myself.
I am attractive and thin. Much of this current debate has revolved around "beauty" and outward appearance. I don't know if I'm cute enough to get invited to selective poetry salons, but I know that my looks have helped me in life. I'm privileged in that way. I know for a fact that some people have bought my book because they thought I was cute. This is a privilege. Like it or not.
The point is that we each have different privileges and some more than others. These are things created by the world we live in and to pretend they don't exist or to not be able to understand where another is coming from, is dangerous and naive. My skin color, sex, and looks are privileges I carry with me. Sometimes it's nice. Sometimes it's easier. Sometimes it makes me very uncomfortable to know that.
I'm not saying one has to apologize for these privileges, but acknowledging them and listening and learning from others will maybe eventually breakdown some of these privileges. What would that world be like?
C. Dale Young