February 23, 2013 by rebelwithalabelmaker
Me: This one time, I went to a strip club by accident.
Gary: That was not an accident. You said “I am taking women and gender studies, and we’re in New Orleans, so clearly we have to go to a strip club”. And then you said “What are you talking about, it won’t be awkward at all.” And then you said “Oh, quit whining, it will be fine.” and then you–
Me: Oh, not that time… that time I chose to go.
Gary: Must have been nice for you.
Me: But this other time, my friend offered to take me to a gay bar, and when we got there, it was totally not just a gay bar.
Me: I went as a field trip for school.
Me: Well, not as a formal field trip–but we’ve been studying border crossing, and different sub-cultures, and so I said I wanted to go to a gay bar and that’s where they took me.
Gary: Awkward, isn’t it, when someone hauls you to a strip club against your will?
Me: At first, yup. But at a gay strip club the people are a lot, um, closer to each other, so after you strike up some conversations it’s okay.
Gary: I would have thought the people working there would have preferred not to waste valuable time on conversation.
Me: Oh, they can multitask. They can do a lap dance for one person and talk about Architecture with another person without missing a beat. It’s like their bodies and brains are split in two. Like when we are talking and I am also folding laundry?
Gary: A gay strip club is like talking and doing laundry?
Me: Surprise laundry. Of course, I was not doing any of the surprise laundry. That would have been a little weird, don’t you think?
Gary: I would think yes.
Me: But I’m glad I went because it really helped me understand some things about my experience at seminary.
You will have to bear with me bit, because this is a connection that is kind of hard to explain. For a couple of years now, I’ve been attending American seminary, where we talk about anti-racism and anti-oppression, and border crossing. In those conversations, as a Canadian, I’ve had a creeping sense of discomfort. Which I found it tough to explain in ways that didn’t sound stupid.
“This stuff doesn’t always translate very well across the border” I would say to my friend, which really sounds like code for “nobody is racist in Canada” which of course would be a ridiculous thing to say. But there are subtle differences in race relations in each context that make it hard to translate, and I find it very uncomfortable to pretend that it’s the same. Like attending another family’s therapy session. A lot of the themes are similar, but you can’t really be a part of things as a full participant.
Me: Haven’t you ever had the experience of being different, but people think you’re the same, and you try to explain that it’s different but can’t quite articulate how?
And that’s when they said they wanted to take me to the gay strip club.
Me: I already know about gender and sexual diversity. I come from a Certified Welcoming Congregation, and I have lots of gay friends from church.
You know what is not the same thing? People telling you that they are Gay at Church, and people having no need to tell you they are Gay, at a Strip Club. Which was when I realized that I have very little experience with homosexuality itself. I don’t see gay people kiss, I don’t watch movies featuring gay romance (except tangentially), and all the annoying over-sexed ads I encounter are heterosexual in tone. I don’t see homosexual lust anywhere–except in a kind of cleaned up slightly goofy non-threatening cutesy sitcom/drama kind of way.
So I always assumed that homosexual relationships were… well, like heterosexual relationships, but with a few cosmetic differences. “We’re all the same.” I would insist, as a justification for why we should all have the same rights.
“Umm…” I would sometimes get in response.
Now that I have had my Great Border Crossing Field Trip, of course, I can draw on a new breadth of experience that includes both cutesy sitcom homosexuality and gay strip clubs. Oh the wisdom. Because I’m sure that I now cover the entire spectrum of the relationship lives of the sexual and gender identities of all people. (Proofreading friend not named Ann says I have to tell you that last sentence was sarcastic. I think she probably underestimates you.)
When it comes to identity, I’m learning to stop assuming that things are the same. And, I’m learning that “other sexual identities deserve the same rights I deserve because they are just like me in all the important ways” is not a valid argument. They don’t deserve the same rights because they are the same. They deserve them because that’s what a “right” is.
My point isn’t that there are huge differences, either. Just that my usual argument of “Love Makes a Family” leaves out people–gay and straight, come to think of it–who follow a relationship model that is different from mine.
“First of all,” my new term paper will say, “When you are trying to learn about the emotional lives and culture of people at strip clubs, in either gender, there are rules of etiquette. It is okay to talk to people while they are, um, interacting with your friends, but only if you stick to certain topics. These topics include: 1) Architecture, 2) Ministerial Formation, 3) The Contrast Between Canadian and American Culture, 4) Interpretations of the Torah, and 5) Liberal Catholicism. It is not okay, in this setting, to talk about 1) Bed bugs, or 2) Whether or Not There is Systemic Oppression Going On. Apparently this puts a damper on things.”
(That said, it is okay to talk about the pedagogy of alternative norms in non-dominant sub-cultural settings in relation to the eschatology of interpersonal relationships in border crossings. Technically, I’m pretty sure that this topic would be on the taboo list, but you get a free pass because nobody has any clue what you’re talking about.)
I may get kicked out of Ministry School for my heathen interpretation of the curriculum. For one thing, at Ministry School, strip clubs are generally regarded as greatly oppressive of all those who work there. I’m not sure I agree with this assessment as a blanket statement. In my experience of strip clubs–note that I can now say “clubs” with an “s” I like I am all experienced and worldly–it seems to me like there is definitely some oppression going on, but it’s not universal. Something about insisting that it’s all oppression seems a bit odd to me, especially when the none of the people talking seem to be strippers.
It’s the same thing with Republicans, I find.
Most of what I know about Republicans I know about from:
1) The Daily Show
2) Fox News–but just the parts that make the Daily Show,
3) Friends from Ministry School. Specifically, the ones who hauled me to the Gay Strip Club.
You see the parallels between what I am saying about Republicans, and what I am saying about Strip Clubs, right? Opinions I formed without gathering the direct perspective of the people I am forming opinions about. There are some kinds of knowledge that you can’t get without speaking directly to people and listening deeply.
But the nice Republicans from Colorado is a whole other story. Which I will put on the blog some day, but I have to think about the best way to explain it. After all, one must be careful about what one puts on the internet, when one is planning to be a Unitarian Minister. Because listening to Republicans was definitely not the Border Crossing the school had in mind…