I shop at Whole Foods not infrequently, and while I shouldn’t have to justify this to you, I suspect I’ll be asked to, so let’s get it out of the way: I have celiac disease, and, for better or worse, I eat some packaged products; this means that there are limited places where I can acquire many of those products, and some are only available at Whole Foods. It’s also convenient one of my work spaces.
Unfortunately, getting in to the Whole Foods generally means my passing a gauntlet of people asking if I have a moment for gay rights. They’re raising money for HRC (the Human Rights Campaign), and I find the whole thing extremely angry-making.
First things first: My gay dollars don’t go to HRC anymore. Why? Because HRC can’t even stand to put its cause in its name. Because HRC has repeatedly backed off on defending the rights of trans people for the sake of expediency. Because HRC represents assimilation that is neither relevant to nor possible for me. Because HRC seems to be actively uninterested, not just in the issues trans people face, but also in the issues that women and people of color in the queer community face. There are better places for my gay dollars (and we’ll talk about what they are later).
Next: I resent a social interaction in which I am effectively framed as uncaring and bigoted to a group of which I am actually a member because I don’t feel like engaging with street solicitation. For me, this is just an irritation that I may well be blowing out of proportion. For a queer person in the closet (and yes, they exist, even in New York), it’s particularly and uniquely cruel.
Additionally: I dislike the implication that because I’m shopping somewhere like Whole Foods (and, again, in my case for medically necessary reasons that I shouldn’t have to justify to you), I’m obligated to have a discretionary funds for whatever cause has camped out in front of their door.
Obviously, I want people to give dollars to queer-rights (and other) causes. And, I have a significant amount of empathy for people that do that street solicitation job, having once worked for NYPRG for a couple of miserable weeks when I was 17. But between my feelings about HRC, my dislike of the guilt thing, and my genuine concern for people not prepared to be out as queer or queer rights supporters, the whole thing just ticks me off. And that’s before we get to some of the tactics the solicitors use to get attention (don’t tell me to smile, don’t flirt with me, don’t block my path — how dare you? — it’s predatory and nasty and it’s targeted at women far more than men).
Mostly though, I’m just really sick of doing the “I gave at the office,” dance (normally I give from home, but I have remembered to do various donations at work, so hey).
Queer rights organizations I support and who don’t put me in an awkward, crappy position when I’m trying to buy food I can eat? Lambda Legal and The Trevor Project are at the top of the list. I’ve also given money to DADT-repeal groups and equal marriage rights groups in multiple states, as well as local, NYC LGBTQ community organizations.
Which brings me to another part of why I’m angry that has nothing to do with Whole Foods and HRC: I spend a lot of money fighting for my rights. I shouldn’t have to do that.
There are a lot of basic fiscal costs to being gay that have been well-documented including those of taxes, inheritance and benefit costs due to a lack of federal marriage equality; the financial stresses related to employment and housing discrimination (which is perfectly legal in most states); medical costs related to medical professionals who are unhelpful or unfamiliar with dealing with LGBT clients (and let’s not even talk about the costs of medical transition for those seeking that — it’s a fortune and almost never insurance covered). And, in case it’s not obvious, these financial stresses impact the different subgroups within the LGBT community differently, making these issues even more complex and complex and critical. So are we clear now that no matter how much people talk about affluent queer people because of the DINK theory (dual-income no kids), that the fact remains being gay costs money and actually leaves many queer people (and particularly trans people) struggling with poverty?
And if we’re going to talk about costs, let’s not forget these damn activism dollars! I’m glad to have the extra income to put money into these causes. But I hate it. I hate having to do it. I hate how often I find myself tossing another 5 or 10 or 20 or 50 dollars at something or else there will be no counter-voice to more commercials on TV about how I’m a terrible person or actively working to destroy a world I don’t even understand (I grew up in NYC, among artists, I don’t even understand the things I’m supposedly dangerous to). When I give money it shouldn’t have to be about survival and with this sense that it’s never enough (and don’t get me started on having to give money to politicians who don’t actively support or admit to supporting my equal rights because the alternatives are just so awful).
Look, I’m not a big fan of the “born this way” theory, possibly because I’m so queer in terms of my attractions and gender that it’s hard to know what “this way” means; and I sure as hell shouldn’t have to be medicalized (and “born this way” is medicalizing. We never talk about how straight people are “born like that” — they’re normal, I come with celiac disease and gayness. Not cool!) to have my rights. But I gotta tell you, run the numbers, and then tell me why anyone would say, “Hey, I’ll be gay! I can live a carefree life of expensive vacations and fabulous houses!”
Yeah, they wouldn’t, and that’s despite the shiny happy picture of affluent normative queerness that HRC wants me to sponsor when I’m trying to buy groceries.