Gays and lesbians shouldn't be fighting for marriage rights, according to Mattilda – they should be fighting for marriage abolition.
Mattilda, a.k.a. Matt Bernstein Sycamore, is a writer, editor, and "instigator" of Gay Shame – a "radical queer activist group that fights the monster of assimilation." Currently on a cross-country college and bookstore tour for the release of That's Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation, he stopped at Mills last Friday, Sept. 24, to talk to students about why they should resist the push for same-sex marriage equality. The event, hosted by Mills' queer alliance Mouthing Off, also featured speakers Eli seMbessakwini, Priya Kandaswamy, and visiting Mills professor Mattie Richardson.
Speaking to a crowd of about 40 students, Mattilda criticized gay rights activists who "discard lavender and pink in favor of stars and stripes, proponents [who] literally draped themselves in old glory while the military just bombs away."
The question from Mattilda was: "If gay marriage is about protecting citizenship, whose citizenship is it protecting?"
Because marriage rights mainly revolve around tax breaks, property and inheritance rights, and medical, they "consistently prioritize the most privileged," he said. "There's calls for domestic partner health care but not universal health care. In the white version of 'Gaylandia' homeless people, people of color, and youth are all removed from the picture."
The book, edited by Mattilda, includes 35 pieces ranging from activist struggles and strategies, historical information from the '70s through the present, and other pieces such as one man's comparison between Internet cruising for sex as a white man, and as his real self, a black rapper. Contributors also include Patrick Califia, writer and educator Carol Queen, and transgender activist Dean Spade.
Lauren White, a senior and president of Mouthing Off, found the speakers' arguments fascinating, and said it gave her some new perspective on the debate. Though she's a supporter of marriage equality, White said that when she heard Mattilda's point of view, she wanted to bring him to campus.
"I was interested in having more events, getting speakers to come, generally being more visible on campus," White said. "I found out that he was against something I was for, gay marriage rights and pride events, and I wanted to know why."
Mattilda spoke of the night that Gavin Newsom held a benefit dinner for the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Center soon after he was elected mayor. Gay Shame protesters went to challenge "the hypocritical agenda of honoring a straight man who criminalizes homelessness [with] Care not Cash," Mattilda said. "What does that mean? We'll take your money AND we care!"
He said the police were called, and he had the surreal experience of being "bashed outside our center" while staff from the center "stood and watched and didn't intervene."
Mattilda said that it's a media myth that only two sides exist in the marriage debate and that "gay assimilationists" have clamped down on diversity with a "consume or die, we're just like you mentality." Radical queers want to "transform gender, revolutionize sexuality, expose and defeat the hierarchy, [and] transform ideas of community and family," he said.
As an ethnic studies student at UC Berkeley, some of Kandaswamy's work has revolved around her frustration that "race is never talked about in gay marriage."
"There's a consistent invoking of morality around marriage…the concept of 'If you don't get married you're not entitled to anything'," Kandaswamy said.
Surprised at "how quickly gays bought into it," she looked at the rationales for marriage and said she saw "rights that are particularly stratified along race lines. We have a structure of giving rights to whites in ways that we don't to people of color."
Kandaswamy said Social Security has a long history of denying benefits to certain occupations, ones that are often held by people of color and that the fight for marriage is about "gaining access to privileges of white supremacy." She noted that property rights don't matter without property and health benefits can't be extended if a job offer doesn't exist in the first place.
Richardson, visiting professor in the Ethnic Studies department, echoed similar statements. Her contributions to the book include a Q/A on "Is Gay Marriage Racist?"
"We never hear a political voice that isn't absolutely simplistic when there's so much more to be said about structures in and around the issue of rights, being able to claim rights and get rights," she said. Mainstream gay activists start with the Loving v. Virginia case, which legalized interracial marriage and was based on "the concept that black people were subhuman," she said.
"Entrenched is a much deeper conversation about how black people are treated in America," Richardson said. "Emancipation didn't stop lynching. Marriage didn't stop lynching. Even a law allowing the vote didn't mean they could; they stopped people even in 2000."
For Richardson, the notion that citizenship and marriage are tied doesn't work.
"I want black queer people to think about it and what it means, historically, and not just jump on the bandwagon," she said.
"People aren't thinking about pragmatics the way they should be," Richardson said. "People do family in all kinds of ways, and man/man or woman/woman leaves out a lot of genders. It becomes a lesbian and gay issue and leaves out a lot of queer people."
Not all of the pieces in the book are about the politics of marriage. Richardson also wrote a piece about safe and accessible restrooms and focuses a lot of her work on "thinking about queer politics in a variety of ways."
Eli seMbessakwini, who contributed three pieces to the book and is appearing with Mattilda at various stops throughout the tour, read her piece on "dyke-on-dyke cruising."
Aware of the "stark contrast between queer-identified women and community and queer-identified men" and jealous of the differences in how they approach sex, seMbessakwini said she started an "experiment in sexualizing public space, especially in the dyke community."
Her dream was a park full of lesbians cruising for sex, and she arranged a time and place for interested parties to come and seek each other out in the darkness. "I wanted to witness a new dawn of dyke liberation," seMbessakwini said, hoping that it would become its own regular, spontaneous phenomenon.
The speakers all said that conversations can be had about power and privilege and the conflict it brings, without necessarily advocating against marriage like Mattilda.
But, "if we take it for a given that everyone wants marriage, we silence some of the conversations," Richardson said.
Mouthing Off will also be hosting an event with speakers promoting marriage equality at the end of October.