WHAT WE STAND FOR, WHAT WE DANCE FOR
‘If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution,’ Emma Goldman said, when a man told her that it wasn’t proper for a revolutionary to throw her legs about.
Celebration is an important unifying force. Where would resistance be without it? When we celebrate, we give ourselves strength and encouragement. It’s CSD season and we’re dancing. We are Berlin. We are the BVG—the city’s transport network. We’re a tourist attraction, we’re nightlife, we’re fashion. All our heterosexual friends are proud of us and we’re proud of them. Proud of how far we’ve come. It’s 2016. This year, the big Christopher Street Day Parade in Berlin was postponed until July so that the UEFA European Championship wouldn’t distract from our celebrations.
This year we are the most tolerant city in Germany and one of the most popular destinations for marginalised people from all over the world. Queers from across the globe live out their diaspora here. We’re the good gay friend, the lesbian artist, the queer nightclub. We’re the freaky, the ambivalent, the disreputable. Maybe we’re also the man in the suit who likes it in the darkroom and the butch dyke behind the bar. In such roles we are tolerated and occasionally celebrated. Coming out in other areas of life remains less glamorous. Our tolerant fellow citizens have us exactly where they need us: in clubs, on street parades, at the Eurovision Song Contest. The Berlin Queer Days boast an impressive line-up of stars and a widespread advertising campaign; for a moment it feels as if we’re wanted. But what are we wanted for?
This year, the EU Council of Ministers published a White Paper on LGBTI rights in the twenty-eight member states with the proviso that the equality policies ‘fully respect the Member States’ national identities’. Discrimination, it would seem, is part and parcel of national identity. We see evidence of this in the anti-queer speeches and demonstrations of the alt-right parties that are currently on the rise—and of course it has repercussions on the judgments of our four powers: legislature, executive, judiciary and media.
This year, in the US state of Florida, there was a bloody attack on the LGBTI community. Orlando no longer stands for the eponymous protagonist of Virginia Woolf’s novel about a body that resists all norms. Orlando now stands for a shooting at a Latinx queer event where forty-nine people were killed and fifty-three injured. The community had to wait days for an accurate statement. It wasn’t a gay club; it was an LGBTI space. And it wasn’t just a club night; it was a refuge for people whose lifestyles prevented them from feeling safe anywhere else. It was an explicitly non-white event advertised on flyers featuring trans women and drag queens. The European response to the massacre ignored all that and labelled the events an ‘attack on freedom and Western lifestyle’. Media coverage flared up briefly when it emerged that the perpetrator was Muslim, but soon died down as suspicion grew that the crime was an act of internalised homophobia and racism perpetrated by a gay man—and that the society in which he lived was by no means free of blame.
The German chancellor—the woman who had declared on Facebook only the year before: ‘For me, personally, marriage is a man and a woman living together’—took four days to make a statement about the Pulse nightclub shooting. A political gesture like that sends out clear signals: some lifestyles are deemed worthy of protection; others can wait.
This year, the Competence Centre for Research into Right-Wing Extremism and Democracy at Leipzig University published a study entitled ‘The Uninhibited Centre’. This study revealed that 40.1 per cent of Germans find homosexual kisses ‘disgusting’, 24.8 per cent regard homosexuality as ‘immoral’ and 36.2 per cent are against gay marriage. It’s 2016 and we’re dancing.
This year, the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency ruled that homosexual men who were systematically persecuted under Section 175 of the German Criminal Code after 1945 were to be collectively rehabilitated. In West and East Germany alike, some of those men were sent straight from concentration camps to prison. Why has it taken so long to secure justice for them?
The triangle of violence goes like this: there is a person who is attacked, a person doing the attacking and a third group—those who offer no support to the person under attack.
For the victim, the immediate threat comes from the attacker, but the lasting threat comes from the third group. It is no surprise to the person being attacked that someone who hates their way of life should reach for a weapon. But to receive no support during the assault and then be told you are ‘not equal’ can cause lasting damage. Lavish demonstrations of solidarity such as rainbow colours on the Brandenburg Gate cannot change this (never mind that Berlin lags far behind other cities in such public displays of support). They are spectacle; the other is real life. Being left unassisted in a dangerous situation is an experience that becomes knowledge; it has a lifelong impact on a queer body’s attitude to that third group, with its majority arrogance. The group itself hasn’t done the shooting, of course, but that isn’t the point. It is always individuals who shoot. But just because the group didn’t shoot, doesn’t mean that it sprang to the victim’s defence. It didn’t. It can’t—because all attacks carried out by individuals are deeply implicated in the power structures of that third, majority group.
This so-called majority considers queer a disruptive force—and isn’t that the idea? Queer is, quite literally, odd, strange, peculiar. The history of the term points to a permanent rebellion against normalisation and externally imposed labels—and to a fight for the right to define oneself. Queer desire, queer hopes and dreams call into question the status quo. Queer lifestyle challenges labour and family law, fixed identities (including national identity) and an order that is violent because it excludes so many people. The principle of queer is to destabilise the hierarchy of entitlement; any attempt to be part of a majority can only fail. The majority wants us invisible—as long as I don’t get to see it, you can do what you like—or tries to appropriate us—my lesbian colleague doesn’t want to have to live next door to Arabs either. It fears our emancipation.
For emancipation we need clear positions, visible representation, safe spaces. We need allies. Only then can we break out of the triangle of violence and cast off the role of victim. When we dance at the CSD parade, we are dancing against the denigration of gay people. We are dancing for the rehabilitation of those affected by Section 175 and the recognition of trans and inter as genders in their own right. We are dancing for refugees. For queer refugees. For rights for all people, regardless of their differences. We know what it means to feel a sense of outrage, and we will hold our own by forming alliances with other outraged people.
The history of minorities in the twentieth century shows that neither ghettoization nor assimilation can protect us. The question today in 2016 is, how can we remain visible outside the spaces allocated to us? How do we behave and act as queers? How can we make sure that we take what we are everywhere we go—into the office, onto the street, into everything we say and write? These are questions that concern all of society. And society has to accept us.
Tr. Imogen Taylor