Talking about privilege is a tough thing, guys. It’s hard not to be angry at the folks who have it if you don’t, and it’s hard to understand those who don’t have it if you do. There’s a gap in lived experience that causes a gulf in communication, and it can be really difficult to even realize either the gap or the gulf even exists.
So when I see folks that are genuinely making an effort to understand an experience outside their own, I personally prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt. If there’s someone who is genuinely trying to be a good ally, I personally feel it’s important to recognize that and support it. I fully believe that it is not the responsibility of the oppressed to educate their oppressors… but can we make a distinction between oppressors, and those who are simply part of the oppressive class?
For instance, there’s this article on why the queer community doesn’t need Macklemore’s validation. And, y’know, if this was the only socio-politically conscious song the group did, I might be inclined to agree. But to me, “Same Love” isn’t patronizing. It’s not a political statement, necessarily. It’s certainly not a gimmick. The songs that I’ve heard by Macklemore (and, to be fair, I’ve only heard a few) simply point to a piece of our culture and go, “What’s that? Why is it like that?”
In “Thrift Shop,” he points out that our own drive for status fuels this ridiculous consumer economy that inflates the prices of average goods beyond the point of reason – yo, that’s $50 for a T-shirt – and the culture of excess and waste it creates. In “White Privilege” he examines the fact that hip-hop culture has been appropriated by people who have never experienced the struggles that birthed the movement, and wrestles with the question of whether or not he can, in good conscience, participate in it. And in “Same Love” he points out that we are all human, and we all deserve the same respect, dignity, and legal standing.
Queers, this song wasn’t written to us. About us, yes – for us, sure. But we’re not the intended audience here. Macklemore is talking to the folks out there who have never had to think about what it means to be called “faggot” in any real sense of the word. He’s talking to the people who don’t see queer people as real people. He’s talking to the people who live in comfortable ignorance, unaware of the implications of their intellectual laziness. He’s challenging them to think about the people they pass judgment on, the human element behind the political decisions. He is using his voice to amplify the message that others have put forth. Are we really doing so well on our own in the fight for equal rights that we don’t need celebrities and people in positions of power to stand beside us?
Maybe it’s all in how you read it. The author states,
“…Ben’s gay (mis)identification is constructed as the source of his own preconceived notions—his stereotypical views—about what constitutes gayness: an aptitude for art (“‘cause I could draw”), a genetic predisposition (“my uncle was”), and a precocious anality (“I kept my room straight”). Just as his mama corrects him and draws attention to the stereotypes animating the proclivities that might lead him astray to being gay, he is corralled back to fulfill his destiny of becoming a straight-but-not-narrow male ally for people like his gay uncle who are targets of the religious right’s scrutiny and hypocrisy”
Ok, sure. If you’re assuming that this Ben is just a character (Macklemore’s actual name is Ben Haggerty), then I could see where this looks like an oversimplification of the equal-rights struggle through the lens of heteronormativity. But if you instead take it as one man telling a story that is actually true, and did actually happen, then it takes on a different meaning.
My interpretation of the above verses is “When I was young, I thought I was gay because these things were true of me, and also of gay people. It took my mom to remind me that I was forgetting the crucial piece: who I was attracted to.” I don’t see it as “a white dude who phobically disavows his own fleeting homosexual identification as just another instance of “buying into stereotypes”’… I see it as someone saying, “Hey, I’ve questioned my sexuality a time or two. Turns out I’m straight. But it shouldn’t matter if I am or not. It shouldn’t matter if anyone is or not.”
“Turns out I’m straight” is not a homophobic statement. Just because you’ve questioned your sexuality doesn’t mean you’re gay. Hell, just because you’ve slept with someone of the same sex doesn’t mean you’re gay. Sexuality is a continuum, a spectrum, and there are a myriad ways of expressing it. It changes from person to person, day to day, minute to minute. And it seems a bit gauche to look so disdainfully and distrustfully at a hand extended in friendship and solidarity, just because there happens to be a straight white dude behind it. (Some of my best friends are straight white dudes.)
At the end of the day, the equal rights campaign is not about marriage. Putting marriage on a pedestal as the be-all end-all of human relationships and experience is deeply problematic, and adding queers to the mix won’t change that. But recognizing that love is love, no matter who it’s between, is vital to the progress of free society. So at the end of the day, the equal rights campaign is about recognition. It’s about lifting the taboo. It’s about realizing that, yes, it is all the same love.
And a certificate on paper
Isn’t gonna solve it all
But it’s a damn good place to start.