Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Moratorium on Whining

No, not for me. On the use of the word. It's so 1990s. And it has so been done to death that it's not helping our important 21st-century discussions.

Permit me to make my case: on blog thread after blog thread in recent days, as the fallout from the Obama administration's failure to move forward on (or even address) major promises to the gay community is reaching national attention, readers are logging in to accuse gays of whining (or whinning, as the case may be: neocon political ardor often appears to go hand in hand with orthographic handicaps).

A case in point: the series of article that Ben Smith has been publishing about this at Politico. Select any one of these (e.g., here) and slog through the numerous comments, if you have the stomach for it (and keeping in mind the tendency of those whining about gay whining to misspell the word they're whinning about). Again and again, you'll encounter the charge that gays are whining, gays are never satisfied, gays need to be patient and wait their turn as they belly up to the bar where the power boys of the center dispense the goodies, etc.

Enough. Enough with the whining about whining. The word no longer means anything at all when it's lobbed around as a bombshell in political discussions to defuse and delegitimize necessary critical discourse. The gays aren't going to go away, so dismissing our valid complaints as childish kvetching isn't going to shame or stop us. It's only going to make us fight harder.

The use of the term "whine" in this dismissive, stigmatizing way to marginalize the discourse of groups with valid complaints about their unjust exclusion from the center of power is fairly easy to track. The provenance of the term in its current political incarnation links to the blowsy anti-gay, anti-women, anti-African American, anti-immigrant fulminations of right-wing talk radio and t.v. commentators of the 1980s and 1990s.

For that group, who just happen to be almost exclusively white, and men, and ostensibly heterosexual men, everyone whines. Except themselves, of course. Because whining is not what real men do. It's what fake men like homos do. It's what women do. It's what children do.

Women and homos are children when they whine about their rights. As I noted in a previous posting, the patronizing rhetoric of those who counsel patience now as gays ask for rights harks back to the rhetoric I heard during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, when the white Southerners among whom I was raised spoke of the valid demands of black citizens for rights, and rights now, as childish whining.

The term "whine" infantilizes, when it's applied to adults with valid adult demands. It's intended to infantilize. It's intended to dismiss. It's intended to keep the adults who are so characterized in their place, in their inferior place.

Inferior as in (its literal etymological meaning) beneath: beneath one core group in the social structure. Beneath men. White men. Straight (or straight-appearing) men.

Talk about women and gays and people of color whining worked for a while, as long as white, male, heterosexual posturing shock jockeys controlled our national political discourse. Now, they're being given a run for their money, and the terminology that group has used to try to keep critical insights and critical analysis and "inferior" voices at bay needs to be relegated to the dustbin of history.

It didn't get us far in the 1990s, and it's not going to get us far in the 21st century.

And don't get me started on the condescending pseudo-psychological use of the term "selfish" to marginalize gay critiques and gay persons. This use of the term "selfish" derives from long- discredited pseudo-scientific theories that gay men are half-adolescent narcissistic adult males who have never quite emerged from adolescence. We need to find some 21st-century language befitting 21st-century political realities. The reality is that the folks our previous rhetorical structures (structures invented largely by heterosexual men to benefit themselves) sought to place in confining, demeaning social spaces are refusing to live in the inferior places we've long told them to occupy.

And our language needs to catch up with that reality.

So, today, by the power vested in me by the Queen of the Universe as the self-appointed Linguistic Arbiter of Everything this day 20th June 2009, I declare a moratorium on the word "whining." If you wish to be querulous about this decree, please choose some other term to express your discontent.