Shedding labels at Swat on the shoulders of Pink Giants

I recently came upon the 2009 Daily Gazette sex columnist called “The Pink Narcissist.” It was everything I ever wished to write, so I decided to dedicate this week’s article as a tribute. The column was published the year before I arrived at Swarthmore, and I am surprised that the campus hadn’t fallen over itself to accommodate its message. The Narcissist was to be a sex columnist writing about his homosexual experiences, but the inaugural issue, “Gay for Pay,” was a reflection on being forced into labeling his identity on campus. He wrote, “From the moment that I stepped onto Swarthmore’s campus, I felt pressured to label myself.”

“Believe it or not, the so called ‘straight community’ and the so called ‘queer community’ have much more in common than not. Sexual feelings and love play an important part in most people’s lives, no matter how they identify or don’t identify. This is why I personally reject sexual labels. Because I’m not ‘gay,’ or ‘queer,’ I’m human.”

An unspoken taboo was smashed, and the commenters wrote with rare candor. “SB” wrote, “Thank fucking god. Finally. This is the column I’ve been waiting for […] I’ve never felt the least bit comfortable with so-called ‘queer friendly’ organizations on campus because every time someone is ‘queer’ or ‘straight’ or ‘bi’ or ‘trans’ or ‘genderqueer’ or whatever term is in this week, it becomes a little harder to identify them as human.”

Likewise, “D” wrote, “You articulate how I (as one of those people on the margins of the queer community) have felt pressured to join different queer groups on campus … But I realize that I’m just human like you, and that I don’t belong with those who would proclaim a war on other sexualities, or struggle for visibility and acceptance.”

The agreement was short-lived. A commenter named “Fits of Rage” insinuated that the author suffered from “self-hatred” and “internalized homophobia”. Then Fits wrote, “Your challenge of labels, dogmatic pursuit to stake out your place in the community, and desire to shape the conversation about LGBTQIAGNC … are absolutely, 100% QUEER. Get over it.”

Performing unrequested psychoanalysis and forcing identities upon others — aren’t these the exact traumas that gay support groups try to heal? This hypocrisy is common to this day, with activists often belittling others in their quest to do good. For example, in a recent Daily Gazette comment, I read a queer activist explain, “If I’m making fun of Christians who think Jesus is super forreal [sic] coming back in October, I’m not oppressing them. I’m making them feel little and small and being a douche, perhaps, but that’s not systematic oppression. It’s called not being able to put the damn filter on.”

Reminds me of Tennessee Williams, who wrote, “All cruel people describe themselves as paragons of frankness.” In reading these Daily Gazette threads, I can’t help but feel that activists who act like “douches” and make others “feel little and small” are disguising their cruelty as frankness. They fly the banner of community over their personal battles, infusing their causes with a bitter selfishness.

Jonathan Rauch, an essayist who also happens to be gay, wrote to the gay community on the occasion of gay rights passing 50% public acceptance in America about the need to tone down political absolutism. He wrote, “Pushing on every front at once is no longer cost-free. Far from it: to the public, a shrill, aggressive majority appears bullying and menacing, not plucky and righteous. Worst of all, it looks oppressive.”

The Pink Narcissist struck a nerve, but he never wrote a second article. It is a shame, because he wasn’t, and still isn’t, alone. He was intellectual kin of Cynthia Ozick, who also refused to be identified by labels such as “woman writer.” I think that he would agree with her when she writes, “A writer with an ambitious imagination needs an appetite beyond the self.”

When people shed their labels, they give others the freedom of imagination. Whatever happened to “If you want to be me, be me”? Identity politics has no response to Cat Stevens, nor to Walt Whitman when he cries with The Pink Narcissist and myself and anyone else marginalized by the politicization of identity: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” We owe The Pink Narcissist for this possibility: any one of us might be him, wearing a pink cape at night and having sex (but not anal — he didn’t like anal) like a superhero.

Sam is a sophomore. You can reach him at szhang1@swarthmore.edu.

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