My home is protected by Ben Bradlee Brown. Not the esteemed Washington Post executive editor. This Ben Bradlee is a 16-pound Bichon Frise. The naming is intended as a compliment to Mr. Bradlee. In my house, dogs are good.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we adopted a 5-year-old standard poodle. We have had many before her but always raised them from puppies. This adoption turned out to be living with someone else’s dog. That is a different story for another time. But, as foreshadowing to my point, please note my word adoption has been replaced with the 2022 phrase forever home or the word RE-homed.
So, I have two dogs, occasionally three. Eccentric of me? Perhaps. They have always gotten along well. The exception to that tranquility comes when the doorbell rings. They charge the door, often with much bluster. They know the threat is on the other side of the door. If I am slow to respond, they linger at the door. Tensions rise. The situation escalates. I arrived to find the two of them in a full-fledged shoving, nipping, barking battle with EACH OTHER. I know it starts with a well-intended alert to possible danger. I see the raw emotion of it all. I see the frustration. But frustrated on the inside, they literally turn on each other.
After many years of living as an out lesbian, I have observed this phenomenon within the LGBTQ+ community. My people often attack their own. During board meetings of the best-intentioned activists, church groups, sports teams and choruses, I have observed those organizational struggles. Researchers have dedicated volumes to the behavior science of confined or marginalized minority populations as they cope with the dangers around them.
In the ’70s and ‘80s we developed and struggled with what was referred to as PC. Politically Correct was the term. Someone who is politically correct believes language and actions, especially those relating to sex, gender and race should be changed, eliminated. Political Correctness was an agent of change. PC was strident. It was unrelenting. There was little room for anything, even for an honest verbal error.
So we changed words: girl vs. woman, woman vs. womyn. Spelling mattered too. Mary Daly wrote an entire manifesto on the words used to keep us oppressed. The book is called “Gyn/ecology, the Metaethics of Radical Feminism.” Daly retooled the English language as a step toward liberation. Words as a way we could change and claim our identities.
Behavior was subject to the same litmus test of political correctness. Butch/femme identities of the generation before me became too heteronormative for the feminists of the ‘70s. Collectives and writers’ groups were publishing books, newspapers and journals. All thoughtful and well-intended. Everyone seemed to know what was best and how we should change internally, build community and change the world. In essence, fight the oppressor.
Fast forward 20 years, a new employee was introduced to me. Our boss called her “girl.” When I corrected him, she corrected me. She embraced the term girl as positive and youthful.
I was truly confused. Sisterhood is powerful, isn’t it? Did she want to be recognized as an adult? Be respected? With her choice of girl as a modifier, I got my first consciousness-raising glimpse of the changing nature of “correctness.”
Today’s discourse of issues/critique of language is referred to as “woke.” The process feels similar, if not identical, to my PC journey. Claiming the power of self-determination while practicing and fighting among ourselves. Targeting each other for intense criticism and setting boundaries and markers for judging each other.
Like that ever got anyone freedom. It serves the power structure to have us infighting. Distracted by our differences when those who hate us do not differentiate.
Fighting at the door when the threat is still on the other side.
Lynne Brown is the publisher of Washington Blade.