An Open Letter to the CCP Regarding the HK Protests

umbrellapropagandaRecent events in HK present the Chinese Communist Party with an unprecedented opportunity to consolidate power in the territory.

After the teargas used on the first night backfired, figuratively and at least once, literally, it’s time to reassess your options.  The “guerilla strategy” of occupying many locations simultaneously to spread out the police, combined with the sheer number of protesters and their continued commitment to the movement and to non-violence have created a crisis for China.  But in crisis, there is opportunity.  Since more teargas is unlikely to disperse the protesters, and they seem determined to stay, what options are available to you?

  1. Shut down communication and transportation infrastructures
  2. Escalate the violence
  3. Wait, agitate, infiltrate, and intimidate
  4. Negotiate

Option 1: Shut down the communication and transportation infrastructures

Since the guerilla strategy relies on HK’s excellent communication and transportation systems, shutting down that infrastructure could cripple the movement.  This strategy didn’t work particularly well for the Arab states that attempted to block parts or all of the internet to disrupt protester communication in 2011, and it’s likely to be even less effective in HK, which is small, and densely populated with technologically literate and innovative citizens.  Moreover, to the extent that it does work, it gives protesters part of what they want (disruption of the financial sector as a means of gaining bargaining power) while alienating your most important private sector allies (that same financial sector).  As much as shutting down Facebook and Twitter may seem to work in the Mainland, or in Iran, the reality in HK creates a situation where stifling freedom of expression and movement will cause the government to lose more than it would gain.

Option 2: Escalate the violence

The second option is something you must be considering.  It worked for you in Beijing in 1989, though at considerable cost.  It would be costly again if you tried it again in HK today, likely more so.  As I’m sure you’re aware, the Western “democracies,” particularly the US and the UK, are caught in a bit of a dilemma regarding HK.  While they have to publicly support the democratic aspirations of HK people, their real interest is in the stability of the HK financial system, and in maintaining trade ties to China.  Violence would likely force Obama, Cameron, Merkel, et al. to issue face-saving sanctions against China.

Further, violence might not work as quickly and easily as it did in Beijing.  HK people have long felt like they are having something taken away from them (both in the form of promised “universal suffrage” and in the form of the perceived regional autonomy and individual rights they see slipping away).  The protesters in Beijing in 1989 were fighting for things they had never had, things that remained mere ideas to them.  Much psychological evidence demonstrates that humans are considerably more motivated to avoid losses than they are to make gains.  The motivational logic of loss aversion, as well as the feeling of being coerced by an external other make the psyches of the protesters today in HK potentially more difficult to crack than those in Beijing in ‘89.  The violence necessary to break the collective will of the HK people might be too great to avoid international repercussions.  Much like the communications and transportation infrastructure, it is the human capital of HK that makes it useful to Beijing and its corporate and financial allies.  Violence risks damage to that human capital, just as it risks valuable trade relationships with other nations.

Option 3: Wait, Agitate, Infiltrate, and Intimidate

Waiting is the default option, and the one you are currently engaged in after the teargas brought out more protesters.  Along with waiting, there is concern about the use of provocateurs and intimidators infiltrating the protests, particularly in Mong Kok.  The protesters have contained these efforts so far by remaining calm, and even forming lines to block off provocateurs who seek violent confrontation.  Spies have been spreading disinformation, which may have led to a temporary loss of control of the Mong Kok site by the protesters, but it has been regained.
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Because the HK people are so much more creative and devoted than the paid thugs of the CCP, subverting the movement in any meaningful way is likely to prove difficult, similar to the way that governments and corporations struggle to stay ahead of hackers when designing internet security.  The 50 cent army is no match for a decentralized, determined movement that feels like it has a lot to lose.

Perhaps you think that you can wait out the protesters, that by next week, after the holidays and the weekend, they will lose steam, and go back to work/school.  I advise you to give that a try.  It would be wise to wait until at least Monday before either escalating or negotiating.

But there is risk in waiting too long.  First, while you wait and attempt to subvert the movement, the protesters gain valuable organizing experience. They become better at handling your tactics, tactics which in comparison will be slow to adapt to a situation in flux.  They may organize to the point that they can occupy in shifts, allowing protesters to participate in the movement while still going to work and taking care of their families.  Second, emboldened and organized, protesters may increase their demands beyond the relatively modest goals of the present and ask for complete independence from China.  Third, you risk the democracy movement spreading to the Mainland, as tourists visit HK and learn from protesters.  If you can’t subvert the movement by next week, you should consider co-opting it instead.
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Option 4: Negotiate

While seemingly the least attractive, it is the fourth option option that presents the greatest opportunity.  The demands of the protesters are modest, for now.  It seems likely that they can be appeased by an amendment to the Basic Law that allows for public nomination of candidates for Chief Executive, and of course C.Y. Leung’s resignation. The focus on the Chief Executive has caused people to forget about the fact that the CCP has democratically unalterable control over the Legislative Council, control provided by the UK’s parting gift to the CCP, the Orwellian-named functional constituencies.  So you could keep functionally permanent control of Legco, and in the negotiations over the nomination process for Chief Executive, you could strengthen the role of the legislature (don’t call it weakening the Chief Executive) by enacting changes to the Basic Law that allow LegCo to check the power of the Chief Executive, since the legislature is the branch you currently don’t risk losing control over.  But if you wait too long, the people might remember that true universal suffrage means abolishing the functional constituencies as well.

Even with public nomination of Chief Executive candidates, the chances of a member of the Pan-Democratic camp being elected are small, even in a free and fair election.  I’ve mentioned before that one-off elections tend to favor two centrist candidates and are typically easy to manage.  The median LegCo member is still in your camp, as the Pan-Democrats have less than half the elected seats (43 Pro-Beijing to 27 Pan-Democrats).  The current political climate favors the Pro-Beijing camp, but the longer the protests go on, the more that may shift.  At some point, elections in the Mainland may be your best option to quell discontent, and just as your special economic zones gave you experience managing market economies, HK could give you valuable experience managing elections.

The Value of Democratic Cover

The fact of the matter is, you have given in to protesters in HK many times, much more than any “democratic” government does.  CY Leung backed down on the National Education mandate when Joshua Wong, now a leader of Occupy Central, and others led a protest against it.  You have repeatedly given up on attempts to pass an anti-subversion law based on Article 23 of the Basic Law in the face of protests, and you have were forced to sack Tung Chee-hwa  because of it.  If you take advantage of the present opportunity, you will never have to give in to the demands of the people ever again.  All you need is a little “democracy”.

In response to the protests, the US State Department pointed out that, “the Hong Kong chief executive’s legitimacy would be enhanced if people have a genuine choice of candidates.”  And the US should know.  In 2008, the legitimacy of the office of president of the United States was badly damaged.  An deeply unpopular president had just bailed out the bankers who had caused the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression, and he was prosecuting two unpopular foreign occupations.

Barack Obama was elected on a message of “hope” and “change” and then proceeded to retain Bush’s secretary of defense (Robert Gates), appoint Goldman Sach’s chosen successor (Timothy Geithner) to Bush’s secretary of the treasury (Henry Paulson), and bail out the bankers at taxpayer expense again, while the bankers foreclosed on people’s houses.

When it became obvious to many that Obama’s election had not solved the problems of crony capitalism like many naively had hoped, Occupy WallStreet protested. Obama gave in to none of their demands, and was generally able to label them as a fringe group that didn’t represent the people.  Why was he able to do this when your labeling of Occupy Central as fringe radicals is ignored and ridiculed?  Democratic cover.  Obama was elected, and Occupy WallStreet was not.  The fact that many of the Occupy WallStreet’s demands were Obama campaign slogans was irrelevant.

Obama has been able to roll back civil liberties and and assert presidential powers that only a liberal could get away with asserting.  When Obama asserted the authority to kill anyone in the world, including American citizens, with no checks on his power from any other branch of government, he got away with it despite the fact the people who would have opposed a Republican president doing the same thing, because the people who would have opposed such an overreach from Bush were his supporters.  A two-party system has it’s advantages.  The HK people are asking you to create one.  Want that anti-subversion law passed?  Once your next chosen Chief Executive is “elected,” you can have an anti-subversion law and so much more.  But without public nomination, you have no democratic cover.

Because the US Constitution is perceived as a document that embodies hard-fought freedoms, freedoms Americans believe they fought the British over (even though the Constitution was written more than a decade after the Revolutionary War), Americans defend that document as if it were sacred.  The Constitution sets up a system that is hostile to Americans’ democratic aspirations, much more so than constitutions written more recently in more European countries, whose constitutions include proportional representation and therefore do not set up a two-party system.  Many Americans despise the two-party system; they know that choosing between two candidates who have both been pre-approved by corporations is not really much of a choice.  Yet these same Americans defend the Constitution that creates the system they despise.

Similarly, if you make HK people fight just a little bit more, and then appear to “give in” to their meager democratic demands, you will create a citizenry that will defend the Basic Law, defend the system that allows you to control HK’s politics in perpetuity (you could have a system that works so well for you that you won’t want to change a thing in 2047).  But if you wait too long, those demands may become less modest as the people’s distrust grows.

The unpredictability of the current moment

Understandably, authoritarian infallibility can go to one’s head.  While it’s possible that your propaganda can turn the majority of the Hong Kong populace against the protesters, or that the protests will run out of energy, it’s also possible that they will gain in experience and confidence, and increase their demands to include abolition of functional constituencies or even regional independence.  The reality is that in the midst of history-in-progress, nobody really knows how things will turn out.  Realities are changing too fast for anyone to follow, much less predict.  The safest way to consolidate your power in HK is to give these protesters, who in their naive faith in “democracy,” brainwashed by British imperialists, want nothing more than for you to throw CY Leung to the wolves and allow public nomination of the Chief Executive.  The moment of opportunity to tighten your control is now.  Seize it.  As the protesters say: if not now, when?

(Special thanks to quelky for providing information and links for this post)

Occupy Apocalypse!

This video is too good not to post, from the pro-Beijing group “Silent Majority of Hong Kong.”  It warns of the apocalyptic catastrophe ( or really big traffic jam) that will befall Hong Kong if Occupy Central takes place.  Last month, the authorities in the HK police force assured us that Occupy Central will have little impact, since there is “plenty of room” in the jails for all the protesters.  It wouldn’t be very doublethinkful of me to wonder how traffic can be blocked by incarcerated people, so I won’t.  And you shouldn’t either.

That said, it’s interesting that Big Beijing seems to be encouraging potential protesters with the delusions of grandeur in the video while also provoking them with the much discussed white paper.  Occupy Wall Street would have loved to have been so economically/vehicularly disruptive in New York, or to have generated an official response before they even took to the streets.  Alas, in democracies, dissent is more easily marginalized and ignored than it is in liberal-autocratic Hong Kong.

schlubby

When the “shlubby arrested adolescent” does not get the girl

schlubby

In the wake of Elliot Rodger’s senseless rampage in Southern California on May 23, 2014 there have been many debates that made me thoughtful.   One of the most poignant issues that was raised is an age old debate between feminists and (for the lack of a better word) ‘traditionalists’. In her article, In a final videotaped message, a sad reflection of the sexist stories we so often see on screen, Ann Hornaday argues “movies may not reflect reality, but they powerfully condition what we desire.” She used movies such as Neighbors as an example of the type of film that promotes unrealistic expectations that young men may have in regards to women and courtship. Judd Apatow, the director of Neighbors, and Seth Rogen, who stars in the film, both reacted to her article negatively. They believed that Hornaday was accusing them of inspiring this hideous, misogynistic crime when in fact she was making a comment about how media has a powerful influence to shape what people desire. I made a similar point in my unicorn chasing post. In my post, I argued that women are conditioned by the media to seek out the perfect man who will complete them, even though some of us know that we are merely chasing a mystical creature that does not exist. This tragic incident reminded me that men are also subjected to unrealistic expectations created by the media. Many bromance films, a genre Rogen and Apatow are affiliated with, paint a picture that college life should be filled with sex, fun and pleasure and that the “shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl”. Like romantic comedies, bromance films perpetuate traditional gender roles and set unrealistic expectations in love, romance and sex. Though Rogen and Apatow are not responsible for what had happened, they are a part of the racket that makes a profit by selling these fantasies. The problem is that the media is selling us these fantasies, and many of us do not have the awareness to refrain from buying into them.

Elliot Rodger represents a segment of society that has been fed with unrealistic expectations but not equipped to deal with the changing circumstances of society. Feminism has pushed for women’s role to change, but the fundamental structure of society has remained more or less intact.   Women are no longer expected to be mere housewives and mothers- we can now have a career of our own. Some might argue that we are expected to juggle motherhood and career.   Though women’s perception of themselves has changed and as girls are prepped for their changing role, men are subconsciously resistant to change because as boys, they are taught to hang on to their traditional gender role.

“Men want the sense of power more than they want the sense of freedom.  They want the feeling that comes to them as providers for women more than they want the feeling that comes to them as free men.  They want someone dependent on them more than they want a comrade.” Susan Faludi, Feminism for them? 

This quote captures the essence of how many men subconsciously view themselves.  Men as providers is the traditional gender role and it manifest itself in our popular media such as magazines, films and TV shows.  Men of course know the rhetoric of feminism, and understand how to behave in an appropriate and respectful manner in public.  However, many men derive power from being in the dominant position as provider to a woman and whether they are conscious of not, many of them still hold on to their traditional role, and act accordingly without realizing it.  There is a tension between the changes brought forth by feminism and how many men perceive themselves.  This is especially evident in the context of dating:  As a woman, I am supposed to be submissive and at the same time, engaging;  be naughty but also play hard to get. I am also supposed to  ignore my own desires because I should allow a man to dominate me.  This tension is confusing because it seems like society picks and chooses the benefits feminism brought forth in a way that benefits men.  Men are only providers when it’s convenient for them.  In the past, when I asked for emotional support from a boyfriend, I was labelled as ‘needy’ and ’emotional’.  Feminism started a public dialogue  about sex and remove the taboo associated with it (especially in urban, educated, westernized areas).   In addition, feminism pushed to make birth control and abortion available to us, which has also reduced the chances of unwanted pregnancies.   While this makes it easier for men to have sex with women, when a woman can have sex without the fear of pregnancy she isn’t beholden to a man in the same way.  This threatens men’s dominant position as a provider for women, which could make many men uncomfortable.  As a result, many women who embrace their sexuality are either reduced to mere sex objects or are slut- shamed.

Going back to Elliot Rodger, I can’t help but to think that his unspeakable crime reflects how sick our society is.  There are a lot of reasons our society is dysfunctional, and I believe one of the main culprit for our sickness is our popular media.   Elliot Rodger had a delusional view of himself and women, and our media and culture play a large part of how his views were shaped.  He decided that he needed to kill women because he perceived himself as having no power over them, and was therefore made to feel inadequate as a man.  The media portrayal of gender roles is incredibly damaging to the collective psyche and we need to have a conversation about how these portrayals are undoing the hard work of many feminists who are fighting for gender equality.  Feminism has paved the way for women to be more visible in the public sphere, to free us from the confinement of our kitchen, to enable us to engage with the world in a more meaningful way outside of our homes. However, there is still a long way to go.  As a feminist, I am not merely concerned the well-being and the rights of women, I am also very concerned about marginalized, alienated individuals such as Elliot Rodger.   How do we, not just as feminists, but also as responsible citizens of the world, teach both men and women to be more critical of our wants and needs, rather than to be lazy and succumb to the poison the media feeds us?  Feminists have given women a choice; should men also have the right to choose to deviate from their traditional gender role?  I believe that until men can view their role differently, women’s role will never change completely, there will always be confusion, conflict and inequality between the genders.  The Elliot Rodger incident is tragic, and yet this also brought important issues back into the public eye.   How do we, as informed and critical individuals, make our popular media more accountable and responsible as participants in the larger conversation about gender?  How do feminists help men embrace alternative identities for themselves?  Wes actually started the conversation in Thanks a Gay Day post.  However, I think he forgot to thank feminists, who fought along the LGBT movement to bring equality between gender and sexual orientations.

 

An Open Letter to the CCP Concerning Universal Suffrage in HK

urlimages

Dear Chinese Communist Party,

Since it seems clear that you intend to deny the will of the HK People as well as international standards for universal suffrage in the name of maintaining control over the nominating process for Chief Executive in HK, and since I promised I would do so earlier, I’d like to give you some advice about how to run free and fair elections in HK, without having to give up any of the control over HK politics you currently exercise.  In fact, if you follow my advice I’m confident you will find HK much easier to control than it is now.

People are much easier to control when they are less aware of being controlled, and having elections that meet international standards will do much to placate HK democrats, thereby making the populace easier to marginalize on other issues.   There are a few institutional tricks that can help you set up an easy-to-control two party system, instead of this messy multi-party thing going on in the Legislative Council at the moment.  Having only two parties to bribe (we call this making “campaign contributions” in my country, and it’s perfectly legal) makes controlling the political system much simpler and easier, just ask Goldman Sachs, which is regularly among the leading campaign donors to both the Republican and Democratic parties.  Once again, my advice is based on how things work in the good ‘ol US of A.  As a result, my proposal has the added benefit of making it nearly impossible for US politicians (or their loyal “pro-democracy” NGOs) to criticize you, since they would be exposing their own anti-democratic tricks in the process.

I. Duverger’s “Law” and how to create a two-party system

A one-off election, in which whoever gets the plurality of the votes becomes the Chief Executive, would be pretty easy to control, regardless of the nominating process.   (American) political scientists have this principle called “Duverger’s Law,” that demonstrates the logic of single-member district elections: voters will rationalize that minor party candidates can’t win and so they will vote for whichever of the two major parties is closest to representing their views, even if neither party is particularly close (e.g.  Americans against militarism tend to vote for the theoretically slightly less militaristic Democratic Party).  This logic then creates two-party systems.

The multi-party mess in LegCo is largely the result of the geographical constituencies being made up of multi-member districts elected by proportional representation, in which political parties are given seats in proportion to the number of votes they received.  This systems allows for much better representation of voters desires than what exists in the US Congress, obviously not something you want.  It seems the Brits pulled a fast one on y’all with those multi-member districts, since their own voting system is of the much less democratic single-member district variety.  Of course, in LegCo the functional constituencies can outvote the geographical constituencies and this gives you control of LegCo. But non-democratically elected legislators, like overt control of the Chief Executive nomination, is way too obviously undemocratic and as a result people constantly protest the constitutional basis of the political system in HK.

The US Constitution is nearly never protested, nor even questioned, and is in fact worshipped-as-if-divinely-inspired by many of the very Americans who decry domination by elites and the oligarchic US political system.  Yet it has several democracy stifling effects that are less obvious than those in HK, and therefore much more effective in placating the masses.  Single member districts are just part of a complex system that allows elites to rule while maintaining the appearance of consent by the people.

The most recent UK election, not to mention consistently multi-party Parliaments in the UK and India, have caused [non-American] political scientists to question the empirical validity of Duverger’s Law, since it only really seems to work in the USA.  Other features of US politics are likely responsible for creating the uber-controllable two party system only found in the US.  The most obvious is the fact that the President is elected in a one-off, one-day election (no run-off elections or any other democratic elements seen in more modern democracies).  The Electoral College system, a feature of the US Constitution that not even American Libertarians worship, makes each state (except Maine and Nebraska) a winner-take-all battle for electoral votes, having a multiplicative effect on Duvergerian logic.

A similar election for Chief Executive may impose some two-party discipline on Legco, perhaps allowing you to trade single member districts for the abolition of functional constituencies.  Negotiating such a compromise with democratic elements in HK would allow you to meet international standards of universal suffrage without giving up control of the outcomes…provided you learn a couple more lessons from the US and create a system with lots of veto players, and make the right laws regarding campaign finance, and spending on political speech.  More on that later…

Fake ABCs

Here’s an HK local’s response to Kayo’s post. The only thing I’ll add about this ABC thing, as an American, is that people who identify with this label “ABC,” are confused about what the word American means. Anyone born in the US, as per the 14th Amendment, is American. Is the president of the US an “American Born Kenyan” because his father was Kenyan? Are he and I “American Born Europeans” because we have European ancestry? No. He’s American. As am I. The 14th Amendment does not make an exception for people with Chinese ancestry either. I know people who call themselves Chinese Americans, and I know people who call themselves ABCs (I had only met Chinese Americans before I came to HK). I believe the self-described ABC does not understand American culture, and it’s worth noting that they often talk like an MTV clone (don’t they know that nobody actually talks like that?) and generally subscribe to the lowest, basest, most corporatized and least sophisticated aspects of American culture. Why anyone would want to imitate this is beyond me. Yet they do.

Appropriately Inappropriate

So my friend Kayo found out last week that she was treated nicer in Hong Kong when she speaks in English than in Mandarin, as the latter seems to be seen as the imperialistic language by the locals (post). The discomfort with the increasing Chinese influence of our city, along with the locals’ nostalgia of our colonial past, not only leads to bitterness towards Mandarin speakers but also perpetuates the white supremacy that has been prevalent in Hong Kong.

A common phenomenon in the recent years caused by the locals’ discomfort of their Eastern self under Western influences is the “Fake American-Born Chinese” (Fake ABC) style.
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(Image source: Plastic Thing)

As depicted by popular local illustrator Plastic Thing, Fake ABCs have a certain fashion style (flip-over hairstyle which may hurt your cervical vertebrae and A&F/Hollister outfit), as well as a special way to talk.

Apart from…

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M’goi

There are people outside of Hong Kong who think that Hong Kong is a part of China like it is actually a part of China.  For instance, I have a friend who posted a picture of the awe-inspiring skyline of Hong Kong Island, and above it the status read: “I am in China!”  I also have friends asking me on Messenger, “How’s life in China?” Sure, geo-politically, Hong Kong is indeed part of China.  Culturally, however, many Hong Kongers proudly identify themselves as non-Chinese.  Ever since the takeover, the Hong Kongers have been desperately trying to maintain their identity by fighting to keep Cantonese in the public arena.  Many Hong Kongers are resentful of the Mainland Chinese speaking Mandarin and trying to impose on them.  In previous posts, Wes and I had discussions about how Big Beijing try to assimilate an area by reducing the local language to a mere dialect.  Today, I experienced a Hong Konger’s passive aggressive attempt to maintain his cultural and linguistic identify in a rather perverse, but in some ways, charming, manner.

It was pouring rain after Thomas and I had lunch at this crazy spicy noodle place in Sham Shui Po. Since I didn’t have an umbrella, I decided to buy one at the Circle K at the end of the block.  I walked into the little cramped store, and there was a young man working at the counter.

In Mandarin, I asked, “Do you sell umbrellas?” I learned very quickly when I first started to work in Sham Shui Po that people’s English ability is limited in this neighbourhood.  In fact, many looked relieved when I switched from English to Mandrain.   As a result, I automatically speak Mandrain when I conduct my daily business during the work hours.

The young man working at the counter looked to be in his early 20’s.  He  looked at me as I was speaking to him, and he nodded his head ever so lightly.

“How much is it?”

He mumbled something in Cantonese under his breath.  I shook my head and gave him a quizzical look.  He looked up and without looking at me, repeated what he had said previously in an annoyed, louder tone, as if my presence was bothering him.  I’ve had this experience with other Hong Kongers; they seem to believe that by speaking louder, this imperial language speaking fool would instantly understand what was said.

At that moment, Thomas came up closer to me.  He is a tall, good looking white guy.

“How much is it?”  I said, in English this time.

The clerk noted Thomas’ presence.  “The big one is $49 and the small one is $42.” He spoke back to me in English, his tone audibly calmer and more pleasant.

“May I see them?”

He turned around and bent down to reach the cupboard  to fetch the umbrellas.  He then put them down on the counter for me to inspect.

“I will take this one.” I said as I pointed to the small umbrella.

As I was groping around my bag for my wallet, the clerk carefully cut off the tag on the umbrella for me.  Then I gave him some money and he gave me the change.

“Thanks” I said as I picked up the umbrella from the counter, and walked out the store with Thomas behind me.

I opened my brand new Circle K umbrella as I stepped out into the rain.

“Did that just happen?” Thomas asked.

I laughed.  “Yup, it sure did.”

My lazy unwillingness to learn Cantonese had made me appear to be a Mainlander speaking the imperialistic language imposing on the local population.   Next time, I better greet the store clerk with, “M’goi.” Then I can speak whichever language I want without coming across as an imperialistic fool.

Thank a Gay Day

Upon entering my tiny Kowloon apartment, and seeing that I had recently expended some effort to make the place aesthetically habitable, my straight(ish) friend said, “Dude, you are such a homosexual.”  I responded with a laugh, and a thanks.

If a peer would have said that to me when I was a teenager in the 1990s, I would have been compelled to react with (feigned) hostility.  So what changed?  Part of the explanation is obvious: I grew up.  But I was never homophobic.  I spent my teenage years in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, arguably one of the most liberal cities on the planet.  My mother was a psychologist, of the exceptionally touchy-feely, emotionally explicit, LGBT accepting variety.  We had openly gay people staying in our house fairly regularly, and it was no big deal.

But I was on the (American) football team in high school, so I had to rigorously defend my masculinity at all times.  And though my high school environment was about as accepting as any in the country at the time, there were no openly gay boys.  Considering that there were around 2,000 kids at my school, it follows that if there were no openly gay boys, there must have been quite a few closeted ones.  And since I liked girls, and wanted desperately for them to like me back (and not just as a friend), I did not want to be suspected of being one of those closeted gays who we all knew must be around, somewhere.

The relevant change is as much about my environment as it is my own maturity.  Today, my social circles are unlikely to contain closeted gays because they contain open gays; in my little liberal bubble, hiding one’s homosexuality is regarded as about as reasonable as hiding one’s left-handedness.  Because gay men are much less likely to hide their sexual orientation, straight men no longer have to worry about being suspected of being gay.  If we were gay, we would just say so.  The hilarious Seinfeld clip below wouldn’t make much sense in 2014.  Two gay men living in Manhattan are in the closet?  An implausible premise, even for a sit-com.

Nearly two years ago, in response to major political victories for LGBT equality in the US, sex columnist Dan Savage wrote a post entitled “Thank a Breeder Day” in which he thanked straight people for their help in the struggle for equality.  He also insists that it was the LGBT community that built this movement that has made so much progress lately.  For building that movement, I’d like to say thanks to the gays.  I know you didn’t do it for us “breeders,” but it has benefited us immensely, if more subtly.  Because of the movement you built, I am free to decorate my apartment as I please, free to have close platonic friendships with women and gay men, free to sit in whatever way feels most comfortable (even when this means crossing my legs), free to substitute a side salad for French fries, free to say that I did so because the fries make me fat, free to acknowledge it when a man is handsome or fit, free to admit that part of what I like about sports (and mosh pits) is the physical contact with other men, free to talk about my feelings and my sexuality without the need to conform to some hetero-normative ideal of what a man should be (thus greatly enhancing my relationships with both women and men), free to cry.  I don’t think the metro-sexual could have existed as an accepted cultural concept/personality type before the recent progress in the struggle for LGBT equality.

Hyper-masculinity is dangerous.  Dangerous for society, and dangerous for those who are forced to conform to it.  It’s limiting.  It’s part of the reason men are seen as “simple” compared to women, who are allowed to be more emotionally complex.  I want more from my sexual relationships than “feed me, fuck me, shut the fuck up,” and it’s of great benefit to both myself and my partners that I don’t have to pretend that I don’t have complex emotional needs.  By acknowledging that there is a wide range of consensual sexual behavior, and by being truly accepting of that entire spectrum, we allow each individual to openly be him or herself.

Yet there are still too many places where men and women, girls and boys, gay and straight, cannot openly be themselves.  For the sake of all of us, I wish the LGBT community continued success in their campaign for the basic human right to just be who they are.  Not just so they can be who they are, but so the rest of us can as well.