Fred Phelps, Classic White Queer
Are you interested in Doing Good? Or are you a member of the Westburo Baptist Church?
In certain organizing spaces when asked who my organizing role model is, I always say Fred Phelps.
Fred Phelps was the former minister of the Westburo Baptist Church.
Though this statement is true, it is also calculated.
In certain types of organizing space, there are not a lot of trans people.
The ones that are present tend to be white, transmasculine, college educated, liberal arts school graduates to boot. (like me.)
They also tend to be White Queers.
White Queers are different from white queers. You can be a White Queer without being white or queer.
It tends to be more of a state of being then an actual identity.
We all have moments of being a White Queer- clueless, arrogant, impatient, blatantly, unequivocally wrong.
Judging everyone around us instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt.
The details of what it means to be a White Queer depends upon the setting, the type of organizing you’re in.
But no one wants to be a White Queer, once they know what it means.
The idea of being perceived as a White Queer in the organizing space where I answer “Fred Phelps,” is uncomfortable for me.
It’s made up of organizers who are young, cis, and white, but not entirely, with trainers who are older, cis, and white, but not entirely.
There is a derision for “activists,” in that space, distinct from “organizers”.
“Activists” are self centered, judgemental, focused on feeling good rather than getting things done.
“Organizers” are focused on results, outcomes, not judgement, actually changing the power structure in the world.
If someone asks you if you are an activist or an organizer in this particular organizing space, they are actually asking you a series of other questions.
Are you focused on feeling good or doing good?
Fred Phelps, by every definition, was an activist.
Most POC organizers I know have many stories about people who are white and queer behaving horribly, far beyond my fathoming.
They have infinite shit to deal with in terms of white supremacy culture and its impact on their personal, professional, and political life.
They have lot of other shit to deal with in general, actually.
And though they have a lot of shitty interactions with White Queers, and talk about White Queers more than I am probably aware of (or not, I have no idea), they don’t have time or energy to spare to look for White Queers, to judge them.
It’s mostly White Queers who do that.
So - right. Fred Phelps.
Fred Phelps, the Kansas civil rights lawyer turned virulent homophobe, brought his 50 member fringe church to national prominence by orchestrating protests at military funerals during the Iraq War, spreading his core message “God Hates Fags,” to millions.
He was an activist, sure. But he was very good at what he did.
Even in the most ostensibly “gender inclusive” organizing space, there is usually a certain White Queer story that comes up.
It’s a very Cis Story.
There was a trans person who once came to a meeting, and…
They were an annoying overtalker and embarrassed a valuable member.
Or they demanded “pronouns” without explaining what they meant at the beginning of a meeting.
The trans person in this story was a White Queer — they took up a lot of space, loved attention, but don’t do the work — don’t really show up for the rest of the movement or the room.
They want to feel good, not do good.
You know. White Queer shit.
In theory, no one wants a White Queer at an organizing meeting.
But in practice, when there’s someone in a room who is Judging, who is being Judged for Judging, everyone else can breathe a sigh of relief.
You know that the White Queer is not you, at least this time.
You can relax and focus on getting things done.
So, sometimes, if you’re feeling uncomfortable, or insecure, it can feel good to identify a potential White Queer in a room, a person who can be the catalyst for uniting the rest of the room. You can decide that they are interested in feeling good rather than doing good, before they even say anything.
In contrast: you can try to avoid being cast as the White Queer by conjuring an image in everyone else’s head of someone who neither Did Good Or Was Good, by demonstrating your willingness to be uncomfortable, not feel good, right off the bat.
So Fred Phelps is how I like to introduce myself in that particular type of organizing space.
Because Fred Phelps was definitely a White Queer —
he and his church were all about judging others, making a lot of noise, getting attention. Feeling Good.
But no one can deny — Fred Phelps got things done.