Amsterdam and LGBTQ+: Progressive or Pragmatic?

21 september 2018

Amsterdam and LGBTQ+: Progressive or Pragmatic?

I have spent my first month in Amsterdam immersed in the proverbial “honeymoon” phase that accompanies moving to a foreign city for a finite amount of time. Because I only have three months to explore the city to the fullest extent possible, I’ve elected to join some 90+ American students in an American-funded program (i.e. IES Abroad) that aims to exclusively show naive students the highlights of Amsterdam’s liberal haven.

Amsterdam is an expertly marketed city to young Americans In return, we students rarely have the time or the means to experience what lays behind the veil of social tolerance and progressive moral grounding. In this way, Amsterdam is an expertly marketed city to young Americans — seemingly designed by the gods of egalitarianism and touted as the mecca of social liberalism and tolerance. A carefully cultivated product, Amsterdam is celebrated for its propensity to legalize behaviors that are typically viewed as “controversial” in the eyes of an American student. Prostitution is legalized (even sensationalized in the eyes of ogling tourists) in the infamous Red Light District. Same sex marriage has been legalized since April 2001 (the first European city to do so), and the sale and use of ‘soft drugs’ is ‘tolerated’ in the city’s so-called coffeeshops. Yet, when it comes to actually tackling social issues beyond the mainstream topics lumped together under the careful diction of Dutch ‘tolerance’, is Amsterdam actually progressive or just pragmatic?

Too many times have I caught myself correcting older Dutch menFor issues most prevalent in our rapidly evolving global society, such as the rise of LGBTQ+ awareness, visibility, and subsequent protection of basic intrinsic rights; Amsterdam does well in projecting a leftist citywide mindset. In fact, LGBTQ+ resources are easily accessed on the Iamsterdam website, with hyperlinks to bars, cafes, and clubs, LGBTQ+ organizations, and lists of LGBTQ+ alcoves within the city.

However, I have discovered that the conversation surrounding LGBTQ+ identity amongst the inhabitants of Amsterdam is kept fairly localized to homosexuality and the aforementioned legalization of same sex marriage.  Even as a cisgender, heterosexual, white female, the context of my American upbringing and identity has led me to feel more like a spokesperson for the experience of an LGBTQ+ person than an ally whilst in Amsterdam. Too many times have I caught myself correcting older Dutch men on dated assumptions of gendered stereotypes; lamenting that no, alcohol is not a gendered product and any person that chooses to buy wine or beer should not be forced to subscribe to a particular identity.

My opinions are ultimately invalid in the face of American social liberalism at homeI have explained to countless young Dutch men and women my own perspective of the transgender experience, something that I would never have the grounds to do in my homeschool environment. Despite the apparent naiveté of the few Amsterdammers I have encountered, many of the people I spoke with have been exceptionally open to creating a dialogue about what it means to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

About me

I am studying Psychology, Neuroscience, and English at the University of Puget Sound near Seattle, Washington. I'm from the liberal, ‘hipster capital’ of the pacific northwest (AKA Portland, Oregon), and am currently loving the seemingly cultural similarities between the Portland hipster and the typical Amsterdammer! I love drinking the finest of cheap European wines, pretending stroopwafels are vegan, and taking long walks on the canals.

In turn, I feel great cognitive dissonance in the notion that my opinions are ultimately invalid in the face of American social liberalism at home. After all, because I’m not an LGBTQ+ identifying individual, in the US it is usually frowned upon for someone to explain the experiences of another identity if they themselves don’t identify with it. Therefore, I would be speaking out of turn if I were to do so at home.

So, given the well marketed resources for LGBTQ+ in Amsterdam, is the city really progressive or is this openness simply a pragmatic approach to a greater, global social liberalism? Thus far, I think that Amsterdam is erring on the side of pragmatism, choosing to align with the more liberal views and movements occurring in America based on practical rather than theoretical considerations. Nonetheless, Amsterdammers are well on their way to converting this pragmatism into true progressive ideology as they continue to fuel open minded conversations and listen to the experiences of true LGBTQ+ individuals (and not just haughty, liberal Americans like myself!).

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"In turn, I feel great cognitive dissonance in the notion that my opinions are ultimately invalid in the face of American social liberalism at home. After all, because I’m not an LGBTQ+ identifying individual, in the US it is usually frowned upon for someone to explain the experiences of another identity if they themselves don’t identify with it."

I'm not sure what you mean. I think also people that are not affected by certain societal behaviors should be able to discuss those. E.g. as white heterosexual I think I should be able to say '"zwarte piet" is not OK' or 'behavior X is not pleasant for LGBTQ+ persons' to another white heterosexual person. Would those be considered "invalid opinions" in what you call "American social liberalism"?

J,
I absolutely understand where you're coming from. However, there is a difference between being an ally and recognizing/standing up for a marginalized group for which you don't necessarily belong and speaking to the experience of said group as if you know their perspective as well as them. Specifically, in the context of this blog post, I speak about having found myself explaining what it's like to be a transgender individual while I identify as cisgender. This situation is different from standing out against a blatant injustice of a particular group of people (i.e. “zwarte piet” or “behavior X is not pleasant for group Y”). In such case, this notion is largely conflated and, ultimately, it does not matter what identity you ascribe to. Now, to break down the meaning of “American social liberalism”, I should direct you to a quick overview of the sociopolitical climate at a west coast liberal arts university wherein the increasingly popular “political correctness” movement is exceptionally prevalent. While a nascent concept in most facets, political correctness can also have a falsely dogmatic impact on an intrinsic human desire to empathize and commiserate over shared differences amongst different identity groups. Meaning, depending on the context of the issue at hand, there can be “valid” and “invalid” opinions formulated on the basis of political correctness. This is the foundation of America’s liberal sphere of social and political issues (and thus, the core of American social liberalism). In the exceptionally politically correct climate of my home school, it is a commonly accepted ideal that if you speak to the experience of a group you do not identify with as if you share that experience yourself, your opinion is invalid. Your aforementioned examples would not be considered invalid, even with the fickle nature of political correctness in American social liberalism. Long story short, people that are not affected by certain societal behaviors should be able to discuss them such that they are not speaking out of turn.

Thanks for your answer! I find it fascinating to read the viewpoint (and also way of describing things) of someone from a US university where these ideas are present. I've visited natural sciences faculties in the USA a few times but haven't come across such (in my eyes) extreme political correctness.

So you´re saying that within those views, it is not OK to talk about experiences of a subgroup of people, when you do not belong to that group. To me it seems clear you can´t present experiences from others as your own (I cannot say I was treated unfairly for being homosexual when I was neither treated unfairly or homosexual), but you are now saying I should (if I were to follow these ideas of political correctness) also not talk about experiences of those people? This is something novel to me (personally I think you should be able to do that, as long as you are clear about you´ve only learned about this experience second hand). Perhaps I´m also still not fully understanding where the line is drawn. Could you give an example of an opinion that would be considered invalid?

I find it also fascinating that you call this (American) social liberalism. Social liberalism, according to me, and also according to (glancing at) Wikipedia, have nothing to do with political correctness. Instead I would say it is about how to set up a democracy, how to distribute wealth, and the freedom for all to lead their lives as they wish (as long as they are not hurting others).
This link to political correctness also makes it more understandable to me why terms like liberalism and socialism are so much hated by American-conservatives (I specifically put the label American here because I think also conservative has different meanings here). (Although I am not saying I share this animosity.)

ps. Although I like to think my understanding of English is reasonable, I do not understand what you mean by "While a nascent concept in most facets, political correctness can also have a falsely dogmatic impact on an intrinsic human desire to empathize and commiserate over shared differences amongst different identity groups". I do think I get the general message of your response though.

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