jump to navigation

Are Queers Really Just Like Everyone Else? 26 July 2006

Posted by Todd in Democracy, Gay and Lesbian Culture, Gay Rights, Inequality & Stratification, News.

I have written before about my unease with the battle for marriage rights for gays and lesbians. On one hand, I definitely believe that any civil privileges garnered through legally recognized marriage must be equally distributed to all citizens; and as a human being, I support those of my gay brothers and sisters who want to get married.  And from what I understand from friends who have registered their domestic partnerships, it does make life easier when the government simply sanctions your relationship instead of having to draw up a seriers of legal documents just for the basic protections on property, wills, power of attorney, etc.

On the other hand, again as I’ve said before (and as Michael Warner has forcefully argued in The Trouble with Normal), I fear that this push to integrate into society or to assimilate in some regards is actually detrimental to queer culture and life. Although I don’t want to maintain blatant inequality in our democracy, I do worry that integration as a goal, as an end-in-itself, is counter-productive to queer life. One of the most amazing parts of gay and lesbian culture is the ways that we have created our relationships. Because we were excluded from normal relationship structures, we created our own; queer relationships are flexible and provisional as a rule, they are negotiated and change with the needs of partners. This pattern risks disappearing if our relationships become subject to the normative patterns of heterosexual marriages. And it is really the creation of a normative for queer relationships that worries me.

As I mentioned yesterday in my review of “A Very Natural Thing,” the problem with the gay libbers wasn’t that they were against marriage or commitment, but that they created a kind of normative: those who wanted commitment were “bad gays.” The strength of an ongoing gay community is going to be anchored in its flexible relationships. Because “marriage” is a dominant and heteronormative institution, I don’t see how becoming part of the system can occur without giving into it as a normative.

As evidence of my fear, the Los Angeles Times reported today on the shifted strategies of gay and lesbian organizations spearheaded (of course) by the HRC. Apparently the new strategy is to convince Americans that we are just like them.

On a human level, yes, we love and hurt, feel joy and pain, have relationships, fuck, go to work, watch tv, etc. Fine.

But on an experiential level, loving and desiring someone of the same sex is NOT the same as loving someone or desiring someone of a different sex. Even in a world without homophobia, the experiences would be different. And that experience has produced throughout history very different meanings for the men and women who experience them. The greatest tragedy of gaining equality in the democracy would be to lose the power to define the meanings of our lives and loves for ourselves, instead of having them defined by the majority culture.

On the civic level, again, I completely support full equality under the law. What I fear and, frankly, loathe is the abdication of our power to have meaning-making interactions with each other as gay men and women, giving it back to the dominant culture. We fought four nearly 50 years after WWII to wrest back from religion, psychiatry, medicine, and the law the right to define our own lives. Arguing that we are “Normal” and “just like everyone else” is a betrayal of what we have fought for.



1. Shannon - 27 July 2006

I agree with you: it’s important to have more than one model of love and partnership. I also agree with you that it’s vital to have full equality under the law. I just wanted to also note that there are important legal protections and social privileges conferred by marriage that can’t be replicated by “legal documents just for the basic protections on property, wills, power of attorney, etc.”

My best friend has been with her girlfriend for the last nine years. Her girlfriend is from Ireland and currently finishing her PhD at Johns Hopkins; she’s in the country on a student visa. She’s applied for a green card every year but so far failed to win one in the lottery. Therefore, as soon as she gets her degree she could face summary deportation. If they were allowed to marry, of course, they wouldn’t have to worry about this at all, but as things currently stand they well may be forced to leave the country just to be together as a family. They can’t fend off the INS with private contracts. It’s incredibly cruel and unjust, and it’s just one of the reasons why full marriage equality is absolutely vital. It isn’t just a matter of saving some extra attorney fees…

2. J. Todd Ormsbee - 28 July 2006

Oh yeah, I definitely agree with you. This is what I was getting or trying to get at, that we must have the legal right to marry as part of the array of possible queer relationships. I think that gay libber stance of yesteryear (no morphed into “queer”) is extremeley problematic in the way it ignores the real consequences of being outside “the system.” What I object to, however, is the tack taken by the gay rights organizations (the more assimilationist among them, anyway) to sell it to the American public that we are “normal” or “just like them.” I think that to the extent gays and lesbians need the legal protections afforded by recognized marriage (fucking Washington State Supreme Court upheld its anti-gay legislation this past week), I think that gays and lesbians should do so in a continued “queer” environment where they create and form the kinds of relationships that work for them. In other words, if the heteronormative form of “marriage” comes to be “homonormative” as well, we will have lost a great sexual and social battle. That is my fear, that homo marriage based on the 1950s hetero model will be detrimental if not completely destructive of what queer culture has been and could yet be.

3. Paula - 7 August 2006

I agree with you 100 percent. However, the rights that every one eles has should be available to all. It does not have to be used just available. I look at the denial of the right to marry as a put down of the gay community. You are smart enough to use it as you please and keep your unique style.
I hope that this community gains all rights. What the straight community preaches is quite different than what they practice. If marriage was all they say, it would not be in trouble. The track record for marriage is not saying a lot for this prized possession. To think we will not share this right is unbelievable.
However, their is a portion of married couples that find this works for them. The right must be there for those in the gay community that want it.
I to do not want to change the gay community to be a clone of the straight commmunity. We would as a nation lose something great if that were to happen. I do not think you can lose who you are, even if you are given the full rights that the heterosexual community enjoy.

Sorry comments are closed for this entry

%d bloggers like this: