Are Queers Really Just Like Everyone Else? 26 July 2006Posted 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.