Thursday, October 25, 2007

Destroy Heterosexual Privilege: Abolish Marriage!*

Another day, another argument, Ok debate if you will. I made a failed attempt this morning to explain the nature of the divide within the queer rights movement concerning the issue of gay marriage. I was trying to convey to my History of Sexuality class that there is a split between those (and I align myself with this camp) within the LGBT rights movement that are calling for a radical revision and those with more assimilationist aims. The push for gay marriage is at the front of the assimilationist movement. I am not suggesting, as I fear I may have been misinterpreted this morning, that gays or anyone should not be allowed to marry. But rather, I am trying to impart that the pursuit of the right to marry as a primary concern comes from a privileged place. Moreover, it approaches the debate from an assimilationist perspective in that it seems primarily interested in proving that gays are just like straights and therefore deserving of the same rights and privileges.
It is this tactic with which I especially take issue. Why should I have to prove that I am just like you in order to be protected under the law? Is my life only of value insofar as I can prove that I am you? Why cannot my own culture and beliefs be respected and valued if they do not mirror your own? Assimilationism does not go to the root of the issue, which is that people are oppressed because of difference. We are dehumanized, othered, referred to as “it.” It is this line of thinking that allows for acts of brutality – after all, if someone is not even human what’s the harm in assaulting them? If you do all you can do to erase or downplay that difference, you do nothing to repair the source of the problem. So you find more mainstream gays doing all they can to distance themselves from us queers less we embarrass them and hurt the movement. Their goal is to fit in, gain access to the American Dream, live a “normal” life, replete with all the consumer driven creature comforts and freedom to exploit others which are the god-given privileges of those in power.**
I don’t want that. I see nothing radical about reinscribing myself and my relationships with bourgeois values. I am reminded of wise words once spoken to me by an old school feminist activist and my former professor: “The presence of women does not indicate the presences of feminism.” So too – the presence of LGBT folks does not indicate the presence of revolutionary acts or thinking. If LGBT folks merely perform identical actions to those previously in power, they are no better. Having some queer faces in high places hardly bespeaks revolution, merely assimilation. And I for one would like to think we have better to look forward to than the queer version of Condaleeza Rice.
The reaction to the stripped down version of ENDA does give me some hope, however. Shockingly, Democratic leadership in congress decided to strip protections for gender identity and expression from the proposed Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act. What actually did shock me was the way in which all these LGBT orgs rallied around the cause to keep protections surrounding gender on the bill. I thought for sure that this would be used as another excuse for mainstream gays to leave genderqueers and trannies by the wayside. For once, I am quite ecstatic to be wrong. The bill, if it passes, would protect LGBT folks as well as anyone whose gender identity or representation does not conform to generally accepted expectations. Hold your breath kids, it hits the House floor this week.

*Even though I originally titled this post as a joke, I sometimes think we would be better off without marriage, in the legal sense anyway. I am all for lifelong partnerships and ritual celebrations. But nowhere does our alleged separation of church from state seem more fallacious than within the institution of marriage. Even if everyone could marry whomever they wanted – marriage would still be a bourgeois institution designed to facilitate allegiance to the nation-state. In looking at the history of bourgeois sexuality, the kind that is supposed to only occur between a married man and woman procreatively, – it is nothing more than the establishment of heteronormativity as it benefits the nation-state and reinforces Judeo-Christian values. It has little to do with fostering and encouraging love. Rather, it is a system of control. If you want to be contractually obligated to someone under the law – why not go to a lawyer and draw up a contract instead of incorporating it into a ceremony that is supposed to be about love? Answer – because if your way of loving was not tied to the government how would the government exert such powerful control over you? It is in their best interest to keep the American Family alive and well. Not because if we didn’t our country would be peopled with degenerates and nancy boys gone soft and queer because of feminism. No- it’s because this country needs to give you a reason to go off to war, to keep the wheels of commerce grinding away as you grind your life into powder working to afford all these things you don’t really need. We are a consumer driven economy after all, which makes it our moral imperative to buy buy buy. I would even argue that bourgeois notions of propriety and prudery function to indoctrinate people into a system of paternalism that prepares them to become unquestioning allegiants of the nation-state. Being made to think that certain things are unspeakable shames folks into silence and deference to a higher authority.
**Can I just tell you how my heart was warmed by encouragement from a fellow student who insisted that gay marriage would lead to greater acceptance and safety? To paraphrase – It would protect you, not from like gay-bashing but you know having a partner and you know gay marriage will lead and help out with things like employment and healthcare and stuff. Hunh?
So if you already have good healthcare you can share it with your partner. That’s all fine and good – but what about discrimination in healthcare and employment? What about queers that are assumed to have STIs and therefore are not given appropriate testing or proper treatment? What about trans folks who are denied treatment at all? I sincerely doubt that getting married would suddenly wave away all employment and healthcare prejudices. Not even ENDA is gonna do that, but it does give us stronger grounds on which to stand when our employment rights are invariably violated.
Our South African LGBT family is dealing with that right now. In 1996, South Africa became the first country to include protection of discrimination based on sexual orientation in its constitution. Same sex marriage was legalized in South Africa in November 2006. Despite this anti-gay violence remains rampant. The preceding link comes from Behind the Mask which is an amazing non-profit media organization that publishes a news website which covers all things LGBT throughout Africa.


Mik Danger said...

I agree with so much of what you have said...and knowing that you wanted to keep this post short I know why you kept this in a hetero/homo context. But of course there are class and race issues here too (there are to every issue!) and this article is an interesting start to that discussion:
i love you.

Morgan said...

Thanks for the link love! That article is pretty awesome.

Melissa said...

really interesting, a. i didn't know of behind the mask before. thank you for sharing it. i knew SA had progressive "laws" for the LGBT community, and clearly also knew that little was being done to protect those laws, but it's nice to know there are people out there- fighting the good fight. appreciate your being so on top of all things relevant. xoxo