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01/18/2010

Comments

tomhenning

Laurie,

You forgot one tiny little thing in your analysis.

300,000 gay men died as an unintended consequence of the sexual revolution (helped to their graves by criminal government indifference). That, more than some crafty conservative rhetoric, is responsible for the rise of the same-sex marriage movement.

That's a lot of bodies, by anyone's measure, and it's going to take a while to get past that and see some good in the sexual liberation movement again. See you in a decade or two.

Jack Smith

My concern is the HIV problem connected to Gay. According to a report from one of

the top poz dating and support service ===PozGroup.com, their gay members

continuously increased these years.

Laurie Essig

wow- because Reagan and company ignored HIV as a gay problem (and a Haitian one, by the way, if you recall), we should join forces with the most conservative elements of society in hopes they will suddenly see gay men (and Haitians?) as human?

Your logic is lost on me.

How about this logic: social justice happens through broad coalition based movements that are about justice for all, not gaining rights for a few (the marriage movement does not- by any stretch of the imagination- speak to the lives of all- or even most- queers). All families deserve protection under the law- regardless of whether they are part of a nuclear family that is legally married. All individuals deserve protection. Getting protection for some gays and lesbians may make their lives better, but if it's done so at the cost of seeing social justice as the goal, is it worth it? And social justice is far more about anti-poverty and racial equality than sexual liberation- but yes, I think that could be a part of it. I doubt you're suggesting that sex per se kills- it is unprotected sex. And it's not marriage - but a condom- that protects people from HIV.

tomhenning

If you're only looking for logic, you're missing the point! It has a place, but you're trying to fathom the growing support for same-sex marriage, you need to consider other things that motivate people.

The problem with queer theorists (and I used to be one- we invented that term 20 years ago) is that they fail to consider the millions of non-queer "gay and lesbian" people who are woven into the fabric of American life.

The desire to marry is the desire to belong. It reflects a desire to balance their existing bonds with heterosexuals- family, friends, co-workers - with their homosexuality. Marriage equality does not speak to the needs of "queers" but it does speak to the needs of millions of others.

I do believe that the marriage equality movement, and LGBT-rights movement, for lack of a better term, is indeed a broad social justice movement. It has enormous potential to liberate all persons, of all sexualities, from some of the current strictures of gender and sexuality. Our strength is in bonding with the oppressors (as MLK so ably did, at least rhetorically).

The movement really has little to do with fighting poverty and racism. That's quite a stretch, even for a queer theorist. As long as activists in those areas put their (hetero)sexuality before all other concerns, and we saw recently in California with both African- and Mexican-Americans, I'll avoid alliances with them.

Laurie Essig

Again- to say that the same sex marriage movement is about social justice and then not be outraged that Olson is part of it- leading the way - in fact- is a bit difficult for anyone committed to social justice to understand. Can a movement committed to social justice ignore issues of poverty and racism? NO. Is there a relationship between homophobia, patriarchy, and racism? YES.

I respect the rank and file members of the gay marriage movement. They are fighting for their rights- that's a good thing. But the leaders of this movement seem to believe "by any means necessary"- for instance, Beth Robinson called Olson a "respected conservative." Respected by whom? The Bushies? I do not respect someone who dismantles affirmative action, expands the wartime powers of the President, and helps the unelected Dubbya become President even though he was not elected in 2000.

Any movement that "respects" Olson is not a social justice movement. Any movement that is unwilling to examine the RACIAL and CLASS issues behind marriage in the US is not a movement for social justice. Please don't misunderstand me. I think the people who are part of it are not bad people. But they are hardly the Revolution either.

renzob

Brava. I am an expert in some of these things, having grown up gifted, white, rich, and queer. I can pass for *straight* when I really want to do so, but I would have been very very hard pressed to escape being black or dirt poor. America is not kind to poor people, in fact the very fact that we have let people remain in generationally determined poverty, and depended upon it (a respected conservative value) for an underclass to blame, target, imprison, execute, and to serve us, is itself a condemnation.
You are very right. Any society truly valuing equality and opportunity would have been working hard on real solutions for decades already. Or have the problem solved. Gay marriage is a pseudo liberal/libertarian hobby which does nothing to solve the more basic problems of race and class.

tomhenning

Laurie,

You cast a harsh light on the same-sex marriage movement, and its appreciation for help from even conservative quarters, including characters like Ted Olson.

I don't see why you think that the fight for LGBT rights is a "social justice movement" generally. I've worked in this arena for 25 years, and never thought so. I know that many supporters of LGBT rights see it as such - as evidenced by the enduring rhetoric of "equal rights"- but that doesn't make it generally true for the millions of LGBT Americans.

The condition of LGBT persons is not an economic one, nor is it about political power, as struggles related to race or class are. Instead, our oppressive situation is along a new orthogonal axis that cuts across all races, cultures, and classes. The condition of LGBT people in society is a reflection of the unique way that we challenge not only large social structures, but one-to-one interpersonal conventions and even upset basic concepts of personal identity.

It's long past time to drop the alliances with hetero people of color, unions, anti-poverty causes and other assorted leftist groups who we spent much of the 70s, 80s and 90s working for but who have done nothing for us in the past decade. The Prop. 8 vote percentages for hetero African-American Protestants, and hetero Latino Catholics, should be the last nail in the coffin. These groups are manifestly unable to understand the LGBT condition or unwilling to put it above their own sense of heterosupremacy. The experience of growing up gay, bi, or trans in America simply has nothing to do with the terrible economic and social oppression they've experienced for centuries.

We have little common ground, and they don't support our agenda. What's the point of an alliance?

shandean

Prof. Essig, I guess I have two lingering doubts about which this vein of queer thought has always left me (like so many married people, I suppose) unsatisfied.

In a lot of ways, I totally buy the argument that the push for equal marriage rights by gay rights advocates is an act of assimilation that is utterly counterproductive, of the tempering of the sort of sexual freedom that has come, in a lot of ways, to define sexual freedom. But what if we were to draw a distinction between these two camps? What if "queerness" is actually NOT necessarily coterminous with the sorts of public sex and sexual proliferation and urge toward the avant garde alluded to in your post?

I can definitely see the point that the gay rights front, at a certain key moment in its history, took on a sort of elitist, assimilationist mode. "Milk" actually does a nice job treating this, with its amazing portrait of the editor of "The Advocate" and his refusal, ironically enough, to actually advocate for anything.

My issue with the idea that the establishment of marriage rights for same-sex partners equates to some sort of quelching of all the pleasure and political efficacy of "alternative" sexualities is two-fold. One part of this is that I get the sense that your piece comes from an equally militant and prescriptive standpoint, one that somehow defines queerness and queer sex in a particular way. And one that, as a gay guy who actually has quite a bit of sex, I am still not entirely comfortable with having applied to me. I think a lot of queer theorists from this camp wind up looking down on, say, gay couples who tend toward monogamy as somehow missing something, as somehow playing into straight stereotypes in order not to rock the boat. This urge (one which drives, for instance, "The Trouble with Normal") is unnerving.

My second problem, though, is the question of how this sort of sexual leveling is supposed to play out. In what actual ways do you predict that the institution of marriage for same-sex partners will result in a stricter policing of public sex, or of (as Michael Warner, among others, almost voyeuristically enjoys enjoys doing) private sex between married partners. How do this work? How will it play out? I'm willing to hear arguments.

The bigger issue, though, is entirely practical. Civic marriage is a mode of enfranchisement for citizens of the nation. And I don't mean a sort of feelgoodism that would come from the straight establishment at long last looking fondly on married gays. Neither do I mean a sense that gays will finally have "made it" in their own eyes or in the eyes of others by finally appearing more straight. I mean practical things, like receiving the benefits of married citizenship, avoiding nightmares in family court, and (and this is a thing we're for some reason not talking about nearly enough) the granting of citizenship rights to non-U.S.-national partners. Bi-national straight couples don't worry about spending years apart and searching for work visas or staging their partnerships at an extreme long distance precisely because they can marry. And because, more to the point, they can marry for papers, for all the crass, purely civic, purely practical reasons we tend to cite as evidence of the cheapness of straight unions. But right now, gay couples aren't in that position, which amounts to a quite serious injustice.

There are actual rights being denied to us, all of which hinge on this question of marriage, and for me that's a bottom line that is worth not ignoring.

bobshanbrom

You pose a cavalcade of tough question, Professor. Assimilation does indeed mean becoming queer WASPs. No liberation there, but there are acquired rights, agreed. But is there liberation in libertinism? I think romantic faith and surrendered love, agape, are better interpersonal models for revolution.

hazmat

Your article has a tremendous number of assumptions. Assumptions that being gay/lesbian necessitates being confined to an alternative lifestyle in order to be true and valid, and that people in monogamous relationships must be bored with each other. And so you try to define others, painting them in simplistic, insulting strokes, while whipping out the megaphone to yell at anyone daring to define or paint you.

Since being homosexual does not equate with being rich, white, and able-bodied, you ignore those for whom marriage is key to fighting to stay above the poverty line. Should there be protection for all families? Definitely. Sometimes you can't step in a teleporter that transports you instantly from crappy point A to ideal point B, though.

Right here, right now, disabled and working a job that worsens my condition, marriage would provide an economic safety net. Our relationship is just as valid with or without it. We haven't even bothered with a public ceremony, because we need nothing to validate what we have but each other. And since neither of us are extroverted, and we are monogamously inclined, we are being true to ourselves in our quiet lives. I will not be shamed into living as others dictate, whether the person offended by how we live is conservative or liberal.

As for the movement, same-sex marriage is hardly a final step in acceptance. One component for some, yes. Some people do better with well-defined goals they can celebrate along the way toward social justice.

And while you are fighting the good fight, and trying to include all aspects of social injustice and poverty, I do hope you are including disability. I make no assumptions about whether or not you are currently involved with disability advocacy. I just recommend that if you want to point out to the gays and lesbians that they can't forget racial issues, disability issues should be just as big a concern.

hazmat

Oh, and do I find Mr. Olson offensive? Certainly. It's disgusting. Since I'm asking people who are offended and disgusted by my lifestyle and ideas to listen to what I have to say, I'll return the favor even when they offend and disgust me, though.

hstarr78

So what is your point? What is your answer?

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