Tag Archives: queer families

Dismantling queer families

TW: heterosexism, custody dispute

Let’s talk about how a lesbian couple is being sued for cohabitating in Texas. The logic behind this is that the father of at least one of the two children both of them are raising has the right to sue them for cohabiting together along with the child without being married. Such stipulations are common in many parts of the US as conditions for a divorce, so while this is a particularly public iteration of this phenomenon, the threat of this is a real issue that confronts many queer families.

To pick this apart, the problems here run deep. Cohabitation (widely defined as making a specific property the default sleeping space) is a comparatively odd issue to focus on within divorce papers. Even for male-female couples (who can easily avoid this issue by marrying), it seems like an arbitrary line to draw in the sand. While the ostensible point is to regulate who has access to the children as a means of protection, the policy seems designed to defer power to non-cohabitating legal kin at the expense of those who live with and potentially are more important if legally unrecognized within the household. As a protective measure, it only makes sense when assuming that pre-existing legal kinship is proof of having the best interests, and consequently should have de facto veto power over the introduction of new kin in their stead. It seems more interested in guarding recognized kins’ egos than their children.

(Just when you thought legal kinship norms couldn’t get anymore patriarchal, heterosexist, and cisnormative… from here.)

But to treat this as an issue that transcends heterosexist values and bigotry specifically towards queer families is to frustratingly miss one of the broader lessons here. The very existence of a shared social space is central to many conceptions of family in the United States – and the blatant attack on that for the Price-Comptons is consequently quite recognizable. But what about the nebulous issue of custody? Following a tragic or unexpected death, what if a non-biological mother is a more desirable candidate for sole custody than a distant, perhaps even former father?

Again, unlike male-female couples, same-sex or same-gender couples can’t easily transfer custody in cases of emergency to smooth out difficult transition periods for their kids. But, what’s more, in those often contested situations, queer parents often have their standing challenged not only for their lack of biological relationship with the children, but also for simply being queer.

In essence, there is no way of guaranteeing effective social protections for queer families without providing them means of establishing kinship, which male-female couples currently have easy access to. Dismantling onerous expectations of who can sleep where at what point is clearly a good idea, but ending the discussion there ignores the unique difficulties faced specifically by queer parents.

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The impossibility of queerness

Niall Ferguson’s “apology” reminded me in one of the worst ways of a long running facet of a lot of heterosexist speech: that it’s not even about queer people or queerness. As I mentioned yesterday, his almost apologetic response to being told that he misrepresented the details of Keynes personal life seems to be the justification for his response, more than actually absorbing a larger point about queer families and queer people. In a very real sense, his declaration of Keynes’ queerness to be a mark of unreasonableness if not inferiority is centered around heteronormative standards and concepts. It’s not merely that Ferguson devalued queer conceptions of kinship, but that while doing so he didn’t even acknowledge that those exist.

(Jokes on him, there’s even artistic deconstructions of queer families nowadays, from here.)

Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of that sort of thing going around lately, for centuries even. It’s practically a trope at this point for straight people to discuss queer people’s romantic interests, flings, partners, and even spouses as their (followed by an apparently obligatory pause) friend. Ferguson thankfully avoids that pitfall in his not-apology, mostly by not actually discussing any same-gender relationships so much as same-gender attraction (and that even pales in comparison to his main point, which was a presumed lack of attraction to women felt by Keynes). In the past few months, however, several prominent figures in the US failed to avoid the apparently very uncomfortable issue of discussing queer relationships, as marriage policies became a focal point with gathering efforts to recognize (some) queer marriages in some states and two different Supreme Court cases.

For instance, congressional representative Steve King (R-IA) published a deliciously idiotic opinion piece in the National Review, where he explained, “You do not need a license to begin a new friendship, start shopping at a new grocery store or pharmacy, or even begin a new dating relationship. Likewise, one does not need a court order to terminate any of those relationships. This fact indicates that there is something unique about marriage that necessitates government involvement.” After all, long-term relationships between people of the same gender are obviously more similar to shopping at a specific store, or going on a single date, or being in a friendship than long-term relationships between men and women. On a similar note and within the same week, Jennifer Roback Morse, spokesperson for the National Organization for [some] Marriage, complained that recognizing same-gender couples as married amounted to “nothing but a government registry of friendships” – almost as though she and King were reading the same notes!

An integral part of heterosexism, as suggested by Ferguson’s strategy of avoidance and King’s and Morse’s use of the always awkward “… friend” discussion tactic, is to avoid acknowledging queerness as a phenomenon even exists. As I’ve written about before, this is a widespread problem in terms of how acknowledging the needs and wants of queer people, queerspawn, and queer families is treated as a distraction. Unlike the invalidity assigned to the words and deeds of women, however, it seems to acknowledge the actions of queer people (or at least, queer men), but without really examining their queerness. In a confusing way, there’s a lot of discussion of queer people without any admission of the existence of queerness.

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How to miss the point

Sigh, I’ve been trying for a while now to work out something approaching civil to say to Niall Ferguson’s “critiques” of Keynes and his astounding not-apology for the implications of it. Yes, his sorry-you-were-offended response contains an on the nose reiteration of his main point: that Keynes was (some variety of) queer and that’s a valid point to raise in analyzing his policy recommendations.

As several other members of the “self-appointed inquisitors of [the] internet” (as Ferguson called us) pointed out, this is not a new point for him, which he’s been making in several forums for almost a decade now. The only substantive evidence of this he’s ever pointed to is that, as a British public figure assessing the Treaty of Versailles after World War I, Keynes pushed for lighter punishments for Germany for “starting” the war (which every modern historian worth their salt tends to credit to a French interest in payback for the embarrassing Franco-Prussian War). Ferguson in 1995 credited that perspective in whole to Keynes falling “so hard for the representative of an enemy power”, Carl Melchior. Meanwhile, in the modern day, Ferguson explains that Keynes’ “strong attraction he felt for the German banker Carl Melchior undoubtedly played a part in shaping Keynes’ views on the Treaty of Versailles and its aftermath”.

You know those queer men – they’re just like women (whether straight or queer) in how they fall all over themselves when around someone they like like! They’re just so illogical when it comes to math, or science, or engineering, but those few “good ones” that are passable just fall apart near attractive people because their tiny brains can’t take it. Now, what exactly did Keynes miss because of his googly eyes over Melchior? After all, his most famous work of the aftermath of the first World War in Germany is largely seen as prescient of the destabilization of Germany and rise of power of Adolf Hitler. Seduced as he was, history has largely proven him correct, but sadly at the cost of millions of lives, including the thousands of queer men imprisoned as degenerates by the Nazi regime (and, in most cases, after the Allies liberated the concentration camps, they were merely incorporated into the rest of the prison population).

(Above, queer men imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, from here.)

Against this backdrop of Ferguson’s career-long contention that Keynes was really, really gay, Ferguson recently made an “unintentional” remark that of course Keynes famously joked “in the long run we’re all dead” because he was queer, and queer people don’t have children or reproduce, and not having children is tantamount to declaring the future is dead to you. Having won the idiots’ bingo, Ferguson is only making this non-apologetic apology after being reminded (read: informed) that Keynes’ wife did become pregnant at least once, but that that only tragically ended in a miscarriage. Ferguson outright implies an apology in this trainwreck, saying, “This was doubly stupid. First, it is obvious that people who do not have children also care about future generations. Second, I had forgotten that Keynes’ wife Lydia miscarried.”

Within the context of heterosexism (or as Ferguson oh so with it writes, homophobia), this misses the point that Ferguson is only valuing biological reproduction and automatically discounting a queer person from having any status understandable as parental on the basis of their queerness. Among the questions this writing raises is what exactly Ferguson is “apologizing” for – being wrong about the particulars of Keynes life? Or about the assumption of how kinship and family function? It seems like he errs rather close to the former and doesn’t even realize how he has come across on the latter.

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And you’ll like it!

TW: anti-Roma violence

So a few people have been abuzz over the recent Hungarian constitutional changes. There’s pretty clearly a precarious political situation developing in that country, as the inability to use existing hate crimes laws to prosecute anti-Roma hate crimes shows (sorry it’s only available in pdf format). I have significant qualms about the agendas pushed at times by Der Spiegel (which has supported the politicized aid stipulations put upon Greece) and by Human Rights Watch (which had many high-ranking members lobby for the Iraq War), but their reporting puts together a rather worrisome picture of Hungary’s current trajectory. Ignoring their prescriptions to the problem (since both organizations have proven all too fallible in terms of determining the correct course of action), their descriptions (which are corroborated elsewhere) tackle very different dimensions of the developing problems.

(A 2012 vigil for a 2009 killing of a Roma man and his son in Tatárszentgyörgy, Hungary, from here.)

Der Spiegel’s coverage is quite clear: one issue is how Hungary is effectively creating an incentive for those educated there to stay and work there for at least a few years following their post-university entrance into the labor force. As Der Spiegel puts it, it’s a “measure meant to curb the emigration of highly-educated workers and academics”. That seems imminently reasonable for a comparatively small country with highly liberalized immigration laws that allow workers to be easily poached by other EU nations. The article briefly lays out a few other changes in the same section of new laws that the parliament has now effectively written into the constitution, but it doesn’t exactly dwell on their purpose or function.

That’s where the Human Rights Watch’s piece comes into play. It doesn’t actually examine the impacts on immigration much at all, and instead cuts straight to the heart of how life within Hungary will be impacted by the assorted other changes. In short, the results don’t sound very good. A few Fidesz (the currently governing party) officials have put out English language explanations which I won’t link to provide them any more coverage, but suffice it to say, they’re claiming that new language defining families with explicit references to sexual reproduction are no cause of concern for queer Hungarian families. They’re claiming that the Hungarian state’s preservation of a vague commitment to provide housing makes up for the de facto criminalization of homelessness. They’re pretending that preferential support of certain religious groups over others is something other than religious establishment. They’ve passed over the fact that among the new changes also allow the National Judicial Office to transfer cases (particularly political corruption cases) to inexperienced rural courts that are rarely reported on.

Many politically-active Hungarians have been raising the alarm for some time now that a tide of antisemitic and anti-Roma sentiment was rising, but that seems to have been part of a larger vision among conservative Hungarians of a better Hungary with “proper” families, no undesirable homeless, and no corruption (within eyesight or earshot). An apparent lack of Jews or Roma was merely one facet of how society needed to be reformed in their view. But what’s more, that vision comes along with laws designed to keep many younger Hungarians stuck there with them. You’ll partake in their utopia, and supposedly, you’ll like it too.

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More straight people feels

It’s my birthday, so I’ll just briefly state that the parade of straight people’s feelings on queer families and marriage equality is continuing for the moment. Over at The Beast, Megan McCardle, who in the past gleefully imagined the violence that could have been doled out against Iraq War protesters, has a lot of concerns over whether marriage equality would coercively assimilate queer couples into a nightmarish middle class hellscape of manicured suburban lawns and homeowners’ associations. It’s adorable how she assumes that queer families won’t exist until poof the law allows them to. It’s difficult to say if this is the result of flawed descriptions of “legalizing” or “banning” those marriages, rather than acknowledging the kinship systems that many queer families have used for decades if not centuries that are easily accommodated by existing laws.

But, as I suggested yesterday, the discussion she sets up carefully avoids much analysis of actual queer people – they’re discussed as a group, faces in a crowd, a monolith, even while dropping conservative, straight politicians’ names and specific sexual histories at the drop of a hat. The legal freedoms of and social mores governing queer people are merely barometers to popular perceptions of monogamy apparently. Her eventual point is evidently this: “One can imagine a Republican politician fifty years hence ruining his career when he throws over his husband and children for a younger man.” The bad part of this is… decidedly unclear. McCardle seems incapable of understanding duplicitous or disrespectful sexual habits from non-marital and polyamorous ones, and mixes all of that together with queer sexualities.

(Neither mutually inclusive nor mutually exclusive: polyamory, queer sexualities, and sexual ethics. Also Batman. From here.)

Meanwhile, from the purportedly more accepting camp, Brian Palmer (who was still married to his wife in the eyes of both New York state and the federal government as of 2012) at Slate decided to play what we in the business call “Oppression Olympics” with interracial and same-sex/same-gender marriage rights. For instance, were you aware that in Loving v Virginia, racists “didn’t merely critique the parenting skills of interracial couples—the state attacked their very mental stability“? Gosh, because if there’s one group of people that aren’t talked about as being categorically mentally unwell, it’s queer people, right? And it’s not like there was a concerted effort to fabricate results to prove that queer couples were categorically not only “bad” but actively damaging parents? One of the factors in that study was specifically that being raised by a queer family increased the risk of children to experience physical abuse (but note, they didn’t bother to ask if it was the parents who would have done that violence or if they would have tolerated it).

Straight people: actually experts on life experiences they’ve never had.

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The lack of space for queerness

Something quite terrible is going on within the struggle for queer liberation. That’s not a new idea. In 2011, Bell Hooks famously said that marriage equality was primarily rooted in expanding the number of couples that could share resources, access to healthcare, and other economic privileges, rather than actively fixing the problem that anyone lacks those resources or the ability to fully access them.

Spurred by the recent court cases in the US involving marriage laws, similar points have come up a few times. A popular response to the cissexist Human Rights Campaign’s campaign on Facebook explained that “marriage is often touted as important because it grants access to immigration, healthcare, etc. but … we really need immigration reform, universal healthcare” rather than a minimal expansion of access. In a similar vein, pictures from older protests have been shared anew which presented mutually exclusive options of legally recognizing queer marriages or dismantling the prison industrial complex.

(“Now that I can’t plan my wedding I guess I’ll just destroy the prison industrial complex.”)

I agree that these are vital points to make about the limitations of marriage equality. Much like the enfranchisement of male-female marriages, it assists very few people immigrate, access healthcare, or avoid unreasonable incarceration. But when the right of couples to “traditionally” marry (in a romantic sense that’s not much more than a century old) is raised, it’s seldom framed as a solution to systemic injustice with dimensions related to racial, economic, and other hierarchies. Rather, marriage is in part a means of regulating custodial rights, a person’s next of kin, and ceding right of attorney in cases of medical or other emergencies.

It seems necessary to ask why the recognition of (some) queer families needs to be justified by the solution of other broad, discriminatory policies that primarily relate to what we might call other modes of oppression. Should the Civil Rights Act have had to prove that it would have positively impacted queer and genderqueer communities? Should the Equal Rights Amendment have been expected to crack down on extralegal yet widely tolerated police brutality against people of color? The need for policies to acknowledge and examine intersectionality – that is, how a person can simultaneously be genderqueer, queer, of color, and female – is obvious, and policies should be criticized and avoided that reduce inequality in one of those fields but with extreme affects in others. It’s a few degrees removed from that, however, to expect improvements in one of those territories to actively resolve historied and systemic problems in another.

And again: what has created that expectation that legally recognizing same-sex and same-gender marriages is a remotely acceptable replacement for healthcare, immigration, and public safety reforms?

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TW: racism, classism, cissexism, sexual assault, heterosexism

I’m tired of Michael Brown being allowed to publicly joke about the horrendous conditions he helped create in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, which still haven’t been fully resolved. His newest “joke” only makes sense if you automatically assume that the people of New Orleans are innately unstable and unable to deal with basic technical delays. That tells you something about how he interpreted their anger at being abandoned for days with little food and clean water.

(The partially blacked out stadium during the Superbowl, from here.)

I’m tired of MTV giving air time to cissexist speculation in front of a young transgender woman about her sexual assault and identity that was then broadcast across India. Their speculation that Sherry identified as female for this reason or that wasn’t so much asked as announced. Her own story of who she is and why and what it all means was swept away in favor of a cisgender man being able to tell her what was really going on. Of course, the excuse is that all of this is an experiment in terms of seeing how Sherry would respond to pressing circumstances. Because the difficulties and nervousness that accompany a technical performance are the same as having your gender identity dismissed and defined for you on national television?

I’m tired of having powerful academic institutions willingly participate in the political targeting of a well-known queer programmer-activist. MIT has been revealed as essentially having cooperated with the federal investigation against the expressed interests of many of its faculty and students as those of the actual company (JSTOR) whose intellectual property was “stolen”. What seems to have upset them is that someone fought against their control of information distribution.

I’m tired of straight people from straight families saying they should be the ones to decide legal definitions of parenthood and accompanying policies to the explicit exclusion of members of queer families.

I’m tired of bullies. Aren’t you?

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