Tag Archives: same gender marriage

When your name is mud, find someone dirtier

Trigger warning: heterosexism, sex work, pedophilia

Just after 3 in the morning on Friday of last week, a sex scandal involving two unfaithful Michigan legislature senators came to a close with Cindy Gamrat having been removed of office by a Senate-wide vote and resigned and Todd Courser having resigned (after repeated attempts to also vote him out). The details of this are comparatively run-of-the-mill, with a fairly similar sex scandal – once again, between two socially conservative members of an upper midwest legislature – having broke at almost the same time. Courser’s handling of the situation was marked by a unique damage control campaign though, which has been widely described as an attempt to create confusion and doubt around his alleged sexual misconduct.

While there’s a number of details in these stories that are meant to show Courser as debauched, not all of them even sexual, the use of him being purportedly bisexual should give observers pause. If nothing else, it reflects a comparatively unquestioned form of heterosexism lingering throughout the US. The very details of his concocted self-smearing are built off of devaluing images of gay, bisexual, and other non-straight men as sexually and otherwise out of control. These are the stereotypes that fed into a resignation that the effects of HIV among those communities are inevitable as well as justified denying marital rights to them (among others). His highly public use of them reflects how many people not only still believe them but actively seek to use them.

While the deceitful nature of Courser’s efforts have been revealed, it’s curious how intriguingly effective his claims have been over some media. As the New York Daily News described it – he “planned to muddy his own name to save Gamrat”. Seemingly one of the worst case scenarios his plan attempted to deal with was to bank on the nature of his sex scandal actually being between him and a woman not him and a man, and that’s precisely the straight, romantic terms in which it at least once managed to be framed on the national stage. That’s a reassurance that relies specifically on degrees of security and safety and value being reserved for straight people and their relationships.

Fueling that are those stereotypes. In a broader view, he chose to use one small slice of a treasure trove of stereotypes, one tailored to be more outrageous for many than his own flaws he feared would be revealed. The larger pool of those ideas about non-straight people, however, gives him and all other straight people an entire system of support. There’s a sort of Goldilocks quality to the varied ways that regularly happens. Courser relied on the assumption that gay men and bisexual people are too promiscuous (compared to straight people) but other straight people can also turn to the belief that lesbian women are overly committed or even zealous (compared to straight people). There are also echoes in Courser’s email of the framing of gay men and bisexual people as too risk-taking (compared to straight people), but in other times and places it’s more useful to say that lesbian women are too risk-averse (compared to straight people).

Straight personal histories like Courser’s emerge out of those and other comparisons as the middle-of-the-road. Even with their flaws and problems, they can become an alternative that’s safe, stable, reasonable, and fulfilling in all the ways non-straight people miss the mark. Precisely which non-straight people have which faults is actually irrelevant and even interchangeable, because that’s not the point. Anti-lesbian rhetoric can just as easily frame lesbians as inadequately committed in their relationships compared to overly committed. The point isn’t a consistent or realistic depiction of these various non-straight groups, just to create an image of them that frames them as negative extremes that straight people better balance.

Ultimately, because Courser was exposed, this event could be revealing of that and related thought processes that many straight people have and even regularly rely on. As not only the New York Daily News but even John Oliver’s piece show, that’s something that few straight people or people of any sexuality in the mainstream media are comfortable with or capable of doing. It’s easier to laugh at or otherwise find entertainment in this, as something fantastical, rather than a common social practice. That’s certainly a lot safer than examining one’s own life and actions and considering if you ever rely on non-straight people being the mud that makes your name look clean in comparison.

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At a crossroads for LGBT politics

Trigger warning: heterosexism, cissexism, transmisogyny

The recent politicking around a Kentucky county clerk’s refusal to provide any marriage licenses (as long as she would have to hand them out to same-gender couples) has a strangely familiar feel to it. Jim Obergefell, the titular plaintiff in Obergefell v. Hodges, gave his pen to the Human Rights Campaign to call for signatories in support of the various couples denied marriage licenses by her. It’s intriguing to note that not all of the couples involved in the suit against their county clerk are even same-gender. While the shows of support for all of them are quite kind, these are marriage-minded politics that treat the relevant needs and rights of LGBT people as an important but added on complication.

The comments on a YouTube video of one of the same-gender couples being denied their license makes it clear how peripheral their status as LGBT is within this understanding of what’s happening. Instead, as they make clear, it’s about love, or civil service standards, or almost any other reading of the situation that downplays their identities which fall outside of hetersexist and cissexist norms and creates LGBT politics that put the focus on something other than being LGBT.

2015-09-04_1319From here.

This isn’t to deny the importance of accessing among other basic civil services and rights, marriage, for LGBT people. But there’s a well-worn specificity here, that among the various legal statuses and processes, marriage is beyond central, it’s dominating. From the image conscious use of a figure in the fight to expand marriage rights to the political focus on making the use of those marriage rights as accessible as possible, the marriage centered notion of what are LGBT rights appears to have just been reborn in a post-Obergefell era with the HRC as midwife. Far from clearing the air and recasting the structure of how LGBT people will politically interact with each other and the cisgender and straight mainstream, this casts a doubt on the transformative effect of the spread of marriage equality.

It wasn’t clear that this was going to be the outcome a scant few months ago. Even the HRC itself engaged in a membership and donation drive in August that emphasized that their upcoming legal focus would be on anti-discrimination measures for LGBT people in workplaces, schools, and other spaces. Marriage was a part of their program, but it was mainly part of a broader set of rights compromised by civil discrimination with a clear indication that other forms of discrimination would likely take up a larger portion of the discussion. Securing the right to marry specifically was a distant concern, presented as one that would mostly concern electing supportive candidates rather than confronted the already elected, like Davis.

The HRC wasn’t alone in dipping a toe into a less marriage-focal set of LGBT politics. The Victory Fund, which has long fundraised to increase LGBT representation in local and state governmental bodies, sought support for two lesbian candidates for Nashville’s city council in late July. Caitlyn Jenner came out and began conversations both between trans and cis people and within the trans community about trans visibility. Over the summer she also drove a national conversation on trans athletes. I have myself been personally involved in efforts to redesign California state parental laws – which deliberately intended to make them more accessible to both married and unmarried LGBT parents.

Even on the other end of these and other issues of LGBT rights, there were the perennial debates about trans women’s legal right to use women’s restrooms and the Family Research Council began to prepare for fights around particularly workplace-focused anti-discrimination measures. The post-Obergefell terrain of both LGBT and anti-LGBT politics was vast and open to discussions that extended beyond marriage and marriage rights, and yet the HRC has apparently decided to fight the same battle once again on the same terms with the same names even.

This kind of complaint – that LGBT politics are dominated by a debate over marriage to the exclusion of other issues in large part because of the HRC’s political choices – is itself pretty stale to many LGBT people because this has been such a recurring problem. Beyond that overwhelming sense of familiarity, however, this is a structuring set of priorities within our communities. As I noted last week, part of what I was advocating for in California was that LGBT parents didn’t have to pay additional costs to parent – to conceive, to adopt, to be safe, secure, and stable families. In sharp contrast to that, David Moore, one of the people denied a marriage license by Davis, was broadcast on national news reminding her: “I pay your salary.” This echoes how he and by extension all other LGBT people are expected to financially bargain for acceptance. This specific type of marriage-focused politics seem like they’re quite capably reinforcing the idea that we should pay more to access what is a right for cisgender and straight people, and encouraging LGBT people to think in those terms. After all, that very line of thought came out of Moore’s mouth.

In short, we have been standing at a crossroads within LGBT politics. We can broaden our communities’ conversations, imagine a brighter future, and hopefully ultimately build that better world. We can have a political sense of self that moves past “I pay your salary” to one where it doesn’t matter what one pays, we’re still human and we still have rights. Or we can perpetuate what feels like little more than a remix of the same debate about marriage, with the same socio-economic implications for LGBT people, the same limits, and the same pitfalls. The rights of a mix of same-gender and male-female couples in Rowan County, Kentucky, are already being spoken for and advanced by organizations that fight for civil rights on a broader platform, namely the ACLU. Why does the HRC need to have to repeat the same priorities, the same focuses, the same conversations that lead to the same places when someone else can advance them?

As of this writing, Kim Davis’s county office has been handing out marriage licenses to the long-waiting couples. They still don’t have her signature on them, which a county official has said will be valid without that. Davis is facing jail time for refusing to perform mandatory duties to her clerk position. The fight for this specific form of this specific right for this specific license in this specific county appears to be near its end. Maybe the HRC and other LGBT organizations will have another chance to choose what they will prioritize how they will prioritize it from here on out. Maybe this isn’t a post-Obergefell world, but a post-Lund one.

This article’s featured image is of David Moore and Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis from an earlier confrontation in July, from here.

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The rising tide doesn’t lift all boats

TW: heterosexism, cissexism

A number of legal cases for marriage reform and the new state leadership in Virginia have combined to create the perfect storm in that state for the current ban on LGBTQ* marital recognition to be struck down. Elected only this past fall, current Attorney General Mark Herring campaigned on the basis of expanding marriage rights and in response to the various looming legal cases previously announced that he was “reviewing appropriate legal options” and has now filed alongside the plaintiffs in one Virginia case. This is a dramatic reversal to Virginia’s policy, which currently not only bans the recognition of those marriages but also the provision of any legal status to a same-sex couple with rights comparable to marriage.

Virginia joins a list of states, surprising to some, that have seen this issue recently come into question in spite of strict state-level bans. Both Utah and Oklahoma have in the past few weeks had federal judges strike down their policies, although granting same-sex couples marriage licenses has now been halted in Utah and not yet occurred in Oklahoma. All three of those states only had their sodomy laws, which banned sexual acts between same-sex couples, wiped out in only 2003 by the federal Supreme Court. To call this a quick progression seems like an understatement.

The expanding possibilities for many couples in all three of those states is highly limited, however, outside of the still uncertain changes to marriage laws. Housing discrimination against LGBTQ* people remains legal in all three. Likewise, none of those states collect or prosecute hate crimes against LGBTQ* people. Virginia is the only one of those states that has any protections against employment discrimination, which only applies to state employees and was only added earlier this month. All three also lack any sort of systemic protection for LGBTQ* people against harassment in schools or discrimination in accessing healthcare.

usa map - states with effectively no protections -
(The states shaded in above with red do not have any significant state-level protections for LGBTQ* people. They do not bar employment discrimination in either the public or private sectors for only cis LGBQ* people. They do not bar housing discrimination, again, even against cis LGBQ* people. They do not prosecute anti-LGBTQ* hate crimes, or even record them for federal purposes. Until this month, Virginia was also a member of this category.)

A common complaint in LGBTQ* activism is that the movement for recognizing their rights is overly focused on marriage and particularly avoids addressing the needs of transgender people. The evolving policies in these three states seems to suggest that, as they not only are far behind in protections other than marriage for LGBTQ* people, but they are among the most difficult states for transgender people to live in.

Oklahoma is among the few states that in a technical sense does not recognize transgender people – the state has no policy for or practice of changing the gender listed on a birth certificate. Utah and Virginia do modify birth certificates, but each with a catch. Utah fails to provide a new one, and simply “amends” an old one, which means that after modification it will come under increased scrutiny because of how it is “amended”. Virginia, alternatively, provides a new and authoritative certificate, but only after proof of an invasive surgery is offered. All three states fall far short of an ideal policy.

With one of several marriage cases already scheduled for January 30, majorities of Virginians in some polls supporting a turn from the current policy, and many legal experts comparing this issue to the push for legal interracial marriage (which was won nationally by a Virginian case), the next few weeks should hold some interesting developments. That said, Virginia, like much of the US, lags behind on the various other protections that LGBTQ* people find themselves in need of, particularly those most relevant to transgender people. Marriage reform is a necessary ingredient for resolving heterosexist and cissexist inequality in the US, but it isn’t sufficient on its own, which is among the “best” outcomes at the moment in those three and many other states. There may be a rising tide, but we’re seeing it fail to lift all boats at the moment.

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The year that queer politics imploded

TW: heterosexism, sexism, racism, nativism, deportation, sodomy laws, colonialism

As far as I know, no one else has said this yet, but we need to entirely rethink the way we talk and think about struggling against the social, political, and even economic power that straight people have (or more concisely, heterosexism). The past year has been a startling series of signs of that. Yes, there’s been the longstanding bigotries and attitudes that are unfortunately familiar. The lack of same-gender marriages being recognized in parts of the US making queer/LGBT families uniquely vulnerable to forced separations as a result of either immigration policy and civil suits. Likewise, a person’s sexuality is apparently still proof of their inferiority, and hence the invalidity of their writings and views. More globally, there’s been a dramatic rolling back of queer political rights in first Russia, and now India. There’s some political conversations where heterosexism is talked about as being “over” in some sense, when the reality is that anti-heterosexism politics are still all too necessary.

Just not the kind that we have right now.

Over the past year, the supposedly queer response to the reality that queer couples lack legal protections was often to trivialize what marital recognition means while as previously mentioned the direct link between penalizing cohabitation or actually separating such families with deportation continued to exist. A certain willingness to question whether that or other policies are the best ways of protecting ourselves is of course, important. But that line of thinking about and hopefully for queer people has become a common tool of straight and cisgender commentators – and not just those that seem to be intending to be genuinely mindful, but also those that are more dubious, or those that are outright trying to define what our politics can and should be. This sort of thinking that were originally designed by and for queer people to use to keep our politics healthy have, in short, been hijacked. They’ve been turned into mechanisms that straight and cisgender people now regularly use to police our politics.

The problem is much larger than the increasingly controlling role that straight and cisgender people have sought to have in queer politics over 2013. In short, there’s also the problems that accompany the Dan Savages of the queer communities. Or rather, a very specific queer community that’s near exclusively White and male (among other demographic specifics). The legal reality that marriage for queer White men very seldom means being liberated from the threat of civil suits by controlling former husbands or sperm donors seems to be the reason why that perspective on marriage is rarely offered. The rare references to how marriage eases immigration and can mean the difference between being allowed to stay with your family or deportation and separation are rare because of how unusual it is for that to affect that specific subset of queer people. The “frivolous” focus on marriage is a product of it being talked about as purely a sign of social inclusion and acceptability, which is frankly what it is for the group of queer people who are most visible within the US.

Looking back at 2013, queer politics were on a national (if not international) scale dominated by the concerns of that specific group. There were far more conversations this year about Dan Savage’s misguided (and honestly bizarre) boycott of a vodka company with a Russian name than Masha Alexanderovna Gessen’s experiences at the hands of Russian police. The limited look at what heterosexism is to queer White men (and generally speaking ones that live in the US or Western Europe and so on) is part of what’s given it the appearance of being a hazy mix of nonsensical consumer choices and other issues that seem fundamentally reducible to a specter of heterosexism that could be applied to them (while it is actually being applied to other queer people).

(Taking a momentarily broader look at the recent history of queer politics – it was largely White cis men like Dan Savage that made queer politics something straight and cisgender “allies” could feel comfortable engaging it, while at the same time it seems, they created the impression of it as superficial and “frivolous” which said “allies” can now use to control discussions about more “pertinent” politics. 2013 is merely a hopeful breaking point in this feedback loop that has a longer history.)

Ideally, queer politics don’t have to be that way. We can have conversations about marriage that notice that it’s not merely been a straights-only matter of whose relationships have been recognized, but such a club that was imposed as a part of European colonialism. In some cases, changing those laws can be a part of dismantling the still lingering sexual and gendered aspects of colonial domination. With the recent news of India’s effective reinstitution of sodomy laws, it seems important to note how reporting packaged for Western audiences failed to recall that the law was originally undemocratically instituted by British colonial rulers, while more globally-minded media has put that history front and center.

377 ipc 2
(Meanwhile, protesters in India simply referenced the penal code in question (377) and the decolonization Quit India movement to make their point, from here.)

But that very same dynamic of decolonization played out much earlier in 2013 in New Zealand, where again allies talking about the insubstantial or irrelevant nature of the marriage reforms also reared its head. While a White, cis, straight, male member of their parliament explained his support for the new law in terms of how little he saw it as impacting “the fabric of society”, Louisa Wall, the Maori and lesbian MP who had introduced the law, was honored with flowers from her colleagues and serenaded with a Maori love song by the parliament’s gallery. There’s many ways of understanding what happened in those moments, but it’s hard to deny something important happened there, with an indigenous and queer woman being celebrated in her ancestral language at the heart of the government that colonized her people and previously insisted that it would not recognize any relationship that she had wanted to be in. In short, it was a reclamation of space, and perhaps even power.

It seems like that sort of issue, as New Mexico and Hawaii – both states with large indigenous populations which like the Maori have differently conceptualized relationships and sexuality from their White colonizers – joined the portions of the US that recognize same-gender marriages. That, like many of the other more complicated aspects of marriage and other issues at the forefront of queer political thought at this moment, wasn’t acknowledged much over the course of this year.

A part of breaking the consensus between more enfranchised queer populations and the broader world of straight and cisgender politics that those sorts of reforms are largely window-dressing lies in recognizing those lived experiences and how important those supposedly small changes can be in terms of their personal meaning but also in many cases the political protections they afford people and their families. Many of the little political details that surround queer people in the US began rapidly changing over the course of 2013, but a significant amount of that has been invisible to people who are certain that queer issues are in and of themselves frivolous. We need politics that can, and can respond to those realities.

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Tactics Alone

TW: heterosexism, cissexism

Alex Pareene had a very interesting piece up on Salon on Monday about how all the talk about a GOP civil war is often getting the nature of the argument wrong. As he put it:

There is still one party that is very committed to rolling back environmental and other regulations, preventing meaningful financial reform, and, most important, keeping taxes as low as possible on very wealthy people and corporations. The Tea Party is not opposed to any of those things. […] “The business community” wants the Republican Party to be competitive in national races — they’re also fine with the Republicans’ trying to win elections through gerrymandering and voter suppression — while “the Tea Party” prioritizes purity over electability. (In fact, most of them don’t see conservative purity as any sort of obstacle to electability, but they are wrong.) The backlash to Ted Cruz and the House “suicide caucus” was mainly a reaction to tactics, not a blow-up over policy.

Conservatives simply differed over the best way to force Democrats into accepting the roll-back of the Affordable Care Act and/or a tax-cutting, social insurance-cutting long-term budget deal. Plenty of “establishment” Republicans still believe it is perfectly appropriate to use the debt ceiling, and the implicit threat of default, to extract policy concessions. Where Republicans split was on the wisdom of actually shutting the government down or merely threatening to, and on what precisely to demand in exchange for reopening the government. Grover Norquist attacked Ted Cruz for demanding the unachievable, but he doesn’t actually oppose defunding Obamacare. He just thought Paul Ryan had a better strategy for actually winning concessions.

In short, they’re not ideologically opposed (or if so, it’s in very minimal ways), but simply using different playbooks. Unluckily for them, their tactics are increasingly incompatible, if not gummed up by unmoored-from-reality expectations by Tea Party “strategists”. Viewed that way, the conflict is all too real, but in reality not between groups that old different sets of beliefs but groups with different understandings of how those beliefs appear to the larger society. The establishment understands the tactical need to dress up hostility and their interest in reestablishing or maintaining traditional power imbalances as something less offensive to a growing majority of US residents. The Tea Party has either failed to clue in, or refuses to.


(I mean, as if signs like this didn’t already clue us into that, from here.)

Another news item this week shows how true this is, that the real difference between main “radical” Tea Party Republicans and “moderate” Establishment GOP operatives is purely in presentation and not in substance. I’m talking of course about Chris Christie’s decision not to appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court for a stay on same-gender marriages being recognized. As the New York Times reported

Mr. Christie’s advisers said it became clear late on Friday that the fight had to end after the State Supreme Court announced it would not grant the governor’s request to block same-sex marriages while he appealed. Not only did the court decision say that his appeal had no “reasonable probability of success,” it was also unanimous — signed by the justices Mr. Christie has long warred against and by the one he considered on “his” side, Justice Anne M. Patterson. The governor concluded that, legally, he was out of arguments, and that it would be what one aide called a “fool’s errand” to continue in the face of almost certain failure.

In short, Christie’s decision not to block one small advancement of equal rights and protections for queer and trans* people was not motivated out of wanting those people to be respected, wanting them to have equal means to protect themselves and their families, or even out of wanting to capitalize on a popular position. It was about calculating how to minimize damage.

He initially wanted to delay queer and trans* New Jersey residents’ ability to have their marriages recognized, as a means of reducing the state policy from immediate disagreement with him and his fellow conservatives to something less abrupt. When that tactic was shown to be highly unlikely to work, he rethought his strategy, and concluded that all he could hope for was to appear unaffected by it – and hence he attempted to quietly avoid an appeal. In a phrase, he decided to try and “save face”.

New Jerseyans who are queer, trans*, LGBT, or whatever labels we want to use need to understand and remember this moment. This is not a Republican Party that’s becoming more moderate and more willing to allow us to live as we want to. This is a political party with one faction that is smart enough to recognize the need to disguise or obscure their refusal to do that. If you vote to re-elect Chris Christie as governor, you are not supporting candidates who support you, but those that are capable of appearing to do so.

Christie has come under criticism from the virulently heterosexist National Organization for Marriage (NOM) for deciding not to appeal any further, but that’s not because they actually disagree on the political question of what queer and trans* people’s rights should be, but rather what they should do about those shared beliefs.

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How we still talk about Islam without talking about Islam

TW: islamophobia, sexism, heterosexism

In case you missed it, part of the response to the on-going anti-abortion legislative shenanigans in Texas was one protester searching to find a visual vocabulary for how the new policies in Texas impacted her, and dressing herself like this:


(A protester dressed in a burqa while holding the accessories of a beauty contest winner, from here.)

In a word, she donned a mock burqa. Another protester held up a sign conflating these new measures with Islamic sharia law, apparently unaware that sharia law permits abortion in many cases and is typically interpreted as merely disapproving of (not banning) abortion in other cases. That sharia and burqas were the first words that protesters grasped in trying to describe the violence that Texas’ SB5 and subsequent bills enacted on the people of Texas shouldn’t come as much of a surprise – that’s become a common part of political language in the United States.

Less than two weeks previously, former NOM spokesperson Maggie Gallagher discussed the fact that Justice Kennedy found arguments against striking down the Defense of Marriage Act unconvincing as a “fatwa” against supporters of it. A fatwa is a declared opinion from an Islamic scholar, which in systems of sharia law may be legally binding. For Kennedy’s legally relevant decision to support the liberal justices’ opinion to be considered a “fatwa”, you must technically consider him to be as much as moral and religious figure as a political one, and at that an Islamic one.

More or less, this is an established part of how people in the United States conduct their political trash talk – by inflating or explaining the gravity of an act or decision by their opposition in specifically Islamic terms. Often, these are even radically misapplied concepts, but they’re still a part of the vernacular. This is particularly common in discussing actions that are, or a person wants to be considered to be, violent. It’s become positively colloquial to refer to centers of fanatic reverence for any particular idea or person as “Meccas”, showing how these more political uses are built on and reinforce popular ideas of what Islam is like.

Again, it’s always an image of Muslims that frames them as unjust, unreasonable, and even openly hostile. This sort of language, common in discussions that have nothing to actually do with Islam, is rooted in islamophobic ideals. In short, an immovable part of how many people in the US think about themselves and their society is based in opposition to their understanding of who Muslims are and what they believe. It’s become an essential part of our cultural conception of ourselves, as an antithesis to Islam.

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The apotheosis of straight allyship

TW: sexism, heterosexism

Freddie DeBoer has become a problem.

His most recent post which caught the blogosphere ablaze with contentious argument, was about the saccharine but ultimately irrelevant depiction of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie as a same-gender couple having a moment after the announcement of the US Supreme Court’s decisions in Hollingsworth v Perry and United States v Windsor (which overturned California’s Proposition 8 and section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, respectively).


(A comic originally published here, about how many queer activist spaces like pride have become increasingly inhabited by only certain types of queer people and straight people.)

DeBoer’s argument should be immediately suspect since he is speaking on the issue of how queer people should be national represented while being straight (and cisgender) himself. He has a track record for actually silencing marginalized and oppressed groups of which he’s not a member as a means of actually proclaiming himself to be the only true advocate for the rights of the people he’s speaking over.

The form that often takes is one in which he declares someone or something else to not be serious, and consequently unable to represent a group or issue effectively, and while that’s not central to this argument, there’s an implication of it. He charges that the presentation of Bert and Ernie as a (closeted?) queer couple works with “liberal” stereotypes of queer people as (among other things) “childish” and “silly”. I’ll admit that I’m sympathetic to this view point, but DeBoer’s argument here seems to be that presentations of queer people as either of those attributes are to be struggled against.

His problem isn’t the pigeonholing of queer people – it’s pigeonholing them “wrongly”. As he argues, “I don’t think that a group that has for decades labored against a brutally oppressive regime that humiliated them, assaulted them, and systematically denied them equal rights should be analogized to imaginary characters that have been built out of felt for the edutainment of children”. This is, of course, deeply ironic coming from someone who until recently wasn’t very interested in the whole “marriage” thing since that’s assimilationist, but of course, DeBoer might be willing to talk out of both sides of his mouth at the same time. One side will be fallacious arguments about “assimilation” while another centers the struggles of queer people exclusively around marriage rights. That’s another issue, but that he can so easily switch between these supposedly antagonistic perspectives says something both about DeBoer’s queer-positive activism and the nature of those positions.

In any case, DeBoer’s whole argument seems very much like a straight guy trying to speak to queer issues like queer people do without acknowledging his own ignorance on them. The New Yorker was making a flawed statement, sure, but it was one that treated the “triviality” of a fan interpretation of Bert and Ernie’s relationship as a serious issue. Granting marriage reforms the status of “important” is something even queer individuals often have trouble doing, declaring it irrelevant compared to either other queer issues or other systemic discrimination or patterns of violence. If we want DeBoer’s support we have to remain “serious”.

Similarly frustrating, the major thrust of DeBoer’s argument was that Bert and Ernie are sexless in a way that real queer people aren’t. Sure, but the presentation of queer people (by both queer and straight people) as defined through their sex lives is something many queer people find upsetting, damaging, and even triggering. There is a discussion to be had about how popular acceptance of queer people often corresponds to the perception of them as sexual, but arguing that every presentation of queer people should push those limits polices the representation of queer people too. That’s beyond fighting fire with fire, but an example of another straight person privileging his opinions about how we should be represented in the media, just with slightly unusual opinions.

In effect, this isn’t being an ally, but co-opting a liberation movement. This isn’t about modifying the public representations of queer people so that queer people decide how they want to be viewed, but fitting the depictions of queer people to DeBoer’s (non-standard) expectations. This isn’t a thoughtful evaluation of queer people’s issues that avoids clichés of “assimilation” or “marriage before all”, but rather the mixing and matching of those two tired and inadequate perspectives.

Freddie DeBoer isn’t calling out the problem – he is the problem.

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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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The struggle: some of it is forgotten, but some is erased

Jonathan Chait over at New York Mag actually has a pretty excellent piece on what seems to be the trajectory of marriage equality in this country. It does seem likely that eventually it will become policy in many of the states and tolerated at the federal level – which for many queer families would end key policies to misrecognizing or ignoring their kinship structures. The need of many queer families for access to right of attorney, the ability to select a next of kin, and easier management of custodial rights is clear.

But Chait, like many commentators, seems to treat that as the whole of the struggle for queer liberation, and frames his work as examining how quickly amnesia of the battles fought for just those policy corrections has set in, with Republicans and conservatives claiming that they were on the side of queer families all along. That’s merely one dimension of the problem. There is a problem with declaring the struggle complete with legal equality becoming available in some states without federal barriers to it. What that signals is a belief that queer families outside of the few states (which admittedly have about three fourths of the population of the US) with marriage equality don’t matter or count.

Beyond that, however, that suggests that partial reform on this single policy “completes” the struggle. Nevermind if Kansas wants to round up HIV positive people. Nevermind if a broad swathe of the country lacks housing or employment protections for queer people. Nevermind the higher rates of homelessness that still plague queer youth. And absolutely don’t worry whether misleading use of acronyms like LGBT* is going to convince bystanders to those communities’ struggles that the needs of transgender and genderqueer people have been addressed by partially instituting marriage equality.


(States in purple bar housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, those in blue for only sexual orientation. The majority of the country fails to protect from either.)

In short, the heterosexists are already forgetting where they stood during the fights for marriage equality, much as they have with regards to the Civil Rights Movement. But they’re also declaring heterosexism “over” so that issues that are more complex than easily identifiable inequalities under the law are easily ignored, much like racist criminalization and other forms of racism more complex than literally unequal legal standing remain today in this “post-racial” country.

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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 buffoonery of it all

If you’ve been following the US Supreme Court’s descent into nonsense over the past near decade, Antonin Scalia’s cheerful assistance of the defendant attorney Charles Cooper’s very strange argument that procreation is essential to marriage except when it’s not shouldn’t surprise you too much. Here’s the transcript of how Scalia and Cooper talked over Justice Kagan to get out of the logical mess they walked into. It began with Cooper splicing what was really meant by regulating procreation:

Elena Kagan: Mr Cooper, supose a state said that, because we think that the focus of marriage should be on procreation, we are not going to give marriage licenses anymore to any couple where both people are over the age of 55. Would that be constitutional?
Charles Cooper: No, your honor, it would not be constitutional.
Kagan: Because that’s the same state interest, I would think. You know, over the age of 55, you don’t help us serve the government’s interest in regulating procreation through marriage, if you are… So why is that different?
Cooper: Your honor, even with respect to couples over the age of 55, it is very rare that both couples- both parties to the couple are infertile, and the traditional-
Kagan: No, really because if the couple… I can assure you, if both the woman and the man are over the age of 55, there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage.
Cooper: Your honor, society’s… society’s interest in responsible procreation isn’t just with respect to the procreative capacities of the couple itself. Fidelity and monogamy, your honor, advances the interest in responsible procreation by making it more likely that neither party, including the fertile party to that… the martial norm, which imposes the obligations… [Scalia interrupts to joke about infertility exams and how Senator Strom Thurmond fathered a child when 68, with his then 25 year old wife]

Did you catch that? Individual states allegedly have the right to ban marriages between couples which are infertile as a result of their sexual or gendered composition, but not when because of their age.


(Hilarious misunderstanding ensued! From here.)

This obviously fails its own test, in that just as many older straight men who are married to post-menopausal straight women can indeed have children with other women, many queer people who are in an infertile same-sex or same-gender relationship can indeed have children with other potential partners. Expectations of fidelity are a unifying theme, and the perception that those are necessarily exotic concepts to queer families is suggestive of how much straight people believe they have exclusive cultural property over.

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The image of the country “we are becoming”

In the wake of the 2012 Presidential Election, I wrote about Paul Krugman’s explanation that that election was something of an extension and expansion on the themes in the 2008 elections. Among other indications, it was a symbol that the idea of the United States as an open and diverse society was not merely a fluke of the 2008 electoral cycle, but an increasingly integral part of the country.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to keep sight of that within what I’ve called the “unreality” of politics here. It’s difficult sometimes to remember how utterly unrepresentative much of the media and the politics in the US actually are. To that point, there’s been two major explorations of how wide that gap is in the past two weeks.

comparison of Sunday shows proportionate representation of White men - all greater than 60% aside from Up with Chris Hayes which is 41%
(The comparison of the Sunday shows’ demographics, from here.)

Media Matters recently released this chart showing how Up with Chris Hayes more accurately depicts the actual demographic reality in the United States, especially when compared to other Sunday shows. The problem of overrepresenting male and White perspectives, unfortunately, is merely one that Hayes’ show has challenged in anyway, not one that his show has actually actively resolved. It’s worth noting that while 41 percent of his guests are White men (compared to 39 percent of the overall population), only 37 percent of his guests are women. Again, this is significantly higher than other shows – but the fact that Up is an outlier, while it still so chronically underrepresents women of all races, is cause for concern.

Likewise, as I’ve pointed out before with regards to MSNBC’s coverage, people of color and women are not the only groups systemically locked out of discussions on policies and attitudes that most directly impact them. Still, in spite of its failings, this is chart fairly concisely shows just how out of touch most broadcasts are with who US residents actually are – in terms of just race and gender alone.

But what’s particularly interesting is that a large swathe of the country is moving towards pluralism on such issues even while hindered by a media that rarely allows all of those “others” to air their concerns or perspectives. Nate Silver a few days ago pointed out that aside from Republicans, the United States is rapidly becoming more accepting of marriage equality. The research he cites breaks it down in terms of both partisan identity and general political identity.

Comparison of marriage equality support since 2001 between political groupsComparison of marriage equality support since 2001 between political parties
(Click to enlarge. Pew Research shows long terms increases in support for marriage equality among different political parties and identities over the past decade, from here.)

It’s intriguing to see how support for marriage equality has been steadily gaining support for years – some of them under the notoriously prejudiced Bush Administration. Likewise, although both the increase is smaller and the results less impressive, this is something that’s even improved among Republicans and conservatives.

There’s something in actually visually seeing that fact – that some segments of the media are actually becoming more representative in terms of race and gender and that the polling shows as well that we’re growing more inclusive as a country.

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Would petitioning be too heteronormative too?

TW: heterosexism, pathologization of queerness, HIV/AIDS

So if you follow me on tumblr, you’ve probably already seen this quote which I reblogged and then spent a possibly unwarranted amount of time picking apart. I can’t find a source for this lengthy point about heternormativity and what both the means and ends of queer activism are that isn’t tied to that original tumblr post, so it may be a bit uncharitable to credit this to MSNBC show host Melissa Harris-Perry:

For me, queer theory is the emblematic example of how we say the value of what queer politics brings is a challenge to what is the normal. And it’s of course what that whole angst is about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and marriage equality. On the one hand, those are basic citizenship rights, right? You always know that there’s some second-class citizenship going on in military policy and marriage policy, right? If you’re looking for second-class citizenship, look in those things and you’ll often find it. So it’s a very reasonable set of political strategies, but the problem is also a very normative set of political strategies, right? It’s not about, ‘We have a right to be queer and create different kinds of communities and different definitions of family.’ It’s about, ‘Look how much just like you we can be; look how respectable we can be, see; we can have our families look just like your families, and we can serve in the military just like you; and so look how straight we can be!’ Rather than, “Look how queer we can be and look at how valuable it is to take queerness and open up the very definition of what constitutes respectable and normal.

While this specific point lacks and airtight attribution to her, it does fit within a class of argument that she’s made many times before. More than a year ago, she explained in an interview, “full inclusion into the American project of lesbian, gay and transgender people should not just mean, ‘Oh, good, now you can assimilate.’ It should mean that we have to challenge all of our assumptions as well. Expanding the citizenry ought to expand what the country is.” That’s a rather important point to make, but unfortunately incomplete.

In both these cases, Harris-Perry frames heterosexism near exclusively as marginality imposed on queer people and their families. She asks repeatedly about what’s understood to be normal, who is included, and who’s defined as family. Those are necessary parts of a conversation that needs to be had in the United States (and ultimately every part of the world in some form or other), but the explanation on tumblr that purportedly originated with her makes that the entire struggle of queer people. There’s another important fact to how normalcy is created – queer people are pathologized.

The idea of queer people as infectiously dangerous is hardly new – legally recognizing their kinship structures apparently taints the entire institution, there’s the constant arguments about “recruitment”, and concern for the children that often seems to bleed into fears of them becoming queer themselves eventually. Still, it seems remiss to discuss the dynamic without mentioning AIDS – the disease that to an eerie extent still defines queer men in our culture.

Silence = Death poster
(Government assistance to end what was effectively a plague had to be advocated for, because it was perceived as simply another dimension of how pathogenic queerness was, from here.)

So there is indeed a risk involved in queer people erasing their distinctiveness in order to assimilate into the still heteronormative culture of the United States, but to complain that queer people are preoccupied with explaining, “how much just like [straight people they] can be” comes from a place of privilege. One expression of that privilege is not having the US government treat your blood as infectious and dangerous to a degree that no other population’s is. The struggle for queer liberation, much like the on-going struggle for Black liberation, remains to some extent a struggle to be seen as valid, effective contributors to society, which is honestly incompatible with the vision of queer people as either pathogens or irresponsibly pathogen-infested.

If you want to be part of the struggle against those views, I’d recommend doing something other than wondering if there’s too much focus on same-sex and same-gender marriage, and instead supporting efforts to end policies that treat queerness as synonymous with being infected. A few friends of mine are trying to end one such policy. Will you sign their petition?

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