Friday, February 19, 2010

In which gay people are dull and suburban.

This is the first time I've heard someone say this explicitly and treat it as a good thing:
This is all part of a slow shift that is transforming gay culture. During the twentieth century, our battle was to find a place of our own where we could be safely different, and recover some shreds of self-esteem. After millennia of being told our difference was a sickness, we needed a moment to celebrate that difference.

But after that was achieved, our goal changed. We started to realise – once we had the space – that we are actually very similar to our straight siblings. We have the same desire for stability and home-building as everyone else. Our tune changed from “I Am What I Am” to “I Am What You Are.” We wanted enough basic equality to have everything straight people have. It started with demands for marriage – and the logical next step is children. We want the chance to show we are as dull and suburban as everybody else.
Wow. I really don't know how to respond. I'm totally disarmed. This is almost exactly what I would have said to criticize this shift.

One of the things this brings out is that it's not fair to expect queer folks to do all the work of cultural change. That shit gets tiring. And in focusing on the importance of having a queer-not-just-gay movement, I've probably often been guilty of setting a double standard, where changing the way we think about gender and sexuality becomes gay people's job, because they've already been doing so much of it.

And it's fucked up for us to say -- or seem to say -- "You, gay people, can't have in on the institutions of compulsory monogamy, the demonization of single parenting and devaluation of single womanhood, and the suburban fortress mentality. That shit is for straight folks only." And I think sometimes we (I) do seem to say that, in that we're more openly contemptuous of queer people who try to claim those institutions, because they should know better.

Let's put it this way. I fully support the right of soldiers to be gay. But no one has a right to be a soldier. Soldiers kill people. But it's important to be just as diligent in attacking straight soldiers as gay soldiers -- far more diligent, actually, because they're far more numerous.

Straight people: Please stop killing people. Please also stop treating entry into a monogamous relationship as a necessary, defining moment in a person's (especially a woman's) life. Please stop making crucial rights contingent on participation in a long-term, two-person sexual relationship with the State as an implicit third partner. Please do not try to escape poor people and minorities by moving to the suburbs (or Lincoln Park, or Lakeview). You also should know better.


  1. (apologies for the ridiculous length)

    A lot of things that you've written felt uncomfortable for me, and I'm trying to figure out why. I think it might be the undertones or assumptions or implications that are made/established/assumed.

    First off, the idea of the non-heterosexual community as a progressive one. I fundamentally have a problem with a connection being made between the partners a person prefers and any kind of social statement or agenda. Maybe they do just want to love who they love, and let their non-heterosexuality be just that. Why should that community stand for more than what it is - a community based around people who prefer the romantic, sexual, or [whatever] company of people who share their gender or sex?

    Second, I am made uncomfortable by the assertion that the desire for a family unit of some sort is unreasonable. For you, that family unit may consist of however many people of whatever nature you desire, but that doesn't have to be the same family structure that works best for someone else. My family worked best with my parents, grandfather, and occasionally brother, great aunts, and family friends around. Other families hate the sight of each other and prefer spending time with friends. Other families are the basic unit of parents and offspring. Others involve no parental figures, or no children. Some involve pets or non-human family members. The ideal dynamics of any group is determined solely on the specifics of that group and its context - there is no ideal and there is certainly no "non-deal," as I feel you might be implying. I agree with you in that there is a lot wrong with the socialized concept (and all its implications and assumptions) of the two-parents-two-children-and-a-minivan. It is seriously flawed and has negatively impacted countless relationships (either in the interpersonal sense or in the intrapersonal sense). Still, I think that there is just as much wrong with the idea that this lifestyle is not right for anyone. Why does the desire to have a family with your partner have to equate to all of this demonizing and devaluing of single parenthood/womanhood? What is the alternative?

    It would be silly for me to claim that anyone, gay or straight, is choosing their lifestyle without the influence of years upon years of social programming and (not very) subliminal messaging. Would it be better to encourage everyone to go against their preferences if those preferences coincide with social expectations? I'm talking about the people who think these things through, consider the potential sources of these preferences, and consider the image they may be presenting yet still find themselves gravitating toward raising children with one other person, living in a place with a yard, or anything else falling in line with these idealized images. Something about asking people to go out of their way to be unhappy, live in a place that leaves them unfulfilled, have a family structure that doesn't suit them, makes me cringe. Isn't that what the social norms in place today have been doing for years? Asking people to actively go against their preferences/predilections/lifestyle, because it shares similarities to a social ideal, would be almost (if not equally) as lame.

  2. (non-ideal*)

    I think what I was trying to say is that demonizing any particular ideal (the heteronormative suburban one, in this case) isn't productive, either. Maybe it's just my idealism talking, but I think the best situation would be one where people were free to choose their family/home/etc structure, without brainwashing or complicated second-guessings and strategic social something-or-other.

  3. Laina,

    I agree about my tendency to view the gay community as inherently progressive -- and that was part of what I was trying to get at with this post. I don't think it's okay to expect more from gay people than I do from straight people in terms of subverting the standard narrative, and that's what I was trying to talk about.

    I think I wasn't clear enough about what I'm objecting to in the shift he's talking about. It's certainly not the desire to settle down, have a family and raise children -- although I can see how it came off that way, and I'm sorry I wasn't clearer.

    I think there's a distinction to be drawn between partnering and marriage. I'm fine with partnering -- as you know, I'm partnered. And I'm even fine with monogamous partnering. And I'm actively in favor of the construction of family units. I'm sorry if I made it should like I thought that was unreasonable.

    But the point is, marriage -- as it's traditionally practiced -- isn't a type of family structure. It's an endorsement of a family structure. It's a calling-together of the friends, family and community to witness the wonderfulness of that family structure. And built into it are a whole series of traditions which emphasize the inadequacies of other types of family structures -- think of the bouquet and the groom's-cake-under-the-pillow. And partnering is the only family structure that gets celebrated this way.

    Add to this, of course, the whole set of exclusive rights that partnered people get: shared health insurance, tax benefits, medical decision-making, etc.

    I'm certainly not suggesting that gay people (or straight people, for that matter) shouldn't partner. But I am suggesting that people refrain from participating in this kind of valorization of partnering.

  4. Oh! Okay. That is definitely much clearer! Thank you for this clarification <3



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