Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Gay Agenda: Killng and the Straitjacket

[T]hey want to win the right to mimic the institutional straitjacket of state-controlled marriage, and to openly join the armed forces in state-sanctioned killing.
That’s historian & playwright Martin Duberman in his recent Waiting to Land: a (mostly) political memoir, 1985-2008. The “they” would be “the national gay organizations [or] most gay people – who’ve expressed no wish for a radical analysis of class nor a radical alliance with straight left-wingers.” Or both, gay organizations and most gay people. Duberman does mean both, doesn’t he?

This formulation of the goals of marriage equality and of the eradication of sexual orientation discrimination in government employment (including the military, at last) is the bitterest and most sarcastic I’ve seen, though the critique is not unfamiliar. Or, rather, the “left-winger” opposition to the military and to the patriarchal family structure enforced by traditional marriage and family law is familiar. The critique is muddled.

When gay people marry legally are they “mimic[king] the institutional straitjacket of state-controlled marriage” or being bound by it? The language smacks of the old stereotype of a gay or lesbian couple having to sort by gender role. Which is the Man, which the Woman? Seems beneath a longtime gay activist, theorist and historian like Duberman. Same sex marriage is only possible where marriages are egalitarian. If one partner must be subjugated to the other, as has been the traditional assumption in patriarchal marriage (woman subjugated to the man), how would that be applied in a same sex household? Is this where the mimicking comes in?

As to the military, I may be a passivist, of all things. I can’t say as I approve of the armed forces, certainly not in the business of killing to enforce U.S. hegemony (or “interests,” as it’s so often put). But, as with that queer “mimic,” there’s a word in Duberman’s formulation that gets me, “openly.” Should we remove it, what do we have? “They want to win the right to … join the armed forces in state-sanctioned killing.” I’m not sure there’s any right currently to join the armed forces. Is there? If you don’t match what the military is looking for, physically, say, the military doesn’t have to take you. You’ve no right to be a soldier. Now let’s try the sentence another way: “They want to win the right to [live] openly [even in] the armed forces” where they are currently serving in secret. Gay people have always been in the armed forces (usually secretly), performing “state-sanctioned killing,” among other things. What Duberman would do is what, end state-sanctioned killing? And how does singling out gay careerists for career destruction serve this end? It’s always good to destroy a soldier’s career because soldiering is immoral and if this burden falls extra hard on gays, well, that’ll help the cause, because the no state-sanctioned killing cause needs soldiers and who better than the aggrieved gay (former) member of the armed services? That suggests it’s best when the state hurts people, we want the state to hurt people, for it is from encouraging the institution to hurt people that the opposition to the institution gains strength.

I wonder if that’s true.

Judging by the behavior of the civilian police in the smiting of the Occupy protesters, including gays and women hasn’t gentled paramilitary culture. So it would be silly of me to suggest that allowing gays to serve openly would serve any kind of peacenik purpose. I am angered by anti-gay military policies for two main reasons. The first would be those directly harmed by the policy, the people who are attacked by the institution for no reason other than prejudice and judeo-christian conventions, the blackmail power it gives to harassers (protest your treatment and you will be fingered as a lez and lose your career and your harasser will go unpunished), the culture of internal suspicion and spying. The second would be the legitimizing effect of military service. If gay people are honored as soldiers, their families honored, there will no longer be an honored place in the foundational institutions of the United States for the official designation of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals as inferior, substandard, suspect.

I don’t expect magic to come from that. If the draft came back I wouldn’t celebrate the fact that gays would be rounded up along with everyone else. They would be anyway, of course. As they always have. Sure, a few would get out of it by asserting their homosexuality, if homosexuality remained a disqualification for service. But if the military needs bodies, it takes them. Later, when you’re not needed, that’s when the anti-gay policy becomes convenient. You’re tossed out and denied benefits you’ve earned, your separation paperwork declares you unfit (even if you fought as well as anybody) - and civilian employers, unsurprisingly, have been known to discriminate against morally unfit people.

There is one other thing I’d like to mention. Though military service and marriage may or may not be the most important priorities for a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender movement, they do seem to be the fights the right-wingers have been most eager to engage, partly as a money-raising tool. Not to fight these battles would be to abandon the field to the hating religionists. Would that be wise?


Art Durkee said...

My critique of gay marriage has always been a critique of the institution of marriage, which carries a lot of assumed norms (monogamy rather than polyamory, for example), regardless of who gets married. There's are an issue of tax fairness involved in marriage that can be discussed.

I have no problem with other gay men who want to get married, although I don't. I think it's a valid civil right to pursue.

I also think it's far less important than other civil rights gays still don't have, like discrimination, like the bullying that leads to a higher rate of suicide than exists among non-gays. It's okay to go for gay marriage, but I think the bullying and suicide issues are more fundamental. After all, many don't even make it as far as wanting to get married.

Duberman is correct in his assessment that the radical edge of gay rights is less than it could be. Frankly, a lot of our radicals are dead of AIDS, leaving activism in the hands most often of the surviving mainstream assimilationists. Those within the gay community who are already a bit more conservative, they just also happen to be gay. I see this a lot, actually.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

While it's not a good idea to allow your opponents to set your agenda, my last point about the religiionists' focus on marriage, as witness the ongoing ballot battles being initiated and vigorously promoted by them, I would nominate them as the main reason marriage equality is at the top of the agenda. I don't know how we refuse the marriage fight and redirect the energy to our own choice of priority and not be left far poorer than before. We've lost at the ballot box over & over & over, that's true, but the conversation has changed dramatically.

Can you imagine pro-bullying referenda winning in state after state? It's certainly true that the religionists have managed to kill anti-bullying bills in state legislatures, and I can imagine anti-bullying ballot measures being defeated by intense disinformation campaigns - It's a Secret Homo Plot to Get to Your Children! But in states where gays & lesbians can marry?

The California state legislature passed (& the governor signed) a bill requiring gays & lesbians be included in grade school curricula. Is that law going to be rescinded at the ballot box? I think the religionists are still in the signature collecting stage. Including gay people reduces anti-gay bullying, but I don't know that het voters will see it as a good way to reduce bullying or as a good way to say yet again they'd rather not hear about teh gay.

Normalizing same sex marriage will further cement the still relatively new notion of marriage between full equals. Married gay men will more frequently have nonexclusive sex than married hets; I doubt that will change the general conversation but it won't be a surprise to many gay men.

Is it AIDS we have to blame for the deradicalization of gay politics? Could be. Considering the silencing of radical theory in general I'm looking for other culprits (or collaborators). There have always been a lot of conservative gays. They tend to be shitty leaders so their names don't last, but there are always loud ones muddling the battles of the day.