[Welcome to the second part in this series, “distinction without difference: why i’m rethinking my queer identity”. You can read the first part of this series here. Check back for part three tomorrow!]
Where the dialectic breaks down
The dialectic fails because it assumes the wrong thing: that enough articles and 696 seminars and clever jabs in anthologies will eventually arrive at the correct definition of queer.
It is perhaps the case that there can be no holistic queer theory because there is no one queer experience. I wish to dog in kennel above I could convince people that that was okay.
I moved pretty quickly to edit out the word radical in front of queer when talking about myself because I realized that radical queers don’t believe that.
In the preface to “That’s Revolting,” Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore calls military service, marriage and adoption the ‘holy trinity’ of the gay rights movement. In case you’re wondering, that’s a terrible, terrible thing to Sycamore.
On military service you’ll get no argument from me. Well, maybe not no argument. The US military is used for unspeakable evil in the world today. But you’ll notice there’s a full stop at the end of that sentence. I think people shouldn’t join the military because the military is used for unspeakable evil in the world today.
But I don’t think that belief gives me the right to claim people for my team and insist that they believe exactly as I believe. I’d rather have a friendly or even unfriendly disagreement about military service than put people under the boot of a classist, racist ideology that focuses more on intellectual and political purity than the lives of the poor people and people of color who enlist in the military.
And ignoring the lives of poor people and people of color is something the contemporary queer dialectic is very, very good at doing.
Do I believe the military industrial complex should be dismantled or at least radically scaled back because its purpose is to use poor people of color to fight other poor people of color for resources including but not limited to oil and faux puppet Western-backed allied governments in key geographic locations?
Do I think the education and economic systems should be radically reformed so that people no longer see the military as their only viable option at advancing their futures? Yes.
But I’m afraid that turning my back on other institutional oppression and marginalization to advance the essentially academic idea of dismantling the military industrial complex is something I can’t jam on anymore.
And I sure as shit can’t jam on the idea that marriage and adoption are only for rich white people anymore.
I can’t believe it (well, yes I can), but this statement actually once fell from my lips:
“Rich white gays just want marriage so they can protect their assets.”
Ya know, I’m picturing someone got high and said that at a party one time in like 1994, and it passed around queer communities like demonstrably false wildfire.
Rich white gay people have hijacked the movement(s). This much is eminently true.
But rich white people have also hijacked queer thought, which is why you will hear variations of the above pretty much every time two or more queers talk about marriage.
I say that someone got high and said that thing about marriage because it really only makes sense until you shake your head a couple of times and realize how bad you need a tofu scramble.
This isn’t even difficult.
Rich white gays already have access to the lawyers and accountants who can do all that typey typey magic to make ersatz marriage arrangements of the monetary kind.
Ya know who really needs marriage and adoption? People who don’t have that access.
People who have children resulting from heterosexual unions and need to protect their same-sex families later.
A poor woman in a same-sex relationship after having children and divorcing her husband who’s forced to choose between her relationship or her kids when the father threatens to sue for custody.
A partner left never to see hir children again when the relationship ends and hir partner’s lawyer uses heteropatriarchal laws to block visitation.
Poor queers who can’t get even an inch ahead like their straight peers because they file taxes as single no matter how many years they aren’t.
Queers have other objections to marriage. These I won’t touch because they’ve been so thoroughly hashed and rehashed. Marriage has a deeply fucked history and I am all about questioning throwing ourselves headlong into this institution.
But how do you think radical queers would have felt about the Loving v Virginia decision? How about the decision allowing married women to own their own property?
You hear shockingly little from queers about divesting marriage of its rights and privileges. That is a plan I could get behind one hundred percent, and then I would clone myself so I could support it more.
But radical queerness sabotages itself because oppression and marginalization become safety blankets over time.
Look, I jam on the fact that I’m all kinds of outside. I dig it. I don’t want to be a normal, a square. I don’t want Pat Robertson to like me.
But the only people who think oppression and marginalization are precious badges of honor to be upheld at all costs are the people who are already in most other ways privileged and enfranchised by the system.
The radical queer approach leaves no signposts for the improvement of conditions in real people’s lives in its intellectually pure pursuit of outsiderness.
WHAT WILL BECOME OF QUEER CULTURE!? they cry.
The queer culture that willfully marginalizes poor people and people of color to honor a fuzzy memory of a queer heyday that was just as racist and classist as today’s reality?
The idea that all queers will get married if gay marriage is legalized is as ludicrous as the notion that people will start marrying their dogs, hills or dead people if gay marriage is legalized.
And doesn’t any success of your critique of marriage mean so much fucking more if the law isn’t the thing holding queers back from marriage?
Wouldn’t freely not getting married in a society where you could get married mean so. much. more the next time you have a queerer than thou potluck?
The lives of other LGBTQA people are not yours to live. Or police. Or control.
Or use as shields in the culture wars. Or commodify for personal gain.
Each of use has one life to live, and I’m going to live mine no matter how the Human Rights Campaign or Gayle Madwin feels about it.
[All right kittens, that’s it for part ii. You can continue on to part iii here!]