Comparative anatomy, which had been the chief methodology of nineteenth century racial science, gave sexologists a ready-made set of procedures and assumptions with which to scan the body visually for distinct markers of difference.
- Queering Color Line1
Unfortunately, we live in a society that is defined by a system of binaries. Some examples of these binaries include categorizing people as either “white” or “black”; “male” or “female”; “straight” or “gay”. The white hetero-normative male is the standard, whereas anything else is inferior. Comparative anatomy has been used in a way that reinforces this ideology, starting with racial science. It then evolved into a way to discriminate against females, transgendered individuals and anyone other than the heterosexual white male. Queerness challenges these structuralized “norms” that have been so far engrained into the minds of the masses, creating the perfect breeding ground for inequality.
Dating back to as early as colonialism, the white male has been deemed the superior species and consequently used this sense of entitlement to instill and dominate power over others. Although we are all human beings and should have the same rights across the board, this will never happen as long as the current system is still in place. The current state was created by the white man, for the white man. Everyone else falls second to the needs of the white man, and will always be second in this system. As aforementioned, this ideology of white superiority can be traced back to colonialism and imperialism. Before this, much of the world had been isolated, and cultures varied immensely. In comparison to modern times, discrimination based on sexual preference, race or gender was not as prevalent. Homosexuality was generally not considered to be taboo or an abnormality. Instead it was often used as a rite of passage. It was celebrated, and most definitely not seen as a fetishism or mental disorder. One example of this is the Melanesian Model, in which men had to pass through three sequential stages: exclusive homosexuality, active exclusive homosexuality, and exclusive adult heterosexuality2. In Ancient Greece, it was even encouraged for older married men to have sexual relations with younger boys. This was considered to be a way to show the younger generation how to enter into manhood, ending with the older man finding the child a suitable bride. In many cultures women were equal or were even seen as superior to men. In early Native American culture, women took on many leadership roles and were equal to men. Africa had once been extremely prosperous and rich with many different cultures, until it began to become colonized. Now there are many countries within the African continent that are facing civil wars based on issues of ethnicity and race because of countries like France that came in and divided up lands in favor of lighter skin Africans. After years of imperialism and colonialism, ideologies began to form around the idea of white supremacy, male dominance and hetero-normative practices.
Queer theory can be utilized as a tool to combat against the prejudices created and implemented by colonization. While most if not all people fall victim to the imperialistic way of thinking, queer practice and theory can be used as a first step in decolonizing one’s own thought processes. Although the word “queer” was first used as a derogatory term, it has now been embraced as a term that is used to challenge the “normative” ideologies that are discriminatory against anything that does not fall into deviant categories. While queer theory started with the close examination of “natural” verse “unnatural” sexual behavior, it has expanded into something much more. Queer theory can be used to question the social hierarchy of all institutions and normative practices. Queer can and should be used when one does not want to be defined by the labels that have been socially embedded into the minds of many, thus being used as one of the most successful forms of oppression. The notion of questioning race and the idea of white privilege serves as a prime example of queer theory being used to examine something other than hetero-normative sexual practices.
Race and gender have both been socially constructed to be used as a form of prejudice and oppression. Many will even argue that the systematic oppression of females, transgendered individuals and those who do not identify as heterosexuals in the United States is based off of the systematic oppression of colored people. Siobhan Somerville, author of Queering Colored Lines acknowledges this by stating:
Although gender insubordination offers a powerful explanatory model for the “invention” of homosexuality, ideologies of gender also, of course, shaped and were shaped by dominant constructions of race. Indeed, although rarely acknowledged, it is striking that the emergence of a discourse on homosexuality in the United States occurred at roughly the same time that boundaries between “black” and “white” were being policed and enforced in unprecedented ways, particularly through institutionalized racial segregation.1
The parallels when comparing the discrimination against African Americans to those who belong to the LGBTQA community include the infringement upon the right to marriage. Although the laws that were created to disallow African Americans to get married to whomever they pleased have been abolished, there are still similar laws in place that do not allow same sex marriage in most states. For a long period of time throughout United States’ history, African Americans were not even considered to be citizens. Consequently, they were not granted the same rights as everyone else. Although they are now considered citizens, through a system of structuralized violence and institutionalized prejudices they still are not equal to their white counterparts. This also holds true to the members of the LGBTQA community. In many states around the country, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and pansexual people are still getting murdered for just simply being themselves. Those who are in charge of America have put in place a system that on paper calls for the freedom of all, but in practice does not.
America is supposed to be the land of the free and the land of equal opportunity, however; when looking at the history of this country it is more than clear this is far from the truth. This country was founded on bloodshed and inequality, starting with the mass murder of Native Americans. Despite the fact an entire population was almost wiped out, it was never officially recognized as genocide. While the enslavement of Africans in this country has been acknowledged, there has been minimal amends made in order to try and attempt to do the wrongs that have been done so long ago. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese in this country regardless of immigration status were forced into internment camps. Muslims or anyone who may look as though they are from the Middle East still get questioned for hours at airports, although the terrorist attack that took place on 9/11 was executed by a very specific group of people. In a majority of states, couples of the same sex cannot adopt a child or get married. The common trend among all of these unfortunate events and occurrences is that the majority of the American public allows this to happen, because those in charge blame the victims of these incidents in order to justify actions taken against them. The history books teach children that Native Americans were animalistic and savage, and preach a history that is nowhere near the truth. The entire Japanese population was blamed for an outside attack that took place during Pearl Harbor, while most of those interned were American born citizens. Although Al Qaeda was behind the attacks against America that occurred on 9/11, there is still a strong anti-Muslim sentiment within this country which allows prejudices against Muslims to continue on. Despite the fact the divorce rate is over 50% and people like Kim Kardashian are allowed to pro-create, couples who just so happen to be same sex are not allowed to get married or adopt because the bible claims that they are an abomination and must be cured. What is most unfortunate is that people blindly follow these ignorant and racist ideologies that allow for events like these to perpetuate. That is why it is considered “normal” to feel uneasy around someone wearing a turban at an airport, or cross the street when a large black man is walking on the same side.
We live in a society filled with labels, and when one does not fall into a specific category it makes people feel uncomfortable. More specifically in America, the label one takes on is their identity in the social hierarchy. The creation of race, sexual orientation and gender were constructed in order to allow for this system to even be implemented in the first place. By labeling and differentiating between people based on physical appearance or sexual identity, it paves the way for inequalities. Instead of creating unity, it creates divisions. The color of one’s skin will continue to matter, women will always be inferior to men because of the patriarchal make up of this country and the LGTBQA community will continue struggle for equality as long as religion plays an important role in the United States. While these ignorant ideologies should have never been implemented to begin with, they will continue to be present in America. While it is apparent the people of America are not free, many will argue racism and sexism has long been abolished. My question for these people is that if race has not been an issue for years now, why did it take until 2008 for a black man to be elected president? Another pressing question that often goes unasked is would he have been elected if his mother had not been white? If gender discrimination was not real, why do women get paid less doing the same exact job as a man? Why does the woman get blamed for being raped, if she just so happens to be wearing a skirt? If all Americans are allowed due process of the law, why were two men jailed for having sexual relations in the privacy of their home in the case of Lawrence v. Texas? All of these inquiries have been queered, because they question the norm and look beyond the façade of social equality in America.
As previously stated, labels will most likely determine one’s place in society. The white straight male is on the top, whereas minorities are generally much lower on the social hierarchy in America. LQBTQA minorities, in my opinion, are at the greatest disadvantage and face oppression from all ends of the spectrum. This is why so many people try to hide their true identities, as to avoid persecution and prejudice. Not only does this happen on a regular basis, but is encouraged by the government. It was not until recently that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed. The law made it so that the gay people who were willing to risk their lives for America, were not even allowed to be open and honest about their own identities. Another problem with labeling is figuring out which to identify with or acknowledge. Different communities may not be as accepting if taking on more than one label at a time. Other times we must forcibly take one or more identity than at other times only select one. It is not uncommon that when filling out surveys or applications that we must simply check one box for ethnicity: Black, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic. I am Puerto Rican, and I generally check Hispanic, but if I were to get technical I would have to also check Black because Puerto Ricans are a mixture of Spaniards and Africans. However, I am only allowed to check one box so what is the right one to choose without doing away with apart of my identity? What is someone who is transgendered supposed to check, if she is physically a male, yet identifies as a female? It is clear that the system is flawed, but how can it even begin to be fixed? We are all a product of some form of colonization; therefore we are all flawed in the sense that we have been subjugated to years of brainwashing and embedded prejudices. However, applying queer theory to our daily lives can allows us the chance to question the current system and do away with labels and societal norms that we come across on a day to day basis.
On the other hand, queer theory cannot be used to change the core beliefs of anyone who does not want to listen. Regardless of how convincing one’s arguments may be, or how in depth scientific data is backing one’s viewpoint- people are still generally going to believe whatever they want to believe. This is something I have to deal with a majority of the time. Being that I am mixed with Puerto Rican, Native American and African American it is quite difficult for people to “figure out” what ethnicity or race I am. Therefore, I am often put into situations where I hear racist comments about African Americans, because the people around me do not know that I am part black unless I come out and tell them. However, why must this coming out process even be necessary? Why does anyone have to come out to begin with? Why must we be subjugated to coming out, if essentially we are all just human beings? Where are we coming out from, and what does it even mean? What boggles my mind even more is that how genuinely surprised people are when I tell them that I am part African-American. It is as if someone who is educated is not allowed to be someone of color. Another issue that I come across constantly is that when I am debating with my friends about politics or human right issues. I am always the “voice” of all minorities ever to exist. I take on the role of the speaker for all people of color. What is unfortunate about situations like these is that I know my friends mean no harm, and are not intentionally trying to be racist, but are still doing so. In their minds it is almost as if that just because I am mixed, I know the struggles of all Puerto Ricans, Native Americans and Blacks across the United States. However, to anyone with a little bit of actual common sense, it is more apparent that I don’t and could never (as that would be impossible). This just highlights one of the major problems with labeling. Just because I associate myself with or chose to identify with something, does not mean I completely and fully take on that persona at all times or know the struggles of all people within the same category as me.
Racism and prejudices being so deeply instilled into the public and private sector allow for people to remain ignorant- even those closest to us. Theorist Ann Stoler argues that:
Racism, far from being a reaction to crisis in which racial others are scapegoated for social ills, is a permanent part of the social fabric. Racism is not an effect but a tactic in in the internal fission of society into binary opposition, a means of creating ‘biologized’ internal enemies, against whom society must defend itself […] The constant purification and elimination of racialized enemies within that state ensures the growth of the national body. Racism does not merely arise in moments of crisis, in sporadic cleansings. It is internal to the biopolitical state, woven into the web of the social body, threaded through its fabric.3
The state has created a system of binaries and biological differences in order to maintain control, and use the people as tools to carry out their ideologies often times unknowingly. While people may acknowledge that they are prejudice or racist, most of the time they do not even know why. When asked, these people cannot give much more of an answer of “I just know black people are bad” or “Black people are lazy, and are the reason why the economy is so bad”. The most worrying part about these quotes is that they come from people that I actually know. Sexism and homophobia has been internalized by the state in the same exact way, and has caused people to say similar ignorant statements. By creating separations and divisions amongst the people, the government (white men) will more easily be able to maintain control.
There is no one universal definition of what it means to be queer. It does not have to be defined in a limited and narrow scope, otherwise that would defeat the whole purpose. Queer is not a label, but a way to defeat the label. It is thinking outside the box, looking past what society believes to be normal and acknowledging that the current system has failed. Queer can be white, it can be black. Queer can be straight, queer can be lesbian. Queer can be transgendered, queer can be male. Queer can represent a color, queer can represent a theory. What queer cannot be is contained, queer cannot be confined.
June 24th 2011 marked a milestone in LGBTQ history in New York; the Marriage Equality Act finally passed the Senate and it was ultimately signed by Governor Cuomo after a previous failed attempt to pass during Elliot Spitzer’s administration. Celebrations broke throughout the entire state but the sentiment was specially felt at New York City’s historic Stonewall, the iconic birthplace of the gay rights movement, where it was widely celebrated. According to CNN Money, a year after the landmark legislation passed, the City of New York took in more than 235 million dollars in revenue from wedding related purchases and celebrations. The City also collected around 16 million dollars in tax revenue from same sex marriages.
The national debate revolving LGBTQ rights seems to signal a change in attitudes in American society. As of March 2013, a CNN poll stated that 53% of Americans supported same-sex marriage; an amazing advancement considering that in 1996, 68% of Americans were against marriage equality. With this culture shift, the repeal of laws such as ¨Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, have we transformed the current civil rights discourse? Has the current generation created a safe pathway for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters to achieve full equality under the law?
In every debate revolving social or political change that has resulted in the transformation of our society, this question will always come up: What comes first, politics or culture? Does a cultural shift have to come first for there to be legislative change? Or does legislative change have to come first for public perception to embrace social change? This is a very hard question to answer due to the magnitude of the question, but observations of history and social justice movements make it is safe to say that both come hand in hand. There is no cultural shift without activism and there is no activism without the beginning of a cultural shift in society. After these two work together, we often see legislative action seal the deal and align itself with the public sentiment
As a Political Science major, I have spent most of my undergraduate education interning with public officials and in government. This has made me into a cynic when it comes to progressive politics. When something becomes officially part of the “system”, it becomes exploitable for the political class. It seems that what is more important nowadays is how many endorsements and money contributions you receive as a candidate for public office rather than your actual work in the community. Not that this blog post is a critique of our legislative body and/or our public officials running for office (since a great part of them are real public servants) but more on how politics and legislation do not really do a good job addressing the underlining causes and understanding the issues that marginalized people suffer from and about identity politics.
Let’s take the marriage equality debate; by framing this issue into being gay couples wanting the “same rights” as heterosexual couples through institutional marriage – we are confining the entire movement into a single-issue political movement rather than a social movement that seeks to deconstruct heteronormativity, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia. But that doesn’t fit nicely in a t-shirt or button does it? It is easier to put funny slogans such as: “gay people have the right to be as miserable as us” and heartfelt catchy phrases such as: “love is love no matter what”.
Identity politics has created a common cohesion for collective action to create social change. We saw this during the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Rights movement. Public officials, especially within the Democratic Party, have seized this opportunity to create a coalition of different demographics and a voter base. Academic scholar, Christina Wolbretch, describes this strategy as part of the political culture of the Democratic Party: “the Democrats respond to organized interests that represent their constituents”. Identity politics have become the new political strategy to win elections, and has been used by activists to expand social movements. So if it ultimately addresses some of the issues we are fighting for, what is so bad about identity politics?
In “Queering Politics, desexualizing the mind”, Davidson argues that sexual identity for political purposes (marriage equality, legal protection against discrimination in the workplace, etc.) has been “conceptualized” as a component of the self rather than sexual activity. This has resulted in a ‘desexualization’ of LGBT politics in order to fit in with the universality of identity politics. The ‘desexualization’ of LGBT politics also coincides with governmental attacks on sexual spaces such as bathhouses, cruising areas and porno theaters (I mention this because we will see how legislation and government intervention can also provide afforded protections). In “Disidentifications”, Muñoz argues that the first wave of feminism did a similar thing with the movement. By urging a set identification for all women to unite on the basis of gender, they created a paradigm where the female subject had no race and no social class. By doing this, the movement became ‘desexualized’ - this meant that it became a white middle-class straight woman by default. Muñoz argues that “disidentification” can be used as a political strategy to address issues that identity politics does not. He uses the example of the women of color from the second wave of feminism that turned away from identification (not all women are white, middle-class women), and counteridentification (counteridentification with men is not the only way in which one becomes a woman because this presents a problematic with queer women) to advocate for disidentification. This theory is the cultural deconstruction from the perspective of a minority subject who “is disempowered in such a representational hierarchy”. In the case of the LGBTQ movement, the experiences of queer people of color, working-class, and non-normative would be considered to be a critique of the hierarchal power of the gay, cisgender, able-bodied, white, middle-class man. How I interpret this theory within the context of my blog entry’s topic is that there are two different ways activism can take place: either immersed in identity politics - in which a coalition of different people with a shared source of identity come together to advocate for issues that are considered universal (for example: LGBTQ people coming together to fight for marriage equality because who doesn’t want to commit forever to the person they love) or either through disidentification, where we detach ourselves from these shared identifications and advocate for a structural change. What would work better in our current state of public affairs?
Rhode Island recently became the 10th state to pass a marriage equality act and the overwhelming support that prominent members of congress have given to same-sex marriage has signaled a generational shift. This goes back to my initial questions of whether cultural change came before or after legislative change. And what does this means to current politics? Have we ‘queered’ politics? We are definitely starting to do so. Based on the definition of queer by The Queer Nation Manifesto:
“…Being queer is not about a right to privacy; it is about the freedom to be public, to just be who we are. It means everyday fighting oppression; homophobia, racism, misogyny, the bigotry of religious hypocrites and our own self-hatred. (We have been carefully taught to hate ourselves.) And now of course it means fighting a virus as well, and all those homo-haters who are using AIDS to wipe us off the face of the earth.
Being queer means leading a different sort of life. It's not about the mainstream, profit-margins, patriotism, patriarchy or being assimilated. It's not about executive directors, privilege and elitism. It's about being on the margins, defining ourselves…”
Passing marriage equality legislationis about the “freedom to be public”, and it’s also fighting the status quo by defying federal law (the Obama administration’s decision to not enforce the Defense of Marriage Act). Or just the simple fact that so many members of our legislative body advocate for this issue is already in itself a huge stride. In a world of so many oppressions, to recognize the humanity of “others” is in itself revolutionary. (This does not mean that they deserve a cookie for being decent human beings). There are so many other issues pressing the LGBTQ community that to focus primarily on marriage equality would be disrespectful. In the case of New York City, I will talk about three important landmarks in queer politics from the past decade. First, the incorporation of “gender identity” as a protected class in the New York City Human Right Law in 2002, the first visible transgender candidate for City Council, and the possibility of Councilmember Christine Quinn becoming New York City’s first openly gay mayor.
NYC Human Rights Law: the New York City Commission on Human Rights enforces the NYC HR Law which is Title 8 in the City’s administrative code. The law prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on race, color, creed, age, national origin, alienage or citizenship status, gender, sexual orientation, disability, marital status and partnership status. In 2002, the Law was amended in order to include gender identity in the category of “gender”. It is illegal in the City of New York to discriminate an individual because of their “actual or perceived gender”. Since this amendment passed, the term gender has included: actual or perceived sex, gender identity/ gender expression, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression, self-image, and behavior or expression that is different from that traditionally associated with the legal sex assigned to an individual at birth.
The guidelines state that in order to prevent discrimination one should prevent harassment and a hostile work environment; ensure that dress codes allow for expression of gender identity, provide unrestricted access to restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities. The guidelines also recommend that employers, housing providers, institutions, etc. go through training to avoid discriminatory practices (the NYC Commission on Human Rights offer free Human Rights lectures and trainings). It also states how much and how severe are the civil penalties for failing to comply with the law. This piece of legislation is an amendment to an already existing law against gender discrimination. One of the professionals who advised and wrote this law was Pauline Park, a famous New York Transgender rights activist. Ms. Park came to my Transgender Studies during the Fall of 2011 and discussed how this amendment was implemented and the effects it has had. She related several experiences of Transgender/Genderqueer/Gender Variant people who were kicked out of venues and spaces because of their gender identity. Now with this amendment, they will be protected from discrimination. Any type of discrimination is illegal in the City of New York, and with this amendment what the proponents wanted to achieve was to make sure they are inclusive in an already broad Human Rights Law.
Mel Wymore, proud Upper West Sider and Transgender Candidate:I tried to do research to see if Mel Wymore was the first transgender candidate for City Council ever but I had no luck. The buzz surrounding Mel, aside from him being an up and coming political figure, is that if elected he would become New York City’s first transgender City Council person. Mel moved from Arizona to New York City 25 years ago and ever since then, he has been a fierce community and political activist. News outlets such as the New York Times have been fascinated with who would be the first transgender elected official in a major US City, despite this, Wymore’s campaign is more than far from embracing identity politics. He stated in the New York Times interview, “I’m not running because I’m transgender” and made it clear that he is dedicated to the pressing issues in his community.
In a profile interview with The Nation, he stated that his identity as a transman and his identity as a political candidate are intertwined. He does not believe that his gender identity will overshadow his qualifications. Wymore states: “It’s very important to me to highlight that the fact of being transgender is an expression of a lot of different skills and qualities that are consistent with being a good leader like being courageous, being inclusive, being able to manage change and balance, and seeing people for who they are—all these things are assets to leadership.” Could Mel Wymore’s candidacy be an example of desidentification? Mel Wymore is an LGBTQ member trying to distance himself from identity politics in order to advocate for structural issues that affect the community during a time where identity politics can bring big money donations and voters.
Christine Quinn, New York City’s first openly gay (and female too!) mayor:
Love or hate Quinn’s political persona, there is no doubt that she is the front runner to succeed Bloomberg this upcoming November election. If she wins, she will become the first female mayor of New York City. In a country that only has 17% female representation in the federal government, this is a pretty big deal for feminists. But what will it mean for the LGBTQ community in New York City to have the highest representation in City Hall? Believe it or not, not everybody in the LGBTQ community is excited about her candidacy and many people believe that she will not bring any progress to the community. There are many LGBTQ groups such as ‘Queers against Christine Quinn’ fighting against her election. The primary concerns revolving her possible win is that she is not progressive enough to lead New York City. Many of the LGBTQ critiques are about how she is a “political sellout” and will sell her progressive principles to get elected. One blogger even said that because of the inclusive and progressive nature of NYC politics, the LGBTQ community can afford to not back a gay candidate just because he/she is gay.
It appears that both voters and political candidates in New York City are moving beyond identity politics in order to focus on intersectional issues that affect everybody. At the same time, activists are still focused on getting legislation passed in order to protect groups from discrimination (Such as the amendment to include gender identity in the NYC Human Rights Law). A mix of both identity politics and disindentification.
I have always wondered why generations have received labels and how these labels shifted over time. As an American culture we have transitioned from the lost generation, to the greatest, to the silent, to the war babies, into the baby boomers, then into generations X and Y and then the millennials. I found that my current generation (people currently between the ages of 18 and 25) was being labeled with the negative connotation of jobless and hopeless; I embarked on a mission to reclaim my generation back for its own people. I have found through interviewing, research, my own opinions, and theory that I live in a generation that should be labeled nothing else but the “The Queer Generation.” Now the use of term queer is not strictly referring to its use in the LGBT community, however it is reference to the notion that this generation can no longer follow the normative model set up and used by the past.
Many past generations, even with their differences, all strove towards the basis of the American Dream. There have always been people who have strayed from the system, a number that has seen a gradual increase since the conclusion of World War II. I believe we are currently hitting a point in history where the system, on many different levels, can no longer support itself with old model normative values. I will explore five different sectors of society that are in a queer transition due to the current generation. These topics include: family, LGBT culture and community, the evolution of education and employment, the evolution and enlargement of the binary, and the queering of space.
It has always been tradition in the United States, for at least the last century, that a child is protected under their parent’s roof until they are able to marry and be bonded with another human. There was never such a thing as human independence. One was ostracized for moving out of their parent’s home before finding a mate. Once one had a mate, they were then expected to procreate and then raise a child until that child would marry. From the beginning of American colonization until the 1940s marriages consisted of family governments in which a marriage was bonded and those people were to protect the children. Michael J. Rosenfeld PhD said in his speech, The Independence of Young Adults, in Historical Perspective at Stanford University that “Family government ensured that rules and norms were followed, that drunkenness and revelry were held in check, that young adults were raised according to local standards, and that young peoples’ marriages were made according to custom and community approval.” As a culture, we infused a system of power and family that became the norm and enforced the norm. It focused on raising the children and was extra political, “values that center on the family, to be sure, but focus on the protection of children.”
After the 1940s, we saw a queering of this norm when individuals began to leave the home without being wed or plans to marry and many times without a lover at all. It continued with the draft dodgers, hippies and artists in the 1960s and spawned a large influx of Caucasian Americans into urban settings from then on forth. Cities became a hot bed and new home for loners, artists, drug addicts, LGBT individuals, runaways, and many more. The American dream structure was beginning to falter, and the image of two parents children and a white picket fence was fading away. More and more people became self sufficient without the aid of a loved one or parental guidance. This was true. people thought, until the modern recession hit in 2008 to 2009. They believed the system of money would renormalize children staying in their parents home post college graduation. However, “The recession, 2008-2009, seems to have increased by a percentage point or two the proportion of unmarried young adults who live with their parents. Even in tough times, it seems that most American young adults prefer to live independently.” This had proven that the system of independence from the norm family model could not be reclaimed and that we are heading towards the queer model of living.
Just the standalone fact that we are allowing children to leave and enter into the world alone is queer. The way we raise our children is how we expect them to raise their children and continue society after we pass away. We instinctually put everything into the children because without them there would literally be no future for the human race. It is also completely “political insofar as the fantasy subjecting the image of the child invariably shapes the logic within which the political itself must be thought.” When interviewing people of my generation, I came to find that many of them were not interested in the children that society tells them they should have but were instead invested in how they are going to survive on their own. They are at the age when society has usually told them to consider procreating, but instead they are wondering how they will survive in this present world state. They queered themselves in the system because otherwise they would have to move back in with their own parents to survive or find a suitable partner.
2) LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Culture & Community
The American Dream is suffering from the modern amount of visible and out LGBT individuals not falling into its mold. Just the appearance of LGBT individuals is queer in the fact that they are stating that they are not having sex in a way that fits into this normative model. Also, Lesbian and Gay couples cannot reproduce without aid or help. They are not fulfilling their normative biological need to replace their spots in the generational chain. It is queer if they do not want children for that is the norm and necessary.
With the growing amount of LGBT organizations and successes in the fight for equality and their place in the American dream, they are actually queering it. Allowing people to marry in a system that built marriage as a family government is queering it. LGBT individuals that make themself fit into the normative model of the American Dream are essentially reclaiming the idea and making it queer. LGBT couples that marry and then adopt children or create them through a surrogate are nor trying to make the normative model form for them but are instead taking the frame and filling it with queerness. As Leo Bersani says in his theoretical essay, Is the Rectum a grave, “the family identity produced on American television is much more likely to include your dog than your homosexual brother or sister.” Instead now the homosexuals are forcing themselves past the doghouse and into the living room, of the American television show. It used to be, in a completely traditional family structure, that the dad would come from work eat dinner the wife prepared and, watch with their children, a family that was exactly like them on their television screen. Now, with my generation that concept is changing, on a very rapid scale, with the inclusion of LGBT individuals on shows like Glee, The New Normal, and Modern Family. LBGT individuals are being validated in their queer American Dream.
As a culture we cannot, by any means, ignore popular culture and its representation of the American public. For much of history sexuality was not discussed openly in the American household. Married characters on television could not share a bed, and when they began to actors were required to keep at least one foot on the floor. In our generation though, LGBT celebrities are almost required to come out and tell the world of their sexual orientation. It is interesting because they are basically told they have to come out and announce whom they like fuck (or be fucked by) in the bedroom. We do not ask people to confirm their heterosexuality or discuss their potential sexual mates; in fact we used to hide sex in the public eye. It is queer to think that now these famous individuals have to be outward with their sexual desire because it does not fit into the norm.
3) Evolution of Education and Labor
For most of my interviewing process with twenty diverse individuals in my generation, I focused on the topic of education and labor, relating it back to idea of all of us being labeled as jobless. It has always been tradition, in the American Dream model, that after a college degree one should then immediately find a job in their field and begin to earn to provide for a family. For the most part, this worked as long as the traditional system could hold in this labor. Then as time progressed I believe education itself was capitalized and the number of colleges and universities doubles in the United States from 1950 to 1990. There was too much focus on fulfilling an ideal system that could not withhold that amount of people.
Now in our generation a big fear is being able to find a job immediately upon graduating college. Many people are forced to take a transition job not in their field post graduation until they can find the right one, or change their field so it was required to shift. The normative system queered itself because it could not fulfill the demand that was there. We have to make our own path instead of hoping the American Dream can just pave the way for us. We now need to find creative ways to make it, instead of trying to fake it in a system that is failing. We need to create jobs to replace the ones that no longer have relevancy in the system. Make yourself different and desirable so that employers may find you in a sea of normalcy.
An interesting note to make is that as I interviewed people about their futures, in respect to what they wanted out of life, no one classified their success by the amount of money they would posses. Almost all of my interviewees, of a diverse pool of majors, said they would be content if life gave them things that made them happy and could be self-sufficient. This relates us back to the notion of the current generation possessing the largest quantity of people that want to obtain independence and strength over family and marriage. We are living as part of generation that is queering the outcome of the American Dream. We no longer aim for a monetary goal, because the funds do not exist; we however aim for what will make us pleased individuals.
4) Evolution and Enlargement of the Binary
Throughout our society and culture we set things on a binary, such as gay or straight and black or white. The American Dream is normalized around the notion that you are heterosexual and white and then other peoples can just fit into that mold; this is no longer the case. We are experiencing a generation that is no longer this or that but instead we are the point at the binary that separates the two.
There are more groups recognizing bisexuality, pan sexuality, and sexual fluidity than ever before. There are also more people self-identifying with these labels. It has become more acceptable to be curious about sexual escapes with same, opposite and third gender individuals. (We are now recognizing and changing laws for third gendered people.) There are more and more individuals practicing polyamory, a direct queering of the American Dream. One is only allowed one partner for life and that is who you bear children with to continue the cycle.
The American Dream was also coined out of the idea of the United States existing as a melting pot. Our generation is the point where many cultures and ethnic backgrounds have mixed five or more generations in. We are headed to a point where people can no longer pinpoint their exact cultural but instead are becoming mutts of mixed breeding. This process is far from really finishing but I believe we are really learning what it means to be an American versus where our ancestors came from. It is no longer about being black and white but finding a place for the grey.
5) Queer Space and Re-Orientation
One section I would like to briefly touch upon is this generation’s need to orientate itself into this freshly queered world. As Stephanie Hsu PhD touched upon in queer theory, life is a cheese in which we have to walk though, and has a path perfectly carved out of our specific bodies to keep us oriented. I am not saying that we should change that path; I am saying however that this generation is changing the cheese. The old cheese casing of the American Dream has molded and needs to be replaced with the Queer American dream.
To bring it back to the notion of children, I will reference another quote by Michael J. Rosenfeld PhD said in his speech, The Independence of Young Adults, “Modern life can be lonely and disorienting, especially for young people who are only beginning to figure out where they are headed. Even when the young adults have a strong idea of where they are headed, the path to full adulthood can be full of twists and turns. Parents will inevitably worry about their young adult children.” It is time for parents to realize they do not live within this queer generation and therefore they do not know exactly how to inform their children, and that is perfectly acceptable. It is this generation’s duty to realize the queerness set upon them and act upon it instead of reverting back into a normative model. Then, if they so choose, become the parents of the next generation.
Throughout American history there had been a very specific model on how to succeed with the American Dream. This present and Queer generation has the tools to change that model. It is time for them, and the rest of society, to embrace this Queer Generation or else I believe the system will continually fail. Instead of “rejecting, with liberal discourse, this ascription of negativity to the queer, we might, as I argue, do better to consider accepting and even embracing it.” Eventually this generation, I believe, will queer the norm enough that it will show success not seen in recent preceding generations; it is time to rise up and realize that the American Dream is ready to be queered.
We can’t hold hands here,
Not in this neighborhood.
I’m not ashamed of us, just worried about you babe.
I know the fear of eyes staring at us,
Possibly turning vile,
Images of glass bottles being thrown, the sound of shouts growing,
Or a hand becoming a fist, connecting to the back of a skull,
A skull broken in
After being curb stomped.
But we don’t speak of those fears
That lay deep in the back of our minds,
Because it’s an unspoken rule
That is common law,
A law that is simplified into a whisper:
I can’t kiss you goodnight
Or hug you the way I want to,
Instead I have to plant
A platonic kiss to your cheek,
Or give you the straight man’s embrace,
And act like strangers, when we’re not.
I can’t kiss you goodnight
Or say I love you the way I mean it,
Because we’re outside
Because it’s late
Because those men are staring
Because my neighbors can see
Because we might get caught,
Or worse, we could end up like
Matthew or Rashawn, dead somewhere.
Listen babe, I mean it when I say
Call me, text me, when you get home
Because my mind disturbs me with images
Of men beating you after we said goodnight
And if you died, it would have been my fault.
So goodnight love,
I want to kiss you on the lips,
Hug you so tight that our hearts
Beat with one another,
But I can’t love you,
Not in this neighborhood.
I long for a day that may never come. I long for the day when I do not have to worry about my terrible
fear of being the target of a hate crime, solely because I hold my boyfriend’s hand out in public.
Equality is a strange, loaded term – like solidarity and society – even though “we” may not know what
they mean. Perhaps those words are just dreams, or visions we perceive as prophesy. Perhaps they all just
depend on the individual.
I would say equality is the social tolerance, acceptance, or approval (also strange, loaded terms) that
would allow me to walk down the street without this lingering fear I have held deep in my mind. I seek that
tolerance/acceptance/approval – or even at times long for “I don’t give a crap/so-what?” attitude.
I do not want to have horrific daydreams of my boyfriend being beaten up by a gang of homophobic
men; I do not want nightmares of a blooded lip or a swollen eye, or of hospital beds and my mother’s tears. I do not want my mother to worry each time I go out, even to “safe” neighborhoods. Her mantra for reminding me to be careful is, “Remember mijito, there are crazy people in the world that kill for no reason. Please be safe.”
Maybe equality is safety. Maybe it’s the feeling or illusion of it. Maybe.
“That’s one of the things that “queers” can refer to: the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically.” – Queer and Now
“The gravity (I mean the gravitas, the meaning, but also the center of gravity) of the term ‘queer’ itself deepens and shifts. Another telling representational effect. A word so fraught as ‘queer’ is- fraught with so many social and personal histories of exclusion, violence, defiance, excitement- never can only denote; nor even can it only connote; a part of its experimental force as a speech act is the way in which it dramatizes locutionary position itself. Anyone’s use of ‘queer’ about themselves mean differently from their use of it about someone else. This is true (as it might also be true of ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’) because of the violently different connotative evaluations that seem to cluster around the category.”
Last week in class we discussed the question of: how do you choose none of the above. When all of the choices are created by the heterosexual norms or are just wrong, how do you choose none of the above? Does this mean not to choose at all? For my blog post, I want to take that question and apply it to the upcoming Supreme Court cases about gay marriage. Also, on a side note, I’m sure everyone is probably familiar with the legal language I’m using, but just in case I took the liberty of explaining some words. I hope no one think I’m trying to demean them.
Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier
Prop 8: Hollingsworth v Perry
First I feel like I should explain a bit about how the Supreme Court and their deciding of cases works. At a state level, five is the magic number. There need to be five of nine justices who vote to hear a case and 5 of nine votes to create a majority opinion. For the Supreme Court, the magic number is four. Since only four justices have to be in favor of hearing a case, some cases come before the Supreme Court that a majority of the judges are less than interested in hearing. This appears to be the situation for the current Supreme Court cases. There is evidence among the court transcripts that implies that only the four conservative judges on the SC were in favor of hearing the cases. Justice Sotomayor openly mused over whether the Court should let the issue of marriage equality percolate in the lower courts. Justice Scalia responded that the Court had decided to take the case, so it did not matter what Sotomayor thought since that decision had already happened. But Justice Kennedy, the über-powerful swing vote, seemed to want avoid the central constitutional questions in the case, asking lawyers on both sides of the issue if the case was properly granted.
This video provides some audio of the Justices discussing their decision to take the case: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbGtXZiBt3E
When the Supreme Court votes to hear a specific case it is called granting a writ of certiorari- which is basically like asking for a second opinion once a decision has been handed down from a lower court. The five justices who did not want to hear the case would have decided that it was legally improvident to grant the writ of certiorari. Cases are not as often dismissed in this way and it means that the case is dismissed without any consideration given to it’s merits- there is literally no decision. Still with me? Good.
In case you are not familiar, Proposition 8 was a measure on a California ballot in 2008 that provided that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. This overturned the California Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. This measure was passed and became a California state constitutional amendment. Some history of the Hollingsworth v Perry case, aka, the Prop 8 case that has reached the Supreme Court: Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier were denied a marriage license in 2009 because they were a same-sex couple. For the same reason, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo were denied a license. The district court judge in California overturned Proposition 8 in 2010 in Perry v. Schwarzenegger (yes, that Schwarzenegger). This judge issued an injunction against enforcing Prop 8 and a stay to determine suspension of his ruling pending appeal. Issuing an injunction means that the courts are temporarily restricted from enforcing Proposition 8. A stay of execution is a court order to temporarily suspend the execution of a court judgment or other court order, you have probably heard of a stay of execution where an execution is deferred until another time. The Ninth Circuit of Appeals affirmed the decision that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional. This means that they agreed with the District Court Judge. The case has now been appealed all the way to the Supreme Court (they only hear cases that are on appeal).
There are several methods and outcomes that could happen when the SC does finally rule on the subject (if they choose to rule, but that is for later). First, is they could rule that marriage is a constitutional right available to all Americans. This would be similar to Brown v. Board of Education- but bigger. When the SC ruled in that case, there were only 17 states that mandated segregation and therefore only 17 states that were really affected by the ruling. If you compare the current case with that of Lawrence v. Texas where the court invalidated sodomy laws in 14 states, you will see that there are 39 states with constitutional or statutory bans on same-sex marriage. This ruling will impact many more people than the previous ones. Another option is for the SC to decide that same-sex marriage is not constitutionally protected. This would create a precedent that would have to be overturned by the SC itself and this would be unlikely to happen until several seats on the bench have been changed (and a position on the SC is a position for life, think of it as basically blood in/ blood out). The SC could also rule that there is no difference between Civil Unions and marriage. This would provide same-sex couples with “nearly” the same benefits as those who are married and is the decision that the Obama administration has chosen to endorse. Some look at this possibility as the “Separate, but equal” decision. This decision would only extend to states that already allow same-sex marriage.
The legal side: There is an option for the SC to send the case back to the state level if they believe that the legal argument is not good enough or is a state issue. A very significant question early in the Prop 8 case is whether the ballot measure's official proponents have what is known as Article III standing to defend the law at all. Without losing you in legal jargon, in order to have standing in a federal court, a party generally has to show that they've suffered a specific, personalized injury and are not simply putting forward a claim to some more generalized injury that does nothing to distinguish them from the general public. Basically the grounds of their case have to be real and have happened to them, they can’t bring a case because it happened to someone else and that makes them mad. This means that the Supreme Court could very well decide that the Prop 8 proponents did not have standing to defend the law, meaning that the Court, just as if it had dismissed the case as improvidently granted, would not be able to reach the merits of the law's constitutionality. The difference between these two decisions is that a ruling on standing would vacate the Ninth Circuit's opinion, since the proponents would not have had Article III standing to defend Prop 8 in that court as well. That would mean that the district court ruling that Prop 8 violates the U.S. Constitution on both equal protection and due process grounds would finally be able to go into effect. Make sense? No, ok. So, if the ruling goes the way I described above, it is possible that only the two couples that filed the case could be granted the right to marry. It is also possible and very likely that California would take several more years to litigate (decide) the cases.
If the Supreme Court had decided to not take the case and had instead declined to hear arguments on the grounds that it was improvidently granted, the Ninth Circuit’s decision would be the final decision in the case (pending further appeals, of which, I’m sure there would many). This would restore marriage equality to California on the grounds that it was unconstitutional for the state to extend equal marriage rights and then rescind those rights by a popular vote. Such a decision would be binding on everyone in California and would also stand as precedent in the entire Ninth Circuit. A precedent is a previous ruling that all courts would now use as a rule of law to make further rulings. This means that no other state in the circuit with marriage equality (for now, only Washington) would be able to take away those rights through a ballot initiative. So, this method would have a narrow effect on the United States as a whole. While some people think the SC will for sure issue a ruling, it is actually a strong possibility that they will go with this “option C.” The SC really only hears cases when there are two parties that have adverse interests, but the couples in the case already won their case in California and the SC may not feel a need to decide. This is clearly the queer option of the bunch. I previously thought that sending it back to the state level would be the queer decision, but not anymore. This is really the answer to how do you chose none of the above- just make no decisions at all. Sending it back still uses the heterosexual created court systems to decide a queer issue, but making no decision at all is the queer choice.
Please now enjoy this video (audio only) of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor essentially bitch-slapping someone trying to argue that same-sex marriage is wrong. If you listen to more audio clips and watch more videos of Sotomayor and the other women on the bench, you’ll see that they’re all pretty badass.
Thea Spyer (Left) and Edie Windsor (Right)
DOMAU.S. v. Windsor
Bill Clinton enacted DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, on September 21st, 1996. You may know him better by his Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell enactment, or, you know, by the fact that he was President. He has since said that he’s changed his mind and doesn’t think that the federal government should intervene in a state’s right to allow gay marriage. There are two sections of the Act to be concerned with.
Section 2. Powers reserved to the states
No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.
Section 3. Definition of marriage
In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.
The GAO (General Accounting Office) issued a report in 1997 identifying 1,049 federal statutory provisions classified to the United States Code in which benefits, rights, and privileges are contingent on marital status or in which marital status is a factor. In 2004, the GAO found that this number had risen to 1,138 as of December 31, 2003. With respect to Social Security, housing, and food stamps, the GAO found that recognition of the marital relationship is integral to the design of the programs and the amount of benefits is directly related to marital status. Other major categories identified were veteran's benefits, including pensions and survivor benefits; taxes on income, estates, gifts, and property sales; and benefits due federal employees, both civilian and military. Education loan programs and agriculture price support and loan programs also implicate spouses. Because the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) controls most employee benefits provided by private employers, DOMA removes some tax breaks for employers and employees in the private sector when it comes to health care, pension, and disability benefits to same-sex spouses on an equal footing with opposite-sex spouses. Under DOMA, persons in same-sex marriages are not considered married for immigration purposes. U.S. citizens and permanent residents in same-sex marriages cannot petition for their spouses, nor can their spouses accompany them into the U.S. on the basis of a family or employment-based visa. A non-citizen in such a marriage cannot use it as the basis for obtaining a waiver or relief from removal from the U.S.
The military's ability to extend the same benefits to military personnel in same-sex marriages as their peers in opposite-sex marriages received, most notably health benefits, is very limited. Same-sex spouses of military personnel are denied the same access to military bases, legal counseling, and housing allowances provided to different-sex spouses. So, essentially, the whole argument hinges on money. Who gets it, who doesn’t get it, who is entitled to it. Of course there is the issue of equality and other benefits, but if the argument didn’t involve such large amounts of money and federal funds, would people really be arguing over this? I’m not so sure.
Only section 3 is on trial in U.S. v. Windsor and it is important to remember that they aren’t trying to rule the whole DOMA unconstitutional, just the third section. In 2007, Edith “Edie” Windsor and Thea Spyer were married in Toronto, Canada. When Spyer died in 2009, New York (where they were residents) legally recognized same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions (places). After Spyer died, Windsor was required to pay almost $400,000 in federal estate taxes because of the inheritance she received from her wife’s estate. If their marriage had been considered the same as a heterosexual marriage, she would not have had to pay the taxes. Windsor brought suit claiming that this was discrimination (and I think we would all agree that it is). There are some procedural issues that could keep the court from ruling on the merits of the law. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) is a 5-member body in the House of Representatives. They voted 3-2 to defend DOMA. During Supreme Court Arguments, the Justices asked whether BLAG had a standing to appear in court and defend DOMA. There is also question of whether the case should be heard because the plaintiff (Edie Windsor) and the defendant (the federal government) both want the law to be struck down. Remember earlier when we discussed that there had to be a personal injury? Well, the Justices are going to have to decipher if there is actually any injury in a case where both sides agree that they want the same thing.
During arguments, the Justices did seem to believe that there was a recognizable injury in the DOMA case. This is based off of the fact that if they rule in Windsor’s favor the Federal Government would have to return the almost $400,000 she had to pay on the estate. A ruling to strike down DOMA would allow same-sex couples access to federal marital benefits. However, since this case is only challenging the third section of the law, the second section that allows states to ignore marriages from outside states would remain law. This could really jumble and confuse the benefits that couples would potentially receive. An example of this would be a couple that lived in New York (where their marriage is legal) but then moves to Texas (where it is not). They would be entitled to Federal benefits, but probably would have to enter into litigation (a trial) to fight for state benefits. Remember when the magic number was four for the Supreme Court? Well, in this case Justice Kagan is possibly going to recuse herself (choose not be part of the group that decides) because she has a previous history with the case from her former occupation as Solicitor General. Since she is part of the liberal half on the bench, this could greatly impact the final decision.
The thing to remember about both of these cases is the fact that the “queer” option of the bunch is really the best option for everyone (even though many might not see it that way). If the Supreme Court decides to send the cases back to the state level or declines to make a decision at all, the outcomes are a little more attractive. I think the best result would be for the Supreme Court to send the cases back or to decline to make a decision on them. Then Congress could pass an act similar to DOMA- but opposite. The new act could declare same-sex marriage constitutional and would reach every state, just as DOMA did. Then there would most likely be litigation on the new Act and it’s constitutionality. This would be better because then the plaintiffs (who would be people that oppose same-sex marriage) would have to prove injury. They would have to eventually prove to the Supreme Court how allowing same-sex marriage is injurious to them. Also, they wouldn’t be able to represent every couple in the United States, so even if they won, it would only affect them directly. Or the Supreme Court could go ahead and use that new case to set a precedent that same-sex marriage is constitutional. I think that would be the best solution to the problem.
“[Politics] may function as the framework within which we experience social reality, but only insofar as it compels us to experience that reality in the form of a fantasy.”
~No Future, Lee Edelman
In today’s world, heteronormativity rules our social and cultural norms. There is an expectation that everyone is straight; fits into masculine and feminine roles; can get around without modification to our ablest world. While we are made to think that there is normal and queer, what is normal is a fantasy. We live in a world where we are expected to follow a certain path, and when we diverge from this path we become queer. In No Future, Lee Edelman describes politics as fantasy that is made to look like reality. To me this describes queerness perfectly. Our society creates a heteronormative fantasy that is seen as reality, and when anyone diverges from the norm or expectation they become queer. Queerness can encompass race, sexuality, ablebodiness, class, culture and much more. The fact of being pansexual does not make me queer. What makes me queer is being seen as non-normative. When heterosexuality is the norm, being a lesbian diverges from the expected path that society tells me I must take. In the United States there is privilege in being white. Being of a different race is not what makes someone queer. The fact that they lose the privilege that a white man is given makes them queer. There is an Us versus Them dilemma. The Us is made up of the fictional reality we live in that tells everyone in society what is ‘normal’ and what is different. The Them is created when one notices they or someone else is not on the expected path.
Queerness expands beyond the LGBTQA acronym. Queerness breaks societal norms, magnifies the constant failure of compulsory heterosexuality and questions heteronormativity. In our class, queerness has been discussed as anything non-normative, whatever falls on the periphery of what is expected. Queerness is not something we bump into every once and while, it is everywhere we go. Jasbir Puar argues “there is no entity, no identity to queer, rather queerness coming forth at us from all directions, screaming its defiance”. In discussing queerness, Puar argues that it is impossible to see queerness, it is interwoven within ourselves.
Today, there is a conflict between two groups of people who believe they are entitled to the same land. This conflict is widely known as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Some discuss the conflict as Apartheid. You may be asking why I am discussing the state conflict between Israel and Palestine in a paper about queerness. The conflict between Israel and Palestine has been labeled with many descriptors in its past: deadly, tense, aggressive, etc. One descriptor that is not very common in newspapers and magazines, relating to the conflict, is Queer. The topic of queerness in conjunction with Palestine is rarely talked about. As pinkwashing by Israel becomes more visible, the discussion of intersections between queer identity and Palestinian identity become important to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
What is pinkwashing, and why is it important?
“As an initiative of the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Brand Israel campaign, pinkwashing describes conscious tactics to improve Israel’s image abroad by packaging gay rights and tourism as markers of freedom and tolerance, and by representing Palestinian society as backward and homophobic in comparison.” While many see Israel as progressive in certain LGBTQ rights, the discussion of Palestinian queers disappears. In fact, the discussion of Palestinian injustice disappears. Israel paints a picture of inclusiveness and forward thinking with the allowance of LGBTQ people in their military, as well as recognizing same-sex marriage done outside of Israel. However, there is a disparity between this vision of Israel and the rights of Palestinians.
“LGBT people have been at the bottom of society for so long, many people mistakenly see some forms of ‘gay rights’ (gay pride parades, gay people participating in the military service, etc.) as an emblem of modernity”. When something positive happens in regards to gay rights or any rights for that matter, many people wipe their hands and say we are done. In the case of the Israel and Palestine conflict, Israel is purposely using the idea of ‘gay rights for some’, to mean equality for all. Pinkwashing blankets the problems of Palestinians, especially Palestinian queers, in favor of modernizing and fictionalizing Israel’s image. In No Future, Edelman describes politics as fiction disguised as reality. This fiction creates a queer identity because not everyone can fit into the story the right way, so they get left out. In this case it is Palestinian’s and Palestinian queers who are getting purposefully left out, made to look as though they are not modern, homophobic, and in turn making them look as though they do not fit in to our ‘reality’. They are made to be queer.
By using a picture of gay rights to moralize, modernize and humanize Israel, anyone in Israel that is LGBTQ is essentially un-queered. Those who are LGBTQ are pictured to be privileged, to be at legal parity with heterosexuals. Jasbir Puar describes this as “homonationalism”. Homonationalism occurs “when sub-sectors of specific gay communities achieve legal parity with heterosexuals and then embrace racial and religious supremacy ideologies”. While Israel is using pinkwashing to depict a sense of freedom and tolerance, they are once again creating a fictional narrative that is portrayed as reality. Those who were queer, the LGBTQ folks in Israel, have become un-queer. However, they have only become un-queer because Israel said so. They now become the ‘Us’ and Palestinian queers become ‘Them’.
What happens when queer culture of one state hinders the queer culture of another?
Judith Butler said, “I think that queer people should have solidarity with those populations whose lives are not considered liveable. That’s a kind of alliance that I would understand as a queer alliance. So that explains why I would- as someone who elaborated on queer theory- be very concerned with the situation in Palestine”.
There is an assumed solidarity between everyone who queer. People ask how can you discriminate against someone else when you have been discriminated against in the same way. The answer is privilege. When we fight so hard for freedom or the privilege of freedom, it is hard in a position when it get it to not exercise it. Homonormativity creates a severing of possible solidarity between queers of Israel and queers of Palestine.
Queer Palestinians are not only fighting for land, but they are fighting for their queerness and for visibility of queerness. Pinkwashing makes queerness in Palestine seem nonexistent. Queer visibility “expands and complicates the vision for a future Palestine”. While Israel claims to be a haven for queers, it is not a haven for queer Palestinians. In fact it is the exact opposite.
Palestinian queers are faced with problem of nationality and queerness. Their identities are made up of an assemblage of “interwoven forces that merge and dissipate time, space, and body against linearity, coherency, and permanency”.
What does any of this really mean?
This paper as discussed queerness as anything non-normative, no necessarily LGBTQ issues. However, when discussing pinkwashing, I used queerness as LGBTQ. Queerness in Palestine is not only created because of LGBTQ issues, but by colonialism, racism, homophobia and more. In Israel, being Palestinian makes one queer. However, pinkwashing puts LGBTQ Palestinians in the spotlight of queerness.
Gay rights for one group of people, tends to overshadow the injustice done on other people. We create this sense of for one, for all idea. Once again, we create a fantasy that we supplement as reality. Everything around us seems to be created for us, created in a way that will fit ‘most’ people, and push the privileged higher. Unfortunately privilege creates an ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’.
Israel has the State power to make Palestine look the way it wants it to. They are able to pinkwash Palestinian society for their own benefit. Unfortunately that is how the world works. As we saw with the Occupy Wall Street protests, the 1% are able to control the 99%.
Homonationalism, creates a way for those who were not privileged to fit into the privileged arena. Once they are there they fall into the same pattern as before, but in a different position. Privilege and queerness are a cycle. Depending on where one might have the privilege to make someone else queer and vice versa.
The acknowledgement of diversity creates queerness. This is evident everywhere we go. Diversity of political opinion, race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender creates queerness. Politics strives to make diversity seems nonexistent. Especially in the United States, politics creates a fictional picture that it calls freedom and equality. However, the United States is far from equality. The same goes for Israel. Israel uses pinkwashing to erase the conflict between Palestine and itself, to erase any of its short comings. Queerness does not fit in to the perfect box in which politics and society strives to create. Edelman describes this in his piece No Future: “Politics, to put it another way, names the space in which imaginary relations, relations that hark back to the misrecognition of the self as enjoying some originary access to presence… compete for Symbolic fulfillment”.
Politics strives to erase anything queer, in turn emphasizing it. Queerness is everywhere. In class we discussed how compulsory heterosexuality continuously fails. The reason we notice these failures is because heteronormativity is created, not natural. The same goes for binaries. Throughout this whole essay I discuss ‘Us’ and ‘Them’, however, there is not just one them or us. This binary I created. Binaries are created to make it easier for the more privileged to oppress those of less privilege.
Heteronormative and queer. Male and Female. Israel and Palestine. Gender conforming and gender non-conforming. White and ‘minority races’. These are all binaries that have been created to perpetuate a certain kind of society. Queerness can be found anywhere because the binary of queer and not queer has been fictionally created.
How can we break out of these binaries?
Edelman discussed politics are creating a fictional reality. However, queer theory seems to use politics as a way of attempting to break out of queerness and this fictional reality. Is it really possible to get rid of queerness? Once we jump the hump of one binary it seems there always exists another one. Even when there is a conflict, it seems there are a million other conflicts inside of it. With the conflict between Israel and Palestine, while territory is a main concern, the conflicts between queerness and not queerness, and what is real and what is not, remains underneath.
Puar discusses queerness as coming from all different angles, and it is unable to be seen. If this is the case, is there really anyway to get rid of queerness? And if one was able to get rid or queerness, what would exist? Do we have to get rid of politics or change the whole system to get rid of queerness?
According to Jacques Lacan, the formation of subjectivity and the creation of the “I” or the Self goes through three phases – the Real, the Imaginary, and the Symbolic. The Real is the initial phase that a child is brought into life. Within the Real, a child sees itself as part of the world, mentally and physically. In this stage, the child is safeguarded against any conditioning of the Self. The child enters the Imaginary phase when they are forced to confront their reflection and existence through a mirror; this is called the Mirror Stage. During the Mirror Stage, the child begins to conceptualize an individual sense of the Self by identifying with their reflection. Even though this formation of the Self is done through the identification of their reflection, the child also regards their reflection as the Other. Therefore throughout life, a child will form their sense of Self or “I” through the Other. The Symbolic phase begins when a child develop the ability to comprehend and communicate through language. Language allows the Self and the “I” to linguistically form; the child is finally able to speak the word “I”.
Anattā comes from the Pali language meaning “Not-Self” or “Non-Self”. Anattā is used in many Buddhist texts to explain that any notion of the Self or Soul is an illusion. Instead of the separation between the “I” and the “Other”, Buddhists believe that all sentient beings in the universe are interconnected and are interbeings; we are all part of the cosmos. The Self does not exist because all things are impermanent, such as our beliefs and sensual experiences, and we are all constantly changing in relations to our environment. Any attempts to establish a Self is seen as illusory and fictional. According to Buddha, suffering comes to those who cling to anything as belonging to the Self.
Connection Between Lacan and Buddhsim
Both Lacan and the Buddhist concept of Anattā argues that the Self is not inherent and autonomous. For both, the illusory Self is seen as artificial and self-limiting. In regards to Lacan’s theory, it is hard to say if one can return back to the Real phase after being conditioned by the Mirror Stage and through the language of identities. Similarly, I wonder how realistic it if for those who practice Buddhism to live without a sense of Self.
Application to the LGBT and Q
Both Lacan and Buddhism has taught me that labels are self-limiting and are complicated to live up to. Throughout my life, I have always struggled to identify myself as gay and when I was able to finally accept it, it did not always feel right. I felt a strong obligation to change myself in order to fit into the gay community. On my journey of finding my Self, I have adopted an artificial identity that was so bland and restrictive. So I stopped and I threw out those tacky labels. I’m now just Aiden.
I used to praise the pride and solidarity that existed in the LGBTQ acronym but now I find it to be offensive. Instead of breaking barriers on sexuality and gender identity, we have drawn new lines and created new boxes to contain them. Lacan would say that our language for identities are limiting. A lesbian must do this. A gay must wear that. A bisexual must feel this way. Even the word queer is limiting. Buddha would find that our path to find ourselves are making us suffer. We are clinging onto these identities and are forcing ourselves to adhere to them. Buddha would tell us that we are part of the universe, and that the universe is part of us. There is much more than who we think we are.
So instead of defying the culture that imprison us with these terms, why are we compliant? We are we actively branding each other and imposing on each other’s humanity? The next time you describe yourself, ask yourself if you are everything that label entails. Or are you more? Different? This is a call to end the slaughtering of our identities and to just let them be.
Like all forms of oppression, homophobia is grounded in dehumanization. It is directed at those who are not perceived to be heterosexual and/or cisgendered. Homophobic perceptions include fear, disdain and contempt which can lead to anti-LGBT bigotry, including cyber bullying and harassment. In order to get to the root of homophobia and thus bigotry, the LGBT community cannot use virtual reality alone; instead we must use it as a helpful tool in the larger fight for equality.
Through the internet LGBT individuals and our allies work to heal pain inflicted by homophobia and also to heal homophobic perceptions. The “It Gets Better” campaign is an example of virtual support built on videos urging LGBT youth to not harm themselves. This is useful for the immediate danger caused by bigotry, given the high levels of suicide among LGBT youth, but it cannot be the only action. Telling youth that they have to wait out their teen years does not work to radicalize the systems that make life so horrific for LGBT people. The systems we have in place, from textbooks omitting historic LGBT figures to states banning same-sex marriage, all work to perpetuate homophobia and to dehumanize LGBT individuals. Eradicating homophobia must take place on a personal level but also a systemic level. To do this we have to reach out to all people and also fight to change the oppressive structures that perpetuate and foster homophobia. The systems in place must be changed, and the only way for that to happen is mass mobilization of LGBT individuals and our allies.
The LGBT community has mobilized using the internet and other tools to make great strides for equality. One outcome of mass mobilization and struggle is the general public’s shift in support of same-sex marriage. The country’s rate has gone up dramatically in just 20 years. According to the Journal of Social Science Research there is now more support in this decade for same-sex marriage from the general American public than opposition for the first time in U.S. history. This is due to the extreme efforts of LGBT communities and individuals nationwide. Activists, legal and political figures and everyday LGBT individuals and allies have campaigned with Freedom to Marry, the Human Rights Campaign, and GLAAD along with countless other organizations across the nation. This show of national strength and solidarity could not have happened from behind a computer alone. The internet is used to advertise and mobilize through social media, email and websites sharing information and spreading the word. Through the exchange of ideas it has helped incite actions responsible for the increasing humanization of LGBT by the public.
In the 1970s the Gay Liberation Movement and the rise of Lesbian Feminism shook the nation. This was before the spread of the World Wide Web, showing that the internet has not been the basis for change. The basis for social change is the collective acknowledgement of an unjust society and the urge to better it. In order to combat homophobia we must take to the streets, speak openly and with determination declare our humanity. As the tides turn in favor of same-sex marriage so will homophobic perspectives on LGBT individuals. Instead of continuing to be seen as outcasts, side groups or “deviants” LGBT individuals are fighting (and succeeding in) showing the nation that we are first and foremost humans and our rights must be realized.