Making Me Speechless
"Assimilate My Purse," Maximumrocknroll, April 2007
Following is my first attempt to respond to a public document that was released over six months ago that left me feeling sort of paralyzed -- my response is maybe a little bit formal right now...
I first heard about the statement "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision for All Our Families and Relationships" in July, 2006, when Kenyon Farrow, one of the writers of the document, sent it to me to see if I'd be interested in signing on before it was released to the public. As someone who has long been involved in anti-assimilationist queer activism, I was curious about this project even if immediately skeptical -- why had I not heard of this before, I wondered. Why were they sending it to me after it was done? Why on earth did a supposed activist document include an "executive summary"? And, most importantly, what in the world was indicated by the pitch letter when it said that the statement "recognizes the importance of marriage equality."
Nevertheless, I tried to suspend disbelief -- as someone involved in the radical queer direct action group Gay Shame, I'd seen the anti-assimilationist politics I held dear grow steadily more marginalized as privileged San Francisco gays supported straight, ruling class anti-homeless crusader Gavin Newsom, then heralded him as the savior of gay civil rights after he briefly "legalized" gay marriage. Suddenly a reactionary Mayor’s give-back to the powerful gays who got him elected was seen as "civil disobedience," his publicity stunt a "revolutionary gesture." Where did that leave Gay Shame? Depressed, disillusioned and horrified.
I wanted BSSM to feel like something hopeful, but I already felt alienated and aghast after reading the first sentence, which stated "we, the undersigned -- lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and allied activists, scholars, educators, writers, artists...” Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied, but no queers. Already this exclusionary agenda in the first sentence. No place for anyone who doesn't pick one of five bounded categories, for anyone more fluid or politically invested in difference than LGBT(A) allows.
Keep in mind that the people who wrote the statement identify themselves as "activist, scholars, educators, writers, artists, lawyers, journalists, and community organizers." Surely this group agonized over every word in the statement. Many of them probably even identify as queer. Nevertheless, this immediate exclusion of queerness from the initial laundry list (and instead the inclusion of "allies") reads as a calculated gesture to make BSSM a "mainstream" document instead of an outsider challenge -- welcome the straights, but leave out the queers. BSSM even embraces the grossest false acronym of the mainstream gay rights industry, "LGBT," which generally means gay, with lesbian in parentheses, throw out the bisexuals and put trans on for a little bit of window dressing. Address the needs of the most privileged while stepping on everyone else. This "LGBT" movement is what needs to be challenged, not invoked.
It's taken me eight months to write anything about this document and in part that's because it's signed by so many left academics and politicos (including many whom I respect and admire), and therefore it carries its own sort of silencing power. Here is a document claiming to offer an alternative to the gay marriage agenda while championing scary corporate nonprofit-speak like "Why the LGBT Movement Needs a New Strategic Vision" or "A Bold, New Vision Will Speak to Many Who Are Not Already with Us."
There is no doubt that Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement has actually fostered more complicated conversations in the media beyond the simplistic "you're either with us or you're against us" bullshit of the gay marriage agenda, like if you oppose gay marriage (or any marriage, remember feminism?), then you're automatically a foaming-at-the-mouth Christian right homophobe. In fact, there was an article in the ghastly New York Times as a result of the statement that was actually much more strident in its challenge to gay marriage hypocrisies then BSSM.
But what is most striking to me is that BSSM does not call for any sort of accountability on the part of the assimilationist gay elite. This document does nothing to challenge the way the gay marriage agenda has redistributed resources in the wrong direction by funneling funding away from important resources like domestic violence prevention, drug treatment, AIDS services, housing, healthcare, etc. and into the hands of a wealthy gay elite who see gay marriage as the last thing standing in the way of their full citizenship (no need to talk about fighting US imperialism or ending the war in Iraq or immigrants systematically murdered on US borders, sweetheart – let’s just get the state to sanction our carnal coupling!). Remember, marriage is still a central institution through which women, queers, transpeople and children are systematically kept vulnerable and abused. Instead of calling attention to this ongoing legacy, BSSM goes out of its way to assure people that marriage is a valuable choice, mentioning nothing about the tyranny of marriage, either historically or in the present.
Instead of challenging the violence of the gay elite, BSSM furthers the gaystream agenda of cultural erasure by embracing the lie of the "LGBT community," that monstrous illusion by which wealthy gays and lesbians gentrify and evict and "redevelop" and say that it's all for "the community." There is no LGBT community, and there never has been one. There are lesbian communities, and gay communities, and bisexual communities and trans communities, and communities of lesbians and trans people, and communities of gay men and lesbians, and even communities of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people, but this notion of one community is horrifying in its silencing agenda.
It's true that a large part of BSSM does profess a broader agenda, such as the section, titled "The Longing for Community and Connectedness," which states in part, "Our vision is the creation of communities in which we are encouraged to explore the widest range of non-exploitive, non-abusive possibilities in love, gender, desire and sex – and in the creation of new forms of constructed families without fear that this searching will potentially forfeit for us our right to be honored and valued within our communities and in the wider world." That's perfectly fine -- I just wish it didn't come within a document filled with language so inescapably dull it’s hard not to let your eyes glaze over, all of it building towards the invocation of "A WINNABLE STRATEGY."
In this era of endless war, corporate violence, police state tyranny and global warming catastrophes, what exactly is a winnable strategy? Is it really more practical to ally ourselves with the gays who shifted public attention away from universal healthcare in the early ‘90s and spearheaded the campaign to allow gays to go abroad and fight US dirty wars just like straight people, then moved on to marriage as the solution for all the world’s problems? Is it truly possible to decenter marriage within the gay marriage assimilation agenda, as BSSM would like us to imagine?
What is so striking is that this document strives so clearly to speak to the center, which is exactly the strategy that has failed the assimilationist gay movement. The gay marriage industry gives us smiling gays and lesbians with golf club memberships, real estate portfolios and the limitless ability to spend money on cocktails, lawyers, Hummers and cruises. Then they present these GMO gays to the world and say: see, we’re just like you! It's no surprise that so called "middle America" takes one look and cries "special rights."
While BSSM does not invoke this assimilationist model, it also does little to challenge it. It's this hypocrisy that has made me speechless.