Got a critique?

Shame   on you!

Claiming we're not all "just like everybody else"
could get you branded a traitor


"People who write things like 'a blow job is as good as a marriage' do so in the knowledge that it will be used by those who hate us. If they do not realize that, they are incredibly ill-informed or naïve. While they are entitled to their opinions, personally I find these kinds of statements irresponsible in the current political climate. These nitwits are painting targets on us all."

Douglas Elliott, lawyer leading the Metropolitan Community
Church of Toronto's gay marriage case

Homos hungry for "respectability," ever eager to make us "acceptable" to the so-called Real World, have long chided silly queers who risk giving nice gay people a bad name. Their plaints have been a staple of Pride Day commentary: "Drag queens? Dykes in leather? Please! That's not me!"

Like us! Love us!

Myth popularity
Rights played as a numbers game
(You bet your life!)

Mavens of gay marriage stake their claim not just on noble ideals of equality, but more craven dreams of popularity: We're just like you! Really! You should like us! They can get quite peeved with queers who blow their cover.

And not just with blow jobs. With insistence that we are not all just like everybody else. With open exploration of the many ways we are not. Pioneering queer activist Harry Hay once said that gay people are like everybody else in just one place: in bed. Beyond, we see the world from other places entirely. Our lives offer up rare perspectives, distinct ways of being, fresh ways of thinking -- differences of value not only to us but to the wider world.

But in "the current political climate" -- where "equality" as sameness trumps respect for differences; where "acceptance" is to be won by denigration of the "unacceptable" -- we're warned that such thoughts "will be used by those who hate us." Fearless explorers of our own lives are "nitwits painting targets on us all." If we're to be welcomed into the Real World we must clean up our act -- forgetting, as famously unabashed walking target Quentin Crisp once said, that such welcome is never meant for who we may actually be, but "for someone else of the same name."

Some of us can pass as acceptably "normal." Some truly are: seeing their sexuality as nothing more than what they do in the privacy of their own beds, their take on the wider world indeed just like anyone else's. Those of us who are not, who won't impersonate that eminently welcome "someone else" -- worst of all those who refuse to, who celebrate our differences, who delve into our lives for nuggets of human truth -- well: these days they risk being charged with treason.

Nitwit collaborators

"The Pomo-Homo"

No one riles marriage mavens more than that rare breed of thinkers known as "queer theorists." Or, as a piece on the "Equal Marriage for Same-sex Couples" website calls them, "Pomo-Homos." It leads off with that quote above from lawyer Doug Elliott. It's otherwise unsigned. But whoever wrote it has clearly done some serious reading -- of pop critics dissing "politically correct" and usefully vague "postmodernism." This bit from Jonathan Franzen in The New Yorker, September 30, 2002, gets big play:
"... the essence of postmodernism is an adolescent fear of getting taken in, an adolescent conviction that all systems are phony. The theory is compelling, but as a way of life it's a recipe for rage. The child grows enormous but never grows up."

These raging children -- intellectual spawn of early gay liberationists ever going on about patriarchal oppression, the trap of marriage, the tyranny of the family and the alienation of human values under (then not quite global) capitalism -- stand charged here of giving aid and comfort to "Traditionalists": right-wing groups, we're told, "use queer progressives to support an argument against same-sex marriage."

"Traditionalists and Post-Modernist queers share many of the same fears. Both groups define people primarily by sexual orientation and both sides feel that their values would be compromised if equal treatment led to the normalization of homosexuality. ... Both sides fear interference from the state: traditionalists want judges to ignore Canadian Charter rights in court. They expect compliant politicians to keep the status quo, while the post-modernists fear state regulation of their lives.

"And both groups are concerned about gender roles: the traditionalists insist that a husband and wife is essential to marriage, while the post- modernists seem concerned that 'outlaw' gender roles would be further marginalized."

Despite their diametrically opposed takes on the world, Trads and Pomos stand accused of sharing the same bed. Want proof? They both oppose the sacred cause. If those errant Homos had any sense they would join the author's menage: "Modernist gays who are fighting for same-sex marriage."

Winning it "will deconstruct the rigid gender roles established by the traditionalists and open up space for all. The gender outlaw will be a rebel without a cause. The pomo-homo risks irrelevance, or being seen as a collaborator for oppression," mirroring "the fears of the traditionalists in the name of leading-edge thinking."

Now dear, don't worry

"We wish to expand the institution of marriage, to open it up, not to destroy it.... marriage should be open to gays and lesbians. The only real consequences of such decision would be Canada's advancement toward the 'magnificent goal of equal dignity for all', and 'a sense of dignity and worthiness for every Canadian and the greatest possible pride and appreciation in being part of a great nation.'"

From the MCCT's submission to the House Committee on Justice & Human Rights (quoting a Supreme Court justice)

Isn't "Modernist" logic a wonder? With a few parlour tricks (much like those of any "common-sense" critic out to get "pointy-headed intellectuals") it proves that gay marriage will both "expand the institution of marriage," not destroy it -- and "deconstruct rigid gender roles," opening up "space for all." A neat trick indeed -- when the show is all about winning respectable snuggles for nice normal couples in the unrenovated House of Matrimony, leaving less reputable relationships out in the cold.

The Trads' true bedfellows are those gay-marriage Modernists: both hope to preserve marriage just the way it is. They're just having a pillow fight -- about what brand of monogram will be allowed on those pillows. As Brenda Cossman wrote in 1994:

"The claim that We Are Family [as a mid-'90s same-sex spousal lobby billed itself], while pushing at the borders of this dominant image of the family, does no more to question or challenge this 'sacred, timeless and so natural' institution. Indeed the claim makes sense only in the context of the continuing hegemony of this ideologically dominant discourse of the family."

Both "sides" in this so-called debate speak from inside that "ideologically dominant discourse" -- smugly presuming that what they want is "normal." As (possibly pomo) theorist Terry Eagleton has said: "Successful ideologies are often thought to render their beliefs natural and self-evident -- to identify them with the 'common sense' of a society so that nobody could imagine how they might ever be different."

They speak from the same place the mass media do, presuming all of us share it. Or, as Wendy Brown put it in States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity:

"...the class that represents, indeed depends upon, the naturalization rather than the politicization of capitalism, the denial of capitalism's power effects in ordering social life, the representation of the ideal of capitalism to provide the good life for all.

"Poised between the rich and poor, feeling itself to be protected from the encroachments of neither, the phantasmic middle class signifies the natural and the good between the decadent or corrupt on one side, the aberrant or the decaying on the other. It is a conservative identity in the sense that it semiotically recurs to a phantasmic past, an imagined idyllic, unfettered, and uncorrupted historical moment (implicitly located around 1955)...."

Pomo indeed. Or maybe Retro. Dominant ideology? Capitalism? Class? My dear! Get real! That's all so 15 years ago. Sure: try 25, even 30. Not a "phantasmic past," not some nostalgic dreamland of noble ideals. Just more hopeful human moments than, say, 1955.

Our "modern debate" on the institution of marriage has given an old dog new teeth. Long widely seen as a historical relic ever less relevant to our varied realities -- likely relegated in time to just one way, among others more flexible, to recognize and support meaningful human relationships in law -- it has come to be cast as the only way: the One, True, Sacred, Precious (and hotly contested) Prize. It has grown enormous. But we have not asked it to grow up.

We have instead let ourselves be press-ganged -- along with other forces of "domestic security" -- into a paving crew smoothing a safely romantic road. Back to the Fifties.




Go on to:
Don't groan -- organize!
Making change: with just small change. And big dreams.

Or go back to:
Two-ring  circus
Parliament's public consultations become
a slag-fest of competing fundamentalists

Rebels  with a cause -- & a cause without rebels
(Culture Wars: Contents page)
Ideas  in play  (Main contents page)
Gay marriage? Wrong question  (Lead page)
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This page:
April 2003 / Last revised: May 5, 2003
Rick Bébout © 2002 /