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Gay Rights and Sexual Freedom


TBinCHI
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In another thread, Tom Isern claims that gay rights "was" a movement for sexual freedom. That thought has stuck in my head, and I am now stuck on how dangerous that argument really is. Gay rights is a movement for equality, which includes sexual freedom only as a subset. If sexual freedom is the only hallmark of gay rights, we're in for a huge setback. How do we argue that gays should have the "right" to serve openly in the military if the only right we want is sexual freedom in the military? How do we argue that gays should have the "right" to be free from discrimination in our churches, schools, workplaces, etc, if the only thing we really want is the right to fuck who we want, when we want, and without government intervention? Do we really only want to fuck in our churches, in our schools, and our workplaces? I think not.

 

Whatever the gay rights movement "was", the more important question is what gay rights "is" currently. Gay rights is about more than sexual freedom just as being gay is about more than sex. It is all about being able to live freely and openly about who we are, free from discrimination and persecution. It is about being able to legitimize our relationships and, yes Tom, it IS about love and being able to love freely and openly without discrimination, persecution, and oppression.

 

To state so blindly that gay rights is only about sexual freedom just makes it easier for those who would push us back into closets and back underground. Gay marriage is about choice and dammit I want that choice. Gay rights is all about equality and God dammit I want that equality. When that equality finally comes, there will no longer be any excuse to have all of the sodomy laws that remain on the books, and we will finally have our sexual freedom as well.

 

To borrow a phrase from a disability rights advocate, I say "Lead on, lead on."

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Hi TBinCHI,

 

I appreciate your thoughtful line here, and for what it’s worth, here’s how I would respond: At the end of the 19th century, medical discourse made it possible for our culture to think of men who have sex with men as “homosexuals”—a term that hadn’t existed previously. An identity was born, and it became possible to think about men as being perverse, no matter what kind of sex they had. Thus the idea of “sexual orientation” was born and along with it identity politics in the gay movement. In “The Trouble with Normal,” Michael Warner states:

 

“The doctors had inadvertently made it possible for their former patients to claim that being gay is not necessarily about sex. Homosexuals could argue that any judgment about their worth as persons, irrespective of their actions, was irrational prejudice. In so doing, they could challenge the stigma of identity, without in the least challenging the shame of sexual acts.”

 

When identity gets separated from acts we run into trouble, however, because some people will challenge the stigma attached to identity in ways that reinforce the stigma attached to acts. These people are afraid of being stigmatized. They lack self-esteem. And they use their politics of policing others and rushing us to the altar of normality to divide those of ”you” having “good” sex from people like me having “bad,” “sinful,” “immoral,” “perverse,” what have you “sex.” People who don’t conform challenge their respectability, and judgment comes raining down. If you think that acceptance at the table of marriage is going to open the way for freedom of acts that lie outside the norm, look at what that one blowjob cost Bill Clinton. Gay marriage is, in my (and many others) view, a big trap, a big step backward, a capitulation in the jaws of normalcy. Here’s Warner again:

 

“We live with sexual norms that survive from the Stone Age, including prohibitions against autoeroticism, sodomy, extramarital sex, and (for those who still take the Vatican seriously) birth control. This is a problem with any essentially conservative or traditionalist stance on sexual morality: what we have to conserve is barbaric. What we inherit from the past, in the realm of sex, is the morality of patriarchs and clansmen, souped up with Christian hostility to the flesh (“our vile body,” Saint Paul called it), medieval chastity cults, virgin/w*h*o*r*e complexes, and other detritus of ancient repression. Given these legacies of unequal moralism, nearly every civilized aspect of sexual morality has initially looked deviant, decadent, or sinful, including voluntary marriage, divorce, and nonreproductive sex.”

 

Do we really want to live with that? To "preserve" that? ...because that is what gay marriage represents to many people.

 

According to Warner, queer thought before and after Stonewall was based on a variety of principles. Among those are the following:

 

It called attention to the way that marriage is idealized and mythologized.

 

It recognized the diversity of sexual and intimate relations as worthy of respect and protection.

 

It cultivated unprecedented kinds of commonality, intimacy, and public life.

 

It resisted any attempt to make the norms of straight culture into the standards by which queer life should be measured.

 

It especially resisted the notion that the state should be allowed to accord legitimacy to some kinds of consensual sex but not others, or to confer respectability on some people’s sexuality but not on others.

 

It insisted that much of what was taken to be morality, respectability, or decorum, was, in practice, a way of regulating sexual pleasures and relations.

 

It taught that self-esteem should not be purchased by a disavowal of sex; it must include esteem for one’s sexual relations and pleasures, no matter how despised by others…

 

The list goes on. Warner calls these principles of a queer ethics. I think the argument is pretty compelling. If you’re interested in pursing this, the book is “The Trouble with Normal.” Anyway, I think you might better understand why I and others insist that sexual identity not be allowed to drift free from sexual acts—such a politics paves over diversity with the cobble stones of normality. Everyone suffers.

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Your post was very interesting, but I don't think that pursuing equality is necessarily the same thing as cloaking the gay culture with the norms of the straight culture. Rather, I see it as demanding that straight society stop viewing and responding to the gay culture as ABnormal. We should be allowed to be different and have the same rights as everyone else when it comes to the benefits that living in society confers, such as freedom from discrimination, etc. Why can't there be parallel levels of societies, all of which are accorded the same fundamental rights to exist? I am definitely not advocating abandoning the traits that make gay society gay society, I just want gay men and women to have the freedom to choose what levels of "normality" without the consequence of losing fundamental rights. And, last, I suspect that you and I would agree on more things than disagree and maybe even have some fun so doing!

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I suspect you are right, TB, and I have to say that I am as concerned with equal rights as you are. I suspect we could have a lot of fun together too.

 

My issue is with gay marriage, not with a march toward equality. Gay marriage represents our community asking the government to actively manage our sexual relationships. This is something the gay rights movement traditionally opposed with all its energy. Marriage is a system of permission (you need a license), restriction (all sorts of norms and laws are established), and exclusion (single people aren’t allowed the privileges the state grants to married couples). It is a three-way with the government. And it solidifies social organization into the single/coupled problem—one is either single (and lonely…) or coupled (and happy, or miserable). It excludes everyone who isn't eligible or lucky or wanting it. How, for instance, does it fix the problem that exists in our society for bisexuals? Or intersex? Doesn’t that either/or world feel like a straightjacket to you? There used to be more options. There should be! Marriage creates a caste system within society that I find offensive. It is, I believe, the very opposite of equal or expanding rights.

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