I've been mulling this over since I got on QANTAS Flight 93, Melbourne to Los Angeles, on February 5. I had been in Melbourne for four days, mostly to attend and to present a paper at a conference
commemorating the 40th anniversary of the publication of Dennis Altman's groundbreaking book, Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation. My paper, "Gay Liberation and Identity Politics: The Case of California," discussed how liberation quickly gave way to identity politics in the fight against the Briggs Amendment (1978) which would have made it illegal for gay men and lesbians to work in public schools, and it has stayed there through the fight over Prop 8. I used my wedding announcement instead of wedding pictures to illustrate the five months in 2008 when marriage was legal in California.
I presented on Friday. By the end of Saturday, I had become convinced that my marriage was the target of a LOT of scholars (we forget how truly radical Australian and British radicalism is) who were attacking the emphasis on marriage equality. There were other things we needed to work on, they said, and, beside, supporting something as heteronormative as marriage was perhaps a denial of the promise of gay liberation. I knew how bad it was when an American lesbian Jewish activist of some renown asked one of the keynote speakers whether marriage equality was going to create a (necessarily subordinate and inferior) class of Lesbian spinsters, to which said keynote speaker made an appeal to the audience to be kinder to those of us in the audience who were indeed married.
And then I remembered. During the 1970s, the most radical gay liberationists theorized that long-term relationships between gay men were hetero-imitative, assimilationist, and not liberating at all. The last paper I heard at the conference was given by Conrad Ryan, who runs a website called Against Equality, which states
As queer thinkers, writers and artists, we are committed to dislodging the centrality of equality rhetoric and challenging the demand for inclusion in the institution of marriage, the US military, and the prison industrial complex via hate crimes legislation.So has anything changed? Follow me below the great orange squiggle to see my attempt to claim radicalism in the face of this onslaught. Angry? You bet I'm angry.
We tend to forget exactly how much of the gay liberation movement that Stonewall sparked was based on the ideas of radical feminism, but we don't even have to go that far back. Here's a comment from Rodney Croome of the Drum, a news program on the Australian Broadcast Network, from March 2011:
People like Dennis Altman and Helen Razer have recently dismissed the idea of same-sex marriages. They think gay people are too sexually creative to be constrained by marriage, and believe "there's nothing truly progressive" (to use Razer's words) about allowing same-sex couples to marry.There you have a perfect example of Commonwealth radicalism. The opening session of the conference was a conversation between Dennis Altman, Jeffrey Weeks and Alice Echols moderated by Ms Razer, in which all three of the participants announced "I have a ring, but we're not married [not legal in Australia, not legal in Great Britain, not legal anymore in California]." Fine.
I doubt they'd say this about the struggle of Australian Aborigines or African Americans to marry the person of their choice.
Those struggles were obviously progressive because they were struggles against inequality, prejudice and the kind of stereotypes that say members of minorities are too infantile to make important life decisions for themselves. The struggle for same-sex marriage is the same struggle.
The mistake made by people like Altman and Razer is they believe marriage is more conservatising than it really is and same-sex partners are more radical than they really are.
Where does hetero-imitative come in? Trust me on this. Sometimes the internets can't come up with the material you want them to come up with, but during the 1970s there was a strain in gay liberation, taken from radical feminism, that long-term relationships between men were hetero-imitative and a drag on personal freedom. If you don't want to take my word for it, ask any gay man over 60 (it was about the all-about-sex-all-the-time thing). Anyhow, that was then, so I was surprised to see this come roaring back in the form of heteronormativity and the idea that anything heteronormative was a conservative departure from the ideals of gay liberation.
So now we have the Against Equality Collective. I'm not sure I want to dignify it by going on at length, because I've come to the conclusion that it's a concern troll site. I'll just link to the marriage page. Marvel at all the articles the collective has cobbled together. Note that many of them are undated. I was really dismayed when Ryan said he had an article by John D'Emilio, so I looked, and of COURSE D'Emilio was in despair over the prospects of marriage equality in 2006 -- who wasn't (then, you could get married in Massachusetts, and Schwarzenegger had vetoed the legislature's attempt to create marriage equality)? By 2010, when I had a long conversation with Professor D'Emilio at the American Historical Association convention as we waited for a panel on same-sex marriage and the law (this was the week before the Perry v Schwarzenegger trial started) he was a lot more positive about the effort for marriage equality. That doesn't matter to Against Equality.
Well, enough. I think my marriage is a nice slap in the face to Maggie Gallagher and her minions, and if some radical theorists want to tell me I'm being heteronormative, !@#% them.
10:42 AM PT: Updated to fix the factual error regarding 2006.
10:47 AM PT: and the one involving 2008
3:51 PM PT: Thanks, Milk Men and Women, for the republish, and thanks, Community Spotlight -- twice in two days!