the wrong reasons for same-sex marriage (or, that’s not the stonewall i knew)

Just a few days ago, I got a notice from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), an American organization that, in their words, “advances equal rights of consenting adults who practice forms of alternative sexual expression. NCSF is primarily focused on the rights of consenting adults in the SM-leather-fetish, swing, and polyamory communities.”

If I understand correctly, they didn’t write this message themselves; it’s forwarded from a group called Join the Impact, which coordinated nationwide protests against the moves made by numerous states in the past couple of weeks to deny same-sex couples access to marriage. I’ve included the full message at the bottom of this post should you be interested, but the paragraph that made my jaw drop is the following:

“We need to show this nation that we are ONE LOUD VOICE THAT DEMANDS TO BE HEARD! We need to be one organized unit. Our gay pride shouldn’t be something we celebrate one month out of the year. Our gratitude towards the ones who came before us shouldn’t be ignored and wasted away with one party after another. We beg to be given a right that requires responsibility and commitment, yet we, as one strong community, have not proven to this nation that we deserve to be taken seriously! The gay pride parade has become a great party, but it has lost the memory of Stonewall and therefore given the nation another reason to cast us aside as irresponsible. It’s time we come together for debate, for public recognition, and for LOVE!”

This floored me for numerous reasons.

The first piece of my beef with this piece isn’t actually about the piece itself. It’s about the fact that, of all things, it was the NCSF that sent it to me. Let me reiterate what those letters stand for: the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. Sexual freedom. This is not an organization that’s dedicated to policing the moral behaviour of its members in the hopes of gaining approval from the government. It is an organization that’s taken on the far more challenging task of telling the government (at many levels) that in fact, having sex – and specifically, having the kinds of sex of which conservative forces are least likely to approve – is a fundamental human right. They lobby in favour of the rights of swingers, of leather and BDSM people, and of polyamorous people. They’re all about explaining to the world that we kinky non-monogamous people are not immoral freaks, child molesters or dangerous deviants… that we’re fine upstanding freaks, we play among adults, and we’re safety-conscious deviants, thank you very much.

Needless to say, to get a “be more respectable to gain public approval” message from such a group really disappointed me. I really, really hope that they just sent it along uncritically because they wanted to get the message out quickly to garner support for same-sex marriage protests, and as a result, they didn’t take the time to read it too carefully.

The NCSF sent out a press release very shortly after forwarding the protest message. I’ve pasted it below as well. In it, they write,

“NCSF supports the freedom of consenting adults to discover and to practice the intimate relationship structure that best meets their emotional and human needs. We champion the basic human right to do so free of governmental, societal or institutional coercion or favoritism.”

I can’t help but hope that this was a strategic move aimed at reassuring people exactly like me who may have reacted with dismay at the contents of the first message while not cutting ties with the larger purpose of supporting same-sex marriage rights. As stated above, the NCSF’s mission is still one I can stand behind (from my somewhat removed position as a Canadian supporter, of course), but I’m crossing my fingers that in the future the NCSF, in its desire to support a good cause, will not betray its own purpose and throw in its lot with conservative gay forces that are deeply sex-negative.

And speaking of that… on to the meat of the thing.

There’s a bizarre twisting of history going on in the Join the Impact message. It feels more than a little laughable to hear the idea of Stonewall being used to chastise gay people for excessive partying. Don’t get me wrong, I totally know that Stonewall was a watershed event in queer history, and that the riots and protests were most definitely not in and of themselves a party. But let’s remember that Stonewall was a bar. That’s right – a bar. A place where people came to build community, form friendships, and work, yes; but it was hardly a boardroom where the executive committee of the local high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance met up to earnestly discuss the annual strategic plan. It was a place of entertainment, of nightlife. Of partying, of prostitution, of drinking and drag performance and sex.

Stonewall was targeted by the police for being a gathering place for queers, and the queers who were the most present and the most central to both that targeting and to the ensuing protests were of course the most outrageous ones – the drag queens, the bulldaggers, the sex workers, and the leatherfolk. The Stonewall riots were a reaction to police harassment and violence committed against the most visible and the most marginal of the queers.

Stonewall was not an endeavour to get the world to approve of same-sex marriage. It was not an attempt to make the world see just how respectable and responsible queers were, or how committed to happily-ever-after we could be. It was not an occasion for queers to proclaim “We pay taxes too!” or “I want in on my domestic partner’s 401K!” It was a retaliation against the people who would have stopped the queers from congregating in bars and bathhouses, from wearing the clothing that suited their gender identities irrespective of their anatomy, from walking the streets in safety.

In the decades that followed Stonewall, Pride parades certainly did change from what they used to look like. But they didn’t just change from being protests to being parties. In the move toward apolitical fun, they also changed their target demographic. (Or perhaps I should say, they developed a target demographic.)

With the growing value that queers seem to have placed on “respectability,” parades began to exclude the very outrageous queers who inspired them in the first place. How many times have we heard of leather people being relegated to the tail end of a parade, or denied access entirely, or decried as being “perverts” that bring down the reputation of all the “normal” queers? How many times have I heard people say “I don’t want to be associated with those freaks! That’s not who I am, they don’t represent me!” How many times have we seen drag queens being accepted because they’re entertaining, but God forbid anyone should want to actually transition from one sex / gender to another – then they don’t belong in our group / on our float / in our organizational mandate? How loudly does the absence of queer sex workers in our parades speak of the rejection they experience as being unsuitable as the public face of our community? It is a bitter irony that the very marginalized groups that stood at Stonewall are the ones that today’s queers are most likely to pooh-pooh and exclude.

And even that’s not enough to satisfy the forces of gay and lesbian conservatism. Every year, as predictably as the seasons change or Madonna comes up with a new look, newspapers around the world print vicious attacks on Pride parades penned by gays themselves – gays who think that Pride is a terrible public relations debacle, a disgusting demonstration of the outrageousness we should be hiding so that we can gain public approval, not shamelessly celebrating.

In addition, Pride parades have become vehicles – sometimes literally – for corporate sponsorship and expensive demonstrations of body fascism in which a small minority of people are considered desirable and others are made fun of and shamed. It seems that conservative forces are trying to kill the spirit of Stonewall from every angle imaginable, some factions working from the inside of Pride to cleanse it of undesirables and sell a happy clean gay image to acquire big-name sponsorship from companies enamoured of the “pink dollar,” and other factions working from the outside to trash Pride entirely.

So the idea that as queers we’re supposed to stop having so much fun already and get down to the serious business of marriage… first of all, let’s recognize that the “fun” in question is a very particular sort of fun that is in many ways reserved for a privileged class of people, and that those people don’t bear much resemblance to the people who were at Stonewall, and in fact the business of marriage is also reserved in many ways for people who aren’t much like Stonewall patrons either. I suspect the people at Stonewall didn’t exactly have wedding bells and joint gift registries on their minds when they were throwing beer bottles and high-heeled shoes at the cops who beat them for wearing the wrong clothes, fucking the wrong people or hanging out at the wrong bar. So enough with the self-serving call to respect our elders. Read some history before you go there.

I also take issue with the self-flagellating tone that the writer uses in chastising the queer community. “We beg to be given a right that requires responsibility and commitment, yet we, as one strong community, have not proven to this nation that we deserve to be taken seriously!”

Really? Let’s take this apart a bit. The first two words – “we beg” – made me cringe from the get-go. Are queers in the States begging for same-sex marriage rights? And if so, why the hell would they take that strategy? Begging implies powerlessness, and queers are anything but powerless. The staggering legal, political and cultural victories that queers have achieved (in both Canada and the States, not to mention elsewhere in the world) in barely a few decades are nothing short of miraculous, and those victories were not won by snivelling and apologizing and begging. They were won by dogged lobbying, creative street-level activism, community-funded and pro-bono-staffed legal challenges, and the loud public shaming of influential individuals who stood against full civil rights for queers. The only places that queers have gained rights by being apologetic have been in staunchly conservative institutions like the Church (and even then, only in its leftiest manifestations) and the military (don’t ask, don’t tell, or in other words, we’ll tolerate you if you keep your icky gayness a secret). Marriage doesn’t have to be a conservative institution, but if you approach it this way, you’re certainly working implicitly to keep it one.

The next bit, “a right that requires responsibility and commitment,” just about made me gag. Marriage requires responsibility and commitment? What planet is this writer from? Marriage requires a license and a few words pronounced by the right authority figure. That’s about it. Maintaining a healthy, happy long-term relationship requires responsibility and commitment, but marriage has nothing to do with that – hundreds of thousands of people do that without marriage, and hundreds of thousands of married people do a terrible job at responsibility and commitment despite having all the right paperwork. When you live in the land that’s home to Las Vegas wedding chapels and two-week celebrity marriages that play out in the tabloids, I find it incredibly hard to swallow that anyone still believes that marriage itself is an institution that requires anything of anybody beyond a signature or two. A relationship is what you make it, and that I can respect. Marriage is just paperwork and benefits.

Moving along… “yet we, as one strong community, have not proven to this nation that we deserve to be taken seriously!”

Tell me, what exactly does the American queer community need to do in order to prove to the United States that they “deserve” to be taken seriously? Let’s see. Serve in public office? Serve in the military? Vote? Spend money on queer businesses? Achieve fame and fortune and celebrity? Raise millions of dollars to fight disease? Win major international prizes? Publish books, perform plays, produce films, make music, make art? Make major scientific discoveries and academic advances? Lay down their lives to save others? Raise children? Start businesses? Check, check, check… well lookie here, I do believe queers have done all that and more. But you say that queers have not yet proven their worth. Okay, so what, pray tell, must queers do to achieve the elusive esteem of the American nation?

Stop partying, apparently. No more parades. No more dance clubs. Apparently our penchant for enjoyable nightlife is enough to disqualify us from suitability for officially recognized domestic partnership.

But would putting the kibbosh on club-hopping suffice? Likely not. I suspect that the real answer is, no more sex. It’s not said explicitly, but the implication is clear. Stop talking about it, stop doing it, and above all stop drawing the world’s attention to the fact that as queers, we like to fuck people of the same sex, or fuck with the definitions of sex and gender entirely. We all know that penises slide into men’s assholes and down men’s throats, and that female mouths suck on clits and female fists enter cunts, and that trans bodies sometimes sport (and play with) genitals and genders for which most of the world doesn’t even have names. We use (or at least talk about) condoms and gloves, and we have threesomes and watch porn and buy erotica, we hold amateur strip nights and we go to bathhouses and we have BDSM conferences and leather contests, and we (not only the trans people) fuck with the world’s sense of what’s gender-appropriate both in bed and out of it.

But perhaps if we cancelled Pride, and boarded up the bathhouses like self-hating Larry Kramer wanted us to twenty years ago (and whaddaya know, they did shut down, and AIDS is still with us), and closed the clubs and boycotted the bookstores and lost the leather contests, perhaps then the American government would respect the queers and be kind and generous enough to let them slink into quiet, respectable, responsible, committed marriages that don’t upset the neighbours and that don’t shatter the illusion of American conservative idealism.

The problem is that if marriage really is supposed to be a civil right that everyone is due, then queers shouldn’t have to “earn” it at all. We shouldn’t have to prove we’re respectable or responsible or committed. It should suffice that we are human. Nobody’s holding the heterosexuals to a gold standard of behaviour before awarding them the right to marry – hell, an entire swingers’ culture, a booming porn industry, the eternal sex trade, rampant divorce and even the Clinton / Lewinsky scandal haven’t been enough to cause anyone to revoke heterosexual marriage rights. So why is this writer trying to convince us that queers somehow need to be shining examples of moral perfection in order to qualify?

Next, the writer states that Pride parades have “given the nation another reason to cast us aside as irresponsible.”

I hate to break it to you, but the nation has not cast gays aside as irresponsible because of Pride parades. It has cast gays aside as all sorts of unsavoury things because of homophobia. As in, the fear and hatred of those who are attracted to people of the same sex. You can respectable-ize yourselves til kingdom come and the American public will still be saturated in homophobia. Taking as much homo out of their sight as humanly possible won’t change that, it’ll just gain privilege for the people who are closest to “normal” as gays can get in the first place and create a whole new era where the marginalized – the ones, by the way, that you’d have met at Stonewall – are abused and mistreated by the respectables. Only now, the respectables will include a few married gay people. The rest of us will still be on the outside, and you, oh respectable gays, will have worked to keep us there. Doubtless you’ll also continue to blame us for the homophobia that remains, because, of course, the marginalized make easy targets. It’s simple to blame the freaks in leather, the gender-benders, the non-monogamous, because it’s a lot harder to look at your fine upstanding homophobic work colleagues and elected officials and family members and friends and say, “Actually, folks, you and your bigotry are the problem.”

So, my American friends, go and hold hands with the homophobic straights (if they’ll take you), and beg for rights that should in fact be demanded, and sing Kumbaya if you must, but don’t cloak your demands in the language of Stonewall. That’s just fucking offensive. Obama didn’t apologize for being black before he got elected as President. The least you could do is follow his example and refuse to apologize for being queer when you ask him, and the government he represents, to respect you and give you the civil rights you deserve.

***

Prop 8 Protest – A Call to the LGBTQ Community, Friends, & Family
Forwarded by NCSF

Join the Impact

Prop 8 Protest – A Call to the LGBTQ Community, Friends, & Family

I’m sure all would agree that with the election of Barack Obama, this week has been one of amazing wins in the world of equality! Still, Tuesday night was one of bitter-sweet celebration, as we came together to witness the first black man who will become our president, and watched in sadness as Florida, Arizona, Arkansas, and California all voted down equal rights for all citizens.

We need to show this nation that we are ONE LOUD VOICE THAT DEMANDS TO BE HEARD! We need to be one organized unit. Our gay pride shouldn’t be something we celebrate one month out of the year. Our gratitude towards the ones who came before us shouldn’t be ignored and wasted away with one party after another. We beg to be given a right that requires responsibility and commitment, yet we, as one strong
community, have not proven to this nation that we deserve to be taken seriously! The gay pride parade has become a great party, but it has lost the memory of Stonewall and therefore given the nation another reason to cast us aside as irresponsible. It’s time we come together for debate, for public recognition, and for LOVE!

Let’s move as one full unit, on the same day, at the same hour, and let’s show the United States of America that we too are UNITED CITIZENS EQAUL IN MIND, BODY, SPIRIT AND DESERVING OF FULL EQUALITY UNDER THE LAW!

On the steps of your City Hall on November 15th at 10:30am PST /1:30pm EST, our community WILL take to the streets and speak out against Proposition 8 and all of the other pro-equality losses that we have faced in our lifetimes, in our parents’ lifetimes, and for many generations before us. WE CAN’T DO THIS ALONE! WE NEED YOUR HELP! We need organizers in every major city to work with us and get out the protest! I know you’re all tired from all of the work you’ve done for this great election year, but I’m
asking for one more push! Let the country hear our voices together. Let them see that we are a strong, adamant, and powerful community that deserves equal rights, and CAN’T BE DEFEATED!

Go to Join the Impact to find the location of your local protest: http://jointheimpact.wetpaint.com/?t=anon

Send this post to everyone! We have one week and must react to the pro-hate votes cast against us! Let’s help our LGBTQ friends, families, neighbors, and each other to IMPACT this country with a demand for our basic human rights! Join the cause, join the voice, and JOIN THE IMPACT!

***

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

National Coalition for Sexual Freedom

Prop 8 protests heard around the country

November 16, 2008 – This week, members of the BDSM-leather-fetish, swing and polyamory communities joined protests in cities all over California against the recent passage of Proposition 8 which outlaws same-sex marriage. In addition, dozens of NCSF board members, staff, volunteers and Coalition Partner representatives attended protests staged nationwide on November 15th by Join the Impact.

NCSF urges community members to go to http://jointheimpact.wetpaint.com to submit your photos and stories about the demonstrations.

“NCSF has close ties and relationships with LGBT organizations and has always supported equal rights for everyone,” says Susan Wright, spokesperson for NCSF. “We support gay marriage not only on behalf of our own LGBT members in our communities, but also because marriage is a fundamental right that shouldn’t be denied to anyone. These protests are an important way to show the world that we stand up for those
rights.”

NCSF supports the freedom of consenting adults to discover and to practice the intimate relationship structure that best meets their emotional and human needs. We champion the basic human right to do so free of governmental, societal or institutional coercion or favoritism.

###

A joint Project of NCSF and ITCR: The Foundation of NCSF

The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom is a national organization committed to creating a political, legal, and social environment in the United States that advances equal rights of consenting adults who practice forms of alternative sexual expression. NCSF is primarily focused on the rights of consenting adults in the SM-leather-fetish, swing, and polyamory communities, who often face discrimination because of their sexual expression.

National Coalition for Sexual Freedom
822 Guilford Avenue, Box 127
Baltimore, MD 21202-3707
917-848-6544
media@ncsfreedom.org
http://www.ncsfreedom.org

7 Responses

  1. I like the concept of normal queers.

  2. Clever. I like the way you think, I like the way you phrase it. I also like the fact that you provide people with arguments against those who would like Pride (and other glbt public demonstrations) to be depleted from its substance and become just another mainstream event–and marriage to become the levelling institution par excellence. As if “passing” was the way to salvation.

  3. Go Andrea! Giving in to the double standards and sniveling are not the way to go…..respect is respect, period. Keep on ranting….though I know you require no encouragement :)

  4. Your post came to mind while reading this from Change.gov:

    “While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It’s about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.” Barack Obama, June 1, 2007

  5. [...] 19, 2008 at 6:40 pm (LGBT, injustice, politics, racism, sex) 1. The wrong reasons for same-sex marriage — on gay conservatism and what Stonewall was really [...]

  6. Hey, thanks, everyone. :) Mish, that’s a great quote.

  7. All I can say is “AMEN.” Frankly, I did not read the forwarded paragraph at first (“We need to show this nation . . .”) until I realized you were breaking it down. I skimmed it, simply because I am so sick of reading the same things over and over when it comes to same-sex marriage. But yes, the conservative G&L crowd laying claim to Stonewall annoys the hell out of me. The “deserving” part of this conversation always bothers me, too. I’ve heard interviews with queer people who want to put equal marriage back on the ballot in California, for example. That will be “really” winning, and winning in the courts will not be proof that most people are behind equality, and therefore it won’t count, somehow . . . . as if having the majority of voters vote that you deserve equal rights is what needs to happen for you to deserve it. As if no one ever heard of the “tyranny of the majority.” Please.

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