No, this is not a coming-out post. Amidst church bells ringing and waving rainbow flags, I would like to address the issue that has made almost everyone gay over the last couple of days (including the White House, the last place you would think of as queer): marriage equality. This is how I started the first chapter of my dissertation which I wrote last year:
With the majority of the American population now endorsing same-sex marriage, it is highly expected that in a few years time, marriage equality will be nationwide.
In a few years time. There is a rather long journey of my involvement in the gay rights movement and I have evolved on the issue, much like President Obama has over the course of his presidency, but in different, if not almost opposite directions. How so? Not long ago, I shed tears of joy and waved all of my spiritual rainbow flags in bliss as I celebrated the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York, in the summer of 2011 while wishing upon a star that I get to see marriage equality in all 50 states during my lifetime. Two questions now come to mind: what makes the gay rights movement the fastest growing social movement in the US and why did I not shed one tear at the news?
A few years ago I argued in favor of same-sex marriage in front of a committee, using arguments from the other civil rights movement, when interracial marriages were illegal. It was a turning point in my life, both personally and academically, which curved itself to yet another turning point (which marked my departure, however temporary, from the academia), when I argued, again in front of a committee, against marriage equality and against a discourse centered on marriage rights. And this brings us to the kernel of my brief political rambling.
What is so sacred about marriage if you have to get married in order to get this and that benefit (specifically health care benefits that are countless)? What is so sacred about marriage if while your partner places a diamond ring on your finger as you recite your heartfelt vows a boy in a dress is harassed and beaten to death mid afternoon in a nearby neighborhood? Where is the sanctity in rejoicing over wedding cakes and rainbow glamor while the abandoned gay son is roaming the streets or while children roam the streets in search for food and shelter? LOVE WINS. LOVE HAS WON. JUSTICE HAS BEEN SERVED. Whose love for whom? Whose justice?
My intention is not to overlook the benefits that many people have gained or will gain in the aftermath of such a colossal Supreme Court decision. I have argued this before, on the aforementioned occasion, and it was deemed too radical: equality does not mean freedom. Equality presupposes a within dimension while freedom has an outside dimension attached to it. It is freedom from that has been largely overlooked in the gay rights movement. Equality and marriage equality entail integration within the current system, however flawed it is; it means agreeing to further a system that is essentially corrupt, unjust, oppressive, a system stained by heteronormativity and sexist, racist, classist, and homophobic remains that powerfully scream in every way they can. Nonetheless they remain muffled by wedding bells.
The gay rights movement has dug its own grave when it turned into the assimilationist inclusive normative conservative movement that it is today. It was started in the streets by black and Latina poor queers in dresses and make-up and undertook by white corporate fellows who happened to be gay and just wanted to fit in. Liberation, where are you? Stonewall, where are you? Harvey, where are you? There is no other way to say it: marriage normalizes. It turns those who don’t wish to get married into freaks, queers, and misfits and it slams the door of health care benefits in their faces. “Today, love triumphed. Equality triumphed. America triumphed.” It’s exactly the kind of political speech that makes you think there is something wrong with this picture here. Yes, America HAS triumphed. Capitalism has triumphed. “LOVE WINS. History has been made and you are part of it. Now would you be so kind as to buy this T-shirt and show your pride? Will you also consider donating in the name of freedom and justice for all?” I rejoice for couples all across America who now have this right, but I cannot help but find it sad that the rainbow flag is now one of the biggest trademarks of (gay) capitalist America which waves in carelessness and refuses to hear the cries of so many outcasts bullied by a system that punishes non-conformity and rewards acceptance of the status-quo. The rainbow flag has been tarnished by assimilationist rhetoric and conservative discourse that damage the movement and the society on the whole. It does not and cannot feed a single-mother’s black child, it does not comfort a friendless transgender teenager, it does not put food on the table of a young unemployed man.
Integration. Assimilation. So here’s what a once revolutionary movement is all about today:
Today, capitalism does not seek to exclude gays and lesbians—instead, it seeks to integrate them into its structure of exploitation as long as they don’t upset the status quo. (From Against Equality, Against Marriage: An Introduction by Yasmin Nair)
To sum up, my main quarrel lies with social movements that seek as an ultimate goal equality and not freedom with a complete disregard for the profound difference between the two concepts. One should not strive for mere equality if there is no universal justice and no universal freedom.