by Guest Contributor Alex Niculescu
Over the last few years mainstream gay advocacy groups have focused their efforts on one issue, a panacea to seemingly solve all forms of inequality that gays are faced with: marriage rights.
With the passage of Proposition 8 this summer in California, many people’s hopes that gays would achieve full equality in this country were dashed. What was even more distressing, however, was the wave of racist backlash against people of color in California, who were accused of being the cause of Prop 8’s passage (this is a completely unfounded claim, as studies have shown). When I look at the actions of HRC, GLAAD, and other mainstream gay advocacy groups from the past years, they make me sad to call myself queer. In particular, their perpetual focus on marriage rights as the most pressing issue facing queers, the only obstacle blocking the road to full equality, is an awfully myopic and misguided claim. To assume that marriage is the main issue all queers should be organizing around automatically constructs an essentialized version of a gay person, when the very existence of queer people should enough to contradict and confront any attempts to standardize our lives.
As anarchists say that “our dreams won’t fit in your ballot boxes,” queer bodies and experiences are too, well, queer, to fit in the state’s centuries-old definition of marriage. For queers to appeal for marriage is to desire assimilation into a heteronormative conception of sexuality, gender, and relationships, things which the government should have no business regulating or legislating in the first place. What scares me even more about assimilation is that it compels us to ignore the structures of power and interaction of power dynamics in this country. Supporting marriage is supporting a means of institutional oppression. Historically, marriage was never rooted in religion, but rather it was a way for the state to regulate the transfer of property from a womyn’s family to her husband. This effectively bound the wife into a slaveholding document – she too became part and parcel of the man’s life possessions. Consider the language that we use to describe when a womyn weds – Mrs. is a possessive form of Mr. For queers to appeal to an institution that has historically oppressed womyn (as well as non-whites – through miscegenation laws and the inability of slaves to exercise the so-called ‘human’ right of marriage, because, of course, it would humanize them in the face of their oppressors) baffles me.
We have seen these calls for assimilation as a route to acceptance before and it always ends up with the same results. Assimilation pretends to seize power for an entire identity group by imitating the dominant group. Instead, it simply reconfigures the structures of power in society and redistributes privilege in a way which capitalism, patriarchy, or any other dominant ideology can accommodate. In this instance, wealthy, white, monogamous gay couples who agree with the gender binary stand to benefit, which leaves out the majority of queers everywhere.
In fact, the “struggle” for assimilation, through marriage campaigns, actively silences every other queer who is not a member of this elite, privileged gay vanguard (as they have so positioned themselves), but who is enmeshed in the intersectionality of oppressions we are faced with everyday. As Audre Lorde once said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Where does a black lesbian womyn fit in the gay marriage campaign? An FTM trans immigrant from Latin America? A genderqueer working-class sex-worker from the rural Midwest?
Assimilation into state-sanctioned heteronormative and patriarchal institutions such as marriage and the military is not an option – why would we want “equality” in a state that denies those equalities to other citizens based on race, class, gender (identity), nationality, religious affiliation, or anything that allows our bodies and lives to be marked as “deviant?” Lacking marriage rights aren’t the problem – marriage, and any form of institutional oppression, is!
Mainstream gay activism is based on an outdated notion of change which is polite and gradual, a change which holds the door for the power-holders who will proceed to walk all over it, a change which actually reinforces the existing power structures it pretends to oppose. As a radical queer, I see myself as part of a larger struggle for equality, but not the state’s liberal definition of equality which hinges on white supremacist notions of individual rights and self-determination. I work for radical equality through collective liberation from all oppression. Where was the HRC in July 2007 when Victoria Aurellano, the inmate of an ICE detention center and an immigrant transwoman, died of AIDS, shackled to her bed after being denied medical treatment? Was it a gay rights issue? An immigrant rights issue? Or was it an issue of a legal system which reinforces white supremacy and patriarchy at all costs?
In our public struggle, dividing our bodies, choices and lives into neat categories of LGBT makes it that much easier for capitalism to slowly accommodate some by extending privileges, while continuing to invent new ways to marginalize others, all the while marketing to every new compartmentalized niche identity. The time has come to realize how queer liberation is, always has been, and must continue to be bound with the liberation of all oppressed peoples everywhere. No matter if you are a white lesbian or a Filipino MTF transperson, an injury to one is an injury to all, and to effectively achieve victory, we must constantly remind our aggressors of this, our promise of solidarity.
There was a time when queers didn’t ask for change, they made it happen. A time of militant, organized queer resistance to state power, when truly fierce trannies, dykes, fags, drag queens, and all other gender traitors battled cops in the streets instead of asking nicely. A time of White Night Riots, Stonewall, Sylvia Rivera, and the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. I believe that time is due for a comeback. We are beginning to look beyond the superficial, the figureheads, and take a peek at the privilege that keeps them in place. Even still, we can see that the dummy power-holders are not the ultimate problem, rather it is the coercive power bestowed upon them which perpetuates the systems of structural oppression, and it is this power we must seize and abolish.