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Posts Tagged ‘queer’

Why I’ll Never Get Married: On DOMA, Assimilation, and Pink Capitalism

In Class Politics, Crip Politics / Disability Politics, GenSex & Queer Politics, Identity Politics, Intersectionality, Racial Politics, The Revolution on June 26, 2013 at 11:59 PM

While many news outlets, mainstream and independent alike, were saturated with updates about the different Supreme Court rulings this week, I made some observations about something that was vastly more intriguing: people’s reactions. In my social terrain within the left-wing spectrum, it was the rulings over civil rights—the right to vote and the right to marry—that garnered the most attention and provoked the most visceral reactions. One day people clogged my inbox and news feed with catastrophic laments over the callous evisceration of voting rights for disenfranchised people of color. The next day were various rainbow-colored displays of elation and relief, with a minor undercurrent of radical critique over the conservative institution of marriage (the latter of which I’m a part of).

Concerning yesterday’s Court case, United States v. Windsor, I find myself ambivalent, and extremely annoyed, with the deradicalized, traditionalist politics it embodies. Enough so that I’ve finally felt it necessary to add my voice to the infuriating cacophony of voices that infiltrate the Web. The notion of marriage has never been a component in my dreams or imagined personal narrative, and felt so distant that I didn’t care to give it more attention than economic inequality and the impacts of disaster capitalism. I’m breaking with this instinct to avoid “equality” talk because I see very little representation of people like me in the cyberscapes.

Enjoy Pink Capitalism

Do you prefer your oppressive, chemical-ridden carbonated sugar-water in black, brown, or pink? The U.S. v. Windsor (2013) ruling certifiably marks an additional step in the mainstreaming of “LGBT.”

For one thing, the “marriage equality” movement centers around an over-decade-long multidimensional debate with a mind-numbing amount of variables and issues, such as the quandary over dominant social norms, the role of the State in arbitrating interpersonal relations, and the constructions of meaning of the most ambiguous of terms used by liberals: “equality,” “justice,” and “liberation.” The numerous debates and critiques over “marriage equality” speak more to the issue than I ever can, though I think it’s important to highlight the Left critique of this historical practice that occupies such an integral part of the amerikkan imaginary landscape. As many queer theorists and activists rightly argue, “equality” and liberation are not identical concepts (although they may overlap). That “equality” has become virtually a trademark of the mainstream gay rights movement is a testament to how well their conformist, capitalist leaders have coopted a term, turned it into a politically saavy, marketable commodity, and repurposed it to mean a rigid form of formal/legalistic equality before the State. If this what “equality’ means, I want no part in it.

As a queer person of color, I simply don’t relate at all to the movement for marriage equality. Listening to and observing people’s reactions that confirm their deep-seated longings and acceptance for marriage, I can’t help but feel ever-more marginalized as the expansive scope of mainstream neoliberalism accepts more of this post-modern petty-bourgeoisie into its yoke. As dominant society accepts more “diversity” (if not the ever-growing legions of poor people) into its strictly-protected borders, I realize that those of us living in the alternative underground will be further invisibilized. Just as post-modernity fractures us within a kaleidoscope of subcultures, hybridities, and identifications, it can also atomize us to the point of colossal despair.

As someone sympathetic to anarcho-communist principles, such as State-less self-governance and the universal democratization of all human relations, I find marriage to be an extremely conservative institution, an oppressive relic of our sexist and colonial Judeo-Christian heritage. I fear that this latest ruling’s expansion of definitional marriage will only perpetuate an oppressive notion that the State has legal authority to sanction (i.e. “bless”) a particular, two-person relationship with exclusive benefits that would not be available to other, variably arranged relationships (e.g. polyamorous relationships, co-habiting non-spousal family members, non-romantic friends). If nothing else, a widespread legalization and proliferation of same-sex marriages would only deepen, and hence further the normalization and acceptability of, its significance in dominant society.

As a single, chronically ill man of color, I also find marriage to be an out-of-reach concept that has no pertinence in my life and would not, in any conceivable circumstance, proffer me any material benefits. It is alienating and disconcerting to see my affluent, white queers embrace this decision with hugs and wine glasses while I struggle through economic insecurity and chronic disease. The celebratory screams of my former classmates and co-workers simply accentuate the ever-present throbbing in my head as well as my disdain for an expansionist pink capitalism. I also need not say more about the rabid heteronormativity and singlism it perpetuates.

Having unleashed all this venom, however, I recognize that there are actually a number of radical leftists who defend the marriage equality movement in some shape or form. And I agree with some of them. There are great, substantive reasons (including some articulated below) to support a movement that can potentially ameliorate the material realities of marginalized individuals, even if it does come in a reformist package. In some of these more critical arguments in defense of legalizing same-sex marriage, the “movement” is defended as a short-term strategy that can uplift people on the road to revolutionary momentum. Although I can’t expound on these arguments, I think the general idea is that legalizing marriage today, within the oppressive western, white imperialist society we’ve inherited, could at least offer much-needed material benefits—such as adopting a partner’s health insurance, saving on expenses and taxes, and possibly gaining legal residency or other state-sanctioned status.  Since I am so disconnected from the very notion of marriage itself (I’ve never had a long-partner), I haven’t devoted much time to extricating the different strands of arguments and can’t make a decision about these arguments with any definitiveness. On the surface, at least, they seem to make sense granted one important condition: that it is done conscientiously, with participants being aware of their complicity in a structure that needs to be radically transformed.

In spite of the negative identity politics associated with marriage equality, I’m hoping, perhaps, that much of those millions of dollars and hours of human energy expended on marriage equality will finally filter into the frontlines of the working poor and add much needed fuel to the fights for humane housing, immigrants’ rights, labor justice, and health care equity. Perhaps.

Here are some articles and cases that DO reflect a good, immediate-term usage of marriage equality:

Colorlines: What DOMA Ruling Means for LGBT Families of Color

Colorlines: DOMA Ruling Clears Path for Binational Couples

Politico: DOMA ruling stops deportation hearing at last minute

Left* arguments around queer liberation and the same-sex marriage movement:

Scot Nakagawa (03.25.13): Why I Support Same-Sex Marriage as a Civil Right, Not as a Strategy to Achieve Structural Change

Tamara K. Nopper (05.19.12): Beyond the Access Narrative: Marriage Politics, Austerity, Surveillance

Kate Bornstein (12.04.09): Open Letter to LGBT Leaders Who Are Pushing Marriage Equality

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (11.02.09): Why Gay Marriage IS the End of the World (or the queer world, at least)

Yasmin (07.06.09): Legalize Gay, Or: So You Think You’re Illegal?

Dean Spade & Crag Willse: I Still Think Marriage is the Wrong Goal


Hear from Dean Spade, Kenyon Farrow and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore in Queer Voices: Beyond The Queer Mainstream – Beyond Gay Marriage and the Mainstream Gay Movement:

Assimilation Not Liberation!

I seek to be free, not another consumerist cog in the white imperialistic power structure.

On Overcoming Writing Paralysis

In Life with Chronic Illness, The Revolution on June 23, 2012 at 1:10 AM

I have quietly mulled over the very idea of blogging for several months, both out of a yearning to express years’ worth of analyzing into words, and to see what could be (nay, definitely is) a public externalization of my thoughts and feelings. Today I find myself trying to overcome a deep-seated, recurrent fear—not of writing per se, since I write e-mails, reports, flyer blurbs and the like on a constant basis—but of public writing, writing that will be scrutinized by eyes I have not seen or could possibly imagine.

           I can probably blame this fear of public writing to internalized oppressions I have been both conscious and unconscious of. I look at my family and examine the families of the people around me, and it is not hard for me to see why I have been quiet and out of the spotlight for so long.

            I am the son Latin American immigrants—my father grew up in Puerto Rico, my mother in Honduras—and I was raised in a multiethnic, working-class neighborhood in Brooklyn. I identify (though this varies according to context) with the following terms: Latin@, working class, queer, cisgender, male, college graduate, and a person with a chronic condition (multiple sclerosis). These are all identity formations that intersect in interesting and complex ways, with some coming to the forefront under changing circumstances (like a changing color light display). While this may be obvious to some, what I consider worthwhile emphasizing is the extent to which I acknowledge the privileges and societal disadvantages that result from these identifications, and that such acknowledgement is always in process, not a given.

          I am also a 24-year old activist and leftist with a passion for critical pedagogy and political education. And while writing has long been a passion of mine, I have had a long-standing non-committal relationship with it since I was in elementary school. I used to love reading and writing poetry, and would spend hours writing to myself, for myself—in my heart, by necessity. It was a way of exercising political expression in a world that struck me as hostile, nefarious, and vindictive. In the pulsing heart of capitalism that is New York City, I didn’t know how else to healthily deal with the daily trauma of dealing with such an individualized, materialistic world other than to write. Yet it is because of the intricacies of oppressive systems that made me feel as if my voice was worth less than others that I feared making my writing public.

           I should note that I have supposedly “made it” in ways that an uncritical mind might view as admirable—that is, because I came from a disenfranchised background, graduating from an Ivy League university and having a full-time job at a reputable non-profit organization, I have done something exceptional or praiseworthy. I would like to deconstruct this notion of “making it” someday soon, but for now, I should say that these supposed accomplishments did not make me feel any more comfortable with publishing my writings or seeing my writing displayed in a large, public forum. Whereas I’ve gone through years of watching my privileged white classmates and co-workers freely articulate their classist, racist, (hetero)sexist thoughts in public, I stayed silent partly because I wanted to process the different arguments being made, partly because I wanted to carefully articulate what I genuinely thought and believed (as opposed to lashing out in emotional outrage, which I now realize is OK), but also partly because I felt people had little interest in what I had to say.

        After years of being told I was “strange,” “pensive,” and overly analytical, I came to accept that people had no interest in me or my opinions. I spoke in a scholarly or “white” way that ostracized me from my black and brown working class peers; but I was too “brash” or “angry” to be taken seriously by my white peers when I made any sort of criticism. I was also not charismatic enough, funny enough, or downright jolly enough to be listened to in classes or meetings. The many years of severe depression and internalized classism had done enough damage to make me shut the fuck up in the face of insidious, self-interest-driven power. It just seemed like a losing battle: there was always something to write me off.

         But things have changed over the past year in ways that I could never have anticipated—as the world was afire in much-needed and long-delayed revolutions, I was dealing with a deterioration of my health and the death of my older brother. I suddenly realized—in a visceral way, and not simply through mere intellectual exercise—that silence is complicity, and that not expressing my viewpoint (which I hardly find represented in the media, in books, or even leftist propaganda) was akin to being complicit in the destruction of my body, my family, and those around me that I care for and love. To be silent about issues like our heinous for-profit healthcare system, to be silent about Israeli apartheid and the bloody violence against Palestinians, to be silent about the militarization of the police state and the imperialist-racist killings of young men of color, was no longer a viable option. In fact, the very notion of silence started to appear as completely absurd. Like the freed prisoner in Plato’s cavern, where everyone took shadows and echoes as the true things in the world, my perspective on what I once passively accepted has radically changed.

          The words of Howard Zinn ring true to me even more so today than ever: our problem is not civil disobedience; it’s civil obedience. To be obedient to a system that was callous and evil enough to allow my brother die in unimaginable agony at the age of 26 seemed like a masochistic exercise at best. To be obedient to a global world order that allows countless human beings to suffer from lack of access to basic goods and services (enabled by enough of us in the global North who were concerned with getting slightly ahead in our own worldly positioning) seemed incredibly wrong.

           And so it is that I overcame my writing paralysis. Rather than say that I had no choice—that I absolutely needed to write to save my soul amid such horrid capitalist destruction—I’d rather think of writing as a proactive choice to fight against social injustices and truly humanize myself. I hope that this serves as only the beginning of a long journey in writing, thinking, scrutinizing, and learning.

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