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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

‘PLEASE LET US BE LIKE YOU’ – SAME-SEX MARRIAGE EQUALITY'S FAILURE

Previously, my dissatisfaction around the same-sex marriage equality movement has centered on the fact that this movement mostly validates wealthy white queer people.

And that is still true.

A larger part of my unease rests in the fact that same-sex marriage equality does not solve for the copious layers of injustice that still weigh queer folks of color down every single day.

And that is also still true.

But moreover, as I really reflect on this movement, it has just seemed to be a profound effort of energy in such a narrow direction. So much money, protests, body power, and organization—all in the effort of participating in the same institution as straight people. An institution, by the way, which itself fails nearly half of the people who engage with it. Same-sex marriage equality should not have been the crowning LGBTQ victory of our time, and sadly, on its own terms, it still could have been about so much more.

While I honor and recognize the queer folks who aspire to marriage, my fear is that those marriages will remain circumscribed within the vast anti-LGBTQ attitudes that still permeate this country. Those attitudes still exist not just because they are inevitable, but because I doubt that marriage equality has truly or meaningfully made most folks in this country fundamentally reevaluate their notions of love, family, gender, or sexual orientation. This movement did not show us gregarious and righteous drag queens, self-loving trans folks, or resilient poor queer folks of color trying to love each other. Nor did it showcase their struggles for acceptance within their families, the challenges of being queer and finding love with one another. Instead, it was an emotional appeal to dominant norms. We were inundated with (mostly white) depictions of cisgender, visually unthreatening, lovers who quite simply wanted to get married. The message: we are no different than you; we just want our picket fences, our two children and a dog just like you. Please let us be just like you!

But quite frankly, queer folks in many ways are quite different from cisgender straight folks, and any movement centered around us should not be about grinding us into similarities, but rather teaching us to function as a country with profound difference. Problematically, we live in a country where “normalcy,” “sameness,” and “equal treatment under the law,” often get conflated. Our kids are told, “treat no one differently because we are all the same.” When what we should be saying is, “we are all vastly different, embrace difference, and you need to be able to sacrifice your comfort for another’s difference.” That notion needs to be further contextualized via states and institutions. As a matter of policy and politics, it doesn’t make sense to treat everyone the same. For instance, it doesn’t make sense to expect a double amputee to be able to make it to work via the same mechanisms as an able-bodied person. A pregnant woman should have different provisions for work during her pregnancy. Someone born economically disenfranchised should have different institutional supports to help them afford college as opposed to someone born wealthy. As a society that prides itself on embracing difference, these are the things we must do. In the same way that a parent understands that their children have different needs, so should we understand that our multi-faceted society with beautifully different people should be treated with humane and equitable social and institutional difference.

This is fundamentally where the marriage equality movement falls short for me. It was politically framed not as a radical reconstruction of love, but rather as an effort toward normalcy. It was a needed movement yes, because all people should be allowed basic equal rights. But I fear that part of what made the movement so palpable to all was that it did not bring a great challenge to notions of family, sexuality, and love. Sure let the gays get married, seems to be the consensus. But some of the same people who don’t mind “gay marriage,” will be the same people who will shame their sons and daughters the next day when they find a text to someone of the same gender. These will be same the same people who will smile and say, “they should be able to get married under the law,” but still believe that queer folks are hellbound. These will be the people who will say, “you’re gay and I love it because you still act like a man.” (Whatever the hell that means.) In the same way that someone can claim that they are not a racist, and yet clutch their purse when they see a black man approaching them, I fear that people will claim they are not “homophobic,” but in function and form will still be quite different.

Nevertheless, a victory is a victory, and progress is progress; however small. But we have so much more to do. If the country is serious about this marriage equality thing, we will need it to push it to honor its commitment. Is it prepared to make provisions for the homophobic churches that will inevitably deny folks marriage? Is it prepared to support the poor queer folks who cannot afford to get married? Are their healthcare workers and counselors equipped to negotiate the challenges of queer families? The questions abound.


This movement could have been an opportunity for a real conversation and dialogue about love. But it was not, and quite frankly that probably led to its success. This is no one’s “fault,” of course, but if we are really in the fight for “love,” than now is the time to ask better questions, be better listeners, and make better demands. I do not want the marriage equality movement to be another hollow victory of America, where antagonistic attitudes and true suffering gets wrapped up in pretty legislation. Marriage equality is here, so let’s continue to do the work to make sure it actually means something.

SOURCE: MUSED MAG

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