Last night, in an attempt to finish all the books I've begun by the end of the year, I finished this thing called Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage. One essay was quite outstanding, a couple were good, many made some good points, and some were so fucking obnoxious that I not only want to kill the book by slow, painful, controlled fire, but also rip it into shreds and hear it scream, then throw it from a mountaintop into a raging river, only to have it reincarnate just so I can kill it over again, about six times, in various Medieval and Inquisitional fashions.
I hardly know where to begin on this one. Let's start with the title. I admit that I'm quite baffled by the fact that I am less anti-assimilation that I am, but, well, I am. I don't think that being equal, or wanting to be equal, is a bad thing overall. This doesn't mean that I am going to be the same as my sisters, or they the same as each other. I can't make jewelry to save my life, for example. This doesn't make us unequal, unless we both enter a jewelry contest; it makes us different. In terms of laws, however, we both have the right not to be raped. This is simplistic, I realize. But as a lesbian who has never been particularly interested in getting married (until it became a big deal and I was told "no you can't"), and someone who jumped on the super-left/anarchist bandwagon of Against Equality before thinking it through more fully, and as someone who doesn't have much faith in our laws, and who understands intellectually (because I am white and therefore privileged) that equality doesn't really exist, I don't understand why someone would fight against having the same protections and rights, no matter how flawed, as other people.
One of the arguments in the book that I actually agree with is that organizations that focus on gay marriage (or repealing don't ask, don't tell, which is another story because I find that focus horrendous) do so often to the exclusion of much more equalizing (ha, that word again!) campaigns: for example, most of the essayists write, marriage is often used as a way for one person to be entitled to healthcare through union with their covered partner. What that obviously ignores, of course, is that many, if not most, Americans have no healthcare coverage to begin with. Should the focus not, then, be on universal healthcare instead? (And by "universal" I suspect they mean just in the US, because I'm not sure people on Jupiter need our kind of health care.) Because there are also plenty of gay people who are single. The gay marriage movement is also quite steeped in fantasies of the American Dream, and focused on home-marriage-children as equating to one's worth. It is a very white, upper-class movement. Many authors in the book call it a "middle class" movement, but there is little middle class left, so I'm not sure I agree with that. Kenyon Farrow's essay Is Gay Marriage Anti-Black??? is incredibly thought-provoking. Unlike most of the essayists compiled in this book, Farrow doesn't come across as patronizing, and his questions seem meant to provoke discussion and consideration, particularly by white people who might not have considered race in their talk of gay marriage, or in terms of our own privilege.
I agree that too many people focus on gay marriage as a panacea; I also agree, as some point out in the book, that this focus takes away valuable resources from really critically important programs such as those for queer youth, particularly those who run away from home and are shunned by their communities; gay centers/programs, including HIV care/outreach/support and education could certainly stand to have the kind of money HRC, for example, spends on the ceaseless gay marriage campaigns. This kind of money could help more people, and include those who don't fit the conventional Euro-American concept of male/female and even gay/straight. I get it that one's worth should not be based on whether they fall into easily-defined categories (though I admit to a lot of personal frustration in understanding some of the ways this is expressed).
So yes, some very good points are made in this book.
BUT... the tone. OMG, the tone! First question: who the hell is your audience? By snarking and insulting plain old lesbians and gay men ("gaysbians" -- I wanted to smash my foot in someone's face for reading that term; it was so contemptuous), the writers are not going to encourage us to keep reading and looking at your point of view. Mattilda Sycamore Bernstein, Hilary Goldberg, Yasmin Nair and Gina Carducci are particularly good at that in the last chapter. It may be that the tone is the most offputting part of the whole book.
Soo, how best to snark this book? ;) Why, you may ask, do you want to torture it so before putting it to rest? Hasn't it forced you to think? Well, yes, it has. But it pissed me off so much as well. Here's a quote from the introduction by Yasmin Nair: "...if a teen is unhappy or commits suicide because he/she is gay and cannot bear to live in a homophobic world, or because he/she is relentlessly taunted by peers for looking/acting gay, surely the problem, the very great problem, lies in the shocking cruelty of a world that will not tolerate any deviation from the norm." That's really apt, I think. I agree with this completely. But what Nair does and many of the authors do in their essays is throw out baby with the bathwater. If you can't get to perfection now, then any steps you take toward getting there are worthless and pointless. Not only that, but these steps are eligible for ridicule.
Many of the authors are way left of center, and are concerned with issues above and beyond gay stuff (or queer stuff), such as immigration and sweatshop labor. Many of these authors don't seem to grasp that just because something isn't important for them that they could still be important to someone else. I find myself agreeing with the implied sentiment: smash the state, don't conform to it. And yet, come on! If smashing the state were that easy, it would have been done by now. Many of the authors seem shocked that, gasp!! gay people and other queers are -- GASP! Be shocked now, JUST PEOPLE. And in America, that means many gay and queer people are -- get ready for it-- Americans!! I don't know about you, but I find that absolutely shocking. I mean, when you look at the state of the country today, at the financial disparities, the laws that are repealing rights to protest and speak your mind, or, if you're a woman, to control your own body (which is more complicated of course if you're a transwoman), then I don't know why the fuck these authors think that being gay or queer makes you a better person than the average grasping, consuming, me-me-me American. That you will understand or agree with leftist, state-smashing mentalities.
I find it offensive, actually, the call for creating all-queer communities, because it implies that all queers are the same, with the same mentality, the same wishes, and I have never fit with any community. I realize that for some people this is probably the result of horrible past experiences; I know I am lucky that the few family members I speak to have not actually shunned me or wished me dead for being gay. Oh, but the book? The book, you ask? Sorry... yeah, well, probably the stupidest argument in the book is that to destroy the prison industrial complex we need to stop sending people to jail.
Granted, I understand that the prison industrial complex IS a business, and that young black men are the most-frequently jailed, often even when innocent they will be killed (Troy Davis, for example). I am not saying that there are no problems with jail. But to call for an end to prisons in hope of rehabilitating people and giving them a chance to heal -- are you fucking serious? First, we can hope that the US follows Iceland and jails all the bankers. Not that I see that happening, but without jails, how could we even do that? ;) Second, some people are bad shit. No kidding. Some people are violent, beyond rehabilitation. Would we try to rehabilitate Charles Manson? Ted Bundy, if he were still alive? How about we release the KKK skinheads that are violent sex offenders into your neighborhood; don't worry, they'll be rehabilitated! Because everyone deserves a chance. Oh also, we should stop legislating hate crimes.
I am in no way saying don't reform jails; I am saying maybe not everything is so black and white as some of these authors paint it.
And for all their insistence on working for other social justice issues, only one mentions, in passing, animals (not animal rights) and only "clean air" is mentioned on the very last page of the book. Well, the Earth is spinning toward a rapid demise, so it seems to me a connection between the environment, which is much deeper than "clean air," is a hugely pressing issue. And it's not queer or gay or straight issue.
I have spent way too much time on this book. End result: interesting premise with some potentially good arguments overridden by snark, meanness, and an unwillingness to recognize that leftists are a very small percentage of the population and that until we get to a good place, a really fair place, we may actually need to take steps. Unless there's total revolution and upheaval, and the way I've seen leftists (me included) unable to get along with anybody else, this isn't going to happen. Dialogue is critical and many points in this book are good and worth listening to/reading. But you don't find dialogue with people you offend. I don't know about anyone else, but I've been an animal rights activist for years; I am so exhausted by fighting and screaming and yelling. I'm not saying I don't do it. I sure did last night after I finished this book.
Also, this book does not address older gays and lesbians; first of all, the font is so small my almost-70-year-old mom, who is probably more tolerant than I am in things like this, who is also a lesbian, would have a hard time reading it; and second, only two essays concede, briefly, that for some older couples who experienced a different kind of repression, where out and proud, of whatever kind of pride, wasn't too often shouted from the rooftops, marriage might actually be a worthwhile and meaningful thing.