Whatever happened to queer activism? Where once it was aggressively and staunchly for human rights, consciousness-raising and real social reform, it seems now to be dominated by a drive towards the inoffensive and the inconsequential. The contrast of the Stonewall activists (in the most combative sense of the term) – ‘low class’ drag queens, hustlers and transsexuals – to today’s gay activists – harping on about wanting to get married and settle down with kids in the suburbs – is both markedly dissimilar and ultimately inevitable. Doubtless there are some sections of the LGBT community who are not pushing for an ersatz heterosexuality, but that does not seem to be the dominant voice.
I guess there is a certain pragmatism in the gay marriage proponents, but it always seems to me like special pleading. ‘Respectability’, as Mark Simpson calls it, is the dominant strategy. The gay activists of today do not want a radical restructuring of society wherein everyone’s situation is more equitable, they want in on the Hetero Racket, a piece of the action. Who can blame them though?
The expectation that everyone must settle down, get married, produce offspring and assume their role as little cogs in the vast machine is everywhere and is hardly ever challenged. This hue of social engineering is not only problematic for gay people, but for people who don’t want to have children (if population is such a problem, Ms Gillard, how about a ‘No-Baby Bonus’ for people who don’t reproduce?), who don’t want to live with their partner, who would like to have more than one sexual partner, who would like to have more than one intimate partner (polyamory, polygamy, open relationships) and, of course, single people. Being single is always seen as some transitional state to becoming a complete person, an attitude that makes this homo-bachelor roll his eyes. Many of these relationship situations apply to gay people. Indeed, open relationships are quite common with most successful long-term gay male relationships, as has been documented by sociologists such as Christian Kleese. This is one of the ways in which many gay relationships are different (not inferior or superior) to most straight ones.
Obviously the idea of the committed couple is powerful and persuasive, since those who have been oppressed by that very system now want to be incorporated into it.
The gay marriage proponents want to get the Hetero Racket onside. They want in. They want in so very badly, because really, it’s a sweet deal. The social capital, the tax benefits, the respect you get for being married. What other ritual compels loved ones to shower you with praise and material reward for simply beginning (not sustaining) a committed relationship, no matter how unhealthy, immature or ephemeral? Marriage is an automatic cause for celebration. Why? It is not an achievement. It is a racket. It is an institution that historically and in almost every human culture is about securing political, economic and social benefits, and to do this day is about one person ‘owning’ another as if they are property. This person-as-property narrative is still very much alive even in the ‘enlightened’ West. Sure, marriage is now not conventionally about a man owning a woman. Now, a woman owns a man as much as a man owns a woman.
And so, the idea of spouse as chattel still abides. At its heart, the concept of marriage is a warped doctrine of human possession, one that queer activists should challenge and destabilise rather than demand complicity in.