When Are You Going to Make an Honest Man of Me, Bob?

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.

Stonewall activists

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.

Matthew Sini

Matthew Sini is a writer currently based in Melbourne. He has published essays, plays, screenplays and fiction in both Australia and overseas.

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  1. But most LGBT people are from the suburbs. It is selfish to expect them to forward your more leftist views when most want a small-l Liberal movement. The reason for this is because most gays are like most straights, with only a minor distinction in terms of their sexual preference. I am not saying gay culture or the activism of the past should be forgotten, but it should be realised that sexuality is a minor part of one’s identity and that normalisation and societal integration of homosexuality is essential for the multitudes of gay youth who want acceptance in their own community, not yours.

    1. Although marriage and the nuclear family is the primary site of women’s oppression, I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that everyone who is married is miserable, because they are married. However given that marriage contributes to women’s oppression in hetrosexual relationshhips, would this be true for same-sex marriages? Can a woman oppress another woman on the basis of gender in a same-sex marriage?

      Also, I can’t see how you can support a movement for LGBT liberation by denying them rights they might seek, even if the Left doesn’t necessarily see these rights as incredibly progressive. The Left opposes sexism in all spheres, even for women who want to become CEO’s, despite our hostility to coporations.

  2. I’m no big of marriage, particularly, but it still seems to me that any denial of a right needs to be opposed, irrespective of whether you seek to utilise that right. If, say, the army announced that it would no longer black soldiers to fight in Afghanistan, there would rightfully be outrage, even though lots of people (in fact, last time I checked, the majority of the population) don’t think anyone should be fighting in Afghanistan. Shouldn’t the same logic apply here? By denying the right to marriage, they are asserting that gays and lesbians are less entitled , and that has a general impact– even on those who will never darken the door of a registry office.

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