Comment Rescue: What, if anything, is Wrong with the Theory of Heteronormativity?

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161 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    Wow that is one hell of comment. Not to long at all indeed.

    When people first explored many of the harsh Arctic regions of the world they often suffered and died. Many were haunted by the scars of isolation and hunger and fear if they survived. Often they were never the same after their explorations since they left a piece of themselves on the ice. In the same way pioneers in freeing oppressed groups were battered and scarred. They can’t move on to see that the lands they once so painfully explored are now suburban with Internet, flat screens and expensive coffee.Report

  2. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    I like this essay.

    And, of course, I should point out that it’s coming from much the same place as that old The Onion article about “gay rights parade sets back gay acceptance by another ten years” or whatever.Report

  3. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    First in my experience with it I’ve always gotten the impression that in the word “heteronormative” queer studies profs were seeking to forge a linguistic blade that they intended to wield on behalf of non-heterosexuals everywhere much in the manner that the word racist was used (and overused and now days apparently used to death) by the heirs of the great racial civil rights activists or the way sexist was used by feminists

    I have to admit, this part bothers me. There’s a bit of a difference between heteronormativity and the way say critical race or gender theory are used.

    Part of it, I think might be that the vast majority of heteronormativity advocates tend to be older white males, so they expect to have a normative definition applied to them and are resentful of when things are different.Report

  4. Avatar Nat C. says:

    “Third, pragmatically, is the simple fact that queer studies implies that homosexuals are somehow uniquely different from heterosexuals when all personal experience (and the progress made socially in the civilized west generally) suggests that instead homosexuals and heterosexuals are very much alike.”

    I think that the idea of inherent difference began as a minority strain within queer studies, but it has subsequently consumed much of the oxygen in academic discourse. It’s not the only topic, but it has become the prominent topic, in particular because it is where non-academics are most likely to interact with academics. LGBTQI commentators, playwrights, novelists, etc. have liberally appropriated the discourse because it matches their profound unease over the trajectory of change that LGBTQI people have experienced in the past ten years. Put simply, what once seemed a distant dream is now achievable through the courts and even through the legislature. A profound shift in popular discourse has also occurred.

    But if you are an individual who is intellectually, emotionally, or even financially invested in a narrative that emphasizes life on the margins, then rights advancements will be viewed negatively. I am actually skeptical of a genuine desire to tear down society; I think there are a number of commentators who prefer the edginess of the periphery, and would like others to share their desire for it. There is a certain nostalgia for the way things were – it’s not hard to find commentators lamenting the decline of cruising and bathhouses, let alone gay bars and gay neighbourhoods.

    Ultimately, most people fear change, even when the change is for the better. Marginalization imbued many (though not most) LGBTQI people with a particular sense of identity that is now in the process of fragmentation and reformation.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Nat C. says:

      That’s really apt Nat C. Triumph is victory but even triumph involves change and changing is a kind of dying. You can totally feel the wistfulness that suffuses the culture when we talk about the end of old gay refuges. Sully’s “End of Gay Culture” bits for instance are redolent with them and I can very much understand the regret. The refuges were prisons or ghettos of a sort but they were infinitely better than what preceded them (nothing). Shipwreck survivors retain a certain attachment to the beaches and reefs they washed up on even though those strands of sand and gravel pale in comparison to the comforts of a house.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Nat C. says:

      Marginalization imbued many (though not most) LGBTQI people with a particular sense of identity that is now in the process of fragmentation and reformation.

      I think that’s very insightful.Report

  5. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    As with feminism and the black consciousness movement and even the abolitionist struggle which came long before any of them, there always seems to be a phase where a New Normal is critiqued into existence, much as Michelangelo said of sculpture, that he freed it from the surrounding stone.

    If gay is the New Normal, well gosh, how long can it go on being New? I mean, really, it was never that abnormal, whatever the bigots had to say about it. So now that pride parades feature people in uniform, it’s just like all the other parades down Main Street. How long will we even have pride parades, for all that? I mean, I hope we do, for a variety of reasons, beyond Mardi Gras down South, there’s not much revelry up North any more and we could use more up here. Far too much solemnity and Lutheranism around here to suit me.

    What this country needs is a big dose of Weird and Wonderful these days. All this normalcy is just depressing. I remember telling people, back when Queen was on the charts, “oh, you know, Freddy Mercury’s gay” and people wouldn’t believe me. Elton John, either. But for those of us who took considerable pride in being in the know and bolted into what was happening, feminism and black consciousness and later gay rights, we liked being out in front, befriending these folks coming out of the shadows of prejudice. Were we just condescending to these Newly Normal folk? We didn’t think so at the time. Sexism was real enough, racism too and no that phrase was not used to death. When sexism and racism became firing offences, that’s when it all stopped and not a minute before.

    Eventually, the New Normal stops being new and just became normal.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I can never express adequate gratitude to the generations of gays and their allies (like you BP) that preceded me. If the road I walk is smooth it is because it’s paved from the efforts and ashes of those who came before me. Thank you.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to North says:

        I second North’s comment. And yours too, Blaise, to the extent that my life overlaps with yours, anyway.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          There’s so much to regret about how things went down back then. I’ve always been haunted by the story of Ryan White, a boy who died of AIDS. The outpouring of sympathy for that innocent boy was the turning point in American’s view of AIDS. All around me my gay friends were dying. I remember being deeply angry as America wept over this boy and had not wept over those frightened, dying men who had been my friends.

          Then Elton John befriended Ryan White. I’m quite sure that’s when the bigotry snapped.

          I’m going to make an old-guy noise here. About half of my old gay friends are dead now. Have some sympathy for the older gay men, they’d be in their late 50s and 60s and 70s now, I suppose. They took terrible casualties in their ranks, all the while fighting a struggle for equality we now take for granted. Yes, there comes a point where the New Normal stops being new and yes, we shouldn’t continue to dwell on the past, after all that was the whole point of the struggle.

          But from what I’ve seen, this battle is still half-fought. Look at Washington DC, still taking terrible casualties. AIDS is decimating the black gay male population and the intravenous drug abuser community.

          And here I’m going to make a callous and seemingly racist statement: there is no Normal for those people. The black and hispanic communities remain as bigoted as ever towards the LGBT community. Those of us who marched for equality back when they needed and deserved acceptance and integration into a wider world did not fight so the beneficiaries of that hard work could become bigots themselves. I call upon the gay community to reach out to their minority brethren, I’m too old to do it any more and I’m not sure I’d make much difference even if I could. But you could and I believe you ought to reach out to them.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to BlaiseP says:

      En fuego, Blaise. Well put.Report

  6. Avatar sonmi451 says:

    “Look dudes, I know you were hurt and it sucks and we’re sorry for you but we won’t fight this war; we’d rather play Nintendo, get married. make home brew, complain about our boyfriends and cats and do all the other millions of things everybody does when they’re free to do what they want.”

    Yup, that is not condescending AT ALL.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to sonmi451 says:

      sonmi sighting!Report

    • Avatar North in reply to sonmi451 says:

      Of course it’s condescending Sonmi; I’m not sure it’s possible to not be condescending when telling your elders you reject the path they’ve chosen for you. The generals of Nam fulminated when they looked at those young protestors marching in the streets “those is condescending arrogant hippies!” but the facts were on the side of the youth. It’s especially bad for the older gay survivors. Many of them are scarred from their own youth, they have trouble accepting being out, they have trouble loving themselves and they have trouble forming relationships (to say nothing of how they watched their friends and loved ones die en masse in the great plague). They deserve gratitude and respect but not obedience. The war they call for needn’t be fought; it’s neither written nor compelled.Report

  7. Great comment, North.

    I don’t really know too terribly much about the theories that undergird heteronormativity. One of the mixed blessings of my particular experience in higher education is that it was intensely focused on medicine, so I missed a lot of cultural studies mumbo jumbo. However, I do wonder if maybe there’s a little bit of a baby/bathwater situation going on here?

    I think there may be some value in stepping away from societal expectations around gender and gender roles and asking if there isn’t at least some potential or propensity for oppression hidden therein. (I think there’s a lot of overlap with sexism in this question.) Is there room for guys who behave in less traditionally masculine ways? Women who eschew the trappings of femininity? If I don’t want to live a life that mirrors the more traditional family structure, is that OK and accepted? (This is a totally academic question for me. I spent Pride Weekend last month mowing the lawn, folding laundry, and watching NickJr with my kid.)

    I think the notion of utterly rejecting the social mores of the past is horrifying, and I’m actually pretty conservative in many of my answers to these questions. I don’t think there’s anything wrong at all with traditional models of masculinity and femininity, and there are millions of people who happily inhabit them. But for the ones who really just can’t, I think making sure society gives them the space for their own happiness is important.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

      I agree with much of what you said here, but want to emphasize this point:
      “I don’t think there’s anything wrong at all with traditional models of masculinity and femininity, and there are millions of people who happily inhabit them. But for the ones who really just can’t, I think making sure society gives them the space for their own happiness is important.”

      Beautiful.Report

    • Thanks Doc.
      I’m all for people having room to be who they are and wish to be whether that is in conformity with norms or not. So in that you and I and heteronormative theory disciples are in agreement. Our way though would be to eliminate any laws or rules that actively stifle or prevent such non-typical behavior. The heteronormative theory would be to change the rules so that typical behavior was discouraged.

      My own experience: one of my Profs in university taught a gender studies class and was a great advocate of fighting against heteronormativity. His personal crusade: eliminating gender segregated bathrooms because having a mens room and a womens room was heteronormative. When he explained this to the class I could almost hear the sound of every woman in the country jumping off the bus. For some reason the idea of having men watch them pee to strike against traditional gender roles didn’t appeal to them. Can’t figure why.Report

      • Avatar Rod in reply to North says:

        Heh. I’ve been married to the same woman for almost 30 years and she still doesn’t like for me to be in the bathroom when she’s peeing. My eight-year old doesn’t have much problem with it. But then she’s eight.Report

      • Avatar NoPublic in reply to North says:

        His personal crusade: eliminating gender segregated bathrooms because having a mens room and a womens room was heteronormative. When he explained this to the class I could almost hear the sound of every woman in the country jumping off the bus. For some reason the idea of having men watch them pee to strike against traditional gender roles didn’t appeal to them. Can’t figure why.

        Cultural norms. Duh.
        There are plenty of places where unisex bathrooms have been the norm for a long time. And nobody watches anyone pee, there are stalls with doors (and sometimes even sinks behind the doors so the only “mixing” is in the little ante-chamber outside the stalls which has primping mirrors and shelving in it). Really, designing unisex facilities is a pretty trivial task, though it does require a little more square footage since urinals are space cheap and stalls less so.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to North says:

        “The heteronormative theory would be to change the rules so that typical behavior was discouraged.”

        I just saw this now. If this truly is representative of mainstream heteronormative theory, than I agree either entirely or nearly entirely with your aversion to it.Report

    • Avatar Nat C in reply to Russell Saunders says:

      “Is there room for guys who behave in less traditionally masculine ways? Women who eschew the trappings of femininity? If I don’t want to live a life that mirrors the more traditional family structure, is that OK and accepted? ”

      I think the answer may still be out on this within mainstream society. Hopefully the answer is ‘yes’, but historically, group seeking integration have a habit of marginalizing or casting off the elements that might slow their integration. There have been critiques about marriage equality, not just from queer studies acolytes, but also from transgendered activists, many who are looking for the same kind of integration as most gays and lesbians, who now feel themselves marginalized as their rights advancements have not matched the gay rights movement.

      Ultimately, the room for alternatives also depends on how larger society views the traditional family structure 50 or 100 years from now.Report

  8. Avatar Kazzy says:

    First, thank you for taking the time to respond. I appreciate the thoughtful and thorough response.

    I have never participated in “queer studies” of any kind. I’ve attended workshops and lectures by folks who have, which is where I first encountered the term, though it was used primarily in passing. Otherwise, I’ve only come across it a handful of times, and never in a shrieky way or “wielded” in the ways described here. Which is not to deny that has happened… Onlu a brief context in my understanding of it. Based on the context in which I’ve heard it used and the actual construction of the word, I’ve come to understand it as “the ways in which we normalize heterosexuality and otherize homosexuality”. Furthermore, I use it exclusively in realms that are actually impacted by sexual orientation, so tearing down all social structures seems a bit overreaching.

    In case you don’t know, I’m a teacher and I am specifically tasked with “diversity and inclusion”, which is not language I love but it is what it is right now. When I think of “heteronormativity” in the context of my work, I think of forms that say “Mother” and “Father” when they could just as easily say “Parent” in both spots. I think of teachers referring to “Mommies and Daddies” when they could just as easily say “Parents” or “Grown-ups”. I think of libraries that only have books featuring heterosexual relationships or toys that always come paired with males and females or dances that require or strongly suggest that dates only be of opposite gender. I think of how often these things are done without even thinking of their impact.

    In discussing these, I tend not to use the term heteronormativity because A) most folks never heard it and B) it sounds scary. It sounds as if there exists a certain stigma around it which might further preclude me.

    Would you say what I’ve described here qualifies as hereronormativity? Would you take issue with steps taken to address the “problems” I’ve offered?

    Generally speaking, I tend not to subscribe to dogmas. I don’t view myself as an anti-heternormatavist. I do believe there are steps I can take to make the spheres I operate within work equitable and just, which includes the ways in which we treat LGBTQ folks.

    Thoughts?Report

    • I’m obviously not going to speak for North, Kazzy, and I’m sure he will have his own eloquent response to your question. But here’s my take.

      When the Better Half and I decided to adopt, implicit in that decision was the ability to accept the circumstances surrounding our wish to be parents. We would be adopting as same-gender parents within the context of an overwhelmingly heterosexual society, and there was naught to do but accept that reality. Indeed, we have no alternative to propose nor any desire to see society completely changed to fit the particular needs of our family.

      This means accepting that almost all of the children our son will know will be the product of opposite-gender parenting, whether or not the parents stay together. Almost all of his friends and peers will have mommies and daddies. It serves absolutely no purpose to try pretending this is not so, or insisting that this simple truth be denied or ignored. What does it serve to demand a world of make-believe to shield our son from a pretty benign reality? So it doesn’t bother me when there are frequent reference to mommies and daddies, as mommies and daddies are plentiful.

      What I want is for the library to include books about families like mine (we have several we could donate). I want the picture of our family to be displayed with the same prominence as other pictures. I want any questions the children might ask to be welcomed and answered in a respectful, age-appropriate way. I want to sit at the same picnic table as everyone else.

      My hope is not for a “this, not that” approach, which would pretend there’s no such thing as mommies and daddies, or brides and grooms. They exist, and it is contingent on me as a gay man and parent to understand the real world. But I want a place there, too, and I want it to be given as much value as everyone else’s.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Do you consider your stated position here to be time-specific? If you learned that gay parents 50 or 100 years in the future felt the same way, would you have a problem with that?Report

        • Sorry. Just saw this question. No, since I think it’s a safe bet that same-gender parents will always be vastly outnumbered by opposite-gender ones, I imagine we’ll always need to accept heterosexual norms as the default. Kinda like how Jewish kids just learn the Christmas carols and don’t make a big deal out of it.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Kazzy says:

      It seems that there are maybe 2 aspects to heteronormativity talk. There is the more scary stuff that North doesnt like and then there is the prt where gay people continue to be othered in many different ways by society. The latter can still be seen as problematic without us necessarily wanting to get rid of “normal” family structures.

      But also, the queer studies guys have a point. There are various ways in which we assume that things are the way they are because they cannot be any other way or that they ought to be that way when neither is necessarily the case. Whereas I don’t really get bothered when our informal social institutions facilitate and are built around such assumptions, itis problematic when the state does so so either out of ignorance (e.g. pro-natalist policies which benefit only heterosexual families) or out of wanting to impose some particular conception of the good on society (e.g. that marriage is only between 1 man and 1 woman etc)Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Murali says:

        Yes.

        People who have met me know that I don’t “seem” gay. I am usually assumed to be straight and constantly have to out myself to new people.

        This isn’t really a problem, of course, and I’m not complaining about it. But the assumption that everyone is straight is real, and it’s not going away anytime soon. (Largely, mind you, because that’s a very reasonable guess.) Heteronormativity is always going to be around, and it’s unreasonable to pretend otherwise.

        Another aspect of heteronormativity is the way in which everyone expresses so much surprise when someone assumed to be straight turns out to be at least a little bit bisexual — perhaps a later-in-life relationship with someone of the same sex, or an attraction that isn’t 100% heterosexual.

        A world without heternormativity wouldn’t find that transgressive. In such a world, it would be accepted that anyone might conceivably find a person of any gender attractive, and this would not be a shock or a surprise when it happened. It would just be one more part of the many varieties of human experience.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          Expanding on that, heteronormativity seems predicated on a world of binaries, both for gender and for sexual orientation.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kazzy says:

            Yes. That’s the part of the heteronormativity critique that is both correct as an observation and I think probably correct as a suggestion for improvement in our culture.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

          But it is important to emphasize that the assumptions that undergird what we call heteronormativity are sound and not fundamentally based on animus. Non-heterosexuals make up somewhere between 2 and 10 percent of the entire population; the brutal math is that if you’re talking to a person who gives no indication of their orientation the math says that hetersexuality is the most probable assumption and that assumption the correct one the overwhelming majority of the time.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to North says:

            But it is one thing to say, “Oh,” upon learning someone you thought was gay and quite another to say, “You!? Gay!? But you’re so so so… NOT gay!”Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kazzy says:

              I get the second one all the time. I don’t really care either way, but it’s hard not to notice.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Odd I don’t. Maybe it’s my rainbow brony t-shirt.Report

              • It depends a lot on context.

                In my office, when I make offhand reference to being a parent or some other aspect of my family life, most people frame their responses around the assumption that I have a wife. In those situations, I tend to fix them with a stony glare and reply “Husband, if you please” as icily as possible.

                In social settings, people are less likely to make that mistake, which I attribute to having Tallulah Bankhead as my model for how to dress, speak and act.

                This is why it’s nice that I can edit my own comments. The above is a joke. I’m totally kidding. I would never actually react that way in reality.Report

              • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Russell Saunders says:

                Why Iciness? Does it just reflect your actual displeasure at their assumption? Or is it an intentional affect?

                I, contrarily, tend to be chipper and almost apologetic about such corrections (“oh, no. Boyfriend, actually.”) Which equal parts my actual attitude, me trying to be a positive example gay person, and the general expectation of interactions between me as a retail peon and my customers.Report

              • Whoops. I guess it’s not clear that the comment was entirely ironic. I’m totally kidding.

                In real life, when people ask about my wife, I usually just smile and say “husband, actually” and then we continue on with our conversation. It’s a complete non-issue, as far as I can tell.Report

              • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Alan Scott says:

                I just assumed that it was part of the cruel, imperious tone you presumably take as a doctor. Familiarity breeds contempt, and all that.

                But seriously, sorry. Been up since last night, and the irony meter’s getting a bit slow.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Alan Scott says:

                Fwiw, I totally missed the irony at first read (and missed the correction). (But I also didn’t know who Tallulah Bankhead was w/o the googles)Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Russell Saunders says:

                Hi Russell, seeing that you yourself call it a ‘mistake’, what purpose is served by the icy/stony tone rather than an affable/bemused one to convey the same info/correction? To make yourself feel better, or them feel worse, because you feel you have been insulted?

                Given that (as I understand it) gay people comprise about 10% of the population, the people that make this mistake *would* have been correct about 90% of the time. They are ‘B’ students. It’s to my mind an understandable (if unfortunate) mistake.

                It’s your life/practice, but you normally come across here as pretty kind and willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, so it just seems strange.

                Maybe I just don’t get it because of heteronormativity. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

                AND I see you just corrected that. Never Mind.Report

              • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to North says:

                My boyfriend has one of those shirts. I’m ambivalent about the show but I’m a fan of him in the shirt.

                That said, pretty much all of the bronies I know besides him are straight, so presuming one’s sexuality from their love of rainbow dash isn’t much better than the “Wait, YOU’RE gay?!”Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Alan Scott says:

                I .. you.. he… straights… shut up!

                Also my favorite pony is Big Macintosh, the rainbows are incidental.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                FWIW, I sometimes get an opposite reaction… “YOU?! STRAIGHT!?” Thi is largely due to my job. If I’m feeling feisty, I tell them I’m happy to reconsider if they’re interested.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

                In college I had a girl tell me that she and some of her friends had initially thought I was probably gay because I could dance, and I spoke well, and my clothes matched. (She sort of – gestured, indicating the dancing & clothes – while she said this).

                It was pretty disheartening.

                Not due to any homophobia on my part, but I wanted to think I was on these girls’ radar at least, you know?Report

              • Avatar dexter in reply to Glyph says:

                Glyph, You were on those girls radar. Most of the females I know like to dance without worring about getting hit on. My wife is the prime example of this. Very early in our relation she told me that if we weren’t dancing, she would dance with anyone who wasn’t obviously drunk or a jerk.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to dexter says:

                No doubt, but I have gotten the same reaction many times over the years. I also have a slight sibilance in my speech which I wonder if people read as the stereotypical swishy-lispy thing. And I don’t really care about sports at all, while I am interested in art, music etc.

                All these stereotypes often converge to get us polite, well-spoken, relatively clean-cut guys pegged as ‘gay’.

                Still, it worked out fine in the end. Maybe it was unwittingly a good Trojan horse for me. 🙂

                Re-reading this, I realize that anyone who wants to mine this comment for puns and innuendo would do well to focus on the words ‘pegged’ and ‘Trojan’.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Kazzy says:

              Yes but that’s not exactly heteronormative so much as being a bit rude. It’s also a phenomena that is dwindling rapidly: as more people make gay social contacts more and more people are shedding the old assumptions of what constutes gay. I hope that at some point the exclamation you described is as odd as it’d be if you took off your hat and I exclaimed “Oh! You? A blond? But you’re so so not blond!”Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to North says:

                “Yes but that’s not exactly heteronormative so much as being a bit rude.”

                Isn’t that in part because of efforts to end heteronormativity?

                A broader question… Are all efforts to end homophobia/secure fair rights and treatments/allow gays to pursue their own happiness (H/T Russell) by definition combatting heteronormativity?Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Kazzy says:

                I don’t know, it’d depend on how you definte heteronormativity. Broadly I suppose you could say so but under the more narrow affirmative definition it’d not be and instead break down into two categories:
                Seeking to overturn all established social gender conventions – Combating heteronormativity
                Joining into established social gender conventions- reinforcing heteromormativity.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to North says:

                I suppose that was sort of my point… How we define all this matters. It seems as if your negative experiences with heteronormativity make you inclined to dismiss the more radical elements of it while accepting the more palatable or outright liadable elements as not really a part of heteronormative theory but instead “inclusiveness” or “tact” or “acceptance”. This isn’t a criticism, mind you. I’m just trying to make sense of your feelings. Is this accurate?

                FWIW, I’d dismiss the more radical elements myself. Tearing down all social conventions is a HORRIBLE idea. But I think the broader theory is useful to bring attention to the ways we do norm societ w/r/t gender and sexual orientation. This all overlaps with (or may be a subset of) various privileges.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Kazzy says:

                It depends on what you feel is central to heteronormativity. By dismissing it as so many gays did (any many of them hadn’t even heard of the theory when they dismissed it) I and they have forced the theory to evolve into the more constructive, non-coercive, non-strident form that you experience.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Was heteronormativity originally championed by gays? Or by allies?

                I tend to think that there are “stages” that movements have to go through, one of which is often radical and turmultuous and possibly counterproductive, but which is important to the movement honing its identity and focus. Is it possible that heternormativity is the “terrible twos” or perhaps “adolescence” of the broader gay rights movement?Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Kazzy says:

                Wiki says Michael Warner who is gay (and Canadian!) popularized the term in 1991. Your interpretation is entirely possible.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                Cool. Thanks again for indulging my inquiry and didn’t read it as a poke in the eye, as I had feared was possible. This was illuminating!Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Kazzy says:

      Hi Kazzy, first off thanks for teaching. My parents both taught and if nothing else watching their experience growing up endowed me with an intense understanding of the terrific (and unfair) pressure and conflict that the profession lays on the shoulders of teachers.

      Yeah it’s important to keep in mind that your (and very much my) experience with Queer Studies and the theory of heteronormativity are both in passing and incomplete. If I’d been writing my comment with an eye to gracing the front page I really would have considered trying to pen a paragraph about the ways that heteronormative theory is useful or helpful or right. What is happening here is I’ve mostly encountered its more militant and strident wing and you’ve mostly seen it’s more empathic and inclusive one.

      I’m going to echo Russell here in saying that there’s a certain oversensitivity that comes with the alarmism that surrounds the idea of using “parents” instead of “mom & dad” and the various euphemisms that come with it. It is possible that I’m both too much of a cynic and too disinclined to be a parent to have the necessary empathy but I really get the feeling that children are hyper coddled in a manner that isn’t healthy for them in some areas today. My own take is that kids are resilient bouncy critters and don’t traumatize quite as easily as people seem to put on. I just don’t think that the benefit of this policing of language at schools in the name of weeding out heteronormativity matches the cost. That said I’m all for including “And Tango makes three” in the library. I would point out; however, that what you’re experiencing is more of an adaptation by heternormativity to the new realities of the world it inhabits. When the subject of gay pairing, adopting and child raising first came up in the mid 90’s it was attacked furiously from the right by the moral crusaders as an attempt to usurp family values from straights and from the left by the heternormative crusaders for attempting to impose family values on the gays. The old heteronormatives

      In general I don’t think I’d take very much issue with what you’ve outlined. I don’t know if I think it’s productive but I would say that at the worst it’s harmless and at best it might be helpful.

      There are also some definite areas where I think Queer Studies and theories of heteronormativity have genuine salience and value. The more esoteric of our LGBTQ, particularly transsexuality and people who struggle with fundamental gender identity problems strike me as subjects that could benefit from more study and understanding. In exploring how people with these identities/issues can best be helped to be happy and accepted both by society and by themselves I think there’s genuine space for Queer Studies and theories of heternormativity to do good in the world.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to North says:

        North and Russell-

        I should make clear that none of what I’ve outlined do I believe should be mandated. Most of it is simply how I choose to operate my classroom. Part of the reason I chose “grown ups” as my preferred term had nothing to do with same sex parents, as I initially arrived at it working with kids who had primary caregivers who were not parents, mommoies, or daddies… But instead were nannies or grandparents. That it also includes gay parents was a happy accident.

        I also think about presentation. If my school quietly changed all forms to “parent” instead of “mother and father”, most straight parents wouldn’t even notice and even fewer would be bothered. If we threw a parade and declared the former forms to be tools of a homophobic devil… There’d be considerable and justifiable outrage. I advocate the latter. LGBTQ folks should not be included or made to feel comfortable at the expense of others, except insofar as folks might be uncomfortable with their mere presence or accommodation. I would not make mommy or daddy a verboten word or chastise someone for using it; if I know a child has a mommy or daddy, I’ll use those terms. If I don’t know, I’ll default to grown-ups. I often ask the child who do they live with rather than who is their mommy/daddy to avoid awkwardness if they are raised by someone other than mommy/daddy (I shoukd add North that I work with young children…PreK age).

        My hunch is that we are in much more agreement than disagreement. As stated, I generally don’t use the term nor subscribe to a specific theory, and instead simply try to be cognizant of the messages I’m sending.

        One thing I think to be mindful of is what we mean by “normal”. If we mean “common”, then, yes, heterosexuality is normal and denying that is to deny reality. If we mean “right”, well, I reject that. And the extent to whicb people assume something being common means it is right… I reject that to.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Kazzy says:

          Kazzy, what you’re talking about here sounds like perfectly laudible inclusiveness and I’m all for it.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

          Why I say “parents”, exhibit A:

          Kazzy: Dismissal is when Mommies and Daddies come to take kids home.
          Four-year-old: My nanny takes me home.
          K: Oh. Well, that too.
          FYO: No! You said Mommies and Daddies!
          K: Well, I meant nannies, too.
          FYO: But you didn’t say that!
          K: I meant it. I’m sorry.
          FYO: [hysterical bawling] I’M NEVER GOING HOME!!!

          There is a practical component as well… 4-year-olds are dangerously literal. Sort of like some Supreme Court justices.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Kazzy says:

            My hair turned white just imagining being in this room. I’d be all like “okay Kids I know you’re upset so why don’t you all just have a sippy cup of brandy on North and then enjoy your nappies while I escape out the faculty bathroom window.”Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kazzy says:

            The only recourse in such circumstances is to tell the most outrageous lies until the credulity of even the FYO is strained. Hey, it worked with my kids. It’s called the Calvin’s Dad Praxis.Report

          • Avatar Boegiboe in reply to Kazzy says:

            We have some friends at our church who are lesbians (I’ll say “Mary” and “Kate”) raising a 4-yr-old boy (“Thomas”). He gets along very well with our daughter, Alice. One day about a year ago, Mary was in the church nursery with me and we were both helping with the little ones. One young boy was crying and Mary was trying to calm him. He started screaming “I want my Mommy!” over and over, and Mary says “Yes I know, we all want our mommies sometimes.” Thomas piped up quite clearly and said “But Mommy, Alice has two daddies!”

            I didn’t notice this in all the confusion, but later Mary apologized profusely by e-mail, saying she didn’t know how she could be so thoughtless as to say that right in front of Alice. I replied in a very friendly way, with something like: You made a mistake, you apologized, it’s forgiven. No worries at all. I didn’t even notice because the boy was so upset; the important thing was to give him what he needed. But it’s also important to recognize how Thomas is already starting to catch your mistakes and help you fix them. Alice is doing that for us, too.

            Toddlers are dangerously literal, but they can also be helpfully literal, too. And people in same-sex couples are not immune to heteronormativity.Report

  9. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I often wonder if anyone else can see gays being pretty serious conservatives in about a decade from now. All of the social norms that straights now take with a very large grain of salt, if not outright reject, the gays I know embrace enthusiastically. I could see the community easily reviving cultural traditions that they value uniquely. You can see this with other groups that went from being marginalized to being strong traditionalists. To be blunt, if I was a Republican politician, I’d be courting the gay community based on their support for traditional values, but of course it’s been just the opposite.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Rufus F. says:

      The Andrew Sullivan Caucus? (could make such a crude joke on the pronunciation of caucus…but I won’t…)

      Or maybe they should start a party with the symbol being a bear…Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Rufus F. says:

      This is why the Log Cabin Republicans make perfect sense to me.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Rufus F. says:

      Any exaples spring to mind Rufus? Certainly gays can be economically very conservative. For a double income couple with no kids and two full time jobs a low tax conservative economic world would be their oyster. It’s a testament to the potential for a conservative gay constituency that people like GOProud and Log Cabin Republicans even exist (though I was consumed with pity seeing them in their mornful loney booths at the Pride festival. I’ve seen beaten wives with more self esteem).Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to North says:

        Well, the problem is most of my examples are people I know personally, so it would be like, “You know Paul and Gary? They’re really conservative.” But what I’ve seen in our circles are gay couples that pretty easily come to embrace most of the traditional norms and values. They just happen to be gay. I would definitely say that I meet a lot more gays who embrace the traditional status quo than want to smash it here. Their ideas about family and community and government and even religion are much more supportive/traditional than combative. Actually, most of them I know are pretty devout Christians- and more than among the straights I know.

        I guess the main example for me would be marriage. I’m amazed at how many young heterosexuals I know who are cynical about marriage. I have friends who tell me they plan on being married for about five to ten years in their thirties, but they just assume it won’t last. Meanwhile, the gays I know talk about marriage like they’re from my grandparents’ generation. If anything, I think letting them marry strengthens the institution- it’s a friggin relief for me to know other people who really believe in the institution.

        Of course, it’s been the law here for seven years now and it’s so not an issue outside of maybe Alberta. The difference you have here is also that the Conservatives really haven’t made homosexuality an issue in the same way. Lots of politicians attend the pride parades from all of the parties. In Toronto, it was a big controversy that the Mayor skipped the parade! The public thinks he might be a homophobe. I can’t imagine something like that in the states.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Rufus F. says:

          Note that the typical gay person isn’t very political. That’s because the typical person isn’t very political.

          The gay people you meet in politics and policy are a lot like the straight people you meet in politics and policy — they are way, way more political than the average. That’s why they do what they do (alternatively, that’s a consequence of what they do).

          People who aren’t exceptionally political won’t have well-considered positions that lie outside of the mainstream. They just won’t. In this, they differ from every single person who regularly appears at this blog.Report

          • Right- well that’s sort what I mean about Canadian politics- the parties here haven’t really invested at all in fighting about the issue, which most of them treat as outside the realm of politics. Hell, most Canadians don’t think it’s their business if other people are gay or straight. So I think it’s much less of an issue what politics gays have here.

            It’s a good point you make about most people being not very political. I’ve started to think that the thing everyone complains about the general public not being sufficiently informed about every issue of the day probably indicates a higher level of common sense on their part than mine!Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Rufus F. says:

          Ah yes, I sometimes forget you’re living in Canada. I’ll be visiting NS in September *fistbump*. I’m going to attend the Heritage Blueberry festival; I’m gonna buy TWO tickets and I’m gonna eat german food and wild blueberry grunt until my husband has to drag me home in a wheelbarrow!!!

          Ahem, where was I? Oh yeah, look I’m with you here. One of my major points and one of the big reasons why militant queer theory fails is because gay people are primarily just people. As BlaiseP notes right below the gay part really is incidental. If conservatives were not so religiously frothy about gays there’d be a very large chunk of the gay community in the conservative movement. Low taxes, small government, fearing muslim fundamentalists, exporting americanism? I know gay people who’d totally be on board that. A small number of them are beaten wives/log cabin republicans but most’ve them listen to Santorum and pull the blue lever every year.Report

          • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to North says:

            I think identity politics really works against Republicans for this reason- most people invest in their society and come to peace with it more as they get older. Have you ever spent time with middle aged Hispanics? They’re very socially conservative, not to mention economically conservative, like most people after a certain age (usually, once they’re paying their own bills!). The Republicans should be courting them too, but they’re really not. I think there’s a sort of small-c conservatism that is so natural for human experience + a certain level of age-related wisdom that the party could easily win a lot more votes if they just abandoned a few hobbyhorses.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Rufus F. says:

              Republicans think they’re courting these people, by being pro-family, pro-religion, and so on. But they struggle to realize the extent to which their anti-immigration resonates as being anti those people’s families.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                Or the way their embrace of the least attractive facets of Christianity (biblical literalism, exclusivity, rejection of secular learning, etc.) hurts them with non- Christians, in particular Jews.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Heh. Watch ’em, these Famly Valyous folks, as they shuck ‘n jive and try to pretend they didn’t say the same thing about divorced people and blacks and everyone else they hated back in the day.

                I’m old enough to remember when divorced people were shoved out of the church. These days, without the divorced people and single mothers and all those folks, the churches would be empty today.

                And may I add in passing, Judaism has a long ways to go reconciling itself to the LGBT community. They’re usually no better than the Muslims in this particular regard. Just saying.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Orthodox Jews, you mean? Reform rabbis have been performing same-sex marriages for,literally, decades. Israel doesn’t allow same-sex marriage (even though a majority of Israelis favor it), but it recognizes foreign same-sex marriages, which puts it ahead of the US.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Well, yeah, exactly. Israel has caved on this issue, time and again. As long as the Bearded Wonders continue to define Judaism the problem will continue. And the caving just goes on and on: the recent Tal Law furore as a case in point. These grizzled old bigots need to be sent back to the shtetls in Poland.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                It’s the big weakness of a parliamentary system: one-issue parties that are needed to form a majority get what they want.

                You are aware there are no more shtetls in Poland, and why.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                I’d go around Poland and examine the doorposts of those old houses, looking for the holes where the mezuzot had been pulled out. Evict the residents: it’s proof they’re living in a stolen house and install a big old clan of haredim, fresh off the plane from Israel. Face it, the haredim are getting all cuddlesome with Israel’s enemies anyway, the most repulsive and undemocratic cult figures imaginable.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Israel and her haredim are a tender subject for sure and I’m right there with you that the balance between that state and her unique religious fundamentalists needs rejiggering.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                I won’t argue about the haredrim. But calling full recognition of foreign same-sex marriages and very complete domestic partner rights for unmarried same-sex couples “no better than the Muslims” (who often reward same-sex activities with imprisonment and execution) seems off.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                The haredim have become a law unto themselves. They’re a closed society and they deal with their own, completely beyond the reach of civil authority. To’ebah is a strange word, it’s translated as “abomination” but that’s not really what it means. It’s a culturally unacceptable act. Here it is, in context.

                Israel isn’t as bad as, say, Saudi Arabia. That’s only because the haredim aren’t in charge. That’s the only difference. While they continue to goober up Israeli politics, all the while loudly condemning the State of Israel, I have every reason to believe the haredim would be every bit as merciless as the Wahhabi of KSA.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                I wish I could say you’re wrong about the haredim Blaise but seeing their behavior in areas where they can throw their weight around I can’t honestly say so.

                That said, with respect, Israel is still despite Bibi’s best efforts not made up of right wingers and haredim and I think Mike’s unambigously correct that as a practical matter the Israeli state is a far better actor vis a vis homosexuals than pretty much any arab or islamic state that springs to my mind.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Israel would be a much worse place if a group of wackos that form a small minority were in charge? Fine. Where isn’t that true?Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Rufus F. says:

              I had a black friend once say, “If only Republicans knew we were hard on crime, anti-drug, religous, tend to be anti-gay, favor traditional gender norms, embrace patriarcal family structures…”Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Rufus F. says:

      In a sense, that the LGBT community has sprouted a great host of conservative weeds scratches a terribly perverse itch and pleases me no end. It validates everything I’ve come to believe about sexual orientation and the individual.Report

  10. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Colorado Springs had its “Pridefest” last weekend… a few years back, we took some of our friends to it (these are the friends who have said to me “Jaybird, you are the most conservative person I know willingly”, to give you an example of where they are on the spectrum).

    We walked through, saw the art, saw the spectacle, got chicken skewers from the local Thai booth… and, afterwards, our friends were giggling as we ate dinner. What?, I asked.

    “That was the most demure Pridefest we’ve ever seen.”

    “Hey!”, I stabbed my index finger into the table. “Our gays have jobs.”

    Apparently, this was not the perfect thing to say… but, in years past, when I’ve been given lectures on being more open-minded, it tends to gravitate on how I need to not see homosexuality as a 1:1 kinda thing to heterosexuality. My inclination is to say “it’s just like any two people falling in love… it’s a lonely world, more power to them” and when I encounter anything that doesn’t fit that model, I say something like “this is where I’m supposed to say ‘your kink is okay’?” and then I find out that, no, that’s the wrong thing to say too.

    From what I understand: the multiplicity of the human whatever means that there are going to be tons of people who just don’t fit into boring vanilla homosexuality the way that there are tons who just don’t fit into boring vanilla heterosexuality. And, I guess this is the point, it shouldn’t be expected to nor looked down upon because it’s not easily slipped into this or that mirror image category.

    Personally, I think it’d be a lot easier if everybody ran with the “hey, we’re completely non-threatening and just as easily categorized as you categorize yourself!” thing until we hit a new normal.Report

  11. Avatar hazemyth says:

    The overwhelming sentiment here, expressed in the original posts and numerous comments, seems to be ‘I don’t really know much about Queer Theory but I know I don’t like it.’ If you can’t see what’s problematic about that position, I certainly can’t explain it.

    Despite the author’s presumptions, ‘heteronormativity’ is not simply a term forged by culture warriors with ‘which all traditional social structures would be torn down’. North’s portrait of needlessly contrarian queer intellectual elites seems to me about as nuanced as a Rush Limbaugh tirade against ‘feminazis’.

    I’m glad that North benefits from the fruits of the last half century of the gay rights movement and enjoys the privilege of getting on with a normal life, without the daily injustices that have faced (and continue to face) so many LGBT persons. However, there’s little that’s more spoiled and petulant than such a person demeaning the struggles of those that have not (and do not) enjoy such privilege.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to hazemyth says:

      Feel free to elaborate on what you think Queer Theory is. If we could have the counterpoints of an actual Queer Theorist that’d be a fine thing indeed and I strongly urge you to submit them either in a comment or a guest post.

      I do not and have not demeaned the struggle of anyone who faced or faces persecution for being gay. I would add (with a little snark hat on) that I seriously doubt that anyone who’s in a position where they’re immersed in Queer Theory faces any persecution what so ever since, as far as my limited experience goes, the only place where Queer Theory operates is in the rarified hothouses of academia.Report

      • Avatar hazemyth in reply to North says:

        If you admit that your experience is limited then why do you insist on drawing such condescending generalizations from it?

        Like Limbaugh, you are taking a term that you (by your own admission) do not fully understand, associating it with the shrillest voices to ever utter it, and forming a blanket condemnation thereby. This is unavoidably demeaning to all those serious scholars and social workers who struggle for Gay Rights and utilize and advocate Queer Theory in meaningful, useful ways and whom you, in your ignorance, neither acknowledge nor deign to notice.

        If you like, you can come visit me in New York, and I can show you around the youth shelters and outreach centers where my friends and peers, steeped in Queer Theory, work hands-on with at-risk youth that have been forced from their homes, from their schools, trans-youth that don’t have the easy avenues to the cushy normative life that you (and I) enjoy, HIV+ patients and sex workers whose daily lives are a struggle. No rarified hothouse, this.

        Or you could meet my friend, a Gay Rights advocate and Queer Theorist working for the United Nations, legally exiled from his home in Egypt for his (in your eyes apparently pointless) academic work and facing a lifetime of (and possibly death from) serious medical conditions owing to the physical torture he endured while in prison there.

        It’s great that you enjoy a life sheltered from such concerns. But don’t mistake your sheltered experience for dispositive knowledge on the purported non-existence or non-importance of the struggle for gay rights. Don’t treat the betterment of your life as a pretext for dismissing that which bettered it.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to hazemyth says:

          But all of this is specious. You can work in shelters for homeless gay youth (and deplore the American social conservative attitudes that cost them their homes) without knowing a jot about Queer Theory. You can do the same for struggling for gay equality under the law or for working with HIV positive poor people or collegues who’d been exiled from Egypt by antediluvian religious nuts. You have not yet established anything about what Queer Theory is or why it is necessary or (especially risibly) how it supposedly can claim credit for the improvement of the lot in life of gay people when, as I noted in my initial post, much of the progress that has occurred did so in direct opposition to the positions of Queer Theorists.

          I’m delighted that you seem to be closely involved and familiar with Queer Theory. Again I invite you to write a post or comment discussing, in as much detail you like, what it is, how I’ve mischaracterized it and how you view it effecting the world in general and gay life in North America in particular.Report

      • Avatar hazemyth in reply to North says:

        As for a discussion on what defines Queer Theory… As you acknowledge there is an entire academic discipline oriented around this, with all the arguing viewpoints and conflicting notions that entails. Go to the library and get a book and read up on it. Or, if you disdain such intellectual endeavors, don’t.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to hazemyth says:

          Now here, my dear fellow, you’re essentially playing into the very characterization that you say I have misplaced on queer theorists. Rather than argue something with something you’ve rather huffily said you can’t be bothered which is quite disappointing since at this point you’ve demoted your entire contribution in this conversation to essentially a bit of spleen venting. You cannot fight something with nothing if you want to change minds.Report

          • Avatar hazemyth in reply to North says:

            When I say read a book, I am serious, though I do say it with ire. As I said, there libraries worth of material on this. You’ve offered a response to Queer Theory that does not quote, paraphrase or cite any of the actual theory that it purports to critique. I can’t engage you on this subject until you engage the subject in the first place.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to hazemyth says:

              Sure you can, very easily. You can say what you have experienced Queer Theory to be. You can explain briefly or in depth how you support your assertion that Queer Theory can claim credit for the charity and struggle that revolves around gay rights. You can refute or explain my assertion that the Queer Theory left opposed the gay marriage movement as heteronormative. There’s lots of stuff you could do but you’re not and I’m puzzled by that.

              Blanket admonitions to “go read a book” on the subject are well and good but I don’t give them anymore credence than I did to the exact same demands by our resident conservatives a while back that Natural Law could only be rejected after extensive study and marinating in the writings of Aquinas.Report

              • Avatar hazemyth in reply to North says:

                It’s not about what I make of Queer Theory or whether you should have any interest in or offer any assent to that body of theory. It’s just about being less reductive in your approach and recognizing that there IS a huge body of thought out there to which your dismissal does no injustice. Saying, ‘I don’t know much about it but I don’t like it’ and sneering at those people that do engage it is just plain anti-intellectual.

                More importantly it’s about recognizing that there is a lot more to gay activism than the shrill stereotype that you’ve proffered and there is much more injustice and much more legitimate struggle than your personal experience entails.

                Lastly, I just don’t know how to read ‘sorry you’re suffering but I wanna play Nintendo’ in a way that is not callous and self-absorbed. It sounds like yet another example of the queers that have made it throwing the rest of us under the bus, by signing onto dismissive mainstream attitudes for the sake of getting on with their own quiet lives.

                You don’t want to contribute to Gay Rights activism? You don’t want to engage Queer Theory? Fine. But that’s no reason to belittle those that do.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to hazemyth says:

                Now see the problem is that you’re flat out stealing a base and I simply reject your assumption. You equate queer theory with gay activism and this is a linkage that is utterly false. One can be a gay activist of the first order and still be utterly indifferent to the various intricacies of queer theory. As soon as that linkage is severed the rest of the basis of your indignation crumples.

                I simply reject your repeated attempts to drape the mantle of gay activism about queer theory. An attack on queer theory (which I certainly did make) is in no way also an attack on gay activism (which I most definitely did not make). As a matter of fact the main thrust of my comment was that queer theory has not only not helped gay activism in the past but there are instances where it has actively impeded gay activism and the advancement of gay rights (I can go hunting for the big queer theory group letter against gay marriage if you’d like though I’d sooner not).

                The Nintendo comment was specifically directed to those queer theorists I have personally encountered (and note that my post was extremely clear in indicating that my opinion was in no way an authoritative piece on every aspect of queer theory throughout time) who would seek to drive social conservatives into the same wilderness gays once wandered in the name of justice or vengeance.

                In summary I contribute to and participate in gay rights activism and I celebrate and admire those multitudes who do. I do not, however, engage queer theory; I reject that queer theory is essential to gay activism and I was (though after discussions in comments am now less so) dubious as to the utility of queer theory in general.Report

              • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to hazemyth says:

                Don’t pretend those two are the same thing.

                North didn’t say “sorry you’re suffering but I wanna play Nintendo.” He said “I’m sorry you’ve suffered in the past but that doesn’t give you a claim over me in the present day”.

                And don’t pretend that not supporting Queer Theory is the same thing as not contributing to gay rights activism. If my experiences with anti-prop 8 activism in California are any indication, it’s the queer theorists who are doing some of the most damage to the cause. Not necessarily, as North suggests, by being opposed to SSM in the first place. But simply by having drunk so deeply of the KoolAid that they’re completely incapable of relating to the heterosexuals that they’re trying to convince.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to hazemyth says:

                What’s to be gained thereby? Queer Theory ought to be something wherein the scholars examine the Queer Facts and try to make some sense of them. The Aquinas parallel is very exact: that worthy gentleman went about like the Prince in the Cinderella story, trying to fit his little glass shoe of Theology onto the enormous calloused feet of Western Europe. He never found his princess, needless to say. And it’s pretty fair to say he broke the glass slipper somewhere along the way.

                I previously said all these Gender Studies and Feminist Studies and Black Consciousness folks are useful in terms of what they can offer us, distilling out scholarship from the facts on hand. But the more I look at the problem, I just gotta say I hate the word Queer. I find it offensive. Humankind has endured enough stereotyping.

                Aquinas failed because he could never square up the natural world and the spiritual world without screwing up his explanations of both. There’s no Studying Queers any more than we can Study Niggers. We might, if we’re interested, come to terms with the practical realities and avoid a host of sophos-moros questions about why human beings have a sex drive and how it manifests. Want to study that? Head over to the neuroscience lab. They’re producing facts over there.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to North says:

        I’ve been reading you a while and would like to think I have a sense of the gist of what you mean. I’ll stipulate to the somewhat odd promotion this comment got, which really should be taken in a larger context.

        Allow me to humbly submit this notion for consideration. Any persecuted minority is faced with two obstacles: external bigotry and internal identification with that bigotry. Queer Studies, Black Consciousness and Feminism all faced this charge: that they only existed in the rarefied hothouses of academia, as if academia were not the real world. Yeah, it’s snark and I know you’re joking, but that cuts pretty deep.

        I cannot speak for Queer Studies in the open, as it’s practised these days. This much I can say, at university back in the 60s and 70s it was a widely discussed issue in the context of civil rights.

        It was an issue in the military: I’ve previously said we protected the gay soldiers in our ranks. Oh, we had some serious consciousness-raising sessions in the barracks about it, all right. We worked out the ground rules: we would protect our own and the gay troops would steer clear of getting the platoon and company in trouble. They agreed, we agreed. When you can distinguish men in the dark on the basis of their smell, there are no secrets and you don’t rat out such people. Other units did the same: the situation was endemic in the military. There were a few in every unit.

        I contend Queer Theory, like Racial Equality, got its first trial by fire in the military. I knew old WW2 vets who said there was a surprising amount of soldier sex in the ranks and pretty much everyone knew about it. They didn’t do anything about it either, for the reasons elucidated above: the unit came before any one individual.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Well yes, I haven’t exactly laid claim to a definitive understanding of the field. Actually I’m delighted that an actual proponent familiar with it has shown up though a little disappointed that it seems he only came to kvetch.

          Yes there’s definitely the question as to whether the theory rubber (particularly when expounded by academics) actually meets the reality road. My limited experience with QT has led me to think that is doesn’t (or didn’t) though I’d be delighted to entertain arguments that it does.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to North says:

            At the risk of once again emitting old-man-isms, back in the days of Consciousness Raising, we who lived through those times gathered around to listen to various angry proponents of Liberation. We did our best to come to terms with their litanies of complaint. We were obliged to endure a metric buttload of sneering about how we Privileged Whites didn’t understand the problem.

            At one such gathering, I stood up angrily and confronted a Black Liberation dude. I told him to his face he didn’t have a fucking clue about the Africa he was praising. I was raised in Africa. I saw how Africans behaved to each other, their vicious tribalism and murderous excesses and excuse making about how the colonialists had ruined their country. I flat told him Black Liberation would go nowhere because it was nothing but a recapitulation of tribalism in Africa, that his dumbassery was exactly what I’d heard all my life, that at some point Black Americans would have to take responsibility for their own lives and collective fortunes, as every other immigrant group had done before them or they could go to Liberia and see how their precious Africa had panned out in the intervening years. I mocked him for his pseudo-Swahili name he’d adopted and his dashiki, telling him he was nothing but a wannabe African, that I had more claim to being an African than he did, that if he didn’t like White Americans, to go meet some real Black Africans and see if he liked them any better, assuring him he would not.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to BlaiseP says:

              I somehow doubt that went over very well. How was his left hook?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to North says:

                He got mad, sure he did. I don’t take shit from anyone, especially not on my own home turf and not from some billy bad-ass of his puny calibre. They excite me to acts of immense cruelty. I say things people never forget. Once I’d made my position clear, this unfortunate pseudo-African began to backpedal furiously in an act worthy of inclusion in Cirque du Soleil, trying to make exceptions for present company and suchlike.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to hazemyth says:

      Hi hazemyth,

      I must have missed the part where the struggles got demeaned.

      Jason touched on the trenchant ‘binary’ gender/orientation critique (and I’d be surprised if there was much disagreement here that it is a trenchant and valuable critique from the comments I have read above).

      If you certainly can’t explain what is being missed, can you recommend anyone who can? Links are always appreciated.Report

      • Avatar hazemyth in reply to Glyph says:

        Sorry, I don’t have a link explaining the uselessness of opining on issues about which one is avowedly uninformed. Or rather, I suppose, you could graze the entirety of the blogosphere for illustrations of such.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to hazemyth says:

          Thanks. It sounds like your friends and peers are involved in important social work, in many cases involving seeming *human* rights abuses. To me, there’s really not much ‘queer’ about that.

          IMO, that is where many commenters here are coming from. It seems strange to interpret all-inclusive statements & comments that at root imply ‘everyone is human and wants to be loved and deserves the same rights and respects’ as ‘demeaning’. It seems to be looking for offense where none is intended.Report

          • Avatar hazemyth in reply to Glyph says:

            North wrote:

            “… the general thrust and desire of queer studies groups was to forge a brave new world from which all traditional social structures would be torn down. Gay rights in general and the struggle against heteronormativity in particular were intended not specifically to better the lot of gay people who have been oppressed but rather to liberate the entirety of society from heteronormativity (which would incidentally help gay people in theory). … ”

            etc. ad nauseum all the way down to:

            “Look dudes, I know you were hurt and it sucks and we’re sorry for you but we won’t fight this war; we’d rather play Nintendo, get married. make home brew, complain about our boyfriends and cats and do all the other millions of things everybody does when they’re free to do what they want.”

            All of which strikes me as incredibly dismissive to the plight of people who don’t enjoy such freedom and the efforts of those that address that plight. This certainly demeans the work (and even the intentions) of a lot of academics and social activists.

            There is also North’s further elaboration, made in his (to my mind unflattering) ‘snark hat’ that he “seriously doubt[s] that anyone who’s in a position where they’re immersed in Queer Theory faces any persecution what so ever.” This made me rather upset, thinking of my Egyptian friend.

            All made in the context of a purported repudiation of Queer Theory that nowhere bothers to reference anything that Queer Theorists actually themselves say.

            To which I simply have to say: Don’t be ignorant.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to hazemyth says:

              I’ll happily tender an apology to your Egyptian friend. My snark was definitely western centered. To the rest of your quotes though I’m sorry but that’s reading comprehension fail.Report

            • Avatar Nat C in reply to hazemyth says:

              “… the general thrust and desire of queer studies groups was to forge a brave new world from which all traditional social structures would be torn down. Gay rights in general and the struggle against heteronormativity in particular were intended not specifically to better the lot of gay people who have been oppressed but rather to liberate the entirety of society from heteronormativity (which would incidentally help gay people in theory). … ”

              I don’t entirely agree with North’s post, but I think this is an accurate description of the origins of queer theory.

              Simply put, almost everyone who became associated with queer studies in its formative years was invested in challenging society. Progenitors experienced the same giddy rush that scholars in the late 1960s and 1970s felt: everything seemed possible and open for challenge.

              “All of which strikes me as incredibly dismissive to the plight of people who don’t enjoy such freedom and the efforts of those that address that plight. This certainly demeans the work (and even the intentions) of a lot of academics and social activists.”

              Here, you’ve mentioned something I’ve alluded to earlier: the interaction between academia and social activism is eternally problematic. Non-academic activists tend to appropriate complex theory and to simplify it. More troubling, they tend not to keep abreast of developments in the field, even as further complexity undermines the original messages that they adopted.Report

            • Avatar Glyph in reply to hazemyth says:

              hazemeyth, fair enough, I guess I can see how it might be taken that way though I doubt that was the spirit in which it was intended.

              I will simply repeat my earlier request for enlightenment. What source would you recommend as a ‘primer’ (ideally available for free online, I am pretty broke right now), as a sort of ‘Queer Theory For Dummies’ resource?

              I would suggest that to come into a well-intentioned discussion and call people ignorant, and then fail to provide much elucidation or resources for further inquiry (essentially saying, ‘figure it out’), is itself pretty condescending.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Glyph says:

        It certainly wasn’t my intent to demean either the older generation of activists or queer theory itself. I’ve learned a hell of a lot from both Michel Foucault and even Judith Butler. Sex is a domain traversed by power relationships. Gender is a performative activity, not an essence.

        Mainstream culture thinks about these things as though they were composed of fairly binary categories, and — even if those categories are usually correct — there’s still not much that’s essential to them. We can do both of them very differently.

        That said, is it conformist or transgressive that I present as a straight-acting man, but meanwhile I’m in a marriage… with another guy? There comes a point where theory just falls on its own bayonet, and that’s where it starts attacking people for being insufficiently queer. I’m as queer as I like, thanks, and that’s all for me. Want more? I won’t stand in your way.Report

  12. Avatar ik says:

    I think the feminazi trope is more like ‘we have complicated opaque theories that supposedly explain why the gender system is the root of all oppression anywhere, and that masculinity is fundamentally destructive both to us and to men, and a whole list of things that women should not do because they are patriarchal even though these women totally enjoy them and insist that they are just fine’. Seriously, that VERY IMPORTANT AND NECCESARY movement has this little kernel of ‘I will destroy everything you love’ and ‘It’s oppressive. Because penises’. They also tend to appropriate the suffering of women in the worst situations (Afghanistan, et. al.) to compare it to their often much more mild oppression.

    Yes, feminists tend to get tarred with the totally incorrect brush of radical feminism. However,the really horrible radical feminists still exist.

    Incidentally there is a sort of inverse form of mansplaining/whitesplaining/heterosplaining, generally perpetrated by such members of the ‘theory class’.

    One thing I will fault the various deconstructors for is the seeming assumption that if things could be another way, they always must be another way. They sometimes seem to exhibit a certain cultural nihilism.Report

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