Wedded to the State: The Triumph of Homonormativity

“If we are to imagine queer futures that don’t replicate the same violence and oppression many of us experience on an everyday basis as queer and trans folks…we must fight the rhetoric of equality and inclusion in systems of domination like marriage.”
—Ryan Conrad of Against Equality

Today, Friday June 26th 2015, the United States Supreme Court handed down a ruling effectively legalizing same-sex marriage across the land. A campaign 25 years in the making has come to an end as LGBT couples are now legally allowed to marry in all 50 states. Post after post affirms that today should be a historic moment of celebration. But what exactly are people celebrating? Does anyone stop and critically question what marriage actually is? Slogans like “Support Love”  and “Love Wins” miss the point about what the legal institution of marriage has historically represented.

Its not about love, its about economics privileging couples, primarily wealthy whites, over everyone else who identifies as queer. It discounts the history of struggle that birthed the queer liberation movement. It obscures the fact that Stonewall was a riot against police brutality, that the HIV epidemic primarily afflicted the poor, that transwomen face disproportionate levels of violence and discrimination as well as representing prime victims of mass incarceration, and that the queer youth homeless rate is 50%. Liberals say, yes, they understand there is a lot of work that still needs to be done but we should celebrate the victories. Victory for who?

Historically, marriage was an arrangement between nobles and merchants to form business pacts and create political alliances. Fathers would sell their daughters to the richest suitor, without her consent of course, to extend the wealth and influence of their family in essence expanding it like a cartel. Really, the way mafia organizations use the term family is not that different than the purpose it originally served. Over the centuries, the social norms concerning marriage switched from being a forced arrangement to a mutually voluntary agreement, though still retaining the form of a business contract. Despite the liberalized version we have today, marriage cannot be divorced from the cultural baggage of 7000 years of patriarchy that it comes with. Moreover, when marriage became a way for two people to prove their love with each other it could only be formally confirmed through the legal recognition of the state. This begs the question, if marriage is about love, why do we need the government’s permission?

Marriage is about celebrating your commitment to the state, to say “Thank you, America! I can finally express my love for you!” Nothing illustrates this more than the meme of the Supreme Court Building with rainbow colored columns. This image says that marriage equality was something granted by the government, a coronation of the worthy few to join the halls of privilege, rather than something fought for by activists. And now with the formal recognition of legal equality, the merger between gay identity and straight culture is complete. The white gay couples have proven, Booker T. Washington style, that they can behave respectably and enthusiastically engage in the consumerism, the xenophobic patriotism, and the exploitative nature of American culture just as well as any straight couple. We didn’t queer marriage, it straightened us.

Two days ago, an undocumented transwomen was booed and dismissed by President Obama and his devout followers. Jennicet Gutiérrez stood up to the President and broke the spectacle of celebration by affirmatively asking for an end to deportations and release of all LGBT immigrants currently in detention. Instead of debating her, like Obama has with previous hecklers, he shamed her and had his thugs escort her out of the White House. The cheers from the crowd for Obama’s actions brought to mind images of Hitler addressing enthusiastic crowds in Berlin. They celebrate liberal accomplishments like marriage to distract themselves from the fact that the country they inhabit is one of the most deadly and destructive empires in human history. They don’t want to know about the 800 military bases established oversees. Nor do they care about transwomen of color in prison or the violent deportation and detention of LGBT immigrants. These bourgeois gays only care about assimilating into this inherently oppressive power structure, celebrating its symbols, and affirming their patriotic allegiance to the state.

Today, activists also held the 11th Trans Day of Action in New York to call attention to the plight of transfolk in America and making a plea to the larger LGBT movement to seriously examine the material conditions of everyday queer youth, not just the rich ones. The march brought together a diverse group of trans and other gender non-conforming activists who shared the belief that the New York Pride March didn’t represent their interests. They held signs reading “Fuck Marriage,” “Abolish Marriage,” and “Trans Lives Matter.” They chanted “Fuck your assimilation, we want our liberation” and echoing Gutiérrez, “Not one more deportation!” The RSCC and Socialist Alternative had a presence, as well as numerous anarchist groups, DREAMers, radical bands, Black Lives Matter comrades and other gender subversives.

Whereas the Pride March was dominated by bourgie white males, the Trans Rally was mainly represented by transwomen of color. Whereas the Pride March addressed a single issue, the Trans Rally addressed the root causes of oppression linking their experiences with the intersecting systems of capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy. Octavia from the Audre Lorde Project proclaimed, “I do not advocate respectability politics.” She went off script saying, “Its absolutely unacceptable to see the President publicly shame [Jennicet Gutiérrez] and dismiss her concerns regarding the plight of undocumented queer latinas” as her comrades chanted, “Hey, Obama stop the shame!” Transwomen, especially latina transwomen are being systematically murdered by police and military forces, the same forces mainstream gays want to assimilate into. The prison system disregards the lives of American citizens but it utterly decimates the lives of undocumented transwomen through social death. They are not human in the eyes of the state. She closed her impromptu soap box calling for a cultural revolution seeking full gender liberation. Anything less is counterproductive.

See, queer by definition means weird. Folks all across the gender spectrum use the term queer to differentiate their uniqueness, to say that they are not “normal” in the bourgeois hetero sense of the term. Queering necessarily meant a “fucking up” of identity so to speak. From the humble beginnings of the transliberation movement, people defined themselves as queer precisely because they did not want to conform to cultural normativity that forced people to assimilate within the dominant gender binary.

Marriage, by its very nature, excludes these queers. The state subsidizes marriage through tax breaks, health care access, and other benefits to promote patriarchal forms of organization, in essence, to force people to organize into nuclear families. Meanwhile, transfolk can’t even get housing or work. Finding a “life partner” to settle down with a drink lattes with is literally the last thing on their minds. We shouldn’t even be coupling ourselves in such a fashion anyway. We should live collectively, what’s wrong with having multiple partners, in essence making the village and your family one and the same? Homonormativity has now become an accepted position within mainstream society, yet instead of a measure of progress, this ideology is being used to marginalize voices of the people most impacted by the dominant culture.

As the Trans Rally marched toward the Stonewall Inn, activists shouted “No justice, no peace, no transphobic police” as well as “Don’t you deny it, Stonewall was a riot!” Upon arriving at the historic landmark, the trans march was shocked to discover the police had sectioned off the site with barricades. They physically separated the transmarch from the pro-marriage New York Pride rally. The Stonewall Riots were initiated by drag queens and transwomen. They have been an integral part of the LGBT movement, yet mainstream gays refuse to acknowledge their contributions. Instead, they want the dispossessed to celebrate their achievements, goals that were never part of the larger queer liberation struggle. Now, a sharp division has been driven between LGBT activists. Gay refers to those who seek assimilation into the hetero way of life, while queer refers to the transfolk and others who wish to liberate themselves from a culture they want no part in. The mainstream gays do not want free universal healthcare that would overwhelmingly assist people with their transitions. They turn a blind eye to the millions behind bars in the American gulags. They do not care about Chelsea Manning rotting behind bars.

No, today is not a moment to celebrate. Its a moment to recognize who our enemies are and to forge alliances with the transwomen and other queer folks that see beyond the gilded veil created through cultural spectacle. Today, transfolk declare war on the United States and will not rest until the prison-industrial-military complex has been dismantled and all queer-identified and gender non-conforming people have been liberated.

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