Thoughts on That's Revolting

Right now I’m reading That’s Revolting!, a collection of essays on assimilation edited by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore.

In Bernstein Sycamore’s introduction, the author writes:

The ultimate irony of gay liberation is that it has made it possible for straight people to create more fluid gender, sexual, and social identities, while mainstream gay people salivate over state-sanctioned Tiffany wedding bands and participatory patriarchy. (p3)

When gay assimilationists dutifully affirm, over and over again, to fanatics who want them dead, that of course gay identity is not a choice because who would choose it, they unwittingly expose the tyranny of simplistic identity politics. Not only has obtaining straight privilege become the central goal of the gay assimilationist movement, but assimilationists see a threat to Christian fundamentalist security as a threat to “progress”. (p6)

What can I say about being queer without defining it? Being queer directly entails examination of one’s “gender, sexual, and social identities.” It represents an active choice (at odds with the concept that “gay identity is not a choice”), far less reliant on genetics and excuses than the nature vs. nurture arguments on sexual orientation. Queers largely construct their identities by examining themselves and their society, though the details of whether or not the foundations of these constructions are inherently present or not are, largely, irrelevant. To position themselves in the context of a larger social identity, queers in doing so cast a critical eye on the societal expectations they navigate (or in many situations, refuse to navigate).

I often have said to my friends and colleagues that in the general corporate environment in the US, it is mostly acceptable to be gay, and mostly unacceptable to be queer. Companies ban discrimination based upon sexual identity, sexual orientation, and in some cases gender identity (and rarely, gender expression); yet these are only the germinating seeds of queer identity formulation. Anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal attitudes can come as a threat to a corporate model uninterested in criticism. It is in this way that Bernstein Sycamore’s strongest words to me are that, to pull from her description of the book itself, the “gay elite prioritizes the attainment of straight privilege over all else”. Being queer necessitates more than criticism; it necessitates creation and construction of the self, of alternatives. Attaining straight privilege lies in direct opposition to these considerations- they instead identify “problems” and seek to readily eliminate them.

These are just notes to myself though; there’s a danger in this rhetoric though worth highlighting, that queer does not necessarily correlate with activist or radical. There is no bifurcation between queer/radical and straight/conservative. Queer societal politics and queer identity politics are different, and neither are static terms. I’m much less interested in defining queer as queers defining themselves.

Sean Hanson