Gay people are fitting themselves into a dysfunctional box in order to win approval
President Obama’s endorsement of marriage rights for same-sex couples gives us a moment to reflect on what lesbian, gay and bisexual people have had to do to win this recognition. We’re all sophisticated enough to know that oppressed minorities don’t just achieve basic rights because the dominant group has an epiphany. On the contrary, LGB people, like others who came before them have to go through (or seem to go through) assimilative transformations in order to become acceptable enough to the heterosexual majority to be considered for equal legal rights.
In its origins, the Gay Liberation movement arose to change society, to expand rigid gender roles, to break down confining social mores of privatized families and to defy the consumerism that accompanies monogamy and nuclear family lifestyle in the United States. It stood for sexual expression based on consensual desires, and community based relationships in tandem with monogamous and non-monogamous couples.
However, the AIDS crisis changed all this. At the same that AIDS made it impossible for America to continue to pretend that homosexuality did not exist, LGB Americans internalized the traumatizing messages of the AIDS crisis. We watched 500,000 Americans die of government indifference and neglect. In a transformation similar to that of post-Holocaust Jews in the United States, LGB people began to assimilate in large numbers. The continued distorted representation of our lives in mainstream arts and entertainment coupled with pervasive familial homophobia, pressured many LGB people into abandoning or perhaps forgetting about the goal of an expanded society. In a sense we were “bullied” into letting the society change us. The bait was that the more we appeared to mirror heterosexual family structure, sexual mores and consumer patterns, the more they would accept us. In this way, instead of changing society, society changed us – and – on the surface- we now have lost a great deal of our specificity and are so recognizable to straight people that even the most powerful heterosexual in the world, Barack Obama is confidently unthreatened enough to endorse equal marriage rights.
What this does not address, however, are the problems inherent in marriage itself. we all know that 50% of heterosexual marriages end in divorce. So, clearly marriage is not working as an institution. Now that gay people are fitting themselves into a dysfunctional box in order to win approval, our futures will surely be as strewn with disappointment, legal battles and failure to conform that heterosexuals endure, even with their constant advocacy by film and television, and the profound privileges given to them by their families. In this way we are living in the gay version of the 1950′s. But the 1960′s are just around the corner. Inevitably these conservatizing trends will again explode into a new sexual revolution, collective living, and a desire for liberatory feminism. I just hope I live long enough to see it.