Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Homo Hatred and Adulthood in the Tribe

Over on AlterNet is a fine piece on gay marriage. Greta Christina quite rightly says that letting us marry will have an effect on straight marriage, and explains why. It’s well worth reading.

But there’s one point that nearly everyone overlooks about gay marriage. In every culture, in every time and place, the first marriage is a rite of passage signifying the participants’ readiness and willingness to assume the responsibilities of Adult in the tribe. As long as we are forbidden to marry, we are perpetual juveniles, easy to trivialize, easily made to seem frivolous, and easy to condescend to.

That, I think, is also the real, fundamental reason we are not permitted to be out (visible) in the military. Defense of the tribe is a paramount responsibility of the Adult. As long as we can be separated from that role--especially if it takes forcing us to lie -- we can be more easily treated with contempt and denied the privileges that come with assuming culturally-defined Adult responsibilities.

It is essential to the viability of a patriarchal society that gays and lesbians be demonized and marginalized. That’s all that these lines in the sand are about. We have to be invisible (closeted) or else we have to be severed from everything that might provide legitimacy and Adult standing. That’s also the reason we’re generally not permitted to adopt children or share full parental custody of children born to our partners, and that’s the reason our children can be taken from us when we come out. Caring for the young is a paramount responsibility of the Adult.

WTF does “patriarchal society” have to do with it? Well, the patriarchy cannot exist without rigid sex roles. Without biology-is-destiny and inflexible norms for what “masculine” and “feminine” mean, there couldn’t be male supremacy. We have to know what a "real" man is to know what "superior" means, right? So, to the extent that we are visible as men and as women who don't accept the assignment, we gays and lesbians are a direct vanguard assault on that whole structure. In fact, we are definable only because we step outside the patriarchy’s sex role mandate.

We are severely punished because we don’t do our part to hold up the myths that sex roles are fixed, immutable, and that males are superior to females. In the patriarchal context, when two men partner, one of them voluntarily gives up male privilege to “become” [like] a female, a signal that patriarchal institutions (like the church) know is fatal. That’s why gay men get beaten and raped. It’s not so disturbing for two women to partner (in the patriarchal context) because what two women do is never as important as what two men do. But if one of them is perceived to usurp male privilege and power, she will be raped and beaten, too. (Violence against lesbians is a hidden statistic caused by the “shame” of being queer and the “shame” of being raped.)

Power analyses such as this one come in handy to those who want to understand why this culture does some of the things it does. To ask “Who cares whether an African American marries a white person” is to act as if fundamental inter-racial power and privilege discrepancies don't exist. To ask “Who cares whether gays and lesbians get married” is to act as if fundamental heterosexual-homosexual power and privilege discrepancies don't exist. They do.

Let’s stop doing that. Let’s keep telling it like it is.