Polswatch

Outlining a Progressive Future

Fight for Legal Equality for Same-Sex Couples Escalates: Need to Take it Further!

On the 8th of August and the 28th of November thousands of queer activists took to the streets in two ‘National Day’s of Action’ on same-sex marriage. These NDAs are an important step for the queer movement in Australia. Taking to the streets is an important way to take action one we should fully embrace. However, at the same time we must be wary that we don’t create a movement that is too narrowly focused on same-sex marriage.

Heading to the streets in this way is a fantastic thing. Whilst we cannot ignore the great work that has been done on the ground level for queer rights, the queer movement has lacked a nationally co-ordinated mass action effort. These NDAs give us the opportunity to create such a movement and in doing so empower activists, build networks, create alliances and provide a more visible face to an ever growing movement.

However, at the same time, we must be wary that these NDAs don’t narrow the focus of the queer movement solely onto same-sex marriage. Whilst legal equality for same-sex couples is an important step, it is just a step, and one that cannot and should not be separated from the other changes we need in society.

Focusing solely on legal equality limits our ability to challenge key social institutions, such as marriage. Marriage, as a key part of the heteronormative society, is for many an oppressive institution. It defines how relationships should work and then punishes those who don’t fit the norm. We therefore must challenge the way this institution operates and the effect it has on society. Otherwise, we risk a scenario where success is defined through the ability of some to enter heteronormative society/institutions. This will leave many, who don’t fit into these institutions behind.

Leading on from this, a same-sex marriage focus can ignore many other important issues. Whether it is sexual/gender identity based violence, structural poverty or a whole array of other issues, the queer movement should be addressing a whole lot more than legal equality for same sex couples. Queer people are extremely diverse and with this diversity comes a broad range of issues that require attention. If we ignore this diversity, we not only neglect many important issues, but also risk isolating people from the queer movement.

In the long run these issues could be divisive. If we fail to challenge dominant social institutions or tackle other problems, the queer movement risks becoming one that instead of challenging the heteronormative society, accepts it and aims to become part of it. This will not only isolate many people, but will also see a movement that collapses after same-sex marriage is won as organisers and activists believe that queer liberation has been achieved.

As long as legal rights exist, everyone should have access to them. However, that doesn’t mean we should accept them as they are, nor settle for acceptance to them as our only goal. We should fight for legal equality, but we must make sure that such a fight doesn’t let us lose sight of other issues or weaken the queer movement in the long run. The NDAs are giving queer activists a great opportunity to build networks and create co-ordinated actions across the country and I encourage everyone to continue participating in them. But let’s make sure we use these opportunities to strengthen the movement to fully challenge the oppressive nature of the heteronormative society and to create real, long lasting change. Our movement and our society depend on it.

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December 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Assimilation is Not the Answer for Queer Liberation

“Part of the parade is to show people we’re not extremists, we‘re real people”? When asked who she considered to be extremists, the response came “Drag queens and butch women”.

A sentiment that you would normally expect from a conservative. However, this didn’t come from the Right, but instead from a member of the queer movement. They’re words spoken by one of the organisers of the Winnipeg Pride Parade, after a debate about making the parade ‘less confronting’ and more ‘family friendly‘. This may be shocking, but in reality this statement is not surprising; its a symptom of the direction many in the queer movement are taking. An increasingly powerful section of the queer movement argues that to achieve better results we need to present queer people as members of society who are no different from anyone else. We need to present ourselves as ’normal’.

By acting ‘normal‘, some believe that we can change the minds of those who find us ’confronting’ and ’strange’. Why would be society want to discriminate against queer people once they realise that ’we’ are just like ‘them’?  These tactics are considered especially useful in debates regarding legislative change, such as same-sex marriage or adoption laws. However, it also goes far beyond that. Many, especially those in the leadership positions, are now beginning to use the idea of normalcy as a way to try to squash fears of the more dramatic changes that are the aim of many in the queer movement. ‘Normalcy’ is being used to create a perception of a queer movement that is designed to fight for acceptance into current society, rather than to change the way society is organised. This is where this tactic has become extremely dangerous.

The politics of “normal” is so dangerous for one reason; it dramatically changes the goals of the queer movement. By adopting a tactic of presenting normalcy the queer movement is moving away from having a position that is critical of the heterodoxy in to one that not only accepts, but for many embraces it as an inevitable part of society. This is creating a scenario where instead of its deconstruction, assimilation into the heteronormative society is becoming the goal of the queer movement.

Problem. This leaves out the ‘drag queens and butch women’ (and everyone else who to falls out of the mould). All this tactic does is let a few more people in the hetero-club (generally those who come closest to fitting the hetero-mould, i.e. ‘normal looking’ bio-male gay men and bio-female lesbian woman) – while still leaving some (trans* and gender-variant folk, polyamourists etc) out.  This is the essential problem of “normal“; – as long as there is “normal“, there will be “abnormal“. Whilst in this scenario some are better off, this tactic sells out not only those who will continue to be excluded, but the queer movement and its principles as a whole.

For full queer liberation to occur we can’t simply claim that the rules about gender, relationships, sex, family etc apply to us as well; we must aim to change them. As long as we aim to be ‘normal’ these changes and the deconstruction of the heteronormativity in society simply will not occur.

If we just aim to be ‘normal’ we are setting our bar too low. We must aim to change our society. Assimilation is not the answer to queer liberation.

December 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment