Alex Blaze

Welcome to the heteropatriarchy, MoveOn.org

Filed By Alex Blaze | September 20, 2007 7:38 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: bisexual, George W. Bush, John McCain, lesbian, MoveOn, patreaus, queer theory, transgender

After MoveOn.org ran its notorious ad taunting General Patraeus as "General Betray Us", John McCain said that the organization "ought to be thrown out of this country."

What a brilliant symbol!

It brings to mind a time when there were many people, many in mainstream media outfits and large religious organizations, demanding that gay men be kicked out of the country. If they don't like the tradition family that we want to uphold here, the logic went, then they can just move to France.

The McCain campaign (or what's left of it) clarified his statement, saying that he believes that an attack on the honor of General Patraeus "should have no place in the American political debate." It's still saying the same thing - fall in line or shut the hell up. But what's interesting about the way that criticism of MoveOn.org has developed is the way that it is modeled heteropatriarchal argumentation technique, citing vague norms and unquestionable conventions as substitutes for argumentation and evidence.

One thing queer people can rely on is that our opposition - those who feel that they have the right to control others' sexuality and gender expression - will make arguments that stem from norms and conventions. The idea is that since we've always done it a certain way, we should continue in that direction.

This manifests itself in "It's not normal", "plumbing" arguments, as well as a slightly more complex, and therefore richer, reliance on Biblical creation as a norm, embodied in "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve", and the even more fun reliance on the more vague and moving target, nature, with "Man and woman together is natural", and all of its permutations.

That's largely where the movement behind the word "queer" comes from; it's a recognition of a commonality between all those who transgress gender norms - gays, bisexuals, genderqueers, trans folk, the intersexed - and a celebration of that very transgression. Since it's not going anywhere, why not celebrate it, so the logic goes.

Such conventions aren't, as they would argue, necessarily traditional values or a reliance on some ancient wisdom. They're generally violently enforced models of behavior that benefit those in power. It's a method of argumentation that can rightfully said to be heteropatriarchal in the way that it contrives a narrative, a model, and imposes it on people through ostracism and the possibility of being silenced and rendered a non-subject.

George Lakoff said:

Bush took advantage of certain conventions of etiquette and politeness when he sent Petraeus to testify before Congress. Those conventions hold that one does not criticize the symbolic stand-in for the military, even when the uniform-wearing stand-in is on an overt political mission that is at the heart of the administration's continuing betrayal of trust.

So instead of relying on the narrative of the McFamily, Bush uses Patraeus to gain the protections of the narrative of the Always Honorable Soldier. A symbol that was revived post-9/11 (but is probably more a coproduct of Western deference to ceremony, officiality, and uniforms and an epistemology that requires people to be either "good" or "bad" with no space for complexity or humanity), the soldier in uniform can't be discredited because those who would wish to do so can't make their criticisms legible as substantive criticisms. Such criticisms are read as an attack on the troops, in a rather ingenious way silencing the speakers and rendering the subject an object (because the speaker has the ideas written on him or her instead of creating the speech act him or herself).

It really doesn't matter if John McCain has MoveOn.org removed from the United States, as if he could move 3 million people. If the right had their way on this item, they would effectively remove those 3 million people from the discursive sphere. This hearkens back memories of American Psychiatric Association meetings in the 60's and 70's that discussed all about homosexuality, without any gays speaking to that experience and without the benefit of research on actual gay people. The Gay Liberation Front's zaps of those meetings (interrupting and commandeering the microphone) were a means of articulating subjectivity against the violence of narratives that imagined all gay men as insane, and therefore unable to speak to such a distinguished group.

When the subject becomes an object, it can be anywhere in the world and still not be recognized. Whether or not MoveOn.org continues to speak, those who oppose their message would like for their speech to continue to be illegible so that they don't have to engage the substance of what MoveOn.org is saying.

Speaking is only half of communication.

In this "debate", the right would like to render MoveOn.org the outsider, the non-conformist, the queer. It's more than an attack on credibility, it's a heteropatriarchal silencing mechanism.


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MoveOn.org might call him "General Betray-Us" ... and although I respect the way that Patraeus has served his country as clearly and rightly as he could see (acknowleding the "fog of war") ... I also remind Senator McCain that Thomas Jefferson, I believe, once said, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."

Oh, the horrible gay men should be shipped out of the country! Reminds me of an old joke about an elderly Midwestern couple visiting New York City. As they made their way on a walk through Greenwich Village, amid a crowd that included gay male couples holding hands, the elderly husband could not bite his tongue any longer and finally remarked to his wife, "Men like this ought to be shipped off to an island somewhere!"

Overhearing, a passing young man quipped, "You're on it, honey!

Alex is right ... the male conformists work their argument by confusing tradition with morality, while at the same time arguing that it is moral to oppress people because of their relationships that are both voluntary and nurturing.

As often as I have teased about over-using the word "heteronormative" I must also admit: The world we live in is overwhelmingly heterosexist, heteronormative, and heteropatriachal --- and it will not change gracefully, in fact it will not change at all until we demand that it changes.

Face it, McCain is an idiot and a tool. And yet we're not calling for him to be shipped off to one of those back country third-world dictatorships where he'd fit in perfectly.