Antonia D'orsay

Building Blocks

Filed By Antonia D'orsay | January 28, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media, The Movement
Tags: gay ghetto, kinship, LGBT, LGBT civil rights, LGBT families, LGBT history, marriage, marriage vows, Prop 8 trial, The Agenda, Trans, transgender, transsexual

A bit over a year ago, I had a phone conversation with Bil Browning. At the time, I was a frequent commenter and there was some stupid thing going on that had us riled up (myself included) and by fortunate circumstance we had the opportunity to talk on the phone.

Way back then, he asked me to write a piece based in part on some stuff he'd seen already and the things we spoke about that day regarding marriage. Although there aren't a lot of people who have followed me throughout the web in my various incarnations and locales, first as vyxyn and then as Dyssonance, one thing has remained constant, and that's my personal support of marriage equality. I've written on the subject several times before, both directly and indirectly, but I've not done so here, and I did tell him I would do so one day.

This, then, is that day.

Since I've written about it before in different places, I wanted to come at it with a fresh mind, and seriously look once more at the elements that make up my views.

I like the older one's better, but here goes:

Bricks & Mortar

It is often said that family is the foundation of society. The UN itself described it that way after several studies.

In the US, family is described by talking about people who are related to each other. We have lots of ways of being related to each other, but since we are talking about marriage equality and therefore some aspect of law, we are going to narrow it a bit.

People in the US are related to each other through something called kinship. Kinship is a pretty fundamental idea - its something that even has a strong emotional connection with people. "You can pick your friends but you can't pick your relatives" people say to talk about the power of this bond of kinship. Kinship, then, is most basic part of what it is that makes family.

Kinship is established in a few different ways, but rather than bore you with terms like consanguinal and conjugal and bourgeois and all the related charts and such to explain them, I'll just simplify it: marriage, birth, and adoption.

Now, I'm talking about legal kinship here, not the kinship of affiliation and friendship. This is important, as the government has to have an interest in all of this.

That means that the building blocks of family are marriage, birth, and adoption. They are all held together by the mortar of kinship - of being related to someone in the concept as the State sees it.

The state has a need to know on the basis of citizenship. Basically, we need to know who is a citizen and who is not for various governmental obligations to its citizens. We establish citizenship in several ways, one of which is kinship to another citizen. A child born to a citizen, for example, becomes a citizen. Marry a citizen, and you become one (well, at least, that's the idea if not the practice). Adopt someone, and they become a citizen (again, that's the idea if not the practice).

So kinship is important. Indeed, kinship is critical to the idea of marriage equality.
The Perry Trial has made a great show of talking about various aspects that all of this touches on. They've talked about family, and how it would benefit the children of gay couples. They've spoken on basic concepts and talked about how the history of oppression against LGBT people has involved dehumanizing them on an institutional scale.

They flirted with the thing that underlies my personal reasons for supporting marriage equality, though.

Our opponents have, for literally hundreds of years, sought to deny us that very basic and fundamental thing that marriage is the point of focus for:


Some History

Although many of us can testify to what happens when we come out, in the earliest years of this country, it was pretty much automatic that if you were gay, you were excluded from the family. There are tales from the 1800's that still serve as fodder for the episodic dramas we watch on TV about how the bachelor son or self willed daughter of so and so is estranged and cut off from the family fortunes and estates. In most cases (but not all) they were LGBT folks. It's something that has gone on for generations, a family secret or a skeleton in the closet, and while there are plenty of spinster Auntie Clara's and eccentric Uncle Douglas' in families, the norm is that those sorts where written out, dropped from family records, never spoken of.

For many today, it's often hard to think that people could do such a thing, but for centuries that was what you did. Being disinherited once meant you even had to surrender your name, so that you could not be bound to that family.

It was, in other words, commonplace for LGBT people to be stripped of their family ties, to be cast off to fend for themselves, for in those days, your family was all you had. There were few charities, and no social services. It was often called "shunning", a turning of one's back.

This meant that we had to find our own ways. Many of us today have had to do that - found ourselves in a new place, and moved off and on over the years, struggling to find work, and keeping our secrets, and seeking out people who were like us - sometimes not even really aware of it. There have always been such places. And we would meet and socialize and develop friendships and then we would take our poor paying jobs and move into places where it was cheap to live and where others like us had moved and the next thing you know, there are these gay ghettos - areas scattered throughout cities, usually in places that were difficult to make due in, and we lived out lives and more people would come, filtering in from different places, separated from their family, from their kinfolk.
This let us live together, and when you take people and you put them in spaces where they can interact on a close basis and over time, they will have relationships. And they will form families.

By the 1940's, we had formed up in small enclaves where we were "safe" by comparison to the years and decades and centuries before. And, as human beings will do we developed our own codes and practices, and even a kind of trade of various sorts. Some of the still threadbare information when you dig into this stuff is really incredible. And from these groups came the various attempts (both before the 1940's and after) to secure some sense of social justice, but, nevertheless, we were still shunned, still cast out, still without kinship except of the sort that we claimed, usually fiercely, for ourselves.
And we did in fact do that. Strongly and often, and while many of us, including myself, will point out that marriage equality is not our priority, the idea of being able to form kinship bonds is indeed in our lists of what we want as a whole, because we too are human, and we want family ties.

And as the times changed because we worked hard at it, fewer people were thrown out of their families, fewer people were shunned. Fewer people had their family taken away from them.

A family is headed - it has some person who is "in charge". Grandparent or Parent, usually. In a patriarchal society, that person is usually the Patriarch, so its often the grandfather in the past, and more usually the father today. They have the name - the surname, which is the social mark of this family or that family, the means through which lineage is tracked (one of my tracks is Wykoff, for example, a name that has a great deal of history in the US - enough that it gets its own encyclopedia article all by itself and not about a person).

It has lost a great deal of its powers over the years, obviously.

By the 1960's, there were a lot of us in them. They were larger than before. We took these shanty towns, these relics that were cast off to the dregs of society and we retook them and made them better and now they even sell homes based on it, so they can push us out to some new place, like manure being spread on a garden.

Find the ugly spots, drop 'em there. We were ignored, castigated, tossed out and forced to live in the worst locations imaginable in the largest cities possible. We founded our own nation, basically, within those ghettos. "oh, they have no families, let them live in those nasty places."

The Denial

And we took them, and we created families, and neighborhoods, and changed entire cities in the process.

Then we thought we'd be smart, and take those families into the open - just like anyone else.

We wanted to get married.

We wanted to adopt.

And they looked at this and they thought or felt or recognized in some way, maybe not even in a way they were aware of, that what that meant is that we would have what they had taken away from us.

When people take something from others, its generally because they don't want them to have it, or they covet it for themselves, or both. There are other reasons, but on a social scale, it's for those reasons.

By shunning us, they had taken from us our kinship. And so after having made these places hospitable, after having fought our collective way to a point where they wanted what we had built, when we wanted what was taken, they reacted.

They looked at us funny when we tried to marry. "You can't do that."

Then they started passing laws about it, and about adopting, and God forbid that two gay men ever even think about having kids. Especially in California.

When two people marry, they do something magical: they create a family. Marriage, as I noted above, creates kinship. It creates a form of kinship that overrides the other kinds the two people might have, and there are strong social taboos about that already.

There is no other way to create the particular form of kinship that marriage creates.

Adoption creates a hierarchy - parent-child, usually. Birth crosses one of the strongest taboos, and can be parental or sibling.

Nothing else makes two unrelated people kin on an equal level. Just marriage.

And, as we know, kinship creates family. And being part of a family means that you are part of the building blocks of society. Not just an outcast, shunned and nameless.

That simply won't fly with them. To our opponents, regardless of their words and their careful arguments, what gets to them is a sense of unease that is triggered by the idea of us having families, That somehow, some way, they could suddenly be related to us one day, once again.

After having gone to all that trouble to make sure that we had no family, they weren't going to let us just have one.

So for me, personally, marriage equality is about a long history of people trying to deny us our right to kinship - our ties that bind, our troth and our children. It is about Family, not the paper.

DP's do not grant kinship. Even in California. You can tell because they have to spell out things like visitation in the law - where that's not spelled out otherwise. It's customary, commonplace, typical. If a couple who has a partnership has a child, that child is not *both of theirs* automatically. They have to go through process and steps and hoops to "coparent adopt" for one of them.*

Kinship is what would bring the thousands of couples who have one person that is a citizen and another who is not together - all they need to do is recognize the kinship. But to do that, they must recognize the marriage.

Who's in your family? How many times in your life have you or someone you known described family not in terms of blood or marriage, but in terms of affection and common experience?

The US draws much of its custom and language from England. In days long past, a couple would gather before their "cyning" - their kindred, the extended kith and kin.

Their families. And they would pledge their troth to one another before their family. It might have a priest in attendance. It might not. They did that, though, to say "we bind these families into one", or, just as likely, one member is given to one of the families (or sold, if you account for the whole dowry thing) and becomes part of it.

And the kindred was there to witness and see and know that these were members of the family - citizens of the Clan, the State.

That's what we seek now. To stand before our State and have it witness and see and know that we are family, and that we pledge our troths.

And I can't wait for us to get it.

Then we can see if what far too many people say is true: that once marriage equality is in place, the LGB will suddenly decide they can abandon the trans folk.

I'm a skeptical optimist, though -- I don't think it'll be all that easy...

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Then we can see if what far too many people say is true: that once marriage equality is in place, the LGB will suddenly decide they can abandon the trans folk.

I'm a skeptical optimist, though -- I don't think it'll be all that easy...

Looking at many comments here... I do.

That's not to say it's inevitable: just that we can't be complacent and pretend it's not a real possibility.

Please. I just want gays to be able to get married. Why bring the circus along?
See what I mean?

More to the point, this fake concoction called "LGBT" allows trans activists, who are few in number and politically weak, to not only latch onto a larger movement, but to move right into the cockpit and start giving orders. An ally like organized labor or the Democratic Party can only make requests of us; they have no right to make demands. But since the "T" is now officially part of our community, trans activists can demand that gay goals be subordinated to their agenda. That is one reason why ENDA remains in limbo.

LGBT is a false concept that is essentially covering for a hijacking.

What does this freak show have to do with gay people? Why is the gay blogosphere so eager and willing to swallow the lie that gay is in the same "community" or category as transgender. Most "transgenders" are not gay. Many have a disorder that is listed in the DSM IV. Many seek surgery to correct their problem. By contrast, gays do not have a disorder and one of the greatest triumphs of the gay movement was to remove homosexuality as a disorder.
Honey, it's not phobia about transsexual issues, it's that, as gays, we don't see that these are gay or lesbian issues. As David in his comment above pointed out, most Trans are not gay or lesbian, but are straight.
Oh, the circus is in town. Main attraction: Freaks!
etc etc etc

About 1 in 3 GLBs are Transphobic, sometimes very strongly so. They're not the problem - the problem is the vast majority who once they get theirs, lose interest.

I guess you can call me an idealistic pessimist, Dys. I see the problems, but think we can work through them anyway. I just don't think it will be easy, and may be close to impossible.

I know, Zoe. It;s the same things said by commenters at Tyra's show site, in the end.

And there will always be those kinds of people. Always. There are still people who say pretty terrible things about the Cathari, and they were hunted down and annihilated 700 years ago.

Go figure.

What's interesting, though, is there's a bit of a bomb in this article, about two gay men, one of whom is pregnant.

And its odd things like that showing up that will work for us, as in the end, they will indeed have to help us to help themselves.

I have perhaps heard it said best in a quote, " If we do not all stand together, well will surely all hang separately." I just hope that everyone who falls under the LGBT umbrella sees that splitting off a given group over one of the issues will weaken the position and therefore the likelihood of any progress on any "right" for all. DOMA, ENDA, DADT are not all going to directly effect me but I have spoken in favor of all three equally when I found a need to do so. Why because I hope the sum of all the elements within the LGBT community is greater than any one part by it's self. Everyone within this group does not need to understand fully the needs of the rest, but this said let us hope we can call upon each others support at least politically speaking. If not I doubt we will ever be taking seriously by any other part of society.

I'm not even American! But I reckon I've done more than most to further SSM in the US at the grassroots level.

Through a legal technicality* I'm in a SSM by the way, in a country where SSM's are Strongly Verboten. Most of the place doesn't even have formal civil unions, though common-law unions are recognised now.

And I'm straight. Which means our marriage doesn't involve physical intimacy, just love.

Neither DOMA, nor ENDA, nor DADT can affect me - except possibly DOMA should I travel to the US. Yet I do what I can for all three, because it's the right thing to do. And because when it comes to DADT there's a National Security issue involved. You guys are our allies, and you're weakening yourselves by being idiotic bigots. That hurts us indirectly.

* - You have to be TS or dichogamous, AND born overseas... and married while legally of the opposite sex to your spouse...

I'm glad you remember our conversation - AND you followed through with a post about it. :)

Well, Bil, I really didn't like this one. I need to do another one in the future that I do like, lol.

Just have to find the right frame to put it in...

I think we need Professors of LGBT Studies. I'm not an academic, just self-taught. Maybe because I like to read, or maybe because I just wanted a history or ancestry that came with being gay. What I mean to say is, I don't know how the whole University system works or how departments are created. I just know that when someone says something uneducated about African-Americans, the media turns to a Professor of African-American Studies or African-American History. I want that for LGBTs, people who study and then educate as a profession. We have a lot of pieces floating around and not enough people connecting the dots...or just not enough people willing to connect ALL the dots to each other in ways that form an LGBT historical narrative.

I cannot distinguish between the stone butches that were transgender men or gay women (or straight women that really wanted to pursue a profession that was for men only for that matter). Were they concealing their sex or their sexual orientation? It's not like we can go back and ask them. Is that a history gay and trans people share or one that we're going to fight over which retroactive team they were on? Or maybe the sky would fall if we admitted that sometimes gay and trans people are indistinguishable and did the same things to survive.

Anyway, it doesn't make sense to me to abandon trans folk because I concocted a historical narrative in my head a long time ago that makes that impossible. I'm guessing you're saying straight folks have kicked their own blood related gay relatives out of their family and so too could LGBs. Which just leads me back to the whole education thing. I think those that merely see LGBT as nothing more than a political coalition are uneducated in LGBT history. They're not facing a decision to abandon their family because they have no sense of family. And maybe some or even most of the blame for that should be on those who erased and hid the history in the first place.

What made lesbians get involved with the gay men's health crisis anyway?

sincerely curious | January 29, 2010 1:42 PM

If GLBs are so hating of trans people to such an extent that every trans posting on this site spends most of its time talking about this hate; then, why on earth would any trans person want to be a part of a movement with people who you think hate you so much? I honestly do not understand what trans people want from LGB people? Why would splitting off not be the best course of action when the alliance you are forced to endure is one that is so painful and horrible to you. Gays and lesbians are NOT going to change no matter how much trans people scream at them. Why fight this and waste so much energy on it when you could be forming your own networks and education programs and PR and on and on an on with a sole trans focus. (And for those who are trans and LBG, they can do what black or disabled LGB people do and work on both sets of issues in their own way).

" why on earth would any trans person want to be a part of a movement with people who you think hate you so much?"

You err. It's not *hate*, its privilege, and sexism, and anxiety, and ignorance.

But we do that because we see a simple truth that escapes them because of that anxiety and ignorance and privilege, and sexism: the problems we face are all based in the same cause. If we can attack the source of the problem, we can solve it for everyone.

Plus, we (and transsexuals in particular) are an extremely stubborn lot. Obstinace is necessary -- we enter the world itself with literally everything around us arrayed against us, and so for us, tackling big problems usually isn't all that big a deal.

But, mostly, its because we are just as much a citizen of the United States as the LGB folks are, and you don't see gay people asking other gay people why they'd want to be part of a country that hates them so much.

In short, its because there are gay trans folk and trans gay folk. And for trans people, we want to effect change for all trans folk. Not merely some, and the we often feel that what is being said and done is to help just the non-trans ones because we are ignored.

"I honestly do not understand what trans people want from LGB people?"

THe same thing LGB people want from trans folk and the rest of the country -- the same thing that trans folk want from the rest of the country.

Respect, Tolerance, Inclusion, Involvement.

"Why would splitting off not be the best course of action when the alliance you are forced to endure is one that is so painful and horrible to you. "

Why do Lesbians not split off from the gay men, and the bisexuals split off from both? Its easy to note that the number one problem with gay acceptance in the US is the gay men. THey are the one's that arouse the nastiest feelings, they are the standard exemplar.

They don't split off because they really can't -- we are all linked by the same thing: a pernicious degree of discrimination that exists at the intersection of sex and gender.

We all have to change 300 million hearts and minds, and splitting up just makes the massive audience even smaller. The same reasons that the 13 colonies put forth a flag that said Don;t Tread on Me, in other words -- because united we have the numbers and influence to at least be heard, while divided we will all fall prey to the internal strifes and accomplish nothing.

Trans folk have been there at every major change and event in gay history since 1966. We've never been separate, except among the European-American ethnic group. In the rest, its always been the same thing -- gay./trans -- for most people there's not real difference, because the commonalities overwhelm then.

So the best course of action would not be to split off -- it would be to work to make the union stronger and to overcome those issues of anxiety, ignorance, sexism, and privilege.

And since trans folk have to do it to everyone, why not start with a small group that would benefit directly from it than the big group that has issues with them, too?

Gays and lesbians are NOT going to change no matter how much trans people scream at them.

And yet, they have. So much for that idea, huh?

Why fight this and waste so much energy on it when you could be forming your own networks and education programs and PR and on and on an on with a sole trans focus. (And for those who are trans and LBG, they can do what black or disabled LGB people do and work on both sets of issues in their own way).

You seem to be uninformed here. We are forming our own networks and education programs and PR and on and on and on, and since we are doing that, one of the things that happens is that we still have to address the issue of LGB folks.

So you are suggesting we waste even more effort duplicating?

For us, it is not two separate issues. It is all one, single issue. Something that *we* can see, and those who have changed have come to see at least in part.

sincerely curious | January 29, 2010 6:36 PM

You have answered my questions as I thought you would. You're very certain about your ideas.

One more hypothetical question. You say that "the problems we face are all based in the same cause. If we can attack the source of the problem, we can solve it for everyone."

Could you acknowledge that there are some LGB and other people out there who do not agree with you that there is one common cause of problems. Can you accept this is possible?

I'm not merely certain, Sincerely curious, I've done the research to support such.

I can easily acknowledge that there are those who do not agree with me on their being a common basis in problems.

That's rather simple and quite easy to do.

What's difficult is to logically lay out some other root causes that are based in a strong social framework supported by fact over fiction.

I routinely accept that its possible to do so. I just have yet to see anyone actually do so in a manner that is substantially supported by logic.

Chitown Kev | January 29, 2010 3:01 PM

Toni, this fantastic essay fits right in with the simplest and best explanation of the passage of Proposition 8 that I have ever heard.

I can't quote it exactly, but the blog commenter basically said that GLBs (not sure about the Ts in this case) thought that they had assimilated. And then boom, Proposition 8 came to remind GLBs that, no, they had not assimilated; that it was all an illusion.

You some up the history and the context here perfectly. Thank you.

sincerely curious | January 30, 2010 9:03 AM

Now that you have acknowledged that people may have other theories of homosexual oppression than yours, are you willing to respect those people or must you continue to call them names and interpret their own psychologies for them (anxiety, ignorance -- these were the respectful epithets you used for G and L people who did not agree with you).

BTW, your research on indigenous and other peoples and the transgender figures in those cultures (berdache, fafafinas, etc.) are all well known. What is not known so much is the parallel religious and cultural phenomenon found in most of the same of similar cultures of warrior ritual bonding and same sex male love cults based on warrior and phallic elements -- the corrollary of the earth mother and women's goddess centred work and the mediating trans figures. The same sex warrior homosexuality is an example of what we call same-sex homosexual or "gay" men in a culture who have no gender variant role or aspect. Are you aware of this and of how male homosexuality in the 60s developed out of this strand -- one that died out in terms of research with AIDS and one that is rarely examined because it contradicts your theory that there is only ONE cause of anti-LBTQG hate.

There is a lot of world out there and a lot of history. It is sad to me when someone finds ONE element and makes it into their TRUTH. This is what the religious and right wing fundamentlists do and is something reactionary -- a position of fear.

Hi again,

Noting that there is anxiety and ignorance is neither disrespect nor calling someone a name.

Ignorance affects everyone, as does anxiety.

Since I am a psychologist, and I do work in social psychology as well, it's going to happen that I look at such issues as well -- and, indeed,m since I'm doing so typically through a lens of distance, that reinforces the degree of objectivity behind my use of the terms.

Since my research is well known, then its also known by the same people that my research distinctly points out that the oft used cultural touchstones are typically corrupted by perceptual ias, and that I've found (and agitated for ) a more effective and culturally aware understanding that avoids the errors of seeing all these variances as either transgender or homosexual, since those concepts are most often blended in variable ways that do not readily translate to simplistic western cultural associations and ideas.

That or the research I've done is only superficially glanced at, and people aren't getting it.

You say:

"The same sex
warrior homosexuality is an example of what we call same-sex homosexual
or "gay" men in a culture who have no gender variant role or aspect."

This is incorrect in the US culture. The fact that they are gay, in and of itself, is a gender variance, culturally speaking.

Logically speaking, of course.

As for awareness, given that you are operating under an illogical premise (that they aren't gender variant), that question needs to be rephrased in order to avoid the logical trap that's in it.

I find it interesting that you describe a particular subgroup of social persons as having died out in a linkage with AIDS. I suspect there is some hyperbole there, and that there may be some form of anxiety underlying your arguments, given the aforementioned illogical point.

Lastly, I will note that I did not find one element. I found several, and that you seem to have found a singluarlity causes me to wonder if you actually examined the concept thoroughly.

Lastly, if you find I've reached this position through some sort of fear, then please, logically provide the basis for my having done so.

I have a personal interest in rooting out my fears, all of them, so that I can squish them like bugs.

Sincerely curious, I don't know why you're including L in your argument. Just about every lesbian on the planet would agree the discrimination and oppression lesbians face is rooted in sexism.

Lesbians have in the past been conflicted over whether to focus on gay rights or women's rights. We've branched out in different ways on that, and in many ways the wrong way. But in the end it's really not a matter of working on two sets of issues. Sexism and heterosexism are inseparable for lesbians because heterosexism is sexism. The roadblock is gender inequality. Women being primary providers, raising kids together without fathers, not being sexually available to men and just living proof that women can survive without men turns pre-defined gender roles based on sex on it's head--not to mention male privilege.

Most lesbians are also aware that gay men are oppressed because the anti-gay folks imagine gay men as bottoms making women of themselves and pedophiles that make girls out of boys. Maybe you don't want to hear that, but the very idea that being a woman is considered some sort of downgrade and being a man is an upgrade is an insult that ultimately falls on women. So, it's not something we can ignore.

And anyway, same-sex marriage wouldn't even be on the table if not for the women's rights movement having redefined marriage as an arrangement between two autonomous equal people--on paper anyway.

Why lesbians ultimately decided to coalesce with gay men is because gay men needed them. As far as my generation goes for most of us: lesbians typically identify as gay women or gay females, we understand "gay people" as synonymous with "LGB people", have never known anything but LGBT as far as political grouping goes and would view dropping the T as a step backwards.

no longer curious | January 31, 2010 9:01 AM

I included the LB only because it was mentioned in the original posts at the top. I cannot edit my post so please ignore or remove any reference to L (gay women) or B or "gay" men. I also was not speaking of the USA so I do not know where that came in.

I am out of here. History is written by those who want to see it their way. You both have your histories written in stone. I find life more fluid and pity your solidification. Good luck.

ps to the author -- you say you are a psychologist -- thanks for that info -- now I understand exactly what you're about. Got you. Loud and clear.

Rather anti-intellectual of you, don't you think?

I'm primarily a sociologist -- that's the doctorate. Psychology and religion are my master's.

That you see my particular effects as solid is rather interesting, really.

I think of them as like glass. A rather solid fluid that's often overlooked or unseen.

Glass is also a surface that endlessly reflects your own image back to you as well. Hmm?