Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

We Die, You Get Married

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | July 27, 2011 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media, Politics, The Movement
Tags: ACT UP, assimilation, Christian fundamentalists, coming out of the closet, gay marriage, immigrant rights movement, Jose Antonio Vargas, Michele Bachmann, New York Times, Richard Kim, structural homophobia, the nation

JoseAntonioVargas.jpg"Coming Out for Change," Richard Kim's recent piece in The Nation (July 18/25, 2011), starts by talking about the risks that Pulitzer Prize-winning gay Filipino journalist Jose Antonio Vargas took when he recently came out as an undocumented immigrant in the New York Times Magazine. Coming out as the definitive act of gay identity has in recent years lost much of its power - while some still use the act as a brazen challenge to status quo normalcy, often it's a self-congratulatory ritual of initiation into a vapid consumer gay culture more concerned with accessing straight privilege than challenging social norms. But when Vargas and other immigrant rights activists (both queer and straight) come out as undocumented, they consciously use this act of disclosure as a challenge to racist, xenophobic immigration laws.

There's much to critique about the mainstream immigrant rights movement, especially its obsession with portraying all immigrants as flag-waving patriots who just want to "clean your floors" and "grow your food," or maybe go to college on scholarship and get a good job at Morgan Stanley. The DREAM Act, the signature piece of legislation that many undocumented immigrants risk deportation in order to promote, would offer a potential path to citizenship only for those "of good moral character" who arrived in the United States before age 16 and are able to complete a four-year college degree or enlist in the military for a six-year term. When questioned about whether this is just another opportunity for the U.S. military to use people of color as cannon fodder in unjust wars, DREAM Act activists, mostly of the hyper-achiever college set, steadfastly maintain that everyone should have the "right" to join the military. In spite of this limiting rhetoric, there is no doubt that, when undocumented immigrants come out about their status with the hopes of enacting social change, they are risking their lives, or at the very least their future in this country.

When Richard Kim compares Jose Antonio Vargas's brave act of publicly declaring his undocumented status to that of gay couples "willing to weaponize their personal lives" in the fight for gay marriage in New York, it's a strange comparison. What exactly were these gay couples risking with their disclosure? Certainly not deportation.

Kim goes on to laud the work of gay marriage proponents who "looked at their friends, neighbors and elected officials and told their stories with an urgency that precipitated a crisis, that forced a choice: you're either with me, or you're with the haters - but you can't have it both ways."

This is exactly the strategy the gay marriage movement has used to systematically shut queer critiques of marriage out of the national conversation, insisting that there are only two sides to the debate - whitewashed, straight-acting gay people, and rabid, anti-gay Christian fundamentalists. But what about decades of queer (and straight) critiques of marriage? If you point out that marriage is still a central site of anti-women, anti-child, anti-queer and anti-trans violence, you must be a raging homophobe, right? If you think the single-issue obsession with access to marriage shoves aside decades of radical queer visions of kinship, love, lust, intimacy, family, and community not predicated on state approval, you certainly must be in bed (or in the bushes) with Michele Bachmann (post-nuptially, of course). Richard Kim, an erstwhile critic of the gay marriage movement, should know better than to participate in the silencing strategy of the gay establishment.

Kim goes even further when he declares that the gay marriage movement "calls out accommodation as farce, and it converts sympathy into radical energy." It's hard to imagine anything more accommodationist than the flag-waving (yes, gay people love those stars-and-stripes, too), "we're just like you" rhetoric of a movement that insists that accessing tacky, outdated, oppressive institutions (marriage, the military, even the priesthood!) is the only way toward "full citizenship."

ACTUPATNIGHT.jpgKim calls this the "politics of personal crisis," and compares it to the actions of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) activists in demanding government accountability for the mass deaths of friends and lovers in the beginning of the AIDS crisis. But there's an important difference: AIDS activists were (and are) fighting for people's lives. Gay marriage proponents are fighting for tax breaks and inheritance rights. ACT UP demanded (and continues to demand, where chapters still exist) access to life-saving medications for people with AIDS, but also universal healthcare for everyone. The gay marriage movement argues that marriage solves fundamental problems of inequality - that's right, if you're HIV-positive, addicted to heroin, and homeless, just find someone with a nice stock portfolio and a good health plan to marry, and you're set!

While Richard Kim argues that the most powerful legacy of ACT UP was the Ryan White CARE Act, "which in principle guarantees that nobody dies of AIDS in America because they can't afford drugs," he's missing the point. Sure, Ryan White was an important legislative victory, but the power of ACT UP always existed in the potential to create radical systems of care, conflict and controversy outside the halls of officialdom, forcing change within. When Kim says, "What began as a movement based on friendship and interpersonal relations became something more egalitarian and far-reaching; it became a part of government," could he really be talking about the same government that, as Jose Antonio Vargas points out, deported 800,000 undocumented people in the last two years? What kind of egalitarian system guns down migrants on its borders, supports every corporate-cozy dictator it can get its hands on, and consistently guts social services (Ryan White funding included) to continue vicious wars of aggression?

ACT UP not only forced the US government and the scientific establishment to hasten the approval of drugs that eventually became life-prolonging, but it articulated an oppositional queer politic that made connections between government neglect of people with AIDS and structural homophobia and racism; between the U.S. war machine and the lack of funding for healthcare; between misogyny and the absence of resources for women with AIDS; between the war on drugs and the abandonment of HIV-positive drug addicts and prisoners. The gay marriage movement does just the reverse: enforces (or "weaponizes," as Richard Kim phrases it) a single-issue politic at the cost of broader social change, literally funneling tens of millions of dollars into the drive for gay legitimacy while the needs of queers (and everyone else) with the least access are ignored. It's the gay marriage movement, with its stranglehold on resources - political, intellectual, emotional and financial - that is preventing the kind of activism represented by ACT UP. The popular ACT UP chant, "We die, you do nothing" might now be rephrased as "We die, you get married."

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Is your argument here that "ACT UP = good, same-sex marriage = bad" because ACT Up was/is counter culture/government whereas the marriage fight invokes an institution with a history of oppression? Is that the litmus test here? Really? You want to stop by Hot Topic, dye your hair black, and talk about how everyone else is a poser next?

And the argument that ACT UP > same-sex marriage is bizarre, truly one finger attacking another. The DREAM Act fights for people's lives--such as Andy Mathe--so is it also "better" than ACT UP? Trying to construct the argument that ACT UP can be compared to the same-sex marriage fight by virtue of their approach is clear backdoor reasoning to construct a comparison between two movements that don't actually talk about the same thing. Is PINK better than March of Dimes? Is the autism campaign less important (of even "weaponizing") compared to Save the Children?

The nexus of your argument apparently comes down to "ACT UP = good" because its approach is counter culture. "Same-sex marriage = bad" because it is assimilationist. Then you try to buffer that idea with some inconsequential comparison of their goals, as if they happen to be in competition with one another for ideological space. "You can't fight for governmental/medical HIV/AIDS reform while fighting for same-sex marriage", not to mention your straw man that somehow same-sex marriage's existence definitively threatens the networks queers have forged in its absence (or after rejecting the marriage institution).

Granted, the two ideas are in competition in terms of political capital, but what is this? Sour grapes that one movement has been embraced far more so than another? And the recourse is to denigrate that movement and pass it off as a meaningless victory? Is a housing project for people living with HIV less important than a program designed to get teenagers off of hard drugs? For someone whose partner is dying without medical coverage that would normally be extended to their spouse, same-sex marriage laws are saving a life. For someone whose children are at risk of not being legally considered their own, that's saving several lives.

I agree that marriage as a legal institution needs reexamining. I also agree that being wrapped up in same-sex marriage as the end-all-be-all of the queer political debate is laughable and problematic. There are so many bigger fights out there: queer youth homelessness, trans discrimination and violence, corrective rape, gay honor killings.

But I don't buy the argument that caring about one means that you don't care about the others. I could flip it on you and claim that ACT UP's counter-culture/counter government manifesto prevents its members from working cooperatively with the system to crack down on corrective rape in Sudan. Its preoccupation with people living with HIV is "destructive and dangerous," weaponizing the queer rights movement into a single issue wrapped around HIV when there are kids (without HIV) being discriminated against in schools or teenagers being hanged in the Middle East. And no, being counter government doesn't erase its singular HIV-related mission.

So I don't buy that argument. Nor do I buy the argument that same-sex marriage is inherently destructive to the lives of other queer who don't need it. I don't buy that "[i]t's the gay marriage movement, with its stranglehold on resources - political, intellectual, emotional and financial - that is preventing the kind of activism represented by ACT UP." Do you really think that if the gay movement dissolved, those resources would magically go to you?

If the ACT UP movement is just the second oldest sibling to the assimilationist gay right movement, then it wouldn't be all that radical. You basically admit it yourself in the piece that the gay rights movement gets the resources it has because it is the safest looking of the two for a society concerned with normalcy. The normative culture can analogize itself with the gay rights movement, but it can't analogize itself to ACT UP. And if ACT UP's counter culture/counter government approach is the heart of the movement that you laud it as, that's the way it would always be (and apparently, the way you would desire it to be).

So what sense does it make to bemoan the fact that you're not getting the resources of an "in the privilege club" from an institution that you reject by nature of your own manifesto?

And so people care about things you don't care about and don't care about things you care about. Is that the invitation to crap on the things they care about? Is that going to convince them that there are more important issues, and even then, that you're the person they want to work with? How about allowing people to celebrate their victory and then calling on them to go further, to examine what it means and encourage them to move forward? They've made a finger painting, so how about congratulating them and introducing them to watercolors, instead of telling them that their finger painting is juvenile crap? Or maybe that's just not the way ACT UP does things. And maybe that suggests that it has some of its own kinks to work out, hm?

There's a lot here that can be unpacked far more effectively by Mattilda, if she chooses, including the fact that this comment makes a series of claims about the original post that are simply fictitious: nowhere, for instance, does Mattilda claim that caring for one movement means not caring for another; that's not even the point here. Claiming that she makes that argument is simply one way to circumvent the very real critiques present in the piece.

But I did want to stop by and clear up one of these fictions: the DREAM Act does not, in any shape or form, fight for people's lives; anyone can read the text of the act to see what it stands for (and I should add that the effects of the DREAM Act are complicated, but the Act itself is not, and has been accurately described in the OP). The fact that some or perhaps even several DREAM Activists were pushing for Andy Mathe to not be deported does not make the DREAM Act any less complicated; it does indicate that the quest for citizenship is a complicated one. But let's not pretend that the Act in itself is not troubling.

Support for one cause does not have to mean the denial of another - exactly. So, to claim that the OP claims that is itself to insert the false dichotomy that the above comment relies upon. Kim, on the other hand, in fact articulate such choices by representing the gays in such words: "you're either with me, or you're with the haters - but you can't have it both ways." Yes, you could argue that he's simply articulating the ways in which the marriage movement wallahs carried forth their campaigns, but there's nothing, absolutely nothing in his piece to suggest that this is in any way problematic. Like Mattilda, I was surprised to see something like from someone who has, at least in the past, been far more nuanced.

"...nowhere, for instance, does Mattilda claim that caring for one movement means not caring for another; that's not even the point here."

Actually, these two phrases point to Mattilda making that claim indirectly: "the gay marriage movement does just the reverse: enforces [ ] a single-issue politic at the cost of broader social change, literally funneling tens of millions of dollars into the drive for gay legitimacy while the needs of queers (and everyone else) with the least access are ignored."


"The popular ACT UP chant, "We die, you do nothing" might now be rephrased as "We die, you get married.""

Both of those statements to me point to a false either/or argument, making MBS as guilty of the "fallacy of the excluded third" as Kim. And there are many commenting here who apparently share this view.

That's just one of many logical fallacies employed in this piece to express opinion: straw man, burden of proof, red herring, horse laugh, subjectivist fallacy--just to name the ones I could spot.

Gender-less marriage has the potential to benefit many LGBT people in both the micro (particular individuals' situations) and macro (equality in marriage unpins one more spike holding back LGBT equality) views. And just because not every queer can benefit individually at this particular moment is not a very good argument for funneling money elsewhere.

There's a clear lack of financial data here indicating how much money (roughly, or exactly) is being spent on the marriage battle versus other queer causes. Last I checked, there were numerous local, regional, and national organizations fighting the root cause of the symptoms plaguing the queers who many here describe as "not having access" to marriage, and spending a lot of money doing so.

Those phrases indicate nothing of the sort; they're pointing out that the gay marriage campaigns make it seem like we should only fund one of the issues. Saying that the the needs of queers are ignored is itself a critique of the idea that we should only care about one thing - which is, essentially, what gay marriage campaigns have pushed for - it's the opposite of saying that we can only care about one thing.

As for finances, there have in fact been quite a few number-crunching pieces which indicate the real amount being funneled into the gay marriage campaign. For starters, there's Ryan Conrad's "Against Equality in Maine and Everywhere,": Even David Mixner, a key gay marriage supporter, has complained about the money spent (in his mind, because it didn't go anywhere fast enough): I recall the number he gave, at the time, was a 100 million. That has, no doubt, vastly increased since then.

I'd have to say that saving lives - through the funding of AIDS prevention agencies and youth facilities, for instance, is a pretty good reason to spend the money elsewhere.

That piece, and several, several other news reports since then, detail the ways that funding has been drastically cut for services like youth housing and homelessness in the queer population. That's something that's been explored even in the mainstream press, even if they don't make the explicit connection between that and gay marriage funding. If anyone wonders about the truth of organisations suffering in the wake of the excessive funding for gay marriage, they would do well to contact their local AIDS organisations, youth programs, etc.

I'd also check out Amy Sueyoshi's piece on the Against Equality website for an example of how organisations are directly told they won't get funded if they don't focus on gay marriage (more than one link in a comment here puts it in the wait queue).

I think you need to re-read those phrases. They make an obvious and logically fallible "either/or" scenario, in addition to a circular argument that the gay marriage activists only care about one issue, a claim entirely based on assumption. They wouldn't be very good gay marriage activists if gay marriage weren't their primary issue. It's a moot point trying to pass as meaningful.

You make your own either/or argument in your response, implying that fundraising is a zero-sum game. Amy Sueyoshi's piece actually presents no numbers and no anecdotal evidence to support that private organizations aimed at solving other life-critical problems have lost funding as a direct result of marriage equality fundraising. In fact, the organizations she does mention (HIV prevention and care services in SF) are severely underfunded because of the slashing of those programs in the California State budget, which was their primary source of funding--not because private donations dried up.

Also, it does no justice to her argument to ignore that for many LGBTs marriage is indeed a life-saving issue for people who cannot get on their partner's health insurance, persons whose marriage could stop them from having to leave the country to a place far less friendly to LGBTs, elderly who counted on their now-deceased partner's social security income and are facing homelessness, and the list goes on. MSB and others try to steer the argument that donating to marriage means donating to something that's not life-urgent, and I hope you can acknowledge that such is deceptive.

In the same vein, should women's suffrage waited until society solved domestic violence? Should school integration have waited until there were no more homeless black people? I don't think feminism and racial equality would have gotten very far on that schedule. I'd also point out that the battle against anti-miscegenation laws was being fought at the same time as segregation--two battles won within a decade of one another.

This piece doesn't attempt to answer this question, but I see no reason why gender-less marriage must wait until there's no more queer youth homelessness, no one dying of AIDS, no more violence against transgenders, and no more queer addicts. And if you and MSB would like to make the argument that it's acceptable to fight for gay marriage as long as these other groups receive good funding, that's fine, and I hope you do and I hope you already are putting your money where your mouth is and supporting those causes financially and/or with your labor. But stating that gender-less marriage is not worth fighting for only on the basis that it *might* be draining funds from other programs is as weak as the assumption that people who won't have economic access to gender-less marriage immediately after its passage will somehow lose if marriage passes and never benefit from it in the future.

The zero-sum argument is one that you and others in the marriage movement are putting forth, not those who are critical of so much funding going to marriage. I note that you conveniently ignore Conrad's numbers. As many here have noted (see just the comments on some of the marriage posts, including Conrad's), the money they gave to prop 8 campaigns or to the campaign in Maine was money they chose not to give to other issues. Most of us, excluding the minority of very, very, wealth gays who also, unfortunately, control the "movement" have a limited supply of funds to give to causes - I would talk to individuals and discuss how they portion out their funds for movement issues before I make sweeping generalisations about how queers choose their causes.

Nobody would deny that for some marriage may be a life-saving issue in terms of health insurance/citizenship etc. Yes, exactly. That's what a lot of us are critical of: a society which makes marriage a life-saving enterprise. There isn't one of us who would look at a couple and say, "Hey, you can't get married just because you need health care, so please roll over and die." That's an absurd statement, yes, and it's the kind of absurd scenario that the comment above tries so hard to evoke, against the grain of reality.

What IS deceptive is an attempt, which I see here, to make false and fictitious claims on behalf of Mattilda and others who are critical of the marriage movement's swallowing up of funds and energy.

No on is ignoring that marriage can mean specific benefits - instead, we are exactly critical of how important marriage has become, and simultaneously arguing that marriage should not be so important in determining whether or not people live or die. In the meantime, if people need to get married for those benefits, we're hardly attempting to stop them from doing so. Yes, we can fight for causes simultaneously - so why not also argue AGAINST marriage as such a privileged guarantor of basic life-and-death benefits? What, exactly, is the great harm done here while we militate against a social contract, of all things, becoming the only way for people to, literally, live?

The only reason I can think of is the excessive emotional and cultural attachment that so many people have to marriage - so whenever I hear talk of "Well, but marriage gives us all these important benefits, and we're merely saying we should have those benefits - so please shut up with your critiques," I know instantly that their real argument is not for legal benefits but for the emotional and cultural baggage that marriage brings with it.

If gay and lesbian gay marriage advocates were in fact simply concerned with the legal aspects of marriage, they would be on our side and arguing against the primacy of marriage. That, in fact, is really the only position that makes sense IF they truly understand that it's, to put it bluntly, wrong to let marriage control so much. But the truth is in different versions of what I've heard and read explicitly from people like Elizabeth Birch, former ED of HRC, and many, many other "movement leaders": People need to understand that being an adult means being married and understanding that only marriage should give such benefits. In other words, if you're not married, suck it up and die.

I've always found it interesting that the most nuanced allies in our critiques of marriage have, in fact, been straight married people who have a much longer history with the coercive nature of marriage and who've witnessed the unhappy effects of forced conjoining amongst their parents and friends. As a result, they tend to have a much keener sense of how unfair marriage is even as they are forced, as many are, to marry for benefits.

I suspect and hope that, eventually, when gay marriage advocates are forced to endure the coercion of partnerships - as in NY and CT where even domestic partnerhsips are disallowed because, hey, if you can get married, you just should, and if you want your partner not to die from a lack of health care - they'll wise up. Until then, we'll be left with such red herring arguments like what the comment above, says, in effect, "If you argue against the primacy of marriage, you must just want people to die/or be separated from loved ones."

If there is to be a discussion, let it be about facts, not hyperbolic claims of marriage critiques ignoring life-and-death issues.

"If there is to be a discussion, let it be about facts, not hyperbolic claims of marriage critiques ignoring life-and-death issues."

Here, here. On that note, ask MSB to rewrite this piece with more facts and less hyperbolic emotion. Give her a book on logic while you're at it.

"The gay marriage movement argues that marriage solves fundamental problems of inequality - that's right, if you're HIV-positive, addicted to heroin, and homeless, just find someone with a nice stock portfolio and a good health plan to marry, and you're set!"

Oh Mattilda -- you do my heart good. What a welcome relief from all this gay marriage blather!

The headline here makes me incredibly ANGRY. As does the comment about "BLATHERING" about marriage.

The implication is that people like my husband and I are happily skipping down the marriage aisle while blissfully ignoring other problems which continue to plague our community (We married in Massachusetts 3 years ago, and yes, we did indeed walk happily down that aisle, and it was one of the best and most carefree days of our 25 years together.)

My husband has known he is HIV Poz since 1985 and has lived with AIDS for over 15 years. By the mid-80's, our friends were dying ... they were denied good healthcare ... their AIDS-stricken-couldn't-care-for-themselves partners were callously evicted from their homes and apartments because they were not on the deed or lease ... for those who had joint property and savings, the surviving partners, often sick themselves and unable to work, were forced to sell the home and use up much-needed savings to pay inheritance taxes ... homophobic families would sweep in as legal guardians, removing sick guys from their homes and lovers and friends, often barring visitation ... and the list, unfortunately, goes on. Instead of focusing on their health, they dealt with these stupid things.

Marriage would not have killed the virus, but the rest of this s**t COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED BY A SIMPLE MARRIAGE LICENSE RECOGNIZED BY THE STATE AND THE FEDS.

Together with others, we fought and have continued to fight on every level - Project Open Hand, ACT UP, Queer Nation, getting arrested at the FDA, putting up with HRC - and we all made a difference.

BUT, my husband is only alive today because of the consistent and excellent medical care he has received through my workplace, a progressive company that extended benefits to domestic partners long before it became commonplace.

Today, if forced to a choice, NO fight is more important than marriage equality. NO fight will save more LGBT lives than the fight for marriage equality.

DOMA and states' laws against SSM are the Berlin Wall of today's gay rights movement, and as this wall continues to come down, the benefits to the LGBT community will be innumerable.

Each of you knows the statutory benefits which come with marriage, and you should be ashamed to belittle the importance of marriage equality.

Count on me to keep "blathering."

PS - And about HIV-poz, Heroin-addicted (or Meth-addicted), homeless guys? Don't be so flippant. We know a straight woman who married a HIV-poz gay friend with a major Meth addiction just to get him medical care and to get him into re-hab. Sadly, it didn't work, but at least she tried, via marriage, to save him, and that is an option that should be available to all of us.

Who amongst us has said to you or anyone else in your situation, "You should let your partner die without access to medications/health care?"

Your story is poignant, but it misses the crucial point: NO ONE should have to get married in order to save friends and lovers and partners.

And that, really, is the simplest point we could make. Your example in fact proves our point: Marriage provides essential benefits, including the ability to literally save people's lives. It should not. That simple and fundamental point is what many of us make over and over again.

And before someone jumps in and says, "Yes, but the health care you speak of is impossible in this country etc." - I would point you to the recent attempts at reform (and that such is not impossible at all). And I then point you to the fact that some states are making it impossible for anyone who's NOT married to even get domestic partnership health benefits, if they've legalised gay marriage. Which is to say: gay marriage advocates want to have it every which way: they want to argue that gay marriage should come about because it can provide health and other beneftis, and they stand silently by when the state uses the endowment of gay marriage as an excuse to cut unmarrieds out of those very same benefits. So, ultimately, and broadly speaking: the gay marriage movement has been quite explicitly saying: "We think married people are special and deserve more."

That, to put it bluntly, is wrong.

Thank you for this elegance and clarity, Yasmin!

I know what you think of the marriage movement, Mattilda. I've also been reading you long enough to understand the kind of future you envision. I believe deeply in the idea of marriage, but as one of many kinship choices. I didn't think, though, that Kim was using ActUp and the Marriage folks as direct analogs. I am an often broke gay white cis-male. I have pain in my life that, while not as urgent or life threatening at the moment as a PWA or an incarcerated Queer person, can still be a focal point for activism.

I think the path to that future you envision is to create a narrative that says my liberation from suffering is intimately bound to everyone's liberation.

Greg, "I think the path to that future you envision is to create a narrative that says my liberation from suffering is intimately bound to everyone's liberation." I certainly agree with you there!

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Ernie, I love this: "You just fundamentally sound like an awful, damaged person. You have no clear point here other than to spew a bunch of rhetorical anger into the air and see where it lands." Look in the mirror, my dear...

And, by the way, 30 years ago I was eight years old, and so I'm pretty sure I hadn't yet set a track for the "civil rights movement."

@Ernie - Spending millions of dollars on marriage uses funding that could be used to do things like ... oh, I don't know. Run shelters for homeless queer/trans youth. Fight for universal healthcare. For immigration reform. For prison reform/abolition. Things that would prevent violence and death for queers and str8 ppl alike. So the "marriage rights" movement DOES take away resources from other, broader, more inclusive causes.

Basically - antimarriage queers want your partner to have health insurance just as much as you do. We just want people who aren't your partner ... and people who aren't interested in the idea of (or privileged enough to participate in) state-sanctioned long-term monogamy with a person who has health insurance ... to ALSO have access to healthcare. And we're frustrated when monogamous, insured gay folk focus on same-sex marriage, in the way that they've been doing, as some sort of be-all end-all solution to discrimination cuz in reality it leaves SO MANY people out and just brings a privileged few to the table, reinforcing existing hierarchies. Y'know?

(Sidenote: I think the vitriol of your comment is unwarranted, and the name-calling unacceptable...just cuz it's the internet and anonymous doesn't mean it's okay for you to throw around meanspirited personal attacks like that.)

Aw man, I coulda sworn I hit the reply button on Ernie's post. Oops.

Simon, I think this website sometimes drops the "REPLY" status; and I have asked the Bilerico webmasters to implement an upgrade so that the commenter's "REPLY" status shows up somewhere on the Preview page, so that commenters can at least track more easily what the website is doing internally. Bil replied to my suggestion favorably, so I assume this improvement is on their "To-do" list, but I don't know its priority.

Just wanted to let you know "INJY", that "it's not just you".

Simon, thank you -- this is fantastic, I couldn't agree more!

Thanks for this, Mattilda.

I get increasingly frustrated with visibility and the rhetoric of "coming out" as a paradigm for queer/trans activism. I think a lot of that *is* the lack of political effect that "coming out" has these days (in the mainstream urban "liberal" US). Being a visible homo nowadays more often than not just means you're well-dressed and sassy ... both of which are great, but not exactly the solution to anti-queer violence.

I'm also dismayed by the way so many people are unquestioningly pushing for the DREAM act. I'm not as against it as I am against the movement for marriage equality, just because I feel like the stakes are much higher for those it affects, but the nationalism behind it and the military component and the need to distinguish between "good immigrants" and "bad immigrants" is really, really fucked up. Ultimately just a new way to coerce poor PoC (because really, who can afford a four-year college education without access to federal [and in some cases state] financial aid?) into joining in on US imperialism.


Simon, thanks for this:

"I'm also dismayed by the way so many people are unquestioningly pushing for the DREAM act. I'm not as against it as I am against the movement for marriage equality, just because I feel like the stakes are much higher for those it affects, but the nationalism behind it and the military component and the need to distinguish between "good immigrants" and "bad immigrants" is really, really fucked up. Ultimately just a new way to coerce poor PoC (because really, who can afford a four-year college education without access to federal [and in some cases state] financial aid?) into joining in on US imperialism."

Again, I couldn't agree with you more!


I would first like to say that I've been interested in what you have to say ever since a former boss loaned me her copy of That's Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation. To me, that book was a real eye opener. I also find this article interesting and appreciate what you have to say.

However, whenever you use phrases like "while some still use the act as a brazen challenge to status quo normalcy, often it's a self-congratulatory ritual of initiation into a vapid consumer gay culture more concerned with accessing straight privilege than challenging social norms" or "whitewashed, straight-acting gay people" I find myself turned off a bit.

What's the point of painting everybody who does not fit your particularly world view with demeaning and insulting terminology like "whitewashed"? I've also seen you use the term in similar ways elsewhere.

Maybe I'm just being sensitive here, as I'm not a radical for the sake of radicalism sort of guy. It's just that it seems to me that you sometimes cross a line into taking on an attitude of "how dare anybody try to be normal!: that reeks of intellectual elitism.

I don't know, maybe I'm reading those lines from the wrong perspective, but I can't help but be troubled by them.

california panda | July 27, 2011 6:35 PM

Want to really know the cost of "coming out" today for gay people as opposed to trans people? Try coming out trans. How is marriage for gay people going to help a transwoman or transman undergoing transition get the health care they need to complete it? How is it going to provide a safe place to live or a job for transpeople that pays the bills? How is it going to help a transwoman or transman who doesn't want to get married survive and thrive in a society like what exists now? I will not play down the importance of gay marriage. I would just like to be included in the "equality" of things without having to be threatened, beaten, abused, or killed for my being different.

I'm sorry but I'm not sure what the difficulties that are faced by trans individuals has to do with my point.

I am well aware of the additional difficulties faced by by trans people compared to gays and lesbians and the history of certain organizations when it comes to denying the needs of trans individuals in favor of gays/lesbians. I was in no way trying to dismiss that.

However, I don't see how that excuses insulting rhetoric. Once again, I must ask if I am correctly understanding what is going on here?

Jeremy, I'm so glad you enjoyed That's Revolting!

When I say:

"This is exactly the strategy the gay marriage movement has used to systematically shut queer critiques of marriage out of the national conversation, insisting that there are only two sides to the debate - whitewashed, straight-acting gay people, and rabid, anti-gay Christian fundamentalists."

I'm pointing out the strategy of the gay marriage movement, which systematically employs a whitewashed strategy, by which I mean the endless portrayal of gay people as patriotic, affluent, "normal" types who are desperate to fit into straight norms. To me, this is the insulting rhetoric.

Oh. That puts things in a somewhat different light.

Thanks for clarifying.

It's tricky citing ACT UP as having "positions" when they were so practical in their goals. It was always about lowering the price of a particular drug, not destroying the pharmaceutical industry. It was about changing the FDA, not eliminating it. I was just reading various ACT UP Oral History entries last night. Peter Staley, Jim Eigo, Mark Harrington, Maxine Wolfe. I was interested in the intellectual diversity on economic issues. Eigo is explicitly anti capitalist and has the greatest investment in getting rid of the health insurance companies. Staley says he was usually the most capitalist voice in conversations at the London School of Economics; he was of course on Wall Street-- and it's partially his insiderness that helped persuade unbelievers that Burroughs Wellcome was increasing the price of AZT not by 10x but by 100x or 1000x. The extent of the price gouging. Wolfe thought that some of the TAG men became pawns of Fauci and/or the pharmaceutical industry. Harrington was devastated when Mixner and the push for gays in the military displaced national health care. Just to say that it seems to be very easy to mislead on ACT UP because it (1) used a dual strategy, insider-outsider vis a vis gvt and pharma and (2) it was so diverse intellectually. So whenever anyone says "ACT UP said x or y" my response is usually ... well to whom are you referring?

Did ACT UP articulate an "oppositional queer politic"? It was always very interesting to observe who drew which line where. Who opposed which clinical trial, which policy, which emphasis. Who wanted to push for a cure, when a cure surely would make less money for pharmaceuticals than drugs for chronic HIV. Just to say ACT UP was plagued by conflict over many of the same problems of framing that plague us now.

Elise, thanks so much for this nuanced comment! So true about the diversity of opinions within ACT UP, and the insider/outsider strategy...

In some ways, I think when I talk about ACT UP, I am thinking about my own experience in ACT UP San Francisco in the early-'90s. This was right after ACT UP San Francisco split over some of these very issues -- whether the goal would be treatment activism only, or at least primarily (ACT UP Golden Gate), or whether you couldn't fight AIDS without fighting racism, classism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. (ACT UP SAN Francisco). And so, the chapter I was in focused primarily on universal healthcare, needle exchange, women with HIV/AIDS, and prisoners with HIV/AIDS. That chapter most certainly did articulate an oppositional queer politic, and I am so grateful for it! Not that there also weren't a dramatic number of contradictions, betrayals, etc.

But I wonder too about this insider/outsider strategy that was so successful (especially nationally) for ACT UP, and whether part of that wasn't because everyone (even the insiders) felt like outsiders (to the straight white power structure) in some way back then, especially when everyone was dying, regardless of privilege. And whether, with the progression of gay assimilation over the last 20 years, and the ways in which a certain kind of gay person wields so much power while everyone else's needs are pushed aside, such a strategy for queer struggle would still be possible...

In ACT UP NY in 1991 and 1992 (my time period) everyone wanted to change the CDC definition and everyone wanted ADAP. No gender class or race divide on that. ADAP is hugely important and saves lives. I don't think it's guilty by association because it's part of the same government that does the war on drugs and deports people. It does economic justice and it was accomplished by the treatment and data committee which was mostly white men. I'm glad that I didn't experience a huge false dichotomy and cleavage when I was young. Didn't Golden Gate deny HIV caused AIDS?

Today's divide within lgbt seems much more intractable. A lot of people with health insurance don't want to give it up for single payer. They want their choices. They feel they'd lose choice. To me that's why they are so resistant to the reframing towards more egalitarian solutions. During the early ACT UP years, the person getting drugs via ADAP didn't threaten the access of someone with health insurance. Although I did read in Maxine's interview that some gay men felt that the pie was only so big. If women could be diagnosed with AIDS, they'd get some of the pie, and thus take it away from men.

i mean ACT UP SF. not golden gate.

Elise, of course the AIDS Drug Assistance Program is hugely important, we certainly agree on that. I'm not arguing that the Ryan White CARE Act is guilty by association because it's part of government, but rather that it is always limited due to funding battles based on unrelated issues, and that when Richard Kim says, "What began as a movement based on friendship and interpersonal relations became something more egalitarian and far-reaching; it became a part of government," I'm stunned by the implication that something that's part of the monstrous US government is somehow more egalitarian and far-reaching than a movement based on friendship and interpersonal relations.

I don't believe the struggles within ACT UP San Francisco in the early-'90s, and nationally in many other groups were furthering a false dichotomy, but rather were about whether ACT UP should engage in a systematic intersectional analysis for a treatment-only argument – to me that conversation is still relevant, and I for one am grateful that I did have the opportunity to be part of a group that always embraced the intersectional analysis.

Starting in the mid-late '90s, ACT UP San Francisco did, unfortunately, embrace the AIDS IS OVER rhetoric (as well as the argument that HIV doesn't cause AIDS), but that was not the group I was a part of, and in fact probably only had one or two members in common with the group from the early-'90s, as the rest became exasperated and left when a few people who moved from Orlando and Washington DC came to dominate.

OK that makes sense to me. That you can't simply laud ADAP spending without making the caveat that this same government spends money so badly and incongruously. That hadn't been 100% clear to me. Instead of false opposition, I should have said an avoidable opposition. The NY split was actually not over broad vs narrow. It was over abandoning the inside part of the strategy and just protesting. I'm glad that there weren't two teams, narrow vs broad. It wasn't just treatment, it was housing, harm reduction, there was a national healthcare committee. It was really unusual in retrospect.

I find it remarkably bizarre that of all the people to criticize about these issues, that the author chose to single out Richard Kim.

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Richard's work knows that he has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Marriage Equality movement, and that he is committed to a broad range of social justice issues. In addition to his scholarship, activism and journalism on a host of progressive issues, he has also specifically written extensively about his critiques of the gay marriage movement, and about the limitations of single-issue politics. (See or, or He was also one of the main organizers and authors of the controversial Beyond Marriage document (http://www.beyondmarriage.?org/), and he has publicly debated leaders of the marriage equality movement in various public venues.

There were many good points (about marriage, immigration, ACT-UP, etc.) that were made in this article. But to make those points by using Richard Kim as a target is so bizarrely off-base. This feels like yet another depressing example to me of how often the left attacks its own allies, rather than concentrating on their numerous shared opponents. This whole I-am-more-progressive-than?-thou shtick is not only tired, but it is also destructive.

I think Mattilda's piece is, among other things, an expression of surprise that Kim, of all people would write something like this. I for one am really surprised by this recent piece of his, which is more expressive of something I'd see in the NYT than in The Nation (or again, perhaps not, given the turn to a neoliberalism of the left that is so pervasive these days). I guess rather than thinking of this as Mattilda being more "progressive-than-thou," I'd be curious to know if you disagree with the points she's made. Is there any point at which someone could say, "She's misreading Richard Kim" or "Here's where she's completely inaccurate about a point"? To make this about Mattilda attacking Richard Kim as some kind of "target" evades the real issues.

No one is required to go into this with some expansive understanding of Richard Kim's history and politics, especially since his piece certainly reads very much as an embrace of the gay marriage movement, not a critique of it - evidenced by comments here and elsewhere by those who see it as such.

If we are to go down that road - and I don't think we should - we'd have to first also consider Mattilda's own rich history of writing and activism. Rather than reframe the discussion in terms of attack, it would be more worthwhile to see this and other pieces as symptomatic of the need for the "left," such as it is in this country, to examine its politics more closely.

i liked both the Kim and the Sycamore pieces. These are obviously two people who both have a lot of integrity. i felt surprise that Kim chose to analogize an undocumented immigrant coming out with same sex couples in new york. but I attributed it to timing: the coincidence of Vargas' NYTimes magazine piece with the NY same sex marriage vote and the gigantic public visibility of that vote. I didn't imagine the article to represent a big change of heart or betrayal of #teamoppositionalqueer on Kim's part. I think that for some gay readers, sort of your liberal, relatively single issue gay person, the Vargas and Kim pieces might help them see immigration better, if they identify with "hiding" or "lying" and then "coming out" via personal disclosure. ACT UP in its heyday was one of the more successful pairings of powerful personalization with smart policy (usually). I agree with Sycamore that powerful storytelling shouldn't be used to whitewash policies that may be cover stories for military recruitment. The Vargas piece is really amazing though at showing the creativity and risk involved in undocumented life; I think it contributes massively to awareness about undocumented people. I didn't read it as a simple endorsement of the DREAM Act. I think Sycamore's points are good ones and they would go further if they weren't embedded in something so directly responsive to Kim. You know? Fine to mention the piece, but maybe better to avoid seeming ad hominem. the sections in the article about the differences bt the Ryan White act, the DREAM act, and same sex marriage could have been shaped more precisely and carefully and expanded. Because personal narrative can be used badly or well.

I see your points, Elise - but I don't see any part of the piece as an ad hominem attack on Kim. How does one critique something something like an op-ed without naming the author and, in effect, questioning their politics? What part of Mattilda's piece is a personal attack?

To me, it's actually absolutely crucial that the piece address Richard Kim directly (though I should also point out that it does not stop there, as is evident) - Kim writes for The Nation and is widely held to have "progressive" views on marriage and immigration, and that's all the more reason to wonder out aloud about such conservative/accomodationist politics making their way there (although, in truth, given the left neoliberalism of that magazine and other "left" venues, I'm not really surprised). Yet, even you were surprised at his analogy. I was, frankly, more than surprised at the extent to which his analogy is so deeply embedded in a particular and accomodationist politics around both immigration and gay marriage. I thought the entire piece was, well, quite strange for all the reasons and more that Mattilda points out.

Personal narrative can be used badly or well, yes - but are you referring here to Vargas? Because I'm not sure what else is a personal narrative. I remain intrigued by the ways in which Vargas's text continues to be deployed by various segements of the queer/immigrant communities to various ends. I liked the starkness of it, the minute detailing of the daily anxiety he has lived through, and was glad to see something that could reach a mainstream audience. But I've been disturbed by the extent to which it's also been used, quite cheaply, by many to make an analogy between "coming out" as queer and as undocumented. The two states carry vastly differently stakes for people concerned, and not everyone has the luxury to obey the admonition to come out, in either way.

To point out the problems with how that narrative is used by writers like Kim, as Mattilda has done, isn't to be directly critical of Vargas, but to consider the great damage done by some kinds of discursive moves, like the demand that everyone come out.

I see Kim as being curious about the authority of the first person voice, which is SO central to the marriage equality movement's style. Vargas used the first person singular, same sex couples use the first person plural. I see Kim as wanting to explore, and not quite fully able to explore, the power and danger of that way of speaking. You know far better than I the way people use their first person experience to silence others. The beyond marriage position struggles sometimes with a lack of first person sob story stratagems. I'm being very lit crit here; I see us as totally on the same page in terms of policy and mindset. But the beyond marriage voice is very "you" and "they." It's "you spend your money on this useless thing." "They are trying to embrace a government that discriminates." I would say, yeah let's look at how and why the first person persuades better than these other styles. I may be projecting my thoughts onto Kim.

And of course i agree with you that it's absurd to say that all undocumented people should come out. It's upsetting to hear that people argue that. But is it wrong to observe how powerful it is when it does happen? Vargas himself not only uses the first person singular but also multiple first person plurals, the "we" of undocumenteds, the "we" of him + his teachers and bosses, the "we" of all americans who we must admit that we profit from undocumented labor, as in this sophisticated passage: "Beyond hurtful words and misguided legislation, we as a nation have been framing this issue in the wrong way. We constantly talk about immigration and reform in the context of what it means for people like me who are here without papers. We pretend that immigrants are the only people who are affected by this issue — that’s not the truth. Most Americans reap some benefit or pay some cost for the cracks in our system. We need to begin a conversation about the innumerable ways in which we all profit from our broken immigration system. We need to be honest about the low-cost labor that steadies the price of the poultry and produce we feed our families and builds and repairs the homes we raise our children in. We need to be fair to educators across the country who are tasked with teaching each student, regardless of immigration status. We need to talk with as much passion and knowledge about enforcing our laws and securing our border as we do about honoring the immigrant tradition of a country that’s been built and replenished by immigrants from all corners of the world. And we need to broaden the conversation, be it at our dinner tables or virtual water coolers. If we want to tell the truth about immigration, then we need to begin by admitting that immigration isn’t just about us, the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. It’s about the larger us, the 310 million. It’s about all Americans and about America itself." from

I don't argue that it's not powerful - but as someone who's watched the immigration rights movement dither and die after years of affective rhetoric about good citizens and lovely coming out stories (and having the groups I work with be silenced when we attempt to craft alternative narratives about economics), I know too well the costs of getting carried away with the power of such narratives. It's worth asking: what part of this makes people most comfortable? And what gets lost in the quest to make people so comfortable?

To that end, the Vargas piece that you quote from is different from the construction of his story that others are using (and that doesn't mean I don't have issues with what he's expressed here) - and, for pity's sake, that's all that some of us are trying to point out. To your question, let me post another: is it so wrong to point out the very deep problems with purportedly powerful narratives about coming out? Or any other sorts of narratives upon which we hinge queer/undocumented acceptance?

I'm getting a little tired, honestly, of every part of any critique of the sort of assimilationist and absurdly nationalist tropes that both the gay marriage and immigration rights movements engage in being dismissed or being portrayed as some sort of futile exercise or problematic or "what's wrong with x?" arguments being thrown out ("nihilism" as the more ignorant folks are apt to call them).

Here's what's being lost in all this: some of are activists AND theorists - we engage in the kinds of battles we have to engage in order to make short-term and even problematic gains, but we try damned hard to also keep our eyes on the big picture and to remind people that there is actually a better way, and to keep asking ourselves what the very real and material costs of compromise might be in the long run.

I've literally and metaphorically stood behind people who are at threat of being deported and cringed while listening to politicians support them in nationalist terms that made my toes curl, but that didn't mean I didn't also continue to be critical of said nationalist discourse in other venues - while knowing I needed to shut the hell up and let the guy give his speech. Which is to say: this shit is complicated, and no one is denying that.

Want to see where all this compromise got us? In NY and CT, you better get married if you want your partner to NOT die from some fatal disease because he/she didn't have health care. No more domestic partnerships even. Oh, and yes, if you're someone who committed a misdemeanor as a teenager - under immigration law that can be as simple as running a stop sign or smoking pot (cuz, yes, wouldn't you know, the rules ARE different for immigrants) - you just deserve to get deported because, hey, YOU didn't get those fabulous grades to get into Yale Law School or the University of Chicago. The issue right now for us to first acknowledge that this shit is complicated and continue to batter away at both ends, not to decide that we can't be critical of what some amongst us do or write because we're afraid of some fracture in the "movement."

To that end: while it's useful to keep asking such questions, at some point the reductiveness comes not from those who challenge the so-called lefty status quo but from those who are angered by such challenges.

I also have to write this reminder: No one is criticisng Vargas (at least, yet). There's a difference between critical of the narratives that people engage in - sometimes by force - and of being critical of the ways in which their narratives are deployed to much murkier and problematic ends.

Your example of being at the immigration rally, hearing that nationalist rhetoric, and biting your tongue but opposing the rhetoric elsewhere ... that's the kind of thing I want and need to read. That humanizes the person who wants to make the more complex, economic, and serious argument. Left friends of mine tell me how we misnarrate immigration, that it's really about how corn subsidies in the US led to a big rural exodus in Mexico, etc-. How what gets narrated as "immigration" or a life story is actually caused by U.S. agricultural policy. I agree with that analysis, but I also think that most readers would need an example, a human story to understand that. I will remember your story of frustration at the rally better than I would an abstract argument. Because I have a visual in my head. That's my main point about seeing things that were useful in both articles. I'm not championing compromise.

Yes, but my frustration is not going to resonate with an average reader who just wants to be given examples of how sad and pathetic immigrants are and how happy they would all be if they got citizenship. My account of frustration is already, right there, marked as too abstract and not about how to get immigrants citizenship. The quest for citizenship cannot be made on a ground that is critical of the entity in which one seeks citizenship - that much is clear, and I'm fine with that when it comes to individuals or groups making their claim for citizenship: I understand the reasons why and I know what is at stake for everyone. But my point is that activists amongst themselves need to do more to acknowledge the contradictions in which we find ourselves - and, frankly, put more work into highlighting the importance of critiques that are more abstract, perhaps, but necessary. So far, we've mostly chosen to roll over and play dead.

I see your point, but I think you're ignoring the crucial fact that in the quest for personal narratives to make things more intelligible, there is a clear demand for only certain kinds of narratives. I can assure you that there are a whole lot of so-called progressive/lefties who would rush to silence the narrative about my frustration. And they have. Ask yourself why the more complicated narratives from DREAM Act beneficiaries - like those from the students who don't want the American Dream because they're critical of it, or who deplore the military option - don't make their way into lefty chronicles (of course, now that we've begun to point it out, they'll all rush to do so). Trust me when I tell you I've heard a number of them (and plan on finding ways to highlight them in the near future). And trust me when I tell you that attempts have been made and squelched. So far.

I totally agree that some personal narratives will be received better than others. Vargas' story of learning English from watching Frasier is a long ways from this: I do think that the more often people hear critical narratives, especially those from like yours and Ochoa's, the easier it becomes for them to receive them or hear them. I have no doubt that these narratives are contested and rejected.

I do trust you. I have no doubt that narratives like this one have been badly received and belittled. It sounds like people experience a lot of rejection and accusation for telling the stories that are more real and complex.

Kim seems to be saying that PWAs in ACT UP were the platonic ideal of weaponizing yourself in the right direction, in knowing what you need and knowing how to get it. If he thinks that undocumented people and same sex couples have paired their powerful personal narratives with bad policy proposals, he doesn't say so clearly. Or if he thinks that OTHER undocumented people and OTHER same sex couples could weaponize themselves towards OTHER policy ideas, he doesn't say that either. The latter to me is the optimal situation. I am friends with about 25 same sex couples in New York State. I know lesbian couples who have children who are anti marriage, in NY and MA. I think they would be interesting messengers for a beyond marriage position.

markandrew | July 28, 2011 3:10 AM

I've always thought that politics isn't really the line from right to left that we think it is ; i think it's a mobius strip . It doesn't really matter if you came it at from the left or the right if you go far enough , you end up with the same positions , so yeah , you're against gay marriage and so is Michele Bachmann ; how radical. I have a friend who thinks of himself as a "radical leftist anarchist" (his words) , he is eagerly anticipating the collapse of the current social order because he thinks it will open up new doors to create a sustainable culture based on communal living without structure or law ... i also know a teabagger (though , we're more neighbors than what you would call friends) who also anticipates the collapse of the current social order because she's a radical libertarian (my words) so she thinks it will open the doors to create a culture of pure self-interest and unfettered capitalism . They come at the issue of imbalance and injustice in our society from polar opposite philosophies , but they go around the bend and end up in the same place ; they want society to fall apart .
And really, that's what happens when you can't temper radical idealism with pragmatism , it slowly but surely transmogrifies into nihilism .
It's as if you wrote a book and this column arguing the answer to homelessness is to set about destroying houses that do exist , thereby transforming the world ; if everyone is homeless then no one is homeless . See, nihilism .
If you don't want to get married then don't , but to argue that we should stay in a segregated ghetto (literally and philosophically , which is to my mind what you are really arguing here) and live the gay life you proscribe makes you no different from those that argue these things from the right .
And what's with the "white affluent straight acting" crack ?
Not all of us who like dick are Paul Lynde. That doesn't mean we're putting on an act to mimic and reinforce the dominant paradigm and to suggest otherwise is kind of a radical kneejerk thing to say . I am who I am , I don't need to flame it up to impress you (or be radical) and I don't need to tone it down to make straight people comfortable . I am in a long term monogamous relationship with a wonderful tender bear , we are both totally gay and kind of manly (oooh so sexy and manly ;) and we love it ! and guess what ? that's completely alright . It doesn't mean we're sellouts to the heternormative culture , we're just being who we are . If someone is genderqueer or polyamorous that's completely alright too ! But don't belittle who we are because they don't match some radical queer theory you've devised. My HUSBAND and I are quite happy with our simple little lives and we'll be very proud when the day comes that we can have a ceremony in front of family and friends and make a formal vow to each other that is recognized by the government . If you don't want to come to the ceremony , they don't, but please , if you ever find yourself standing outside a wedding protesting this assimiliation of gays into the mainstream culture, say hi to the Westboro Baptists , cause it'll just be you and them out there . Mobius strip trip complete .

Marcandrew, Thank you for being the voice of reason and reality here. 99% of openly gay people support marriage equality and at least 90% are, want to be, or will be married. The facts on the ground are that are spouses, along with our children, are the most important people in our lives and our marriages are our most important relationships. Only legal marriage can offer us the protections, rights, privileges, and responsibilities we need to ensure they are safe, happy, and healthy. Quite obviously other problems such as poverty can be reduced by ending legal discrimination.

Our current predicament is what we get when we fall silently in line behind or are unable to successfully contest the most conservative elements of our community when they use their financial muscle to push their conservative, divisive and broadly unpopular agenda like marriage and the military over progressive, unifying and broadly popular issues like housing and job civil rights protections.

Homosexuals with money to push their assimilationist agenda began the marriage fight in the courts in the late 1980s. Legal fights are colossally expensive. At that time, there was still division here in San Francisco as to whether queers even wanted domestic partners. The success of a suit in Hawaii led to a constitutional amendment there to ban same sex marriage and late to the federal Defense of Marriage act.

The tide turned sometime in the mid 2000s, after some 33 losing ballot measures publicly slapped queers in the face and mobilized fundamentalists electorally nationwide, after Gavin Newsom launched his ill-fated, premature (minimum 2 years early) effort that ended up with another kick in the groin--Prop 8, a campaign which the wealthy homosexuals spent $45m losing a difficult yet winnable campagn because they were afraid to leave their upper class middle aged white coastal comfort zones to give the rest of California a reason to support defeat.

But by then the damage was done. For every loss at the polls, for every failed DADT repeal effort, for every signal that we are politically weak, the barriers holding back bashers drop slightly in areas where queers are not strong.

Far from an academic political exercise, there are very real consequences to a small band of wealthy homosexuals and their conservative white male politician allies setting an agenda which both has no majority support within the LGBT communities and is divisive amongst the broader population. Studies show that amongst LGBT, only 15% of us (me and my partner included) would get married if it were legal.

Right now, we are left with the spectacle of two ruling class straight white male attorneys having to swoop in from Washington to rescue the same sex marriage fight in California not because of any affinity for queers, rather because pragmatically they see continuing the conflict as divisive and a distraction for ongoing ruling class political dominance. This sends further messages that queers are not capable of constructing a winning campaign on our own and must rely on the benevolence of heteros for help in our liberation. Too bad that is true. What are we going to do about it?

As has been mentioned with the military, a very small number of LGBT (1.5%) would join the military. But ending DADT means that the next time that the empire needs to draft cannon fodder, guess what, being gay will no longer be an out. So the 1.5% of us will make sure that 100% of 18-22 year old gay men will risk their lives for a cause they probably do not believe in.

This is what a hijacked movement looks like, when straight white males like Clinton and Newsom glibly take an action without much thought, like supporting gays in the military on MTV or same sex marriage to secure gay support in the Castro that Newsom lost in 2003, that fails in the Congress, courts and ballot box and the consequences are borne by those with no say in the decision making. This is a good time to recall how Iggy Pop evaded the draft during the Vietnam invasion:

We all did a mental test, and then we took physicals, starting at station one. Station one is where you take off all of your clothes down to your skivies, and then you're supposed to get in line for the next bullshit test. So, in my part of the room, I stripped off and didn't have any underwear, just bare naked--pretty clever plan, eh? I just whacked it a little bit and walked out with the most enormous hard-on (11" x 1-3/4" at approximately a 94 degree angle), straight towards my place in line. I'd not gone four steps when a shout rang out: "Halt!" a sergeant approached me. "Where's your UNDERWEAR!!!"
So I got noticed right away. "Help me out, man," I said. So they sent me to a rest station to collect myself. I then hyperventilated and ran down the hall, stopping just before I saw a medic--so I was really shaking--and he said, "What's wrong?" And I said, "I'm gay, man, I'm really scared to be here with my clothes off around other men." So I went to the shrink, and he asked me questions like "What does gay mean? What's a queen?" things like that. By this time, I was really into it, and almost in tears. I started disgusting him and undermining his professional attitude, and he asked me to leave. It only took me an hour and a half to evade the draft: all in a good day's work.

Okay, the thought of Iggy naked with his large penis erect brings back what it is really all about to be gay.

The only reason why my husband and I got married in 2004 was because it was illegal. We got to enter SF City Hall through a gaggle of fundie christian protesters. I said to them "I'm Adam, he's Steve, we're getting married and there ain't nothing you can do about it." Once the courts stepped in and declared it all null and void, we did not get serially married every time the legal door opened like so many marriage fetishist I know. We'll not be getting married for real until we can share federal social security benefits, as we don't need no stinking state to approve our 22 year bonding. I'll take sharing our social security, tho.

My memory was that in the early 1990s, the HRCF took a poll of lesbians and gays which indicated that housing and job protections were at the top of the list while military and marriage were further down in the second five. This poll is nowhere to be found these days. Now we've got to figure out how to create a grassroots, democratic, mobilized movement of progressive and liberal LGBT to counter the dominance of the essentially useless HRC and NGLTF so that our agenda is our agenda, a majority agenda.

Otherwise, our communities will continue to be used as battering rams by the powerful to advance their interests and the Democrats will dribble out drops of advancement so that we will not be any closer to liberation in our lifetimes.


Really, it's necessary for 'radical' straight people to 'come out' against marriage in general; the fact that we have what is essentially a religious practice tied in with government benefits is what's unacceptable. Yet many gay people have the same type of appreciation of marital concepts, and the 'normality' that brings. I certainly think they should have the choice. It can be a life and death matter, if someone you're partnered with cannot share your medical benefits because you're not married. Yes, the underlying problem doesn't really have to do with sexuality, but, it is the reality of how things are in this country.

Gay people aren't necessarily more concerned than any one else with the issues of drug addiction, homelessness, immigration etc. Although I do appreciate this article, I don't think fighting against gay marriage specifically is a good place to start when it comes to exposing the flaws, mindless acceptance and absurdity of 'marriage = special rights'.

New York getting marriage equality/gay marriage whatever reminded me in many ways of Osama Bin Laden being killed. People who have said that they are ambivalent or against the issue (either focusing on marriage overmuch or war as a general concept) were still celebrating it. It's kind of a strange feeling to see so many people who were against putting all our eggs in that basket celebrate that we won our Pyrrhic victory.

Joel, I couldn't agree with you more – it is quite depressing when someone highly critical of the gay marriage movement like Richard Kim suddenly turns around and starts praising it – and yes, to see so many queers who don't believe in marriage celebrating his stomach-turning, indeed…

Om Kalthoum | July 28, 2011 4:14 PM

I think I get it, Matt! Like,
Women earn 77%/Men earn 100%. You boys need to quit your jobs and donate your savings to women.
Am I right? Or
99% of Egyptian woman have suffered some form of genital mutilation/I haven't. We should all feel guilt that we don't work full time to end this horrible abuse.
Am I right?
Get off that couch, boy, and get busy working on women's issues only. NOW!

You know, I keep trying to understand the viewpoint that says that working for same-sex marriage is a bad thing. Maybe it's just that I personally want to get married, maybe it's not. But I can't help but feel that in a world where same-sex marriage is perfectly acceptable, discrimination in other ways becomes less acceptable.

Marriage equality will help us. Yes, other causes are important, and yes, they need fighters and money too. But what is so very wrong about working for multiple things?

Except that this whole post and thread involves the usual leftist over-intellectualizing, I'm think I'm on the same page with you, Maltilda et al. I'm upset that gay marriage is so high on our agenda when in some states PWHIV's are getting kicked off of ADAP. Similarly, LGBT youth homelessness barely makes it onto our radar screen, and LGBT senior homelessness/destitution doesn't at all.

Yes, we ought to be able to politically walk and chew gum at the same time -- but LGBT's tend to be herd animals, and we tend to obsessively overdose ourselves on the current "fav rave" ... while being self-satisfied at how fabulous we are, not noticing how we are dripping with elitist classism very similar to that of the self-righteous, wealthy conservatives we love to loathe.

"often it’s a self-congratulatory ritual of initiation into a vapid consumer gay culture more concerned with accessing straight privilege than challenging social norms." Really? Often? I think that's a bit of a stretch to say that coming out has lost its power. I think that one of the REASONS that all of the assimilation-type activity is even beginning to be possible is BECAUSE of the relentless power of queer after queer after queer coming out to family, community, professional world, etc, including high profile, rich, celebrity/consumer culture queers like Ellen, Doogie, Ricky, Rosie, Melissa, etc. as well as low profile, poor, and radical queers.

"In spite of this limiting rhetoric, there is no doubt that, when undocumented immigrants come out about their status with the hopes of enacting social change, they are risking their lives, or at the very least their future in this country."
I would guess that most are not risking their lives, though certainly taking a very risky risk. Perhaps that is naive of me? But I guess "we get deported, you get married" wouldn't make as good of a title. Besides which, Mattilda is clearly not going to get deported any time soon. Who is this "we" kimosabe?

"There’s much to critique about the mainstream immigrant rights movement, especially it’s obsession with portraying all immigrants as flag-waving patriots who just want to “clean your floors” and “grow your food,” or maybe go to college on scholarship and get a good job at Morgan Stanley."
Well, everyone is entitled to want to go to college and get a corporate job, however misguided you/I may believe those aspirations are. Including queers and undocumented people. Of course I hope more people will choose not to take the corporate/consumer route, but it's an option available to white straight people, and should be equally available to all to pursue or reject, it seems to me.

"But what about decades of queer (and straight) critiques of marriage? If you point out that marriage is still a central site of anti-women, anti-child, anti-queer and anti-trans violence, you must be a raging homophobe, right? If you think the single-issue obsession with access to marriage shoves aside decades of radical queer visions of kinship, love, lust, intimacy, family and community not predicated on state approval, you certainly must be in bed (or in the bushes) with Michele Bachmann..."
Of course I agree that it is important to critique the heteronormative marriage model, and think the assimilationist marriage movement is narrow, and love the recent Advocate article ( to that effect. HOWEVER, first of all kind of like the right to pursue college and corporate consumerism, I think if it is an option for straight people, it should be an option for everyone, regardless of whether it is a choice I would make. And of course, there are all of the actual tangible legal rights and financial benefits that come from marriage, which are a reality in our culture - hospital visits, health insurance, custody of children, etc, etc, etc (I believe there are actually hundreds of these legal rights that have been detailed somewhere, google it). Not having the right to choose to access these rights is an injustice, whether or not you or I choose to access them.

Basically, I just think that if queers and immigrants want to be patriotic and get married and have Crate and Barrel wedding registries and work at Goldman Sachs, they're entitled to do so and I will question the values behind those choices regardless of who makes them, but I don't think it's more of the job of queers and immigrants to reject that paradigm than it is the job of straight white dudes to reject it. In fact, as I know you agree, it might be MORE the job of straight white dudes to help dismantle whitecorporateheteromisogynist consumer culture than anyone else since they had more of hand in creating it.

True -- it's about what people are willing to hear. It's also about laziness. More people will read Vargas than will read Raul Alcaras or Mennonite websites. The average person will google gay marriage and read something on HRC's website. They won't find their way to Against Equality. In theory coming out narratives seeking "inclusion" and structural critiques aren't mutually exclusive. But they often are in praxis. Vargas is doing a very interesting job of combining the two. But as with ACT UP, it's hard to maintain that access-opposition combination. It usually lapses into polarization. On some days I think that the majority is uninformed and undecided but open minded. On other days I think that they are closed minded and prefer ignorance.

This article is divisive. "Progressive queers" vs. "Vapid normal gays." Yaaaaaaawn. We need a new vocabulary. Preferably one that doesn't insult our fellow LGBTs for the sake of making a point.

What's divisive is the way the gay marriage movement insists there's only one way to be queer, only one path that matters, and that's the path towards normalcy. Personally I think this is a silencing agenda that always needs to be challenged.

Om Kalthoum | July 31, 2011 4:36 PM

What is this gay marriage movement which "insists there's only one way to be queer"? Could you link to a few sources where an organization or person in this movement says any such thing?

I'm a self-professed marriage activist, and will be the first to say I think that it is often too high on our agenda over other priorities. I, personally, would rather see us prioritizing ENDA, HIV/AIDS funding, state level battles to protect trans and gender non-conforming people etc. These are all causes to which I have given equal or more time in my activist life in addition to marriage.

However, this article has a subtext to it that I as a marriage activist sometimes get frustrated with. There is often the implication that those of us who fight for marriage do not care about, or donate the same time/resources/money etc. to non-marriage LGBTQ issues. Do I think that is an entirely fair critique of Gay, Inc (HRC and the like)? Yes. Do I think that is at all a fair critique of grassroots activists and activism groups (think: Queer Rising)? Not in the least. And I, for one, am exhausted of the implication that I am somehow elitist or don't care about other issues, because I also choose to fight for marriage.

There are not necessarily big differences between large and small organisations. I looked at Queer Rising's website - and it's agenda is fairly maintstream and looks exactly like HRC's. Describing something as grassroots does not mean its politics are not the same as that of larger organisations. I've worked with (or, more accurately, against) lots of "grassroots" orgs who fight for some pretty awful things, like greater policing of communities of colour, for instance.

As for individuals: I, for one, think it's time they began to give more thought to the implications of the marriage struggle. With everything we have learnt and are learning about the great costs of the marriage issue, what does it mean to support the cause uncritically? Or have you found a way to insert a crtique of the marriage issue while supporting it? I think the issue too many people are able to evade is that so-called "marriage equality" has devastating consequences for those who don't want to marry: NY and CT, for instance, are making it impossible for domestic partners to get health benefits; the logic is that you MUST get married if you can.

I would take the "I" out of it - the critique presented here and elsewhere is of the movement. Whether or not you personally have more nuanced politics than HRC doesn't help those who don't think marriage should be the end game. At some point, people have to accept the consequences of identifying with a movement - we hold right-wing fundamentalists up to that standard, after all. We're surprisingly hesitant to do that with those who hew more closely to the liberal/progressive "pro-gay marriage" side.

What a great discussion! Comment of the Week tonight comes from this post.

I think we all know people who work full time but lack health insurance. I know many people like that who are single. One is a family member of mine; he has a serious and life threatening disease. I won't mention it for the sake of his privacy. For many years he was sick, but there was no partner to get health insurance from. He pretty much just resigned himself to dying. I didn't understand the issues at the time and was pretty passive about it. Having a public option in his state, or preferably federally, ideally a federal single payer program, would be the only way to save him. Only single payer would help everyone, single AND partnered, who lack health insurance and need life saving medication. I want healthcare for all. Including your partner, including my family member.

Those gays who don't want to get married, just don't get married; but those gays who want to get married, most of them currently cannot. The author has no right to criticize other gays' way of life or priority in activism. S/he is bigoted, elitist and self-centered. People are all equal. You are not more progressive for not wanting to get married, but you are certainly reactionary for looking down upon people who are different from you. By the way, it seems that the author also discriminates Christians, which I find very offensive. I'm an atheist, and I respect religious freedom. Defending others' right to live the way they want, do you people understand?