24 December 2008

Tatchell, Peter. "It's Just a Phase: Why Homosexuality is Doomed." Anti-Gay. Ed. Mark Simpson. London: Freedom Editions, 1996.

I'm probably going to do a whole thing later on Mark Simpson's Anti-Gay, but I'm at this point only halfway through, and because all the bloggers I read are signing off until January and because all I have to do this week is watch TV and repeatedly launching my browser to see what new things I can find to click on, and also because this essay in particular is causing me some trouble, I feel the need to post something today about it.

(Mark Simpson, for the record, is a British journalist/columnist who coined [and has now disavowed] the term "metrosexuality".)

At any rate, Tatchell's essay starts off strong enough, when it gets to its point that homosexuality—as a distinct identity—has not always existed and, thus, will not always exist. I mean, it's pretty hard to argue with. "The Homosexual" as we know him (or her) today is about as old as Oscar Wilde, and yet people have been having sex with those whose genitals they share forever, but Socrates, we imagine, didn't wear velvet and green carnations in order to assert himself as such.

And then he continues to make an interesting point when he says that the inevitable death of "the homosexual" is connected to the death of heterosexual superiority, because the former (and its offshoot homophobia) is a product of the latter, invented in order to supress the otherwise attractive same-sex desire:
It is not in the interests of lesbians and gay men to maintain barriers based on sexual difference. Our liberation is irrevocably bound up with the dissolution of separate, mutually exclusive, rival orientations and identities. (44)

Okay. So I'm on board. It's kind of the reason I'm reading this book: I've come to understand in my reading and in the past five years of living as an out gay man that an identity defined solely by one's sexual orientation is limiting and dangerous not just to the self but also to homosexual and heterosexual people in general. Dangerous in that it's limiting. Dangerous in that it reduces selfhood in a selfish and maybe tragic way. So I'm not as interested anymore in arguing how my sexuality makes me and my existence completely different from a straight person's.

Anyway, all of the requisite Kinsey/Freud shit is thrown up on the opening pages of this essay in order to show how we all have multiple sexualities lying dormant inside of us, and while this isn't something I care or disagree too much about, repeated citations of Kinsey's sex-spectrum statistics are, for me, gradually failing to have any significance. Sure, everyone's capable of same-sex attraction, but I don't think it's fair to then assume that for a person never to choose to act on that attraction (and, likewise, for a gay person never to act on a latent opposite-sex attraction) that person must be in denial, or, like, isn't Living Their Lives To Their Sex-Positive Potential.

At any rate, given that everyone's a little queer, Tatchell's use of this is where his essay starts to go haywire. Because his main thesis is that in order for the barriers between hetero and homo to be completely dissolved, homosexual liberation must be fully granted and accepted. Or, in his words: "Only when sexual difference is fully accepted and valued will it cease to be important and consequently slide into oblivion" (45).

Really? So what's the problem, exactly? What's the thing holding us all as a human race back from our eventual goal of getting rid of the hetero/homo divide? It's the fact that some of us are refusing to acknowledge the Kinsey spectrum? Or, if they're acknowledging it, they're not accepting it? That because of those people who refuse to believe that somewhere inside them lies this even teeny tiny other part, we aren't able to get to the point where said other part is no longer significant?

The worst comes next, when Tatchell contrasts the "conservative gay rights" movement (aimed at highlighting our sexual difference, making us deserving of the same [marriage] rights of heterosexuals in the culture they've created) and the "more visionary queer emancipation project" (aimed at completely overhauling the [patriarchal] het order). He argues that the latter:
seeks a far-reaching sexual revolution to transform sexuality in ways that ultimately benefit both homosexuals and heterosexuals [. . .] such as the reduction of the age of consent to fourteen for everyone, the repeal of the puritanical laws against prostitution and pornography, and the introduction of explicit sex education in schools from primary classes onwards. (47-48, his emphasis)
More on this in a sec, but I guess the dumbest part actually comes right after: "If everyone is born with the potential to be queer, as the evidence suggests, then the struggle for queer freedom is obviously in everyone's interest and we should all be working for that freedom side by side, regardless of our sexuality or gender" (48, my emphasis).

So, like, really? This is in everyone's interest? Why can't it be enough to end the possibility and desire for discrimination? Is it really an important goal that we have consensual sex among 14-year-olds? Or "explicit sex education" for gradeschoolers? And if so, where did these arbitrary divides come from? What's "explicit" mean? A kind of demonstration right out of Barthelme? And why 14 when we can go to 10?

I guess my beef in the end is how careful this essay begins, and then how stupid it becomes. How Tatchell is completely unable to consider a viewpoint other than his own "sex-positive" one. (Just look at the above italics.) It's just these kinds of splintered, meandering, kitchen-sink manifestos that let Santorum connect equal rights for gay people with marrying your dog.

We're never going to win an argument by insisting to straight people that we know what's best for them, too. I know I began this splintered, meandering post claiming such a thing, that gay liberation is good for straight people, but not because it'll change the entire basis of their culture. Not because it'll help them become as fabulously sex-positive as we are. Instead, it'll make us all a lot more trusting of one another, a lot less suspicious.

I think.

UPDATE: Oh, I just realized that far more objectionable than consensual sex between (or, well, among I guess) 14-year-olds is consensual sex between 14-year-olds and, say, 40-year-olds. Or maybe I'm just sex-negative.


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