Thursday, August 30, 2007

Queer Politics

(Note: flurry of posts potentially coming--it's school time, and I'm procrastinating!)

Tenured Radical has a pithy little post about the Craig scandal, which has generated a thus far short but provocative set of comments that raises some important questions about the very classification of Craig as "gay" and about what he was really being arrested for: public lewdness may be a legitimate crime, but as I commented over at TR's, stings for public sex in same-sex bathrooms strikes me as being an institutionalized homophobia playing out in technically non-discriminatory way.

In a completely different "politicians and gay men and women" moment, I was watching the Daily Show last night, a re-run of the episode in which they covered the Logo network's Democratic debate, a low moment for virtually every candidate but the irrepressibly goofy, but dammit politically right-on Kucinich. During that debate, Bill Richardson was asked by a chatty Melissa Etheridge whether he thought homosexuality was a choice or genetic. The candidate answered quickly and unequivocally, "a choice," after which the singer/moderator asked again, basically, "I'm not sure you heard me correctly--Do you think in 7th grade I just up and said, 'I think I'll be gay'?" Richardson backtracked some, and apparently issued a statement that he initially didn't understand the question because he was so fatigued from jet lag or some such nonsense.

Here's the thing--and I'll confess that as a straight man, maybe I shouldn't be shooting my mouth off, but--the question was stupid. Listen, I know all of the rhetorical impact of this issue: that if sexuality is not a choice but rather genetic, then somehow claims of its immorality are unjustified. But a) I'm not convinced sexuality is genetic, or solely genetic. I'm perfectly willing to be convinced on the science, but I like my free will in choosing sexual partners very much, thank you. Most straight people would never say that they chose a spouse or a partner because of pheromones, but because of carefully considered decisions (sure, "chemistry" was a factorm but not the first one). When it comes down to it whether we're quibbling about the identity of my partner as this particular woman, or a white woman, or even a woman at all, we're talking about my choice of partner, and for me it has always been a choice. And it has always been a choice I've been free to make.

And so I am sad (but not angry, necessarily) when I hear individual gay men and women rallying around the idea that "it's genetic" because I fear that in lobbying for that finding, they have implicitly surrendered a rhetorical claim on their right to choose a lover, rather than having a lover chosen for them by genetics. My point is, if I were Bill Richardson (and I would never be for so many reasons), my answer to the question "Is sexuality a choice or a biologically determined trait?" would be this:

I don't know. There's evidence for a genetic connection on the one hand, but desire and choice and free will are just too complicated to say for sure. What I do know is that it doesn't matter. Homosexuality isn't immoral, and gay men and women should have the freedom to choose a partner, a spouse, whatever without some notion of biological determinism to justify it. Just like straight people.

But I'd never get elected. Then again, neither is Bill Richardson.


Tenured Radical said...

Hey, straight guy:

Your point about the institutionalized homophobia is correct, both here and in my blog. Furthermore, women's bathrooms are not policed by hte police, but by women themselves, who police for gender: Judith Halberstam has some great stuff about this in Female Masculinities.

And you are right -- the Etheridge question was stupid, revealing how much anxiety there is about sexuality among both straight and queer people, but also revealing how much the choice to adopt a rights dicourse has pushed mainstream queer politics into mirroring civil rights discourses originally articulated by women and by blacks, where the quesiton of whether biology "mattered" was so vital initially.

keep up the good work --


Horace said...

Heh. Richardson's blog troller picked this post up, and so I got at least one link straight from the candidate's blog. Good PR, that is.