Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Doubt and the role of Child Abuse

I recently saw John Patrick Shanley's film Doubt which features Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. It was potentially one of the best films I have seen recently, not only for the superb acting of Streep, Hoffman, and the rest of the cast, but because of the stories it seeks to tell. If one has seen the previews, one sees a film that seems to explore the Catholic priest sex scandal with the school principal Sr. Aloysius - played by Streep - believing that the parish priest Fr. Flynn - played by Hoffman - is having an inappropriate relationship with one of the students - Donald Miller. Of course we never really see the student and if one sees the film one realizes that the film is much more complex...Donald is the first black student at this school, Sr. Aloysius has no evidence of her belief and is a rather unlikable character, Fr. Flynn is likable but borders on creepy, etc.

However, I only want to dwell on a particular scene in the film. A scene in which Sr. Aloysius walks Mrs. Miller - played by Viola Davis - to her work place. In this brief scene, Mrs. Miller wants the sister to leave it be, telling her that Donald only has to make it to June when he graduates and starts high school. Within this conversation where Sr. Aloysius tells Mrs. Miller that she believes there is an inappropriate relationship between her son and Fr. Flynn, Mrs. Miller notes that it is in Donald's nature, that Donald would have been killed if he had stayed in the public schools, and that his father beats him for this "nature". Now, in my interpretation this "nature" is Mrs. Miller noting that her son is gay...something rather taboo in 1964 (5 years before Stonewall, the oft spoken start of the "gay rights movement"). She notes this because in many ways she is happy that Donald has found someone that makes him comfortable, that comforts him with his "nature". Sr. Aloysius is obviously disturbed by this notion...asking Mrs. Miller what kind of mother she is for thinking such a relationship has any validity.

It is this scene that was fascinating to me. It is fascinating because Mrs. Miller appears to be troubling the traditional notion of age of consent. I would argue that she is illustrating that consent laws in many ways are problematic for "gay" children. The establishment of consent laws, creating age demarcations for who can fuck when and where and with whom, had an important impact on how gays on different sides of the adult/child binary interact(ed). Now, this argument is not meant to condone per se pedophilic relationships and I recognize that there are serious issues of child abuse in the world, but my argument is meant to call into question how such consent laws - meant to protect the child - inevitably abuse the (gay) child by closing off the possibilities of entering relationships and spaces with other “gay” adult-persons. One can just think about the lack of “gay” things in mainstream society to recognize that that the “gay” bar all of the sudden becomes a mecca of becoming intelligible to oneself – a holy place that one goes to become oneself and see others like it. Of course it is problematic to think about the notion of becoming oneself and the limitations that even the notion of the “gay” bar create in terms of possibilities for “gay” youth…but that’s not my point.

My point is that Mrs. Miller, painstakingly perhaps, recognizes that Donald has no one else to turn to, no one else to be in relationship with because there are no other "gay" persons around. If Fr. Flynn is a person that Donald trusts and is comfortable with, then she is happy that he has found someone that loves him...something his own father cannot do, unless one constitutes being beaten as "love". Now of course this is difficult to comprehend because discourse in contemporary US has pathologized relationships with large age variations...and further more when the "child" is involved. And of course we do not know what type of relationship exists between the two characters in question. If the relationship is sexual it is obviously complicated by issues of power and ability to consent...however these issues are issues that should be taken seriously and explored...granting Donald some form of sexual agency, if he is knowledgeable of the choices and what is at stake in any relationship, especially a sexual one. In thinking about this then we see that Fr. Flynn is placed in a rather precarious place because if he takes a "gay" child under his wings to form of bond with him, he is immediately suspected as having inappropriate relationships BUT if he does not develop such relationships, that child may never experience love or a relationship that validates the feelings that child has. NOW, of course some adults could take advantage of that...but not all adults will as some adults recognize the plight of children and the needs of children to have validation and love in a world filled with violence and abuse...especially towards those "gay" bodies.

All in all, I found this film rather thought provoking in thinking about an issue (specifically Sexual Abuse in the Catholic church) in new light. I don't know if many viewers will catch this little nuance in the film...but from my perspective is was incredibly provacative and insightful

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Note on Marriage

Kenji Yoshino in his recent legal analysis for The Advocate of where to go from here with the passage of Proposition 8 notes that “Social theorist Michel Foucault once said homophobes were much less threatened by gays departing for a one-night stand than gays in a committed relationships” with Foucault stating that ‘It is not the departure for pleasure that is intolerable, it is the waking up happy” (p. 39). Yet, I don't believe Foucault was advocating for marriage – as if one wakes up from marriage happy.

I do believe that Foucault was arguing about/for the new modes of being or doing relationships that “homosexuals” opened up - of which marriage is not. One night stands and the intimacy such relationships create are in fact a way in which people – gay and straight – wake up happy and find pleasure but it is these relationships that are de-legitimated by the government and that threaten the notion that monogamy and marriage are the only options available for people to "wake up happy". We do not see political activism around these modes of being and doing life because these are the modes of being and doing that are threatening to the sanctity of "marriage" and the pedestal that it seems to occupy on the symbolic political level...

Fallying For Marriage: A Case Against the Marriage Drive

Fallying for Marriage: An Argument Against Marriage
A Fally is a rally based on a fallacy. A fallacy is a “component of an argument which, being demonstrably flawed in its logic or form, renders the whole argument invalid” (thanks Wikipedia for the refresher). Starting here, I would like to talk about marriage rallies or more so marriage fallies AND how such rallies are really fallies based on problematic arguments. I write this not to de-legitimate these rallies or those persons taking a part in them – although you may very well read this as doing so. I also do not think that their arguments are completely invalid. I commend them for their activism, bravery, and passion – I myself may take part in them as we all have our contradictions and need for solidarity . I write this however so those of us who do not fight for this “marriage” thing in certain ways can have our views expressed AND not simply pushed aside like a pesky bug or worse seen as being in “bed” with the enemy. To make it clear, I am not a fan of Focus on the Family, I am not a fan of religious zealots. I am not a fan of hate. What I am though, is tired…tired of this marriage debate having only two sides and becoming more and more like Dubbya’s notion that “you are either with us or against us”. I am tired that we have spent millions fighting this fight while LGBTQ youth sleep on the streets, HIV/AIDS research and program funding decreases, schools fail to address issues of difference, and a whole host of issues that are pertinent to the “LGBTQ” Community (and I would argue the community at large) are pushed aside and often ignored. So, here goes…
I am not with the marriage advocates and I am not with those who oppose marriage based on religious and moral grounds. I do not hate myself so please don’t try to pathologize me as suffering from “internalized oppression” or “internalized homophobia” because I do not agree with the mainstream gay plight for marriage. I do not buy into there only being these two sides. Rather, I am with the unnamed side in this debate – the “queer” side, the ugly underbelly, that sees such a drive for marriage as rather problematic and based perhaps on some shakey, fallacious grounds. I see this drive for marriage as potentially limiting the exploration of new forms of relationships, new ways of finding intimacy, new ways of being with others…while some will argue that we need the freedom to marry, I argue that in the unfreedom we currently live in with regards to marriage, there are modes of being, freeing modes that perhaps should be explored and fought for, modes that do not simply abide by what we know, but produce new avenues – however fleeting – of being in the world that do not simply require “us” to be like “them”…

So, here is my argument for a different way in this world so obsessed with wedding bells, gifts, wedding dresses, and tuxedos…I note though that these thoughts are heavily indebted to the work of Michael Warner and Judith Butler who have both written about the problematics of marriage.

1) Love is often times used as a device to argue for same sex marriage. Why shouldn’t two people in love be able to marry? How can you look at this beautiful same-sex couple that has been together for years and deny them access to this hallowed institution of marriage? How could you be so hateful to not want to grant people the right to show their love for one another? How could you deny them the right when it doesn’t even affect you? These are all good questions, they have some emotional pull…They are kinda effective at pulling at the heart strings…Keith Olbermann in his recent emotional plea relied on love to argue that this is not an issue of politics (huh, it’s not?) but one where you either stand on the side of love or not…But first, since when did marriage become about love and why is it that one needs the government to legitimate one’s love for a partner? Or perhaps I should ask, since when did the government care about there being love in a marriage…last time I checked, you just had to sign a piece of paper that was for all intensive purposes a contract, a entering into a union, a rather non-loving document really. So, Keith, I agree that love is important, but marriage is not the solution, it does not make those who don’t love those who are different (those “haters”) all of the sudden love difference. Love is more difficult and marriage is not the solution to showing love, having love, or being in love…I can be in a committed relationship (gay/straight/lesbian/polygamous/monogamous/open) without governmental interference and still have the stability and permanence that has oddly been tied as coming with marriage?

So, for those who argue that you need marriage to show your love to your partner…perhaps I will ask that you re-examine your notion of love and why you would need anyone beside your partner to legitimate that love. I have no doubt that those couples who seek the right to marry are anything but in love. I can look at the images of couples holding hands and see their love…so I am not denying the importance of love…I am merely denying the notion that marriage legitimates that love and that “we” need the government to be a part of our love – It Doesn’t and we should fight for the deconstruction of the government’s involvement in legitimating and therefore delegitimating relationships (be they gay or straight). Of course I recognize that the ways in which marriage is talked about that “love” has been “wedded” to marriage…but let’s be real and recognize that such is not the case.

2) Ahh, but you say that it’s actually not about love…that’s just rhetoric to get people to feel sympathy, empathy, or something good emotionally to “get out the vote”. What this debate is really about is the benefits…the over 1000 governmental benefits that are provided to the wedded couple. “We” deserve equal rights for our relationship because our relationship is just like “theirs” – those individuals who “fit” the traditional definition of marriage. We are normal and if we are normal we deserve the rights that are afforded those who are normal. Again, a good argument…yet, perhaps we should ask, why again should the government be able to legitimate and therefore de-legitimate a relationship? Why again are we fighting for the government to define the “proper” relationship between persons so that “proper” relationships are awarded certain benefits for fitting in? Why, I ask, are there benefits to being in a certain form of a relationship to begin with? Why do we privilege one form of relationship (two-people who are presumably heterosexual) over any other (two or more people who are on the spectrum of “sexuality”)? Simply adding “same-sex couples” to the definition does not deal with the issue that there are still relationships that are and will be disadvantaged because they do not fit and perhaps do not want to fit the new “definition” of marriage? These relationships, still disadvantaged, are relationships between not only “gay” people but also “straight” people…and people anywhere else where ever they define themselves…making this not an issue of “gay” vs. “straight” but between the “normal” vs. “queer” conceptions of relationships.

3) But, wait…you are saying that these are good arguments (thank you), they illustrate the problems with this whole marriage debate. YET, shouldn’t people have the choice to get married? Shouldn’t it at least be an option? I often hear it asked that “shouldn’t marriage be a possibility for same sex couples”…often defended…“so that we can be just as miserable as straight people”? These are really good questions…why shouldn’t marriage at least be an option for same sex couples? Shouldn’t choice be an option? I would argue that it is not that simple – choice is complicated. The ability to choose to marry disciplines not only “ourselves” to conform to the norms that marriage “law” will create BUT it also disciplines those who do not want the choice because that choice occludes the choices that are already present in the “unfreedom” of marrying. This drive for “choice”, the “choice” to marry is then inevitably a disciplining tool to take away the choice of those who resist the normal, the ideal of the married couple. Furthermore, making marriage an option, does little to combat the “hate” that I would argue is a hope that underlies the marriage debate…that if we can show “them” that we are normal and have normal homes in which to raise the future of our nation, then all will be well in the world. But, the “we” of the marriage debate does not include those who don’t seek normalcy, those who are the one’s often violated physically, verbally, and symbolically (often by the “gay” movement itself), those that are seen as “bad” representatives of the movement. Marriage, as a choice, simply makes those who do not fit the marriage wagon more and more outside the movement, more and more violated for refusing to be a part of the normal gay movement and “choose” to be that which is being fought for…These individuals are sometimes told that their time will come, that the wagon will come back to pick them up…but so often if we look at the history of movements, rarely does the wagon go back. I ask then why do “we” seek to have a choice that we know will cause harm to those who are already on the margins of our movement…normalizing ourselves while further forcing them to be less like they want to and more like us…the one’s who are just like “them”, the normal happy couple…

So, I conclude with this…perhaps the success of bans on gay marriage are a good thing…perhaps these successes will allow “us” to re-think the arguments and fight the bigger battle around the normalizing forces that seek to delegitimate those relationships – be they the current same-sex relationships that seek marriage OR those queered relations that don’t and perhaps never will seek marriage BUT still deserve respect and perhaps the “benefits” currently awarded to a small notion of relationships. Perhaps, oh perhaps we can fight for ways in which we imagine new ways of being with one another that do not buy into what is already there…finding our chances at being “a little less alone in the world” not through legal recognition around an institution that has been so detrimental in so many ways BUT through solidarity and coalitions that challenge such normalizing forces to make life more livable not just for those who might fit in, but for those who challenge and defy social sanctions.

Yet, this battle will never conclude, everyone will not be included, as the horizon is always illusive…utopia is but a mere fantasy…but perhaps we can make life a bit more livable, creating little paths, little moments where the horizon of possibilities comes a bit closer to reality…but inevitably is always off there, in the distance, forever on the horizon. Marriage is not the solution to the problems that plague our hesitancy around sexuality…it merely displaces the burden of difference, making some of “us” feel better, perhaps “normal” while excluding others, perhaps giving them less choice in being anything but “normal”.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Family Blood Lines - The Queer(ed) Family

We often times talk about one's family blood line. It is blood that creates the family line in the cultural imagination. The old adage "blood is thicker than water" seeks to illuminate that family ties bind and no matter what stay with one in the best of times and the worst of times (or so it is thought). This of course gets murkier as families become hybrid with step, half, and adopted siblings, each in a different way challenging or transforming the "blood line" and the concept of family.

But, I am not interested in the traditional family blood line, rather I want to think about how transmission and family operate in perhaps a different way when one examines HIV/AIDS. HIV is transmitted. It is transmitted through blood. It thus in a queer way creates a family blood line. Yet, this family blood line is not recognized as such because the blood through which transmission occurs and the genealogy that is present is occluded by the ways we tell history and its absence often times of the sexual encounter. What I mean by this is that the transmission of HIV through sex, does not just transmit the "virus" but also transmits a line of lives, the stories of those who had that "virus" as part of their body and transmitted it to an other...thus creating this web of connections and a "family". 

Why don't we talk of this family though? Is it because this family is seen as consisting of lives often times not wanted within the traditional family - kicked out of homes for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender? Is it because we have moral panic and hysteria around HIV/AIDS seeing it as causing death, rather than providing new ways of living, new modes of intimacy? I do not of course want to imply that HIV/AIDS is just a "gay disease" as it is something that impacts the lives of all - we all live with HIV/AIDS. Yet, if this is so, we do not want to admit it, rather we seek to distance ourselves from the possible disruption that these new families, these new family trees cause in our lives where the traditional family and its values dominate the political, religious, and moral realm. What then could the families look like if we did a genealogy of the family one acquires with the acquisition of HIV? What connections and relations could be formed if we looked for our family through the blood line created within/through HIV?

Perhaps we can look at it this way...we often times see reproduction as the transmission of life and HIV/AIDS transmission as the transmission of death. What happens if we change the frame at which we look at these issues to see them differently, queerly? Is not reproduction inevitably the transmission of death as that which is birthed will suffer and will die even in our feeble attempt to touch immortality through reproduction? Is not the transmission of HIV/AIDS not the transmission of life, providing those who have died previously because of the virus to live on through the bodies of others who acquire it - providing life and living in new ways not yet imagined along with space to create activism and possible lives hidden from view because of the HIV/AIDS panic(s)? 

I of course do not want to imply that reproduction is just the transmission of death but it is not just the transmission of will produce death, just hopefully out there in the future when "we" don't have to see it or grieve it because we ourselves will have died. And I of course do not want to deny that HIV/AIDS does produce and has produced suffering and death (often times hand in hand with political and economic apathy) but it does not just produce these things. It also produces new modes of being and doing life with a "virus" that has historically created a space of shame...

My thoughts then are meant to perhaps re-think about the family and see that the virus transmitted often times through the act of sex creates a family blood line similar but queerer than the blood line often times thought of. I do not mean to deny that this virus can be transmitted through violence, through accident, through lies BUT that is the same for reproduction as not all "babies" are born out of choice, but sometimes by accident or through violence.