Sunday, June 21, 2009

Speculative Thoughts: On Marriage and Narrativized Life

In a recent conversation with a friend, he told me that he had gone on a couple of dates with an "ex" - noting it was his first time "recycling". Yet, in this "recycling" he was anxious because the "ex" wanted serious commitment, perhaps even marriage and my friend unsure of how he thought of such a state was unsure of what to do. In talking with this friend, I pondered why it is marriage for the "gays" has become so important wherein it seems so many gays, many of them young, want to get married. Now, before I go any further, I don't want to make it seem that I think such a want is "bad" or that individuals who want marriage to be idiotic. It's not my life so I say let go and say "I Do". But, my interest is in why, why such a state has become so dominant, so desireable?

As I thought about this why, I realized relatively quickly that marriage talk saturates the lives of the young "gays". The younger generation of gays who came out Post-AIDS epidemic of the 80's and early 90's (the epidemic still rages of course in different ways) and did not see the devastation and loss (myself included) grew up hearing the often homophobic rhetoric about AIDS - a hearing that I would argue still haunts young gay men in interesting ways. So they grew up in the epidemic BUT came of age (and came out) with the rhetoric of marriage. In this shift of rhetorics from AIDS to marriage, the structuring of the gay subject has perhaps been altered. One can look at the website for the HRC to see this as it focuses almost entirely on marriage with one having to search for information on HIV/AIDS. So, the rhetorics and narratives visible to gays have moved from one that was focused on rights for sex and discussions on "safe(er)" sex TO one focused on rights of economic importance and recognition as a "normal" subject.

In this shift of rhetoric, the narratives of the gay life have changed or at least the dominant narrative has been changed/challenged for good and bad reasons. I do not mean to imply that there is only one narrative of course but that the narrative of gay life that was dominant pre-marriage debates and for which the marriage debate often rests on has been challenged by the dominant narrative of the marriage drive. By this I mean, the marriage debate often pathologizes the promiscuity of the "gay" community by wanting to show "we" are not all like that, that we can be "normal". This change to marriage is not solely "good" or solely "bad" as it is always in tension with other narratives that vy for intelligibility - which is in a sense what my speculative thoughts are about.

So, what are these two narratives and why might this be of interest? I would argue that the first narrative is a narrative about sex. It is a narrative that positions the "gay" male as a very sexual, promiscuous being. It is this sex, the act, that in a sense originally gave rise to the emergence of the term "homosexual" and created a "new species" as Foucault notes in his first volume on The History of Sexuality. So homosexuality became defined in part by the sexual act and in different ways became pathologized through medical, psychiatric, religious, and legal discourses for not abiding by the normal "heterosexual" way of doing things. Yet, as these new species (homosexuals, sodomites, etc.) developed a community, they began to fight back (i.e. the Mattachine Society, Daughters of Bilitis). This all notably "leading up to" the Stonewall Riots and the fights to have the APA de-pathologize homosexuality from their manual of psychiatric disorders in 1973. It was during this time that the sex wars were going on and fights were being waged for sexual liberation...Yet, these fights faced significant difficulty with the wave of conservativism in the 80's along with the emergence of the AIDS epidemic. Yet, for some the fight continued to argue for sexual freedom. Radical political activists and academics made arguments not for a tightening of sexual promiscuity but for smarter promiscuity and challenging the moralisms that limited possibilities.

However, as these radicals aged or died of AIDS themselves, new activists emerged and new issues emerged. The "movement" changed and began to focus on different rights - namely marriage and adoption. The fight became not to create new possibilities of living in the world, but one of getting access to the world that was already possible. The rhetoric became a rhetoric that sought to become "like them" (straight) because "we" are as Sullivan argued "virtually normal". Being gay was no longer about being different with the potential to disrupt the traditional, but became a side bar that should not detract from being able to be seen as, well, normal.

BUT, what does this mean? I think, speculatively, that it means in part that the gay subject is being conditioned to want to be seen as normal and that "normal" is related to the rhetoric of gay rights - a rhetoric that currently argues for marriage and that through marriage "I" can be seen as not sick, as not pathological, but as a moral, upstanding citizen just like my parents before me. I can create the image of the family that I came from, it is just an image that is slightly different but not vastly for "I" can still strive and achieve the white picket fence and children. I can be a part of the capitalist economic machine that the promiscuous "gay" was a challenge to in some regards.

So, if I return to the beginning of my post...I want to speculate that the drive to be married is not simply an individual wish, but a wish that is in part structured by the discourses that pervasively constrain the possible lives we have access to. Previously, the gay life was perhaps constrained to the sexual, struggling to find more...but now that struggle has placed a shadow on other possibilities. If one wants to fit in and be intelligible, to not have to explain or argue for one's way of simply has to abide by the dominant modes of living, of doing life, which is dominated by marriage speak. "I" want to get married and settle down because it is easier, it requires less stress, less work...not in that being married or committed is simple and stress free...but that it is a different kind of stress that exists within the is not a stress or anxiety that is public as "I" must justify my life or ways of doing life because they are not "normal" or "traditional". This is obviously more complicated since a relationship and its anxieties are still "public" and never solely private...but the dynamics of the private/public are different.

Basically...I suppose my interest in this is how the narratives, the stories we think about telling in our lives are constrained, as they must always be, by the dominant stories we are told. The process then is excavating these narratives to find out other possibilities that lie "beneath" to imagine a story line that is different, livable, and not solely survivable but thrivable.

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