I recently was walking past American Apparel and saw this shirt that said "Legalize Gay". I was running late for a meeting so I couldn't stop and purchase it on the spot...I had to wait and hope that such a beautiful shirt would be still available two hours later.
It was still available two hours later. It was available in numerous colors and numerous sizes. I got a small, hoping it would shrink a little and then look super gay. But that's neither here nor there. My purchase of the shirt was done with a hint of irony. Actually, it was bought because I thought it was ridiculous and hysterical. I found it ridiculous and hysterical because I didn't get it and wondered why we should ask to "legalize gay". Of course, you, the reader, might be asking why that is odd so I will explain.
It seems odd because I am not sure how one "legalizes" an identity or perhaps why one would seek such legalization? It seems odd to ask for the government to "legitimate" an identity through legalization because specifying particular identities limits other possible identities. If I change my mind and don't want to be "gay" anymore, am I still a legal or legitimate being if I choose to "be" or "do" something different than "gay"? Such a demand seemingly limits other possibilities not yet "legalized" and as such gives the "government" the capability to delegitimate those identities that are not "legal". Along with this comes of course other areas of life that work along side the "government" such as the medical profession and education system that will also not recognize or "pathologize" those "identities" not legal - and therefore abnormal or delegitimate.
Of course, I recognize the impetus behind the shirts is in relation to Prop 8 in California and the argument to legalize "same sex marriage". Believing that if "gays" can marry, they become first class citizens, failing to see the loss that such a gain simultatenous entails. But I want to think about this in a different way. It seems odd that we "fight" to keep the government out of our bedrooms by relying on that very government to legislate such a request. We want you out of our bedrooms, but we want you in our bedrooms at the same time because we ask that you are in our bedroom so that you "see" that what we do is not "illegal" or something that will put us behind bars. Of course there are benefits to this...the legal realm provides a certain amount of possibilities - legitimate possibilities and safety from the prison. Yet, it also while producing possibilities of legitimacy, simultaneously occludes other possibilities - further marginalizing those possibilities that do not yet have "movement" to seek legitimation or possibilities that refuse to rely on the "legal" to make them legitimate. This can poignantly be seen, not in the realm of the legal, but the realm of the psychiatric where homosexuality was depathologized only to provide the space for gender non-conformity to be pathologized in the form of Gender Identity Disorder. We see in this that as the "homosexual" became officially healthy that other transgressive ways of being (i.e. a sissy boy; a manly girl) became officially 'unofficial' and deemed unhealthy.
What then does it mean to "legalize gay"? Does it mean to normalize the "gay" and move away from the arguably transgressive "nature" that was once associated with "gay" but perhaps moreso these days the "queer"? Does legalizing "gay" also normalize it to be "like them" just as some have sought the "gay" to be...we're just like you and deserve the same rights...While such a strategy provides recognition in the "traditional" sense, does it fail at changing anything? Does "legalizing" gay inevitably defeat what is most desired?