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Homosexuals Should Focus on Points of Commonality

Guest Column by John Michael Dykes

American-style gay activism seems to be founded on the premise that the division between homosexuals and heterosexuals is insurmountable. Indeed, the bridge of understanding between straights and gays remains an unfulfilled goal. This is surely due in part to heterosexual homophobia, but some share of the blame must lie with our own community.

Attempts to work with the heterosexual community are too often criticized as "pandering to heterosexual society" or "begging for a place at the straight table." It has become abundantly clear to me that we cannot hope to build a viable, successful lesbigay community without closer interaction with heterosexuals. Our most important task is to create the perception that sexuality - whether homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, and so on - is completely normal.

Yet I find that we have systematically tried to create a community completely separate from the heterosexual community. Perhaps the most visible sign of this attitude is the adoption of a word that used to be a straight insult: queer. Many in the gay community - ranging from worldwide organizations like Act Up to local-level organizations like GaMIT, have embraced this word - implying an acceptance of straight assertions that we are totally different from "them."

Having originally used the word against us to define and denigrate the differences between our groups, straight society then ignorantly accepts the lesbigay community's unfortunate self-characterization, further reinforcing our differences and their prejudices. Both sides focus on these differences, instead of our commonalities.

I am not implying that some differences do not exist, nor am I encouraging homosexuals to narrow the beautiful spectrum, which is our community. Furthermore, I am not arguing that the display and celebration of variation in society is wrong. My point is that societies, communities, or any other human grouping are not built on our dissimilitudes; rather, we forge understanding on trestles of commonality.

Rejecting queerness means acceptance of our own normality. Before we can even hope that heterosexuals will accept us without regard for our sexuality, we as a community must be able to accept and portray ourselves not as "queer," but as "normal."

The first step towards this goal is being truly out. When gays and lesbians finally have enough courage to come out of the closet, some tend to celebrate their newfound freedoms in the confines of the lesbigay community, yet remain semi-closeted in the straight world. For instance, many hesitate to use gender-specific pronouns, although among gay friends they have no such qualms. Their hesitation implicitly conveys shame and fear, giving permission to straight society to continue fearing and denigrating homosexuality.

Despite the fears and pressures involved in facing an often homophobic straight world, we must nevertheless persevere. Coming out means acceptance of our own sexuality completely, and I dare say that it takes far more courage and strength to stay in the closet, than it does to say, "He is my boyfriend," or, "She is my lover," with the same nonchalance that we expect of heterosexuals. It is wonderful to be able to express this in the safe environment of lesbigay spaces. However, this does nothing for heterosexual attitudes; we must interact with them naturally and honestly.

Normality also means fighting for the validation of our relationships as equivalent to heterosexual ones: We must fight for same-sex marriage. In Virtually Normal, Andrew Sullivan writes, "The center of the public contract is an emotional, financial, and psychological bond between two people; in this respect, heterosexuals and homosexuals are identical. The heterosexuality of marriage is intrinsic only if it is understood to be intrinsically procreative; but that definition has long been abandoned in Western society."

The homosexual's most odious form of oppression is the state's denial of marriage - the highest expression of the emotional and sexual bond between two people - to same-sex partners. Throughout history, the bonds of matrimony have been viewed as sacred, and it can be seen that only during the most cruel, inhumane periods of human history have they been violated: the splitting of husband from wife (and their children) in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, on the plantations of the ante-bellum deep South, and the labor camps of the Cultural Revolution in China.

Yet gay and lesbian relationships are not even deemed worthy of the institution of marriage by states far more humane than the regimes of horror listed above. Interracial marriage was similarly banned under miscegenation laws in parts of this country until the sixties. I would guess that a majority of the population today would find such laws repugnant; the same disgust should be extended to laws preventing homosexual marriage.

The legalization of gay marriage would only serve to increase the number of parallels, which exist between a homosexual relationship versus a heterosexual one, thus leading to greater understanding between the communities. After all, one of the primary goals that I have listed is teaching heterosexuals to understand that we are attracted, physically and emotionally, to our own sex, exactly as they are for the opposite sex.

Marriage is an institution that heterosexuals understand implicitly. Indeed, if the gay movement is about the validation and celebration of the same-sex relationship, then marriage, surely, should be our end goal. Finally, gay marriage would only strengthen our community by providing closeted people, especially closeted gay youth, with a reflection of their own identities in society, as Sullivan explains:

"For [gay children], at last, there would be some kind of future; some older faces to apply to their unfolding lives, some language in which their identity could be properly discussed, some rubric by which it could be explained in terms of their future life stories, their potential loves. They would be able to feel by the intimation of a myriad examples that in this respect their emotional orientation was not merely about pleasure, or sin, or shame, or otherness but about the ability to love and be loved as complete, imperfect human beings. Until gay marriage is legalized, this fundamental element of personal dignity will be denied a whole segment of humanity."