this is why

12 04 2009

gay marriage is not my issue


An 11-year-old Massachusetts boy, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, hung himself Monday after enduring bullying at school, including daily taunts of being gay, despite his mother’s weekly pleas to the school to address the problem. This is at least the fourth suicide of a middle-school aged child linked to bullying this year.

Carl, a junior at New Leadership Charter School in Springfield who did not identify as gay, would have turned 12 on April 17, the same day hundreds of thousands of students will participate in the 13th annual National Day of Silence by taking some form of a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) bullying and harassment at school.

Because this story makes me cry. Because I heard within MINUTES of the Iowa decision, and of the Vermont legislature’s action, and of the DC City Council vote… and it was nearly a week before I learned of this tragedy. It’s not that I don’t think there is space for triumph and joy, and it’s not that I begrudge people their happiness. But rather, knowing how many millions of dollars have been poured into marriage campaigns across the country, my heart breaks, wondering what could have been if, instead of trying to prove that we queers are JUST AS GOOD!! as straight people, JUST AS DESERVING of access to and participation in the same deeply flawed social, legal, economic, religious, and cultural institutions, we had invested more than a fraction of that money in the struggles that could save people’s lives. In a campaign for far-reaching education, curriculum reform, anti-bullying training, and lgbt sensitivity training for school administrators, teachers, and students.

The short of it is: People are dying. Still. People are dying because we live in a world in which gender presentation and sexuality are policed and transgressors violently punished. We live in a world in which the implicit, and sometimes explicit, message is that your queer or gender nonconforming body doesn’t matter, and others can do with it as they please (that message is all the louder if yours is a body of color, or with disabilities, or female, or poor). And I don’t think that all of us getting gay married is going to save lives, and I know that it SURE AS HELL is not going to give Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, or Lawrence King back the chance to grow into whomever they could have been.

I tend to be very wary of rhetoric that urges us to abandon the long term vision or goal because we’re so deeply immersed in the struggle that we don’t have the time for long-term. I believe that strategic thinking, and vision are of the utmost importance when we are in crisis. And to that end, I’m not just trying to argue that there are more pressing issues (though there are, obviously), but rather that marriage is NOT a stop on the road to liberation – it is a rambling off-shoot dead-end path – and that our energies could be far better directed. If our goal is not simply to approximate heteronormativity, but justice and liberation, then let’s do something that will actually bring us closer, not reinforce the dominant system we’re trying to challenge and dismantle.

Gay marriage is legal in Springfield, MA. It didn’t save Carl’s life.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to hear the news from Iowa, Vermont, and DC – I just wonder, “at what cost?”

Apparently, as I was told recently (by a lesbian friend), I’m a “really intense gay” – to which I responded, “queer, thank you,” at which she rolled her eyes and said, “exactly.” I think her point was mostly about my radical politics, and that my queerness is politicized (as is my gender identity, and every other facet of my identity). We then got into a discussion about heteronormativity, and whether or not it was a bad thing – my answer: yes. her answer: but heterosexuality *IS* normal, 90% of the population is straight. I think this post would fall into the “intense gay” category, too.Which is all to say, I know that “we” have different goals, I just think mine are better.