Thomas Glave: On the US Supreme Court’s DOMA Ruling
For today’s Akashic Insider, we asked Thomas Glave—author of the newly-released Among the Bloodpeople: Politics and Flesh—to write about the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
How to feel as a gay-identified man about the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling that same-gender couples are entitled to federal benefits and now able to marry in 13 states, including California, the country’s most populated state. It’s a deeply difficult question. One feels pleased, on the one hand, that slowly, increasingly, our human rights as LGBT people—at least vis-à-vis the problematic but often highly desired ideal and state of marriage—are being recognized by the state, and, to greatly varying degrees, by the society at large. At the same time, one looks critically and with unhappy scepticism at the state’s sanctioning of one’s personal life, the “personal” in this instance—same-gender, or other, marriage—being deeply political. And of course, since the ultimate legality of LGBT marriages can and still will be determined by individual states, and marriage as a right has not been granted to LGBT people on the federal level, the Court’s ruling, while welcomed, smacks of ambivalence, somewhat blinkered vision, and, at this point in the twenty-first century especially, the dragged feet of compromise. But for argument’s sake, one must acknowledge that this is the world in which, for the moment, we live: one which swooningly continues to valorize the institution of marriage, and which, for LGBT people in particular, as well as for other marginalized and suspect groups, affords the dubious but, for many, much-desired patina of “respectability”: if queers can marry, perhaps we have finally attained “respectability” and the glorious sheen of We’re-just-like-everyone-else, especially heterosexuals. I remain highly suspicious and critical of such a politics of, and desire for, “respectability,” as I would have done and still do with the desire for “respectability” so many of us as people of African descent wrestle with—but that is another conversation entirely, for another day.
I remain far more interested in the fact that the mainstream, largely (though not only) middle-class LGBT movement has for so long evidently made LGBT marriage its concern of choice, privileged above all others, while the least visible people within the U.S.’s LGBT population—the poor, people of color, the incarcerated, homeless, and (illegal and other) immigrants, especially those from global south countries, among others—have received virtually no attention from this movement, amidst all the flag-waving and “pride” that “we” have finally “won” something. (And the movement, with further securing of LGBT marriage rights, has indeed won something important, for LGBT people should, without question, be able to marry if we like. But who exactly are the so often blithely stated “we”?) This is the same LGBT movement that permitted a leftist, community-concerned, political publication like Gay Community News (which, among its several community initiatives, supported a prisoners’ rights project) to languish and die, favouring in its place slick, commercial, largely shallow periodicals like Out and The Advocate, with their unfortunately profoundly American idolization of young white men (accent there especially on white and men). In its headlong obsession with LGBT marriage rights and little else, this movement has ignored the plight of so many LGBT people in the U.S.—and elsewhere—whose first and most important concerns might not be marriage, but in fact survival. The question should be asked: why can’t the mainstream U.S. LGBT movement think more broadly and inclusively, beyond single-issue politics and the Holy Grail—but important and necessary gain—of LGBT marriage? Or should the “can’t” in that question be seen more clearly for what it ultimately is and for so long has been: won’t?
An ugly “won’t,” that should be seen and named for what it is, as the celebrations—the justifiable, hard-won celebrations—begin.
THOMAS GLAVE is an O. Henry award-winning author and was named a Village Voice Writer on the Verge in 2000. He is the author of Whose Song? and Other Stories, Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent (Lambda Literary Award, 2005), The Torturer’s Wife (finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize), and editor of the anthology Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles (Lambda Literary Award, 2008). His most recent work has appeared in the New York Times, the Kenyon Review, Callaloo, and in the anthologies Kingston Noir, Love, Christopher Street: Reflections of New York City, Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform, and Who’s Yer Daddy? Gay Writers Celebrate Their Mentors and Forerunners. Glave has been the Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor at MIT and a Visiting Fellow at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. Among the Bloodpeople: Politics & Flesh is his latest book.
Posted: Jul 23, 2013
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