Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Against Equality

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

So how do we build an LGBT movement? Despite the enormous turnout at pride parades we don't really have one.

For a while people rallied for the same-sex marriage fight, but if Facebook posts are any indication, a big minority was relieved when the "reactionary" fight for gay marriage in California went bust. "Now we can get back to more important issues."

How do we reconcile a fractured community? Can we? In the absence of a charismatic leader like Martin Luther King, we need to reach beyond disputed goals towards shared ideals.

Liberty, or rather, liberation, used to be our battle cry. Today, mainstream organizers focus almost all their attention on equality. There's Equality Arizona, Immigration Equality, and even the Dallas Principles advocating not just Equality but Dignity.

Sometimes equality is supposed to mean full civil rights for LGBT people, from marriage to military service. Sometimes it's a moral assertion, aiming to establish that we're as good and valuable as anybody else. Then there's the social component to declarations of equality -- we really are the same as you despite who we sleep with. We're homeowners, parents, tax-payers eager to get married.

All of those definitions of equality fall short both as practical goals, and overarching ideals.

Just in terms of social change, it's shortsighted to see legal equality as an end in itself. African American history teaches us that it's only a stepping stone and tool. Slavery was outlawed, separate but equal accommodations were removed from the books. Finally, heterosexual black folks could marry who they wanted, even whites. But even after all those laws changed, the fight's not over. There's an African American in the White House, but no real racial justice. Is the average black child free to cast a thought in any direction? Even walk down any street?

Which is why Patrick Henry did not cry, "Give me equal representation under colonial tax laws and a seat at the master's table, or give me death." He demanded liberty, which supercedes all the rest as a political end.

Metaphysical demands for equality, aiming to establish our basic worth as humans, create a whole new set of problems. The main one is that asking for "equality," even demanding it, is entirely counterproductive. It implies we weren't born with it and diminishes us. It turns us into beggars in front of the rich, whether we ask for equality hat in hand, or brick in fist.

If you don't know it, the gatekeepers of power certainly do. They revel in the pleasure of bestowing crumbs of rights, then patting our heads as if we were not disinherited equals, but a strange breed of dogs. (See almost every pandering, self-congratulatory word of Obama's June 29th speech for proof).

Which raises the question, in our quest for equality, just what and who are we trying to be equal to? The word itself is burdened by the idea of sameness, a mathematical equivalence incompatible with our roots of liberation. Working towards it -- as a primary goal -- seems to actually encourage conformity, enforce it, even. I feel increasingly I should wear pearls when I protest. Pop a baby and join a church to prove that I'm just the same as everybody else, except for the small matter of who I screw.

This push for social equivalence ignores those of us who fled our natal world, not just for queer self-preservation, but at a kind of horror at the whole stifling heterosexual world, the petrified functions of mothers and fathers, the extension of their roles in the neighborhood, church, community, and school where they strangle each other into a likeminded homogeneity that targets artists as much as dykes.

Which is why I argue, once again, that we need to go further if we want a real movement. Beyond laws to justice. Beyond equality to liberty in every facet of our lives, rejecting the limitations of equality that bind and restrain everyone of us.

When queers can finally retire from the battlefield, hets can, too. People can marry. Or not. Go to church. Or not. Differences should not be either "tolerated," or celebrated, but expected and enjoyed as a part of the human condition. You don't walk like a man or a woman but yourself. You can sleep on the right side or the left. Pursue your life. Aspire. Dream. What a world if kids could even move freely through space.

For that, only a hunger for liberation is enough. Something no one can legislate or award.

As French dyke musician Nadia Boulanger (1887 – 1979) said, "Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance."

Queers all know something about that.

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