‘Law and the Gay Rights Story: The Long Search for Equal Justice in a Divided Democracy’ by Walter Frank
For many American LGBTQs, June 26, 2013 was a day in which everything changed. On that date, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a stunning 5-4 decision, ruled in United States v. Windsor that restricting the federal interpretation of “marriage” and “spouse” to only heterosexual unions, as specified in Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), was unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. Since that momentous ruling, the legal landscape for LGBTQs has undergone a tectonic shift, with district, state, and federal courts from around the country almost uniformly ruling in favor of gays and lesbians by upending state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. (more…)
In my former review of Nia King’s work, I mentioned her media presence, via her website, tumblr, and her podcasts We Want the Airwaves: QPOC Artists on the Rise, in which she interviews queer and transgender artists of color. She successfully used indiegogo to raise enough money to transcribe interviews from her podcast and is now publishing them as a book, in order to share these artists’ stories, knowledge and oral histories. (more…)
Beyond Magenta is a collection of the real-life stories of six young transgender people in America, interviewed and photographed by Susan Kuklin. Most of the teens live in New York, with the exception of Luke, who is from Wisconsin. Some of the six are still in their teens, while others are out of their teens by a couple of years, telling the story of their youth. (more…)
Goldsmiths College professor and highly regarded race and cultural studies scholar Sara Ahmed offers an expanded study of the “feminist killjoy” in her new book, Willful Subjects. (more…)
Gay pulp novels of the 1960s sell at steep prices these days. Their racy covers have great camp value, and since they were cheaply produced and meant to be easily disposed of, gay pulps are now collectors’ items. Gay pulps have even made inroads with academics, who have come to regard pulps as repositories of historical information. But it hasn’t always been so. (more…)
Etel Adnan is practically an institution. With writing that has been set to music, turned into plays, and used in political protests, her gripping lyrical style coupled with deep philosophical prowess has made her a literary giant for decades. So when her retrospective collection, To look at the sea is to become what one is was announced to be released from Nightboat Books, I was thrilled to get my hands on a review copy. (more…)
Over the past five decades, the number of minorities and women joining labor unions has dramatically increased. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics can easily capture demographics on union members by race and gender, they cannot do the same for sexual orientation or gender identity. For generations, LGBTIQ employees often remained closeted or “stealth,” especially in occupations not traditionally welcoming to queer individuals. For this reason, the study of LGBTIQ people’s involvement in unions—or labor movements in general–is relatively new. Previous researchers have written a great deal about LGBTIQ activists forming coalitions with union activists to fight for common goals, but rarely has a book specifically addressed LGBTIQ workers and their involvement with unions. New York University professor Miriam Frank presents her surprising findings on this topic in her new book Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America. (more…)
‘The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality’ by Suzanna Danuta Walters
The first thing that came to mind after finishing Suzanna Walters’ excellent and original piece was a quote from longtime social critic Fran Lebowitz from the 2010 Martin Scorsese documentary Public Speaking where she stated:
[...] I mean, do I think gay marriage is progress? Are you kidding me? This was one of the good things about being gay! I mean, I am stunned that the two greatest desires of people involved in gay rights movements are gay marriage and gays in the military. I mean to me, these seem like the two most confining institutions on the planet: marriage and the military. Why would you be beating down the doors to get in? Usually a fight for freedom is a fight for freedom, this is like the opposite…I mean people used to pretend to be gay to get out of going into the army!
As Walters argues, and I believe this is something Lebowitz herself would agree with, today’s gay rights movement and its allies who believe that “access to marriage and the military are the brass ring of gay rights” and that once we “have achieved these goals we will have moved into a post-gay America” are not only wrong but also doing an injustice to the gay rights movement by promulgating such rhetoric over demanding full equality, bar none. Yes, gay marriage and equal access for those LGBT individuals who want to be in the military are important, but they are in no way the be all and end all of the gay rights movement that has greatly changed its makeup from the individuals behind the Stonewall Inn riots of 1969 to those of today. Undoubtedly Walters will not only receive an insurmountable amount of criticism for pointing this out but also, as a result of her excellent book, she’ll disillusion the idea of progress, as we see it today, as not progress but rather small steps in the “deep claim for full civil rights” that is still unknown to the LGBT community. Walters posits that the LGBT community needs to recommit itself to fighting for full civil rights rather than accepting whatever comes our way in small gradual steps.
The major crux of Walters’ argument is in her deconstruction of the popular battle cry “It’s not a choice.” Walters believes the “born this way” argument is harmful to the gay rights cause as it allows individuals to utilize substandard science that reduces human sexuality into normative categories and classifications. As Walters, whose bluntness throughout the book is a breath of fresh air, states:
Most gays and their allies believe that gays are “born that way” and that proving biological immutability is the key to winning over reluctant heterosexual and gaining civil rights. Most gays and their allies believe that the closet is largely a thing of the past and that we have entered a new era of sexual ease and fluidity. Most gays and their allies think that we have essentially won the culture wars and that gay visibility in popular culture is a sign of substantive gay progress. Most gays and their allies believe that gay is the new black: hip, happening, embraced….Most gays and their allies believe that we are almost there: we can see the end of the tunnel, where a rainbow world of warm inclusion awaits us. These people are wrong.
Walters pinpoints the scientific arguments behind the “born this way” argument to show not how gay rights activists are wrong but to express the tragic consequences behind historically categorizing and measuring people’s activities. There is no one way to look at sexuality and human nature and Walters does an excellent job of utilizing a type of reverse psychology, not to change the minds of anti-gay individuals but to ask members of the gay community and its allies to think how they argue for the “born this way” argument and how it may be a type of appeasement to the “accept us” agenda. It isn’t demanding full equality under the law, but only partial equality as seen in allowing LGBT individuals the rights to marry, file joint taxes, and even die for their country.
Although Walters is not the first person to critically lash the gay rights movement today, à la David Halperin’s How to Be Gay, her argument has caused me to reexamine the ways I not only accept tolerance but also how I continue to identify as a modern gay rights activist. Simple tolerance and acceptance is becoming a thing of the past and “as long as tolerance is [the] reigning ethos [and] as long as we deny our difference in the service of misplaced allegiance to gender and sexual norms, we [will ultimately] deny ‘the unique genius in being queer.’” While we have won many battles on the gay rights front in the past two years, the coming storm for full equality is looming in the distance. Regardless of how the outlook appears, a victory can in some ways feel like a loss and even when we think we are near the finishing line, we, gay rights activists and allies alike, will realize that we have miles to go.
The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality
By Suzanna Danuta Walters
Hardcover, 9780814770573, 343 pp.
‘State of Defiance: Challenging the Johns Committee’s Assault on Civil Liberties’ by Judith G. Poucher
I approached Judith G. Poucher’s State of Defiance: Challenging the Johns Committee’s Assault on Civil Liberties with a degree of skepticism. It wasn’t long ago that I reviewed Stacy Braukman’s masterful Communists and Perverts Under the Palms (2012), also about the Johns Committee, and I had my doubts that a second book in three years would reveal much more necessary information about the post-McCarthy witch-hunts that the committee launched in Florida. Fortunately, Poucher has found a different approach to the material, emphasizing the contributions of five individuals who, when confronted by the committee, fought back through lawsuits, cleverly combative testimony, and, in the case of gay individuals, refusing to name names. (more…)
‘The Animals: Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy’ by Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy; Edited by Katherine Bucknell
Christopher Isherwood died in 1986, his legacy as an author and gay trailblazer assured by works such as A Single Man, The Berlin Stories, and, most recently, the publication of his diaries–a treasure trove of insight into one of the 20th Centuries most fascinating figures. It’s only been in recent years, however, that Isherwood’s love life has drawn public attention on par with his literary achievements. The Animals, a collection of love letters between Isherwood and his surviving partner, the artist Don Bachardy, aims to correct that imbalance. (more…)