Alex Blaze

A good vacation always queers my head

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 07, 2008 3:58 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Bible, ENDA, LGBT families, queer, separation of church and state, sexuality

I just got back towards the end of last week from visiting my brother in Germany.

It was good - he's the straight, frat bro sort who joined the Air Force right out of college about a year into the war in Iraq. Visiting him reminded me that the great thing about family, as someone once said, is that they force you to love people you'd otherwise never talk to.

I live in a rather insular world and I have had the privilege my entire adult life of choosing the people with whom I associate. And while I'm constantly exposed to new ideas, I often don't run into many people who, like my brother, would tell me they think that Tasers actually don't hurt all that much, that John Kerry's greatest fault was not talking about his military record enough, and that Sleater-Kinney sound just like the B-52's (I did have to give him that Carrie Brownstein can sometimes sing a bit like Kate Pierson does).

Taking some time off from posting also helped to clear my head a bit and get me to think instead of scramble to write something in a post. For example, I started thinking about just what I mean when I say that my identification as "queer" or "gay" is a direct criticism of fundamentalisms.

It's no secret to anyone who reads this site regularly that I don't like fundamentalisms. Anyone that relies on words on a sheet of paper and someone else's interpretation of those words for moral guidance isn't free and isn't living their own life.

And if there's something that can't be described on paper, it's sexuality. The wordless mania of an orgasm, the strong and silent pull of attraction, the emotional reaction to desire - it's non-textual. There's no McSexuality because sexuality can't be reduced and replicated in a way that works for everyone.

Not that some people won't try. And that's pretty much what heteronormativity is, or any sort of sexual normalization: trying to make one form of sexual expression fit everyone because of the assumption that it can. There's one reduced form of sexuality, one way to have relationships, one way to express desire, and it works for everyone (never mind the fact that most people don't follow it, it still works!).

Fundamentalisms assume the same thing that sexual normalization assumes about sexuality, but instead with regards to other aspects of the way people live their lives. A Christian fundamentalist takes the Bible literally and assumes that there's only one interpretation of that text (always their own, conveniently), a libertarian takes the Constitution to only have one interpretation (which seems to benefit those in power), etc. There's one interpretation, it fits everyone's experiences, and if you don't like it you still have to suck it up and deal with it.

I think this is why people wonder so much about how a country like the US, with such a strong tradition of Separation of Church and State, can also have such a strong Christian fundamentalist influence on politics. They're influenced by the same epistemology of textuality, but they rely on different texts.

But Americans love just reading something and taking it literally, setting up black-and-white borders around interpretation, and then just arguing over which text is more important.

Not that there aren't ways to advocate the Separation of Church and State that aren't flatly textual (or be Christian, for that matter), that start with an inclination towards multiple voices and a recognition of context. As someone who'd fall on the side of separating the two concepts in practice, I'd defend it anyway if for nothing other than I don't want to live in Pat Robertson's vision for America.

But a textual fundamentalism about such a concept can turn against its original goals by becoming a strait-jacket instead of a guiding principle. A flat separationist attitude can lead to a situation where private individuals use their religion as an excuse not to hire LGBT people. If their religion is really telling them to fire the queers, then can a government that doesn't interfere with religion punish them?

And, of course, this would go against the primary intent of the Separation of Church and State - that people are free to choose the religion of their conscience without interference from power.

All of this I was thinking about when I spent two weeks with someone who, while he come from the same family I do, has managed to lead a life very different from mine. I don't really know what that means or how it happened, but I'm willing to appreciate it for what it was: a vacation with family.

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Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | January 7, 2008 5:39 PM

Nice post, Alex.

I can hear the b-52s influence in sleater-kinney, mostly in the guitar lines. I know those ladies love the b-52s, somewhere there's a video of them covering "Rock Lobster" with Calvin Johnson singing the Fred Schneider parts!

good post

Calvin Johnson singing the Fred Schneider parts? This I have to hear!