Radical Acts

burackIn Sin, Sex, and Democracy: Antigay Rhetoric and the Christian Right, Cynthia Burack writes:

I can say with complete honesty that I know of no move afoot in the LGBT rights movement to deprive nonhomosexuals of civil rights, convert heterosexuals to homosexuality, or prohibit the free exercise of religion. Of course, unlike many of my peers, I understand that these assurances are all beside the point. Homosexuals and transgender people are dangerous not because we intend or aspire to do anything to anyone but because we are more emboldened than ever to live openly and without apology, to call into question the settled beliefs of our fellow citizens, and to alter historical patterns of the distribution of rights and status. Make no mistake: these are radical acts, and it is understandable that those challenged by them are dismayed, disgusted, anxious, angry, and determined.

I think she’s right, and pretending otherwise is liable to be received as disingenuous, condescending, or downright obfuscating. It’s worth considering which strategy might be more effective in the long run: pretending not to change society while obviously and fundamentally changing it, or admitting that one is changing things and mounting a persuasive account as to why things deserve changing?

About Craig Martin

I am an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at St. Thomas Aquinas College.
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7 Responses to Radical Acts

  1. etseq says:

    This rhetoric only appeals to academics. No one in the gay rights movement is “pretending” that equality in not a positive good or that the goal is to change society. It is not a “radical” change but it is simply an extension of prior civil rights struggles for racial and gender equality. Of course, to the religious right this is threatening since most of them still contest the gains made by those prior social justice struggles. Many of them would like to reverse feminist gains in particular since most still subscribe to a essentialist theory of “complimentary” gender roles. I think the struggle for LGBT rights is best framed as an extension of feminism and not as a unique phenomenon. LGBT rights would be impossible in a society without the revolution in gender norms that the feminist movement achieved.

    You are just buying into the framing of the religious right when you conflate the LGBT rights movement with the more radical queer left critique of society. Indeed, Queer Theorists main enemy is not conservatives but the mainstream LGBT rights movement which they see as too moderate and assimilationist. Not to discount many of the reasonable queer criticisms – like the lack of racial diversity in the mainstream movement – but whatever political success we have achieved is due primarily because the movement eschewed the original radicalism of gay liberation in the 1970s and Queer radicalism in the 1990s. Ironically, LGBT rights have advanced in spite of the the more radical activism and not because of it. Framing the struggle as an extension of existing social justice movements and accepting the norms of participation in the liberal state, rather than a radical restructuring of society, also has the benefit of being historically true. By rewriting history through the lens of critical theory, you allow the religious right to paint us as the “other” and dehumanize us in the process. I don’t think academic crits do themselves any favors when they engage in hyperbolic rhetoric when the truth is much more simple.

    Just a friendly critique of the crits….

  2. Craig Martin says:

    It might not be radical for *you* but it sure is radical and threatening to my family members. I think denying that fact—presenting as just a hum drum extension of or recognition of existing rights—is counter-productive in the long run. In my opinion this is just a question of the best strategy. This one is disingenuous, which is self-evident to everyone outside the LGBTQ community, and consequently I’m not sure it’s the best one for persuading opponents.

  3. etseq says:

    Well that is awfully smug of you – I am so sorry gays threaten you and your family so much. May I make a suggestion that you and your family are not representative of the majority of the american public. Public opinion has rapidly moved to where we are now favored by the majority in this country, which is remarkable progress in less than a few decades. The DOMA decision in the USSC all but guarantees that the issue will be resolved in probably the next 5 years or so once another test case makes its way to the Court, where Kennedy will be comfortable enough to apply his logic to the states.

    And I really do take offense at a heterosexual crit telling LGBT people that we are the ones with the problem. I think we are doing just fine in both politics and the courts. So you can take your condescension, which is so typical of crits, and stick it in your power regime. You have some gall basically calling gays liars – you sound like Rush Limbaugh.

    But no skin off your back – your a straight white male full of all the associated privilege that comes with that position in a heterosexist society.

  4. Craig Martin says:

    I think you misunderstood me (perhaps I didn’t make myself clear): gays don’t threaten me at all. One of my books was partly written in support of gay rights and against conservative Christian movements. But my extended family members—almost all of them conservative Christians—wouldn’t buy the mainstream LGBTQ rhetoric. So using that same old rhetoric to persuade them is unlikely to be a positive or successful measure. Other measures are needed.

    And I never said LGBTQ people were the problem; I support gay rights. However, along with queer theorists like Judith Butler, I think liberal discourse reinscribes forms of domination many of us would rather avoid. The mainstream “equality” rhetoric is part of the problem on this view.

  5. etseq says:

    Cite Judith Butler until you are blue in the face – my point was about the insularity of academic discourse and critical theorists in particular. Do you think anyone outside of maybe 5% of americans know who judith butler is? Hell, most gay people, much less activists, have never heard of her. And those that know who she is think she is an overrated academic celebrity who is known more for her obscurantism than anything substantive.

    I also find it disingenuous for heterosexual crits to cite gay scholars as a defense against their own privilege. It smacks of “some of my best friends are gay” excuses people make when called out on their own privilege. You are straight – you have the luxury of indulging in esoteric radical theory while we are fighting for our rights. What have you done to advance LGBT rights besides bitching about “liberal” activists. Have you ever marched in a protest or engaged in direct action? Again, there is a reason activists view crits as elitists and smug and you aren’t doing anything to disprove that stereotype.

  6. Craig Martin says:

    You have no idea what I’ve done on my campus in support of the LGBT students. You’re assumption about my lack of involvement doesn’t really hit home, sorry …

    • etseq says:

      This is my last comment as you are not engaging my arguments at all – you are just reasserting your privilege and frankly its insulting.

      I hope whatever activism you are involved in avoids the “liberal discourse [that] reinscribes forms of domination many of us would rather avoid” and that you maintain your moral high ground and avoid “The mainstream “equality” rhetoric” that seems to preoccupy crits to no end.

      Whatever soothes your conscious and allows you to maintain your intellectual and moral superiority over the actual lived experience of real gay people as that seems to be the most important value in your “discourse” I prefer to deal with reality and actual peoples lives but then again, I am apparently suffering from “false consciousness” and am unaware of how damaging my “liberal equality discourse” is to…well, apparently it is damaging to your theory as you have yet to identify any actual harm we gays are doing in our misguided quest for equality.

      Thank you for reconfirming why I loathe privileged white male heterosexual crits. At least you aren’t claiming to be a queer heterosexual – you might try it out, it is right up your blinkered alley…

      PS – You also seem to have a white messiah complex – am I supposed to thank you for saving us LGBT hoi polloi from ourselves??

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