Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Queer theorist: Marriage is absurdly constraining and increasingly irrelevant

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Annamarie Jagose, a feminist and queer theorist who is the Head of the School of Letters, Art and Media of University of Sydney, has written an article on "long-term gay and lesbian couples that are the shiny new poster boys and girls for same-sex marriage" and why it is not serving "social justice, equity and social belonging." Her reason is that "marriage" itself is irrelevant according to the queer framework. 

I cannot deny there is a sense of vindication on my part reading Jagose's piece because what she has highlighted was exactly the point which I have brought up previously in my conversation with some prominent voices in the Malaysia-Singapore LGBTQ movement. I noted that the LGBTQ movement is largely still living under the shadow of heterosexual monogamous hegemony in their present state of advocacy. Yet I was dismissed as using pseudo-academic queer theory.



Here are some excerpts from Jagose's piece:


Defining marriage in terms of exclusivity and permanence is, at best, a wishful description; it’s an idealised account of how we, individually and collectively, hope marriage might work.... Lesbian and gay communities, and the feminist communities with which they have historically overlapped, have long celebrated the values of sexual diversity over the sexual conformity represented by marriage and the ethical importance of sexual straight-talking rather than the double-standards so frequently observed in marriage’s vicinity.



Rather than admit lesbians and gay men to marriage as currently conceived, we should avow more fully the range of options that characterise a lot of our lives and living arrangements. Why not support and recognise the alternative intimacies that gay communities, among others, have been developing for decades?



In recognising some gay and lesbian relationships as marriages, same-sex marriage emphasises the continued illegitimacy of other sexual arrangements and the continued exclusion of other social actors.



Outside the newly enlarged circle of social approval and privilege afforded by same-sex marriage stand those whose erotic lives are not organised around the values symbolised by marriage: coupledom, monogamy, permanence, domestic cohabitation.

Unmarried mothers, for instance; adulterers; the devotedly promiscuous; sex workers; the divorced; the bigamous and polygamous; those who are not strangers to the august traditions of the dirty weekend or the one-night stand; single people.



Now this ragtag bunch might not seem as worthy of social protection and prestige as the loving, caring, long-term gay and lesbian couples that are the shiny new poster boys and girls for same-sex marriage. But it reminds us to ask something that advocates of same-sex marriage, in their eagerness, forget to ask: why should marriage continue in the 21st century to be a primary mechanism for the distribution of social recognition and privilege?



Important questions of social justice, equity and social belonging cannot get worked out across such an absurdly constrained and increasingly irrelevant category as marriage.
Do read Jagose's whole article.

In Singapore, it has been highlighted by Lisa Li that the local LGBTQ movement has excluded others like Tan Eng Hong when they made Gary Lim and Kenneth Chee the poster boys of the Pink Dot movement. Such advocacy strategy has not only backfire against the movement's philosophy of inclusivity and acceptance but also betray the fact that much of local LGBTQ activism is still living under the shadow of heterosexual-monogamous marriage.

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