For a long while, I’ve had a problem with gay and straight labels, similiar to my problems with white and black labels, male and female labels. It packs us all up into boxes and allows people to make statements like, “We Americans should let gays get married.”
The first time I read that, it stopped me short. “What you mean `we’ white man?”
“We”? Aren’t *all* Americans, no matter who they go to bed with (or don’t), Americans? American citizens can vote, right? (Though Papa Bush wanted to revoke the citizenship of atheists). Who the hell is the Royal We?
I thought this was an interesting discussion that touched on some of my own problems with “defining identity” primarily based on who you want to sleep with:
“I’m not disputing that heterosexual behaviour is the practice of the majority. But then, a lot of people swim, but do we have a swimmers’ community? This is part of the problem of a binary: if you set up homosexuality over here and you say it looks like this, then in some senses you’re forced to define its Other in the same terms. Like chalk and cheese, homosexuality and heterosexuality ought not to be compared in the same terms, particularly when one is trying to contest the terms in which the other has configured it. Homosexuality has been saying for 20 years, ‘We aren’t what you think we are. We never have been. Why do you think we are the way we are? Why are you even making us a “we”?’ And then I look over here and I see a new ‘we’ being made in heterosexuality and I think, ‘Why do you want to go down that track? Why institutionalise, put boundaries around, in a process we’ve experienced as really screwed?’
“There’s something about the project that seems to me to undermine the 20 years of sexual politics that’s been about trying to renovate all sexuality, all gender relations. It runs the risk of shutting out heterosexuality’s own confusions and potentials, and locking it into some kind of rigidity. I don’t see why heterosexuals should be subjected to that, quite frankly. It’s not going to be in the interests of heterosexually active people, in the long term, to have heterosexuality constructed in that form.”
So, I ask, is it more liberatory to hold onto the notion of sexual identities as fluid and elastic?
“I’ve got my suspicions about the term identity, you see. I increasingly think, ‘What the fuck is an identity? Who’s got one, what does it do, and why do you have one and how do you use it?’ My hunch is that is it something which functions, or doesn’t function: where the concept of an identity functions in some way for someone in order for them to deal with their social world, then it has a place. Gay men have an identity as gay because it is a place from which to cluster and face that which it is not, particularly that which is wanting to beat you with a stick. It is both a calling card and a rallying point. In the face of master discourses that argue that what you are or what you think you are (or you are doing) is sick or wrong, gay identity provides a vantage point for critique.