Queer Politics, Extropian Politics [Was: Sex Change]

Mon, 28 Jul 1997 14:13:01 -0700 (PDT)

On Mon, 28 Jul 1997, E. Shaun Russell wrote:

> What I have noticed with many "rights groups" is that they don't
> have a set reason for their actions. Why does sexual orientation have to
> be a major situation in the workplace or society? I believe that one of
> the main purposes of such organizations is to attract attention to a
> certain group in hopes of promoting equality; however, this does not so
> much promote equality as promote a separation. When people hear of "gay
> marches" [by the way, I'm using homosexuality as an example...the same is
> true of any rights group] they automatically see gays as a particular --a
> group that is set apart from the rest of society.

> By suggesting this, I do not mean
> that each person should try to ignore or hide his\her sexual orientation
> etc., but accept it for him\herself and not make a big deal out of it. One
> should not try to attract attention *because* of his\her sexual orientation
> etc., but set goals and achieve them...proving that being "gay" is not a
> hindrance or something to be ashamed of, but something to accept and
> incorporate into one's daily life. When a group sections itself off from
> society, it creates an animosity because most other people will want to be
> sectioned of as well. The general thought will usually be: "Why are *they*
> wanting special rights for their gayness when I can't get special rights
> for my <whatever>?" I have more thoughts on this matter, but I'd like to
> hear what people think of this first.

The political philosopher (still the best theorist and critic of
totalitarianism I've ever read) Hannah Arendt said in an interview that
"If one is attacked as a Jew one must defend oneself as a Jew. Not as a
German, not as a world-citizen, not as an upholder of the rights of Man,
or whatever..." Her point was that antisemitism (like racism, like
sexism, like heterosexism, or what have you) can too easily exist in
societies that imagine themselves staunch defenders of these more
general conceptions. The problem is that certain kinds of people, for
lots of mostly contingent historical and sociocultural reasons, come to
be thought of as less-than-properly-human and the smooth function of
regimes of civility based on respect for rights crank along quite
cheerfully even when these less-than-properly-human humans are treated
unfairly (or sometimes even genocidally). There is no question that
lesbian and gay people in the United States are second-class citizens.
Our intimate associations are not recognized, we are unable to serve
openly in the military, the sexual acts by means of which we express
desire for one another are largely illegal in half the states, the
protections from discrimination available to most unpopular minorites
are expressely denied us in most cases. Whatever one feels about
marriage, military service, antidiscrimination laws and the like (like
most extropians I for one would be happy to see the whole governmental
dog-and-pony show junked), the point is that the denial of these
benefits and protections to one group among all others *symptomizes*
something deep and dangerous about this society. Certainly scares me.
This is especially chilling in the U.S. where lesbians and gays are
simultaneously second-class citizens legally speaking, but the darlings
of media culture, treated as exceptional and extraordinary, monsters of
desire and talent, fashion millionaires and such. To be less than human
legally and more than human culturally is a heady cocktail to sip --
ask the Jews of Weimar Germany. I see deep affinities between queer
politics and extropian politics -- to the extent that either of these
can be said to exist at all. Enemies of Christian fundamentalism,
dogmatisms of every variety, state and social repressiveness in
general, queers and extropes have a lot in common (even those of us who
aren't strictly speaking *already* both). Believe me, I am utterly
uninterested in being known as a fag instead of an individual. I am
uninterested in special rights, but equal ones will suit me just fine. My
intimate associations are the last thing I would want to provide the basis
for anyone paying attention to me.
That said, I'll just add quickly a question about
antidiscrimination legislation. I know the general libertarian take that
it is wrong to tell an owner of a business just how she should behave, and
further that to the extent that homophobia and other attitudes like it are
irrational it is to be expected that the market will weed them out as more
tolerant individuals make fatter profits (tho' I understand that this
intuition is controverted by lots of respectable economic research).
However, I wonder if it is possible to translate the general idea of
antidiscrimination laws in terms that will be more attractive to
libertarians anyway. To the extent that every contract relies for its
intelligibility on a welter of unstated assumptions, why can't we
interpret acts of discrimination simply as breaches of contract? If we
assume that most people imagine that they are being hired to do a job and
do it well, why can't we say then that, should this be the case, an
employer who fires demotes or otherwise unfairly treats an employee in the
service of some fool prejudice is breaching contract with her -- unless
something about the employer's racism, sexism, or whatever had a very
conspicuous place *in* the contract to begin with? Would this
interpretation of the spirit of antidiscrimination legislation go down
smoother? It doesn't leave the distasteful residue that the "wanting
something for nothing" interpretations mostly on offer yield -- at least
for me. Best, Dale

Dale Carrico | dalec@socrates.berkeley.edu
University of California at Berkeley, Department of Rhetoric

If you want to tell people the truth be sure to make them laugh.
Otherwise, they will kill you. -- George Bernard Shaw
State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. -- Nietzsche