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[43] The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and Ethics of Queer Life – Michael Warner

Warner’s argument is a punch in the face of many gay activists. He deftly argues that gay marriage and other moves toward normalcy are egregious and bad not just for gays but for everyone. First he rebuffs and discredits the notion of normality, which is merely a statistical range that should not be given social credibility. He retaliates at the drive to same-sex marriage and the assimilation to normality are founded on a phony (manipulated) morality that contrives to validate heterosexuality at the expense of queers, because conservative ideology behind the institution of marriage uses a behavioral argument that aims mostly at modifying sexual culture of the gays. When the issue becomes a presumption that morality is concomitant to marriage, arguments in favor of gay marriage are most likely powered by homophobic assumptions.

Warner delineates the problems of the cultural constructions of the normal: the use of politics of shame to reward some identities and punish others. He explains how normality uses disgust and embarrassment to restrict sexual autonomy of variant identities. Using the fact that publicity given to sex is itself punitive and gays’ sexual noticeability, the antigays successfully impute shame and self-disgust on the gays who then hurl all the blame and become prime target of hatred, due to the difference, the “abnormality.” Homosexuality becomes the aspect of sex that garners general loathing. Gays know too well how difficult it is in this paradoxical culture (prefers private pleasure and public moralistic aversion) to assert any dignity when one stands exposed as a sexual being. To have dignity, gay people must be seen as normal: to engage in normalization to win acceptance from dominant culture.

Warner reviles the set of norms that measure the worth of relations and ways of life. Not only that normalcy has no room for visible difference and conflict, it consigns what could have been a healthy variation to the margin and deems it deviant. The rhetoric of normalization, Warner contends, dictates that the taken-for-granted straight norms are the only criteria of value. Marriage therefore should not be the highest goal of gay politics because it is a public institution that spawns from heterosexuality and rewards only those who are inside it.

Warner instead advocates a politics that embraces queer sex in all its apparent indignity, together with a frank challenge to the hierarchies of respectability. This is significant because scenes of queer culture have been freed from any attempt at respectability or dignity. This culture has seldom been regarded as a source of ethic insight if not a gutter zone of the absence of ethics. The drive to marriage without making recognition of the norms of queer culture will only further stigmatize the queer community which is already denounced as self-indulgent and libertine. This new paradigm should recognize queer culture’s own norms, which contribute to an ethic with the openness, accessibility, and volatility. It should neither patronize nor exclude, but to extirpate massive repudiation of queer culture’s best insights on intimate relations and restore an accessible culture of sex that has been imputed with shame.

3 Responses

  1. I kept trying to post a comment yesterday, but those “pesky” patients kept interupting my blog viewing. LOL!

    Anyway, I get his point. And, I don’t think I would ever opt to marry (never say ‘never’) but I think, if “we” are all created equally then we all need to be granted equal rights and choices. Therefore, the two last things that we MUST obtain in the US to be equal citizens are the rights to marry and join the military (without having to hide the fact that we are queer)

    …I do not want to be told that I have to sit in the back of the bus if I decide I want to sit in the front. No matter what this says about my society — I might just want to sit in the front. …or marry the man I love.

    I should also be entitled to the same tax benefits provided by marriage — and the privilleges that can be granted by divorce. 50/50 and such.

  2. There are only 2 arguments for same-sex marriage that I think hold some water.

    First, the argument that once queers have marriage, we will change what it means to be married.

    In other words, the ethics and practice of queer life may influence the norm of married life. So, for example, it may become more common for married couples to be open about their continued desires for people outside the marriage, and perhaps even to act on those desires. Such changes to marriage would benefit all couples in marriages, whether same-sex or different-sex.

    Personally, I think that marriage, even at its most minimal (i.e. legal sanction of a presumptively permanent relationship) is fundamentally incompatible with queer ethics, which (for me) preclude any institutionalized normative state intervention into partner-choice, ESPECIALLY when that intervention coincides with majority norms.

    The other argument that I’ve heard that is halfway decent is that marriage provides much needed benefits and protections to LGBT people in relationships, especially where there is a disparity of economic or political power between partners. In other words, marriage as a legal instrument, without all that high-falutin symbolic stuff that is really heteronormativity “we-want-to-be-like-you” attitudes in disguise.

    As a non-citizen of color who is unlikely to take a high-paying job in the near future, I definitely empathise with this argument, and I must admit that often I fear one or more of the following happening:

    1) Being forced to separate from my partner/lover because neither of us is a citizen of a country that will grant us immigration rights based on our partnership/lover.
    2) Separating from a partner/lover who has earned more than I do, and not having our time together recognized as entitling me to a share of his earnings.
    3) Being the victim of domestic abuse and having little legal recourse, as legal systems do not always have good protections in place for non-spouses, especially if that non-spouse is gay (not that they always do for spouses either, but it’s more likely)

    My reply to this argument is actually a bit of a fudge on my part. It’s not that marriage wouldn’t fix these things, it’s that it doesn’t go far enough. Marriage narrows the focus to protections for a very specific subset of valuable relationships. Left unprotected are, for example, fuckbuddies, ex-lovers who are still really emotionally close, close friends, housemates and so on. Suppose they do legalize same-sex marriage, it still doesn’t answer the question: why should two guys who meet in Vegas and get married get protections from the government when me and my best friend of 6 years do not, when me and my fuckbuddy of 5 years do not, when my ex-boyfriend that I see every day and share all the details of my emotional life with do not? Far better would be a patchwork (I use that word because I can’t think of a better, less pejorative-sounding one right now) of protections appropriate to each situation.

    In addition, it is naive to think that we can get the legal protections by invoking “marriage” without getting the symbolic baggage along with it. You need only listen to the rhetoric (on the pro-same-sex marriage side) to see that this is true.

    Sorry for the long comment – this is a topic near to my heart.

  3. Two new studies show why some people are more attractive for members of the opposite sex than others.

    The University of Florida, Florida State University found that physically attractive people almost instantly attract the attention of the interlocutor, sobesednitsy with them, literally, it is difficult to make eye. This conclusion was reached by a series of psychological experiments, which were determined by the people who believe in sending the first seconds after the acquaintance. Here, a curious feature: single, unmarried experimental preferred to look at the guys, beauty opposite sex, and family, people most often by representatives of their sex.

    The authors believe that this feature developed a behavior as a result of the evolution: a man trying to find a decent pair to acquire offspring. If this is resolved, he wondered potential rivals. Detailed information about this magazine will be published Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

    In turn, a joint study of the Rockefeller University, Rockefeller University and Duke University, Duke University in North Carolina revealed that women are perceived differently by men smell. During experiments studied the perception of women one of the ingredients of male pheromone-androstenona smell, which is contained in urine or sweat.

    The results were startling: women are part of this repugnant odor, and the other part is very attractive, resembling the smell of vanilla, and the third group have not felt any smell. The authors argue that the reason is that the differences in the receptor responsible for the olfactory system, from different people are different.

    It has long been proven that mammals (including human) odor is one way of attracting the attention of representatives of the opposite sex. A detailed article about the journal Nature will publish.

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