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[44] Virtually Normal – Andrew Sullivan

This review completes the three-part reading on gay rights and normalization of homosexuality. Read also Warner and Yoshino.

Sullivan’s argument is no more than an elaboration of homosexuality’s fraught nature. He shares his fear of coming out and the hostility that envelops many gays before they have the least clue what all the social taboos refer to. In his experience, Sullivan delineates how shame is always at play in sexual implosion. On top of a sense of uncertain longing that deprives one of the reciprocity of love. He demonstrates how queer culture is being suppressed, assimilated, and reduced to what heterosexual culture deems as normal. Invisibility of gays capitalizes covering: self-concealment is conducive to survival in straight culture, as a social and sexual being. Virtually Normal addresses the full range of this debate that has relentlessly divided the country:

Prohibitionist: argues that homosexuality is a choice and believes that homosexuality subverts the gender norms. It contrives to restore people who are trapped in homosexuality to the straight norms and to conformity. In other words, prohibitionist is against homosexuals’ being honest about themselves.
Liberationist: the way human beings mean to each other is entirely contingent on the milieu they find themselves in. So homosexuality is just another social construct. This view completely denies personal will from which human beings operate. The resilience of personal will suggests an existence independent of the culture.
Conservative: a politics that lies in hypocrisy. It is a combination of private tolerance and public disapproval that leads to gays’ refraining from announcing sexuality in public to avoid derision and discrimination. Conservative believes there exists an undertow of a difficult life homosexuality ensues that undermines traditional marriage
Liberal: its embrace of too wide the spectrum of social issues and its overly ambition lunges into crisis of social credibility. Its dealing with homosexuality issue demonstrates the neglected ramifications concomitant to the many issues liberal shoulders choke the movement and reveals how crude its association with so many distinct and complex human experiences. The way it treats two issues with totally different cumulative historic past alike further puts its credibility at risk.

Sullivan calls for a politics of homosexuality that adheres to an understanding that there is a limit to what politics can achieve in such a fraught area as homosexuality. It shall seek full public equality for those who, through no fault of their own but an involuntary condition, happen to be homosexual and it will not deny their existence, both privately and publicly, their integrity, dignity, or distinctness. This politics will make a clear statement: the dignity of full life will not tolerate the notion that homosexuality should be shrouded in secrecy, treated with any more discretion than a heterosexual life or euphemized into invisibility (through covering or assimilation).

Sullivan means well as he advocates for a new politics. But unfortunately this politics will cumulate in a healthy trend of marriage under the heterosexual norms, which might as well divest gay rights. The “good gays” will assimilate to the dominant culture through this institution of marriage, a public approval owing to homophobia. Instead of challenging the straight norms and the unbending heterosexual culture, Sullivan pushes for a marriage that brings about the perfect normalization some gays have always wanted. It appalls me that he would think this is the central institution of the problem:

“If nothing else were done at all, and gay marriage was legalized, ninety
Percent of the political work necessary to achieve gay and lesbian equality
Would have been achieved. It is ultimately the only reform that truly matters.”

So Sullivan thinks the resolution is a reduction of queer culture to a marriage certificate. While I do not disagree that marriage fulfills one’s desire for that reciprocity of feelings, it is not the ultimate solution to the problem. Marriage does not necessarily make a person more mature and responsible, nor does it validate the love between two people. The self-validating nature of love simply negates the need for marriage. It is facetious to think marriage would be the ticket to monogamy for most gay men. The most egregious mistake is that marriage does not expunge the shame that has attached to human consciousness. Shame has attacked the very heart of what makes a human being human: the ability to love and to be loved. Marriage in the light of resolving the inequality issue is only deception that encourages an elaboration of a culture in which sex no longer plays a role than it plays in the mainstream culture. It only makes convenient for the dominant culture because, in Sullivan’s own words, ending military ban and lifting the marriage bar require no change in heterosexual behavior and no sacrifice from heterosexuals.

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