18 August 2005

Why it Matters

I do a lot of work on feminist and queer theory, and particularly on the politiccal and theoretical concept of 'heteronormativity'. As, I suspect, many writers/teachers/intellectuals do on occassion, I often worry about the so-called 'importance' of my work. This worry is exacerbated by the impression often given to me (and sometimes said to me directly) that I should be doing something more significant, more political, less abstract. This impression comes both from other scholars (who are studying Marx, or Congress, or, if they aren't social scientists, 'real' things in the World) and from non-academic friends who wonder why I'm concerned with a word they've never heard of. I wonder, too, whether the whole thing isn't heightened yet again by the sense that when it comes to 'dark forces' in the world, 'heteronormativity' isn't really high on the list (probably because many of the people that I know, also have gay friends who are quite 'well off' in many senses of that phrase).

And then one stumbles upon what you see below:

From the good Reverend Dobson, tips to tell if your son is at risk of thinking he is gay:

Evidences of gender confusion or doubt in boys ages 5 to 11 may include:

  1. A strong feeling that they are "different" from other boys.

  2. A tendency to cry easily, be less athletic, and dislike the roughhousing that other boys enjoy.

  3. A persistent preference to play female roles in make-believe play.

  4. A strong preference to spend time in the company of girls and participate in their games and other pastimes.

  5. A susceptibility to be bullied by other boys, who may tease them unmercifully and call them "queer," "fag" and "gay."

  6. A tendency to walk, talk, dress and even "think" effeminately.

  7. A repeatedly stated desire to be - or insistence that he is - a girl.

From the good Reverend Dobson, tips to cure your son of gayness:

[T]he boy's father has to do his part. He needs to mirror and affirm his son's maleness. He can play rough-and-tumble games with his son, in ways that are decidedly different from the games he would play with a little girl. He can help his son learn to throw and catch a ball. He can teach him to pound a square wooden peg into a square hole in a pegboard. He can even take his son with him into the shower, where the boy cannot help but notice that Dad has a penis, just like his, only bigger.

I could talk about this for pages and pages and pages. In an effort to show enormous restraint, let me just make two (well, three) points.

  • Note the irony of the far right's position on homosexuality. ON the one hand, they insist, above all else, that it is unnatural, while on the other they go to all this work to actively prevent its emergence and to construct heterosexuality. They are literally constructing the natural right in front of us!

  • I saw some discussion of this on other blogs (e.g.), and the comments section spent a great deal of time (rightly) making fun of these notions. They were filled with narratives that went like this, 'I did #X, and #Y, and #Z, and I turned out great'. Or, 'aren't kids that "roughhouse" more likely to be gay?'. OK, sure - funny enough. But can we possibly imagine for a moment the effect of this discourse on queer kids??? These folks, who are supposedly all about what they call 'family' (I need to blog some day on this, because I have no idea what they are talking about when they use this word) are saying to parents the following: if your kid is getting called a fag at school, you need to add more pressure to their lives, to force them to be what you want them to be. I don't know, sounds like something akin to 'abuse' to me.

  • Finally, this whole discussion is not about overt discrimination or prejudice against adult gay mean and lesbians. And that's precisely why the concept of heteronormativity is so important. Upholding the heterosexual norm has all sorts of effects that cannot be seen through the lens of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

1 comment:

Transient Gadfly said...

mtg here again. we can talk about this more this weekend (speaking of bad blogging, which we can also chat about this weekend), but one thing that blows my mind is how "family" is code for both "gay" and "anti-gay." and not in a nice subversive renaming reclaiming way, like "queer." in a seemingly pretty unironic, oblivious way. in some ways it means the same thing -- "he's family" equals "he's one of us; he believes what we do; he's trustworthy and okay" on both sides. but that the right hides its mission and beliefs (if they really think their position is natural and right, why don't they just call themselves anti-gay?) behind the term "pro-family," must mean they believe that word exclusively connotes man-woman-kid(s), and while that is no doubt true for their supporters, their supporters are already convinced. which makes you wonder why we're not kicking their ass. or if they even know that in lots of circles, "family" means "gay gay gay baby, gay as a tree full of parrots." (i wish i could be there when they find out.)