Friday, September 02, 2011

How Do You Solve a Problem like Marcus?

A queer colleague of mine brought up this article about the potential problems of calling Marcus Buchmann out as gay.  The concerns about what this rhetoric potentially does is important to examine and take seriously.

It's been popular among (at least the gay blogosphere) to point out Marcus Buchmann's more effeminte qualities, including but not limited to the nickname "Ladybird," which I do find fairly amusing.  As with most things, the rhetorical strategy, politics and rationale behind such a move are complex. 

Marcus ceratinly "reads" gay to me, to be sure, although this is never a certain thing.  Marcus seems to read to many other queer folk also.  And when there is good proof that someone who is anti-gay engages in same-sex sexual behavior, that definitely needs to be called out.  Is "reading" an anti-gay figure sufficient grounds to point out hypocricy?  Perhaps, but it certainly comes with the opportunity for the opposition to cry fowl and make accusations of bullying.

Given the pro-LGBT anti-bullying rhetoric popular among even the mainstream populance, in large part to the "It Gets Better" campaign, making bully accusations against gays and lesbians is a powerful accusation, if it can stick.  In the case of Bachmann, I don't think it sticks with anyone other than those pre-disposed to support Bachmann (i.e., extremely conservative people who would be anti-gay in their politics regardless).  One of the primary reasons is that this rhetoric, when applied to Bachmman, is not bullying.  Bullying involves a power differential from which the victim has little or no recourse to defense.  This certainly is not Marcus Buchmann's situation. I think the LGBT activist community should stay vigilant, however, to rhetorical strategies that might fall into bullying, however, when employed against a different individual.

I do think that some of the rhetoric against Marcus verges if not crosses over into sissyphobia / femme-phobia (aka veiled misgony). That is not okay, and, yet, sadly, still seems a popular technique among gay men to denigrate other gay (or queer) men.  Where such rhetoric crosses the line from reading queerness to shaming it will undoubtably vary among people. 

Pointing out "hey, this guy seems terribly gay for being so anti-gay" could reify notions that people with same-sex desires possess certain noticeable and obvious qualities.  I think people in the LGBTQ community "get" what is being said here: some of us do have some stereotypical markers of queerness, while others don't have any and Marcus seems to have a ton.  But does the normative public understand what is being said here?  (Probably not.)  Yet, people who think that queers are easily identifiable are not likely to change their mind, regardless of the absence of rhetoric that reinforces thier belief (or the presence of rhetoric that challenges their belief). Although this kind of joking might reinforce their belief, but they aren't going to change anyway.  Politically, anti-gay forces might be able to say that we are participating and acknowledging their rhetoric, but, again, they aren't going to change tactics even if every pro-queer person steadily and adamently asserted that you can't identify every queer. 

Ultimately, I'd be much more comfortable if some evidence of queer sexual behavior was being used to prove hypocrisy.  Were Michele to stay in the presidential race long enough, some of it might surface, but she likely will be knocked out early enough that it won't.  There may, though, be value in pointing to what seems queer about the very anti-queer Marcus. Still, the message could often be crafted better, as much of it does translate as denouncements not of Marcus's hypocrisy, but his sexuality.  The line is often very thin between "the gay needs to stop being anti-gay" to "what a faggot."   

Marcus Rhetoric Typifies Current Gay Political Rhetoric

The politics around the Bachmanns does highlight problems with current gay and lesbian politics. Mainstream gay and lesbian political rhetoric has veered towards the conservative during the current marriage equality movement.  Gays and lesbians are happily denouncing non-monogamous, non-traditional (adult, consentual) sexual relationships and couplings in the current rhetoric.  Anyone not mainstream gay is left out in the cold; there is no space for queers in mainstream gay politics. Accordingly, the image and definition of gayness is now fairly heavily policed; those not presenting a respectable gay image or daring to exhibit stereotypical mannerisms, no matter how authentic, are not welcome.  Accordingly, Marcus's effeminite mannerisms become a target (and sometimes his weight, equally reprehensible).  Queers not wanting to settle down with one other queer are seens as being immature, irresponsible, and giving gays and lesbians a bad name. (That line of thought is not new at all, but certainly seems to have picked up steam.)

The new gay and lesbian politic, in its conservative form, also reinforces the hetero/homo binary.  One is one or the other.  None of the accusations I've seen even suggest that Marcus might be bi, polyamorous, or have some kind of sexual desire or behavior that is not easily categorized.  Even if the man enjoys some form of sex with another man (and usually Marcus revilers posit he is the receiver in any sexual act, again pointing to a form of femme-phobia / misogyny),  we still wouldn't know what that says about his sexuality.  It certainly would mark him as the hypocrite we all suspect him of being (and Michele by implication), but it wouldn't mark him necessarily as gay.  Straight-identified men engage in same-sex sex ocassionally as well, not to mention various permutations of sexual behavior that may or may not be labelled.  But, there's no room for this kind of thinking in modern gay politics: now, it's the "one time" rule.  Despite the fact that I know many people for whom sexuality is fluid and changing as much as others seem to have their's firm and fixed, gay politics fears putting a face on fluidity.  Although gay politics needs an ethic and argument for rights for variable sexuality, it hedges its bets on the "born this way" theory.  Gay liberation stands to become its own version, if it has not already, of the Bachmanns. 

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