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8 April 2011, 2:00 pm No Comments

DisOrienting Encounters: Stonewall to the Suburbs

This post was submitted by Cyrus

When I was younger I enrolled in my high school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, JROTC, program. In short, it was the military school alternative to physical education at my school.

September 11th was the first day in my program. At headquarters, the cadets were lining for attention and a debriefing about the attacks on New York City. The commanding officer was telling us America was attacked. In the middle of formation, a high officer screams from the office, “Another plane hit the Pentagon.” The commanding officer let out a large yell of anger and frustration.

I remember very distinctly, too, our commanding officer mumbling to another cadet, “Those Arab fags are going to get it.” We were quickly dismissed and told to continue our day as normal as possible.

My experience with 9/11 was odd, to say the least. I went about my day thinking the terms, “9/11,” “Twin Towers are falling,” and “Pentagon attacked” were all military jargon for some physical activity. I mean, it was my first day introduced to a new culture in high school. I didn’t watch the news or listen to the radio before I got to school so I did not fully grasp the situation until my first period class replayed the footage.

At that moment, I felt angry, sad for my country and I wanted to get more involved with the JROTC in hopes of becoming an enlisted corpsman after high school.

Since 9/11, my connection with the military, nationalism, and patriotism has definitively changed from my 15-year-old self; a change that would be read as the complete opposite from my bellicose and Army-supporting love of country.

This post will cover many topics that are related to the military and patriotism, but more importantly this post will discuss the idea of homonormativity. Lisa Duggins defined homonormativity in her 2003 book, The Twilight of Equality?: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack On Democracy, as, “A politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them, while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption.”

This is prevalent during times of great mass trauma or pain. I remember blanket campaigns from the HRC and gay.com that opened the doors to national belonging through a restructuring of sexual orders. During times of national strife and great pain, the queer subject, gays and lesbians alike, were co-opted with a sense citizenship and belonging. Specifically speaking, the sexuality of queer citizens did not matter, we were all Americans and we were all affected by 9/11. That following year we say the American flag and the Rainbow flag march proudly in front of lawns and during gay pride. More importantly, during this restructuirng of the good American, we did also see a highly privitized, monogamous and white(ned) docility of the queer subject, but also the criminilization and the detirment of “the other” who did not fit the imagination of the good American.

One site where we might begin to explore how this process operates is a recent advertisement from the Human Rights Campaign “Millions for Marriage.” (2003)  featuring Keith Bradkowski, a middle-aged white businessman who sought state recognition of his relationship with his late partner, testified at a DOMA hearing on “What is Needed to Defend the Bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act of 1996?Bradkowski’s partner, Jeff Collman was  a flight attendant on the first plane to strike at the Twin Towers. Bradkowski offer his view to the committee: “The terrorists who attacked this country killed people not because they were gay or straight – but because they were Americans.” A rather symbollic representation of how the queer American was incorporated the idea of good American citizen, Bradkowski does raise an interesting inersection of what is an American Patriot and specifically what was a good queer citizen. He was in a very faithful and commited relatioship with his late partner, an upwardly mobile individual and an upstandig citizen who supported America following the years of 9/11.

The ad portrayed a prototypical good queer citizen: white and willing to die in the battlefields to protect the security of the homeland  both within and outside of its borders. But to proclaim that a terrorist attack launched against a nation regardless of its citizen’s sexualities is to unite an imagined community of Americans where a common victim hood exists at the hands of foreign others. His statment speaks to the degree that we were all attacked and not trgeted by race, class, sexuality or nationalism. Through this move and his positionality, the good queer citizen gains entrance into the idea of nation and heritage while also displacing racial, class and and sexual outsiders. Becuase as subsequent news coverage of the diversity of people who worked in the twin towers, a representation of over 50 countries were present within the buidling during its collapse and an undisclosed number of people whose sexualities were not included. But what the imaginings of who perished that day were Americans.

"Come Together" ad,2006. Credited to Gay.com

Let’s take a look at the gay.com “Come Together” ad, reproduced above.  Paralleling an “us vs. them” mentality sense of community, the image shows who if offered admission to the sense of national pride and unity during times of war, pain, or trauma. The posturing of the two seemingly white males suggest one clue. Another is their physicality, musculature, and hypermasculinity or femme-ing down to perform the virility of the American nation and lack of perceived disability. The American Flag firmly hugs the two of them suggesting no room for others, a gesture of monogamy.

What this means in the context of this post, and hopefully to real world situations is that the queer community was born out of the diversity, out of riot, and against oppression and patriarchy. However, during times of war or massive upheavel, there are pretty unnoticeable things that people proclaim under the banner of Patriotism that is both deeply classed, racialized and sexualized. Americans, and indeed all human beings, come in many shapes, forms, embodiement and emotionality. Yet what is portrayed in the HRC Bradkowski image and the gay.com image is still a a specific racialized, sexualized and, gendered and classed image of good queer citizenry. Nearly all adds produced in gay and lesbian publications nowhere disclose whether they were a person of different race, minoritized sexuality or subculture. And during those times, homonormativity is asked by the queer community to be considered as good queer citizens. But homornortamvity is standing room only and the word can only encompass so few people deemed worthy of national recognition.

The irony of homornormativity, too, is that while it requires a certain degree of compliance of the acceptable queer in the imaginings of American queer culture as heterpatriarchal society and politics have worked in tandem with homornormativity to offer a view of society to agree and match heteropatriarchal society. Proposition 8, DOMA, and Dont Ask Dont Tell offer glimpses into the extent queer subject fits in the national imaginings of American Society, but severely reminds all how (un)flexible that imagining is willing to mend.

So we are left to ask, “Can you call the good queer subject during a time of national unity, but take back from the queer community the promise of marriage, the ability to serve openly and equality initiatives that otherwise offer a better standing in society? Or does it seem counter intutive to create a good queer subject but through limitatios and a partial lens are we to accept a certain brand of queerness associated with “Americaness” and American pride?

From the Stonewall riots and now to the suburbs, is there something left to fight for? Queer intimacy and love is still radical and revolutionary. It is only when we engage our traumas from the past and our yearnings for the futures do we seize the possibility of justice for all.

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