Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

16 March 2011

The Heterosexual Within! (Like What Lies Beneath, Only Scarier)

I'm supposed to be studying for a four-hour test tomorrow on critical race theory. Instead, I have some musings I want to share on queerness that have come out of this reading. To wit:

One of Paul Gilroy’s important projects in The Black Atlantic is a challenge to seek out the legacies and formative influences of Western (white) culture within Anglo-African culture. What he points out is that the two are implicated in one another. The reverse of this has, of course, been argued by many African-American scholars; in other words, many have argued that not enough attention has been paid to the history of black Americans in the formation of USAmerican culture. So much of what we think of as USAmerican culture comes to us directly from black American culture, and therefore the two are imbricated. USAmerican culture is a hybrid of forms, a kind of (and Gilroy uses this word from Gloria Anzaldúa) mestizaje of its own. Gilroy’s argument is that cultural studies is too nationalist and that nationalism is dangerous and (of course) racist.

What this provokes me to think about is the way that cultural studies of so-called gay ethnicity—I really hate that term but its use is increasing, it seems to me—have ignored the legacies and influences of straight culture on queer culture. I will use the term queer culture as a broad sweeping designation. (There are, of course, numerous cultures within the so-called LGBT community, but there are cultural formations which we might simply call countercultural formations which specifically address themselves to the entire queer community and are received as such by the queer community at large as queer cultural formation.) What I am getting at is that queer cultural formations refer to both other queer cultural artifacts as well as cultural artifacts coming out of the larger, Western, mainly heterosexual tradition. And we do not acknowledge readily enough the impact of these heterosexual elements within our own cultural formations and artifacts. To say this simply, of course, I only need to say that in order for us to queer something we need something to queer and that something is definitionally not queer before we have a chance to queer it. But makers of queer culture also take portions of heterosexual culture and keep them. There is a legacy of heterosexual culture within queer culture and it has too long gone unacknowledged. To move out of the realm of art and into the realm of queer subjecthood, I think it important to also point out that the vast majority of queer people were raised by heterosexual parents, and the influence of these heterosexual life models upon our own queer subjectivity is (although often unremarked) undeniable. Even those of us who were raised in queer families have taken heterosexuals as models, gurus, coaches. The model of heterosexuality has had an undeniable impact on our queer world-making, and it is important to note that this impact has (to refer momentarily to La Volenté de Savoir) not always been a repressive or Victorian one. To speak more accurately, this heterosexual influence on our own queer subjectivities has often been productive, positive, even worthy of celebration. 

I am not a particularly family-oriented person, and so I have often noted with wonderment that many of my friends are devoted to their parents, consider their parents their best friends, call their mothers every day. I’ve been on dates with men who have reported to me: “the first thing you need to know about me is that family comes first.” Personally, I am always put off by statements of this variety, but surely such a devotion to family cannot be explained fully through the lens of repression or guilt. It must be said, then, that the heterosexual family and heterosexual relationships in general affect queer subjectivity in productive ways that—if not central to queer world-making—are at least essential to it. Queer history is, in part, heterosexual history. To trace the legacies handed down to us as twenty-first century queer subjects, we need also to trace the heterosexual components of those legacies.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear some of my wise friends weigh in on this.