Fears for the future of queer liberation

So, we’ve done it. We’ve won. Everything is OK, let us cheer from the rooftops and celebrate.

Same sex marriage has been voted into UK law, and apparently I’m supposed to feel happy about this.

And yet it leaves a fairly bitter taste in my mouth, niggling anxieties about the future, a deep unease that far from this being better it may actually make things worse for a lot of us.

I get that some of you are delighted by this, and I’m happy for you. Your kink is not my kink, but your kink is OK. If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine. Just please think about the consequences, both concrete and mere possibilities.

First things first, let’s not call what passed into law “marriage equality”. It means that a relationship between two people of the same sex can be legally recognised as the same as a relationship between two people of the opposite sex. To some, this might sound like equality. These people are not recognising the vast and complex forms that human interaction may take, the sheer breadth of family structures that are possible (and, for many, a lived experience). Marriage is still as inaccessible today as it was yesterday to so many of us–and the resulting perks.

It gets even worse for some trans people. Included in the law is a clause which can spell disaster for trans people: the spousal veto. In order to have your gender legally recognised, you need permission of your spouse. These statistics from@zoejrobinson, via the Coalition For Equal Marriage should demonstrate why this is such a problem. Marriage requires signing over a basic human right to a spouse, and grants the spouse a power to deny you the right to legal recognition of your gender, if they don’t like it. And this problem only applies to a certain set of the population. Yet they are ignored and thrown under the bus, utterly erased by the complete misnomer of pretending this thing is “equal marriage”. No matter how many times they say it’s equal, it doesn’t become so.

And yet, there is a pervasive mentality that we’ve won. It is being treated by many as a glorious victory in the last great battle. For some, it is exactly this, and they are the lucky ones. I fear that we will lose momentum entirely now that same sex marriage is law, having lost these loud voices who have got what they wanted. I fear that there will be no further demands made with the level of resources that were poured into achieving this demand, which is on a par with getting a cat to shit in the litter tray: something which should have been happening all along.

I fear that any movement towards queer liberation will halt. Examine this tweet and image from charity Stonewall. Many prefer to call the organisation S’onewall, due to its complete erasure of trans people. Look at them eagerly thanking the lovely kind state for throwing them a pitiful scrap which they have climbed over a mountain of fellow queers to grasp at. Remember what they named themselves after, and laugh a bitter, hollow chuckle as you remember whose name they appropriated, whose history they all but deny.

There was once a time when we demanded liberation rather than equality. We demanded expression rather than assimilation. The chorus of celebration of same sex marriage rings loudly, and silences these demands that some of us still wish to make. I don’t want equality within a fundamentally flawed system. I want to be free. I want to be able to be myself, to live and love without constraints. I want to exist free from coercion into a certain living arrangement which does not suit me, one which the state is increasingly attempting to force me into. I want to live without fear.

I worry that same sex marriage may have devastating consequences for those of us who choose not to marry. There will be financial and material consequences: machinations are underway to further incentivise marriage with a carrot in among the sticks. There will likely also be social consequences. It is hardly news to people in marginalised groups that those who are able to assimilate are those who are most accepted. Legally speaking, there is now nothing standing in our way of riding the relationship escalator in exactly the same way as straight people. Will those of us who do not be penalised? I don’t doubt that we will, and it frightens me that I am one of these freaks of society, one of those who will not be grudgingly accepted by the heterosexist mainstream because I am not marching to the beat of their monotonous drum.

And I fear that many of my GLb comrades will no longer care about those that have been left behind in this relentless pursuit of assimilation at the expense of liberation. I fear a loss of solidarity, of being told to swallow what I was given because this was my choice just as countless bigots have told us before. Heterosexuals and gay people alike have, all along the way, policed my articulation of my concerns. I do not feel like they would support those of us who have been left behind in their journey. I fear that everything will stop, even as there is so much more to do both locally and globally.

I would love to be proved wrong. I would love for this to have been just a muster in a bid for liberation. Yet again and again history has proved that things do not happen like this. So I remain unrepentantly unhappy with this state of affairs, groping in the dark for comrades who will have my back. Plotting revolution, plotting freedom and fervently hoping that in this broken world that I stay safe and survive.

13 thoughts on “Fears for the future of queer liberation”

  1. I understand where you’re from. Too often in this debate, whenever an MP or other nutjob has said “if we have gay marriage, what next? Three people all getting married?” and activists have just gone “Don’t be silly, we just want gay marriage”. Which is wrong. Frankly, we should be aiming to dissolve the notion of marriage as anything beyond an archaic religious ceremony.

    BUT I do think you’re being too down. Things have changed, and things will continue changing. We’ll get there.

  2. I totally agree with your assessment that this equal marriage is insufficient, and for the same reasons.

    In the interest of thoroughness, however, checking the numbers used in the statistics from the Coalition For Equal Marriage (re: spousal veto) there are some serious anomalies in the way the percentages are calculated and the answers compiled.

    This doesn’t detract from an excellent article, which I will share with others.

  3. Good blog. For me, I’ve supported SSM (although not all aspects of the bill) as marriage should be a choice open to all, even one thinks it’s a weird choice. But that it shouldn’t be seen as a choice that is better than all the other ones consenting adults can make. Although I realise that the existence of marriage as an institution where other legal relationships (such as poly etc) cannot be entered into still causes a heck load of problems.

    I think you’re right about your assessment of the future though. There’s no reason to assume that well-off white gay men (and I speak as one) and women are suddenly going to start caring about those who aren’t represented by the likes of Stonewall. We can see that from other minority issues.

    At best though, the debate around it will help some of us open our eyes to the problem. I know that over the last year or so I’ve become increasingly ashamed by some of the viewpoints shown by fellow supporters of SSM, and my own past blinkeredness about some of the issues. Your blog is a good reminder to avoid that closed thinking, and I feel it’s my job to not screw others over just because they don’t share my privilege.

  4. For me, same sex marriage is a cause for massive celebration, but of course it’s not the end of the road. And forgive me, but when Civil Partnership came in, many were fearful that somehow those who celebrated would imagine that was it, nowhere further to go. But it means a very great deal to a lot of people, it is going to make many lives much better, not just queer folk themselves, but our families and communities. Not all queer folk, of course, and the spousal veto is a dreadful priority to address. But there’s a big difference between “Hooray!” and “Right, that’s queer liberation taken care of.”

    It’s true that some campaigners (and entire campaign groups) have argued for same sex relationships equivalence with heteronormative middle-class socially-sanctioned model; “We’re exactly like Mr and Mrs Jones, except we both have a willy!” But to me, marriage is a queer issue just as childcare is a feminist one – many women can’t, won’t or don’t wish to have children, and yet there’s colossal pressure on women to do so, the idea we’re unfulfilled or not quite women if we don’t etc.. Yet clearly, provision of affordable childcare would help a very great number of women in work in many obvious ways. And maybe if we achieved that, some women would feel the race was won (some women do feel the race was won with previous landmarks). But most, even those struggling to work and care for young children, would not.

    Similarly with this. Don’t be afraid. I think the vast majority of those who support same sex marriage have your back too. We’re just celebrating this thing before the next battle.

  5. The alphabet soup of minorities have been unrecognized for too long and grown a culture around fighting not just for their own rights, but for the rights of others. That culture isn’t going to disappear over night, if anything, it’ll be more focused on those who have been ‘left behind’.

  6. Regarding the spousal veto: actually, it is not that the spouse can veto the change of gender; it is that if the couple want to stay married, the spouse can say “I’m not staying married to you if you change gender” and if that is the case, then marriage is annulled and the trans person goes on to change gender. I know this because i read the House of Lords briefing paper.

    Also, they have left some loopholes open for further reform and discussion.

    1. You’ll also know, then, Sarah’s analysis of the way they’ve worded it and that functionally it’s exactly the same.

      1. I didn’t know about Sarah’s analysis (link please?). I read the explanation of the veto in the House of Lords briefing.

        See section 140 to 145 here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2013-2014/0029/en/14029en.htm

        section 145 states that the marriage will be annulled if the spouse does not consent to change of gender, but can continue if they do – so it’s not ideal, but it does not prevent the person changing gender.

        Though actually, I don’t see why it is necessary, because if the spouse is unhappy about the change of gender, they could seek a divorce anyway.

  7. Also, my response to the new law is — well that’s great, but what about polyamorous people, what about Pagans (we still can’t do legal weddings for opposite-sex or same-sex people in England and Wales), what about humanists (ditto), what about trans people who are still not in an ideal situation.

    And the struggle in other areas must continue. I am appalled at Stonewall saying it is the last piece in the jigsaw — utter rubbish, because LGBT asylum seekers are still being deported to persecution and risk of death. What about the 76 countries where being LGBT is still a crime, and the four countries where the death penalty is still in force?

    And yes, I personally do not want to get married again — not quite sure why I did it the first time, as the things that made me in favour of doing it ought to have been outweighed by my reasons for being against it. The cake was lovely though.

    I don’t think that many people will now assume the battle is won and that’s that. Even Stonewall are only saying it’s the last piece of the legal jigsaw – they are still campaigning against homophobia in schools.

    Though it’s not the last piece of the legal jigsaw – we still need “gay cure” procedures to be made illegal.

    And then there is societal acceptance of other varieties of queerness – still got a long way to go on that one. And the elimination of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes.

    Here’s a blogpost that I wrote yesterday outlining some of these concerns and linking to your blogpost.

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