On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all 50 states, prompting an outpouring of commentary, criticism and praise, especially from social media and blogs. This outpouring locates a fracture, a dichotomy splitting public LGBTQ discourse. If we are to productively talk about inequality, this fracture must be remedied.
In response to the Supreme Court decision, many LGBTQ activists have been quick to point out that gay marriage legalization is far from the point of the LGBTQ movement. Homonormativity denotes LGBTQ people being accepted socially as long as they conform to the white, middle class, competent capitalist demographic. Thus, LGBTQ people are accepted insofar as they strive to be like heterosexual monogamous couples.
However, LGBTQ people continue to be persecuted: overly celebrating this legislation is kind of like applauding the thief because he won’t steal from us anymore. Activists also remind us that there remain so many marginalized groups for whom the Supreme Court decision has virtually no consequence, such as queer folk who don’t intend on getting married and remain subject to biases in daily life. The “us” is actually an exclusive “us”: the thief still runs rampant in the night alleys, just no longer in our home. Activists remind us of this, rightly, because it was always only about social equality for all.
On the other side of the fracture, we find reactions to these sorts of criticisms that take on a particular tone along the lines of “Oh come on already LGBTQ people! Can’t you just celebrate already?” These reactions stem from the perceived notion that LGBTQ activists are simply never satisfied, and endless neediness is construed as a flaw in the movement itself. This perception, moreover, is always the perception of LGBTQ activists plural. It is the perception that LGBTQ activists love being the victim and want to remain as such. It is the perception that non-activists are always doing something wrong, and only activists know exactly what to do to fix social injustice. If you aren’t an activist, sorry, you simply don’t understand and have to be educated. First, check your privilege.
Indeed, activists respond by reminding people about privilege, and that it has to be checked for like a disease.
Unfortunately, this discourse of “check your privilege” just doesn’t seem to be productive unless when voiced by truly exceptional teachers. Hence the fracture, the dichotomy implied by LGBTQ discourse: enlightened, aware activist vs. otherwise, and thus, detrimental to social justice.
The problem is how to say “check your privilege” without pissing people off. How do we communicate the true, complicated issues of equality without forcing people into reactive, intellectually subordinate positions? On a deeper level, how do we communicate privilege in such a way that isn’t an imposition of transcendent values onto someone else? The aim, then, is to make equality something that I as an individual want to see realized in the world. Because, after all, how often do we want to do things only because someone else says so? More accurately here: only because the Internet says so?
This is the difference between activity and reactivity. Equality must become a project — not a lecture. Equality must become a personal, active, creative project. And, refocusing on equality as a project means, first, that our language becomes egalitarian. Until the dichotomies implied by LGBTQ discourse become repaired, the communication of inequality is not radically productive. Of course, we have to be radically productive here.
Frankly, though, the problem hasn’t changed: how do we realize full social equality? Only now we criticize ourselves as lecturers.