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Equal marriage rights, the advancement that the gay community needs?

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Equal marriage rights, in any country that legalized it, are celebrated as a huge advancement. But does it make sense to fit the LGBT community into a heteronormative institution?

A step ahead, a long way to go

Arthur Davis | 2017. January 27. 18:26

The biggest barrier to the advancement of gay and bisexual men is the heteronormativity found even in the heart of the gay community. Equal institutional rights will remain a tokenistic gesture until the gay male community is encouraged to remove its heteronormative mask.

Nearly every gay or bisexual man has gone through at least brief phases of shame and self-loathing about their sexuality and what it means in relation to their ability to be a man. Indeed, the more prudent of observers have noted that nothing is more threatening to patriarchal values than the notion of a man (who even in the most progressive societies is still presumed to hold some privileged position) allowing himself to be treated “like a woman”. Take a simple example: a brave person has "balls", while a coward is a "pussy". It is being "like a woman", being a "pussy", that scares many hyper-masculine folks more than anything else when they grapple with the concept of male homosexuality. The pressure to be a man is therefore present in homosexual males just as in heterosexual ones. But surely the concept of a man only has meaning in relation to the concept of a woman. Do these concepts have any rightful place in relationships between males?

Take, for example, the top/bottom dilemma, which you don’t encounter outside male-male relationships. In an effort to emulate male-female relationships, it has become a generally accepted norm that male-male sex necessitates a ‘top’ and ‘bottom’. That penetrative sex even between men is valued higher than any other form of sexual contact is a hangover from the evolutionary model in which it is biologically necessary to procreate. However, it is of course absurd that gay men would constrain their sex lives based on the biological necessity of their ancestors. Nevertheless, penetrative sex has become the standard, normalized, anticipated form of sexual relations between men. Trickier still, many would argue that most men’s role in this relationship has already been predetermined by the way that they look and carry themselves. This is especially true in Britain, where the top/bottom dynamic is extremely and often absolutely set in stone. Expecting anything different is too much to ask from a community so often blinded by its attempts to fit in by copying heterosexual models.

*Gay until proven straight

“Bromances”, “bromosexuals”, these terms which appear increasingly in common parlance represent a community (or a large number residing within it) so terrified of losing its ‘masculinity’ that it removes any inkling of ‘femininity’ from its acts. Romance, that’s for wimps, but a bromance, that’s a manly thing and there’s nothing gay about that, right? It is unsurprising that certain “bromosexuals” with the most fragile of masculinities have started to use these terms in order to make their ‘unnatural’ preferences somehow more natural, more masculine. In so doing, the line between the heterosexual and the queer is blurred. Indeed, as a minority which is far less immediately visible than, say, an ethnic minority, men who like men find it easier to fit in. While one may choose not to tell people they are attracted to men, an ethnic minority cannot choose to conceal their ethnicity in order to avoid prejudice or discrimination. And to be sure, in a society still dominated by masculine men, few successful gay and bisexual men choose to openly exhibit their sexual preference. Indeed, in nearly every society, one is presumed straight until proven gay (or other).

But gay people exist, whether they speak up or not. One may even wager that in Britain we have more LGB members of parliament than female ones. Gays are everywhere, including in public office, and many of them, alas, masquerade as just another heterosexual. To be gay, that’s acceptable, but to be queer, to be weird, to be “twinky and kinky”, to be “high fem”, that has always been more taboo (except in caricatured, sanitised and non-sexualised forms of high camp that you might see in, say, Alan Carr or Gok Wan). The orthodoxy has for a long time let gays in, as long as they’re not ‘too gay’ (don’t ask, don’t tell)!

*Institutional rights do not constitute an end to our struggles

Furthermore, institutions in Britain are fine with gay people, if not with gayness as a concept. Take equal marriage, for example, long hailed as one of the greatest achievements in recent years for homosexual equality. The argument that opening marriage up to everyone subverts the Church’s historic abuse of scripture in the name of oppressing the Other is a valid one. However, widespread acceptance of equal marital rights for homosexuals and heterosexuals is countered by residual resistance to measures such as mandatory homosexual sex education from the same age as heterosexual sex education (and I mean homosexual sex education that goes beyond, as one sexual health nurse once put it, “if you catch HIV you may have a cough for a few days after sex”). Because gays are fine, but we don’t talk about it with children, right? It’s inappropriate, right? Do what you want behind closed doors, but we mustn’t be open about our sexuality in school or in the workplace, right?

Giving gay people institutional rights alone, letting them get married, have kids, adopt and so on, these things do not constitute an end to our struggles. We must start earlier, we must teach children that they are natural and normal just the way they are, and we must remember that promoting hyper-masculinity in boys (gay or not) is the cause of numerous psychological issues way down the line. So, it strikes me that proclaiming universal access to a stale, old, heterosexual institution like marriage to be the pinnacle of acceptance of homosexuality reflects a society that fails to understand that the hardest task for many gay people is finding someone with whom they can even start a respectful, open and honest relationship, free of warped ideals of how to play man and woman. The confused, mystical, heteronormativity of the gay male world, and not the ability to marry or adopt, is what predominantly concerns most, for moving past that is the key to even a whiff of a stable relationship. As for my generation, we’re probably buggered (pun intended).

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