Monday, July 16, 2007

Public Service and Heterocitizenship

Via Pinknews, It would appear that the White House has decided to change its issue on the grave security threat posed by gay, lesbian and bisexuals working in sensitive public service positions. Turns out if your a would-be-White-House staffer whose been a bit too indiscreet about the ol' lavender streak, you might be denied security clearance.

The 1997 regulation which stated that, "sexual orientation may not be used as a basis for denying clearance," has been modified to read: "security clearances cannot be denied solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the individual."

And there you have it. Sexual orientation may now be part of the argument for denying someone clearance. Which is irrefutably brilliant, since typical bases for denying security clearance, such as adult extramarital sexual relationships, don't already stack the deck against gays, lesbians and bisexuals as is, on account of the you wont let us get married thing. Good thing there are special rules to accommodate flamobyant, sex-crazed homos, as long as they behave themselves:

New regulations distributed in December also said that if sexual behaviour is "strictly private, consensual and discreet," it could reduce security concerns.

I love/am-tremendously-disturbed-by the casual insertion of “consensual” between “private” and “discreet”, as though not-being-a-rapist were just another matter of sexual propriety.

And on that note, clearly, homosexual relationships need to be private and discreet, whereas straight people should have giant expensive ceremonies to which every single person they've ever known is invited. This is nothing more than the common injunction for gays, lesbians and bisexuals to “cover.” You know- “I'm not a homophobe, but do they have to flaunt it by holding hands in public?” People with stigmatized identities are expected to downplay their identities in public, otherwise they may face reprisal, both formal (no security clearance) and informal (taunting, appalled reactions, physical violence).

It's a kind of socio-cultural Don't Ask, Don't Tell: we're willing to tolerate your difference, so long as you play along by making that difference as imperceptible as possible. This prevents gays, lesbians and bisexuals from doing many of the things that heterosexuals can do without thinking. Under DADT, straight soldiers don't have to worry about the consequences of carrying a picture of their lover, or speaking publicly about the gal/guy waiting for them back home. Likewise, in offices where non-discrimination policies protect only straight people, it is acceptable to wear your wedding band and keep family photos on the desk, but not to have a picture of your partner. That's disruptive, distracting, unprofessional, and totally queer.

And now, gays, lesbians and bisexuals who's career plans might lead toward Pennsylvania Avenue should think twice about these heterosexual luxuries: public dates, taking your partner to work events, surviving a less-than-clean break-up. Etc.

But don't worry. This is not a move toward discrimination.

The Senate Intelligence Committee's Republican staff director, Bill Duhnke, said that the regulations have the same effect, although they approach the issue in slightly different way.

See? They're the same, but slightly different! I feel so much better now.

Gay rights activists say that sexuality will be given increased attention and unnecessarily lead to subsequent discrimination by intolerant employers.

It could also result in blackmail of homosexuals who choose not to disclose their sexuality.

Aw, dammit.

But none of this is surprising. The Lavender Scare has held Washington in it's grip for some time. David Johnson's book, The Lavender Scare, points out that during the McCarthy Era, more federal employees lost their job for their sexual orientation (or blackmail surrounding their perceived sexual orientation) than for demonstrated Communist sympathies. In an interview, Johnson explained the significant overlap in homophobia and anti-Communist paranoia:

Both groups were perceived as hidden subcultures with their own meeting places, literature, cultural codes, and bonds of loyalty. Both groups were thought to recruit to their ranks the psychologically weak or disturbed. And both groups were considered immoral and godless.

An interesting bit. Certainly, the association of God and Country did nothing to help homosexuals who are still on the outs with many religious leaders. But I think the first two sentences hit on the more profound sense in which citizenship is constructed as heterosexual by playing to exclusionary conceptions of public life that far predate the Red Scare and, in fact, preoccupied the likes of John Jay and Thomas Jefferson.

The first, I think, gets at the notion that homosexuals, as a marginalized population, owe their loyalties to – gasp – something other than the Red, White and Blue. Just as recent immigrants have typically been suspected (in nearly any context) of being fifth columnists for the capitalists/communists/terrorists, there seems to be a suspicion that the loyalty of homosexuals would be compromised by their implication in any non-mainstream culture. The stereotype that gays, lesbians and bisexuals are “sex-driven” only plays into this fear. After all, how can we trust them to prioritize the public good over the good of the communities that allow them to indulge their sexual deviancies?

This idea, that bodily passion would inhibit public spiritedness is an exclusionary trope that, as I indicated earlier, goes back to the days of Jefferson. Many of the founding fathers agreed that women and natives could not participate in democracy because they were to given to the passions of the body and blood. Public-spiritedness meant that one needed to objectively transcend their own passions and apply the objective force of reason to problems.

Iris Marion Young astutely grasped the extent to which this mindset still pervades the speech-culture of Western democracies. We are skeptical of emotive speakers, people who cry, use lofty rhetoric, get angry, tell too many stories, make grand gestures, and so forth. Public speech, like public-mindedness, is supposed to be rational, clam, dispassionate, impartial, and calculated. Surprise, surprise – that just happens to be the way that middle-and-upper-class white men are trained to speak. The practicing of political rhetoric in which emotion, greeting, and narrative were regular features, Young argues, would expose the whole game. We'd have to admit that even when we spoke objectively, we were coming from a contingent position just as much as the people who integrated their subjectivity into their speech. But then the claims of the majority to represent a "common good" would have to be shown for what they were: demands issued from a specific socio-political position, a good that would privilege some at the expense of others. The incisiveness of Young's commentary is that she traces the lingering effects of this sexism on discourse, which seeks to preserve the Enlightenment myth of universal reason and public good - and of course the effect of discursive standard on sexism.

When high-modernists express fear that anecdotes and impassioned rhetoric will undo the deliberative system, they in fact worry that the very political bond will be corrupted. Interestingly, when women were derided for there lack of rationality and impartiality, there was no mention of the fact that men might have their neutrality compromised if they were forced to engage and repress their bodily desires while interacting with women. In the tradition of great female temptresses going back to Eve, it is women who would lead men from the path of virtue by corrupting the objectivity of the proceedings. For this reason, maintenance of the halls of government as homosocial space was a priority.

And of course, nothing jeopardizes a homosocial space like a homosexual! The idea that homosexuals would occupy public roles threatens to make the public-political bond between men indistinguishable from the private-sexual bond between men. The Enlightenment virtue of fraternity is that all men are concerned for each others interests, but the high-rationality of the Enlightenment depends on the disavowal of pre-modern romanticism. We are interested as thinkers and mutual practitioners of reason, not as feelers or lovers. The corruption of the homosocial by the homosexual is seen, at least implicitly, as a threat to the very virtues that enable citizenship. How ironic that the democratic legacy had its origins in pederastic Athens. Whereas Athenians integrated the homosocial and the homosexual, the new conception of the homosocial does not allow for that.

But not everywhere are the two separated today. In discussing the spectrum of homosocial-to-heterosexual that defines female life, Eve Sedgwick notes that the political site of female homosociality is feminism – women deliberating amongst women for the interests of women. The homosexual end of the spectrum is lesbianism, women loving women. The fact that there are feminist lesbians does not appear to be problematic for either group.Yet the same does not (or is not though to) apply to men:

When Ronald Reagan and Jesse Helms get down to serious logrolling on "family policy", they are men promoting men's interests... Is their bond in any way congruent with the bond of a loving gay male couple? Reagan and Helms would say no--disgustedly. Most gay couples would say no--disgustedly. But why not? Doesn't the continuum between "men-loving-men" and "men-promoting-the-interests-of-men" have the same intuitive force that it has for women?

Perhaps it has to do with Heidi Hartmann's definition of patriarchy as: “relations between men... [which] create interdependence and solidarity among men that enable them to dominate women.” The sexualization of the homosocial bond not only threatens the civic enterprise, but comprises the locus of patriarchal force. Patriarchal solidarity (fraternity) cannot maintain the veneer of rational objectivity unless the possibility of male sexual desire for men is repressed. Hence the need to exclude homosexuals from citizenship.

The debate over Don't Ask Don't Tell displays this notion at its clearest. The military is another homosocial site of public service. The argument, made implicitly and explicitly by conservatives, is that gay men and lesbians cannot serve in the military because they will be too focused on (actual or prospective) sexual relationships with other service members to effectively fulfill their duties. This of course, displays the curious one-sided-ness of the colonial men who feared the effects of feminine passion on their discourse, but did not suspects any ill-effects emergent from their own sexual desire. Is there not, perhaps, a fear on the behalf of all who tout the military as a symbol of traditional masculinity that the ostensibly straight servicemen will have their capacities compromised by desire for their openly homosexual colleagues? Like so much homophobia, could the necessity of abjecting the queer other be emergent from an inability to confront the latent homosexuality of the self?

Repressing the feminine and homosexual to protect the ostensible masculine homosociality of public life is significant: if we were all forced to confront the contingent and self-situated nature of or public convictions, the facade of enlightenment rationality would fall away, revealing the domination of partial interests that is so much of public policy. Just as the feminine figure threatens male discourse by confronting men with the extent to which subjective experience as opposed to objective reason informs their political positions, the figure of the homosexual raises doubt on the purity of the public bond, exposing it to be as subject to the same rule of contingent desire as personal (and indeed, sexual) life – removing the rhetorical cloak of universal fraternity and solidarity from a set of relations that is in fact driven by lust and power. The loyalty of homosexuals is suspect, as Johnson showed, because of their ties to a particular community – by disavowing similar contingent bonds, the dominant majority can naturalize their loyalties to their community of interest and argue that all who do not recognize the legitimacy of those established interests are simply part of a subversive and unpatriotic agenda. It is, after all, the contingent privilege of powerful people that permits them to serve the institutions of the status quo, not any superior quality of character.

Against this, I would call for a queer citizenship, that in integrating the homosexual with the homosocial highlights the queerness of the public sphere – the role of contingency and power in shaping the public bond. Queer citizenship would acknowledge the partiality of public relationships, exposing the self-selected exclusions and arbitrary inclusions that inform the extension of solidarity. Queer citizenship would also acknowledge the scattered loyalties that emerge from a life of intersecting and plural identities, calling into question the alleged purity of expressing loyalty to the needs of the dominant majority. I think that this model could prove not only a viable corrective to the mainstream political understanding of citizen relations and public service, but also to the current problematics of the mainstream LGBT movement.

The push for marriage for example, seeks to integrate, unproblematically, LGBT people into the fabric of American society. It demands equal citizenship, without interrogating the exclusive construction of citizenship. A distressful example of this blind spot is the budding relationship between anti-DADT activists and militarist Democrats. The bill currently proposed to overturn DADT is the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. As one might imagine from the title, the arguments surrounding the bill take up not the injustice of discrimination but the inefficiency of discrimination in maintaining the military power of the United States. Here, equal citizenship is uncritical citizenship. It cannot and should not be an ethically neutral proposal to “enhance” the US military given its current and historical exercises in imperialist brutality. Too willing to prove that they can be objective, loyal public servants just as straight people can, gays, lesbians and bisexuals are uncritically buying into the militarist project.

A more fruitful alliance would be the one budding between immigrant activists and LGBT activists problematizing the unjust border policies of the United States. The economic status, marital status, political activities, and national origin of potential immigrants are all analyzed at the border, in a system that effectively discriminates against poor people, queers, radicals and people from countries that have “excessive” rates of immigration or are, for whatever reason, no longer desired. Here, the ideal US citizen is typified and constructed as middle-class, hard-working, politically moderate and white. For even as non-white immigrants enter the country, the balance is maintained so that the relative population of Latin@s, blacks, Asians, and others to whites remains “acceptable.”

Resisting these selection policies would be more politically radical than demanding equal citizenship because it would problematize the very construction of citizenship rather than silently integrating. It would be a step towards true democracy because it would allow a chance to build coalitions of abjected identities who could extend their claim to participate against the hegemony of the ideal citizenship. By explicitly operating at the ground of designation between citizen and non-citizen, the movement could explode the binary, calling into question the extent to which all citizens deviate from the naturalized model of the ideal citizen. Such a movement could stake the claim of all to be citizens and highlight the failure of any to be citizens. The result would be a society in which the category of citizen could be mobilized for political demand while deconstructed to call attention to political exclusion. The total erasure of the bond between identity and citizenship may be the ultimate expression of the radical democratic potential of identity politics.

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