Which side are you on?

May 30, 2008

THERE IS an argument that revolutionary journalist John Reed recounts in Ten Days That Shook the World between a student and a worker-soldier during the Russian Revolution that might be instructive to Graham Shaw ("Good reason to be wary of marriage").

The student is going on and on, explaining the myriad complications and problems with revolution to the worker, who listens patiently to the lengthy explanation, and then responds, saying something like, "I'm not sure about all of that, but so far as I can tell, there are two sides, and if you're not on one you're on the other."

At the risk of being attacked for simplicity, dare I suggest there is a correlation here?

Naturally, questions of sexual freedom that Graham raises are complex and the involvement of the state and religion in personal relationships--or anything else, for that matter--are issues that socialists should debate and challenge. But the question facing us today in the U.S. is whether or not the left ought to defend and advance the right of same-sex marriage or oppose it in response to the California Supreme Court ruling and the inevitable backlash from right-wingers.

I say that the left must stand unapologetically in defense of the right to same-sex marriage--as socialists did 60 years ago with mixed-race marriage--despite our critiques of the state, religion and monogamy. In the society we live in today, same-sex marriage challenges homophobic institutions and ideas, and would be a victory for lesbians and gays seeking to enjoy the rights that marriage gives to couples.

As for the anxiety about lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) folks being "assimilated" into "straight culture," what does this actually mean?

There is a trend in some largely graduate student-influenced sections of the LGBTQ left, echoed by Graham, that seems to fear that culturally eclectic and sexually adventurous LGBTQ folks are being sucked into the Norman Rockwellian lives of vanilla sex and picket fences, which all straight people supposedly lead. In this snooty chimera of reality, sexual minorities are put forward as more evolved members of the species, from heterosexual fossils, who, poor souls, pair off and lead lives of quiet desperation.

It seems that in rejecting the repressive sexual mores of capitalist society, socialists need not adopt offensive caricatures of straight or gay lives peddled to us by Corporate America. While the left must stand for the freedom of all people to determine their own sexual pleasures and gender identities, we don't advance that project by equivocating on a civil rights issue of the day.
Sherry Wolf, Chicago

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