Posts Tagged ‘gender non-conformists’

Valuing a Child’s Best Interest? (Part Two)

October 12th, 2009 No comments

A same-sex couple who adopted a boy in New York State were told by a Louisiana official that they couldn’t have the kid’s birth certificate amended to reflect who his legal parents are. (The child  had been born in Louisiana.) Unless that happens, though, the child can’t be added to one of the parents’ health insurance plans.

If any judgment of a sister state would seem an easy case for recognition under the “full faith and credit clause,” it would be adoptions. It’s hard to imagine that even a state that itself prohibits same-sex adoptions — a policy itself not attuned to the crying need for placing children in loving, stable homes — would declare itself to have a strong public interest against recognizing another state’s adoption decree. The decree can’t be undone, so the parents are legally ensconced. By refusing further recognition, as here, a state effectively declares itself indifferent to these kids.

Now, scarce federal judicial resources are being consumed as the state continues to defend its non-recognition policy. A lower court has already ruled against Louisiana, and the matter is now before the federal appellate court, which has just heard arguments in the case. Here‘s a good summary from the website Lambda Legal, which is representing the couple.

Again: How is this refusal to amend the birth certificate to reflect a valid adoption in a child’s best interest — even if such refusal were permissible under the U.S. Constitution’s “full faith and credit clause”?

It reminds me of the great extent that an Attorney General in Australia has been willing to go to in order to challenge two transgendered men’s request to amend their birth certificate to reflect their changed gender.  According to the AG, the request should only be granted if the men can prove they are no longer fertile as women. Why? The AG had only boilerplate blather in response. I guess there’s some fear of another Thomas Beatie, whose pregnancy stirred the alwayss-incredulous tabloids (and some mainstream media, as well). The Salon article on Beatie (linked above) contains thoughtful analysis of why this pregnancy so discomfitted so many people. The simplest reason: We  like our gender boundaries to remain clearly marked out. Beatie, with his masculine identity and appearance seemingly contradicted by his pregnancy, belies such clarity.

But shouldn’t public officials need a better reason for refusing to change a birth certificate in both of these cases? Once the public policy arguments are reduced to “it’s icky,” then where are we? And is this the kind of discretion public officials should get to exercise when it comes to intimate difficult family and personal decisions?

“What Happened in 1990?”: Almost Pitch-Perfect (but Not on “Queers”)

July 8th, 2009 No comments

Read Andrew Sullivan’s recent essay (“What Happened in 1990?“) explaining the dramatic shift in public opinion on the acceptance of “homosexuality” that occurred in the early 1990s. Mostly, he’s as persuasive and clear as usual, especially on the vital role that the AIDS epidemic played in changing public perception of gay lives.

But then there’s this passage, where he foregrounds a discussion of the shift in discourse that he surely helped bring about:

“Many of us then derided as right-wing fascists believed that the focus on sexual liberation, on ‘queerness’ and subcultural revolt were not actually very descriptive of most gay lives and not the most persuasive arguments for gay equality. I mean: if you want to be queer, why seek any legal acceptance at all? Isn’t marginalization the point? Why not revel in oppression as the only legitimate way to live as ‘the other’?”

Wait just one minute.

Sullivan is right that he and other conservatives of a certain stripe were vilified for their positions, unfairly to a large extent. Virtually Normal made the best (non-legal) case I’d seen for marriage equality back in 1995, tying analytically persuasive arguments to clear-headed passion. Sullivan is mostly an assimilationist, and so, really, are most people — gay and straight. And from that perspective, the book stands today as a tour de force. (It still works, in part because of its beautiful writing and in part because the equality issues he focuses on (marriage and military service) still aren’t resolved.)

That same book also revealed Sullivan’s impatience with what he termed liberationists; those who insisted on the use of the word “queer.” Here he is, expressing a view that likely didn’t help him with those who were flogging his politics:

“[W]hen the term [“queer”] is turned around and made compulsory; when it is wrested out of its context and used uniformly, in all times and places; when it is deployed without humor or  nuance, and even with pitiless agression; when it is turned into correct speech; when it is used to label rather than to converse, it is an entirely different word altogether. It is an attempt to tell everyone that they have a single and particular identity; it is to define an entire range of experience; it is to turn language from a conversation which is esesntially dramatic into a politics which is essentially programmatic. It is to make it a form of control.

“[L]anguage must…serve the complex needs of countless complicated individuals and must therefore reflect the results of a million choices and a myriad moments [sic] of human choice and interaction.” Virtually Normal, 84-85.

Well, yes to all of that. But, with respect, it seems to me that in using the language I quoted from What Happened in 1990, Sullivan succumbs to the same kind of reductive impulse that he decries in the above paragraphs from Virtually Normal. Before explaining why, let me acknowledge that his description of the limitations of the more radical wing of the LGBT rights movement is likely correct from a political strategy perspective — mainstream America wasn’t (isn’t, and won’t be) exactly comfortable with all of this “liberation” and “queerness” talk. Neither are many gays and lesbians, as he notes.

But the statement that queers, by their own lights, shouldn’t be interested in seeking “legal acceptance” because “marginalization” is the point that can’t go unchallenged. There are several problems with it. First, it seems very likely to freeze out those who are “queer” without wanting to be; those who can’t really assimilate, at least not to an extent that makes the mainstream comfortable. Here I’m primarily talking about gender-nonconformists.

Sullivan would likely respond that he’s talking not about the physical or emotional diversity of the LGBT community, but about an attitude that he finds suffocating, and that many gender-nonconformists might also not share. That seems to me a fair point, but one limited by the inability of those of us closer to the mainstream (read: gay white males of a certain class, a group to which I belong) to fully understand the struggles and, perhaps, impossibility of assimilation that the most marginalized face.

The bigger beef I have, though, is with the statement’s assumption that “queers” are (were?) monolithic in the way he states. I’m not too obtuse to see that he’s slamming the same caricature that he dismantles in Virtually Normal, but in doing so, his use of language fails to “serve the complex needs of countless complicated individuals….” Then and now, the most radical, unassimilated queers don’t by their “human choices” forfeit, or even weaken, their moral (as opposed to practical) case for equality.

One might have chosen to be part of Act Up — to use an example that Sullivan cites favorably in What Happened? — and to simultaneously argue for the sexually liberal position that the bathhouses should remain open and for legal equality in access to drugs, legal reform in the drug approval procedure, and fair access to hospitals for the same-sex partners of the afflicted. A transwoman might have radical ideas of social equality and redistribution while also arguing for access to the benefits of marriage. Are some of these ideas held in tension with each other? Of course; no one has a “single and particular identity.”

This post is probably too long for the point I wanted to make, but I was struck by what I found to be an atypical lack of empathy and nuance; a sense that Sullivan had found, and was picking at, a scab.