Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Intersections of Feminism and LGBT Advocacy

[Cross-posted at A World of Progress and My Big Gayborhood]

For a couple of reasons, I tend to write quite a bit about both feminism and LGBT rights. One, as a woman and a lesbian, both movements have been incredibly important in helping me put words to my lived experiences in a patriarchal, heterosexist society.

Two, I see feminism and LGBT advocacy, neither of which is a monolithic movement of course, as linked. Much of the homophobia directed at gay and bisexual men is based in the stereotype that gay and bi men are effeminate and, of course, many consider effeminacy to be a status downgrade from masculinity, which is the superior gender identity.

Much of the homophobia directed at lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender folks involves similar gender policing. To be a woman, for instance, is "supposed" to mean certain things, one of the most important- according to some- is wife to a man and mother to his children. Lesbian and bisexual women upset this gender expectation and effectively demonstrate that multiple ways of being a real woman exist. And, while feminism- especially radical feminism- has a complicated history with transgenderism, feminism for me means supporting a person's right and choice to present as whatever gender one wishes.

Because of these intersections, I would like to see greater cooperation between feminists and the male-dominated LGBT movement. By framing some LGBT issues as the feminist issues they also are, lies the potential of reaching more sympathetic people. Women are, after all, half of the human population. And, I suspect that at least half of the human population might take issue with the prisons some of the "marriage defenders" are peddling in their defense of the sacred institution.

Indeed, at the very top of one of the National Organization for [Heterosexual] Marriage's documents "that lays out the social scientific reasons why marriage between one man and one woman is best for children and society" is the Genesis 2:18 quotation wherein god granted man, the first and default human being, his female "help mate."

Although I'd wager most Americans no longer hold such an archaic view of gender relations and proper roles within marriage, that the debate over same-sex marriage is framed as a gay rights issue obfuscates how the battle for same-sex marriage is also a significant gender rights issue. The idea that marriage requires one man and one woman is grounded in the biblical myth that males and females are "complementary" to one another. That is, what one gender lacks, the other fulfills and, together, the two become one whole in marriage.

It's all quite magical really. Yet, a tremendous amount of implications- implications that "marriage defenders" understandably rarely articulate these days- follow from the belief that men and women have a complementary relationship to one another. For instance, if one gender is inherently strong, the other is weak. If one gender is inherently dominant, the other is submissive. If one gender is active, the other is passive. I bet you can guess which gender, theoretically, fulfills each role here.

While some believe these gender roles to be commonsensically inherent to all people, many feminists, LGBT people, and other gender outlaws know that reality is much more nuanced than the cartoon characters that "marriage defenders" turn men and women into. By using feminism to advance LGBT rights, the ridiculousness of the "marriage defense" position just might be revealed.

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