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Getting Hitched: The Heteronormative Homosexual

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Joshua Ryan Weaver CCTP 721: Critical Theory and Contemporary Culture Professor Matthew Tinkcom Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Final Paper: Getting Hitched: The Heteronormative Homosexual


Among cultural and gender theorists, there exists a wealth of inquiry into the myriad speculative approaches to supplant representational hegemonic ideologies. Scholars recognize various mechanisms, including linguistics, performance, science and others, as the culprit in buttressing hierarchies that perpetuate societal norms and requisites. These mechanisms represent tangible instantiations of an omnipresent power framework whose innumerable avenues of influence are simultaneously elusive, yet subtly immanent to the social being. Theorists employ various terminology to help describe and label this pervasive conceptual regime of intangible, yet effectual disciplinary forces. Michel Foucault implements the term Power1 to designate this schema, gender theorist Judith Butler prefers the term Culture2, while Jacques Lacan places these disciplinary forces into what he terms the Symbolic. Of the myriad norms perpetuated by these omnipresent forces exists heteronormativity. Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner attempt to define heteronormativity in Sex in Public (1998) as the institutions, structures of understanding, and practical orientations that make heterosexuality seem not only coherent -that is, organized as a sexuality -- but also privileged. (548) In their definition, references to

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Foucault, M. (1990) The history of sexuality. New York: Vintage

Butler, J. (2002) Is Kinship Always Already Heterosexual? differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies. 13(1), P. 35

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institutions and structures seem to connote the phenomena referred to by Foucault, Butler, Lacan, among others. The topic of marriage seems to occupy the crux of the gay rights movements agenda today. Marriage represents a particular manifestation or product of various mechanisms within this regime of power, or in Foucaults terms, one of the terminal forms power takes. (92) Several disciplines, such as law, religion, education vis-a-vis history, politics, and others, work to create, influence and reinforce the concept of marriage. Many within the gay rights movement, as well as numerable others, contend that extending marital rights to gay and lesbian couples will lend a certain legitimacy to homosexual relationships. Conversely, some, including several scholars, contend that the mere institution of marriage is founded on a patriarchal framework that may continue to be a facet of marriage even as its definition and literal manifestations transform. Gays and lesbians, in an attempt to gain explicit rights that work to help legitimize their relationships, may reinforce a heteronormative framework by demanding marital rights. The disciplines of law and politics help formulate the powerful requisites that define legal marriage and, which, in turn, help define which forms of relationships are both permissible and sanctioned. Many scholars who investigate avenues of transgressing hegemonic ideologies contend that any effective method of resistance must take place within the hegemonic sphere; and, some, such as Foucault, believe that each and every node of resistance, like everything else, is already within the power structure. Thus said, there exists debate on how gays and lesbians may be able to prescribe to the institution of marriage, while also disavowing the heteronormative structure upon which marriage, and subsequently the family, is predicated -- even among non-

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heterosexuals. In other words, can gays and lesbians get married without upholding a framework that, arguably, continues to keep homosexual and non-heteronormative affiliations at the periphery? David Grindstaff in Queering Marriage: An Ideographic Interrogation of Heteronormative Subjectivity (2003) describes the binarism of what he terms the regime of sexuality (264). Marked by a set of descriptive and active terms set in opposing fashion (heterosexual/homosexual, procreation/sodomy, monogamy/promiscuity, life/death [265]), Grindstaff underlines how rhetoric may not only help to construct gender and sexual identities, but also may help to create essentializing equations to these constructions that work to pin these constructed identities against each other. Foucault in The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 (1984) also highlights the use of binaries within the power regime through law. Under what he terms the juridico-discursive, (82) language works to define through law what is proper and improper, lawful and unlawful. (Foucault, 83) Placing Grindstaffs rhetorical equations within the discipline of law, one realizes that each of these categories are, or were at one time, under the purview of law. Grindstaff argues that sexual acts have, indeed, become equivalent to the sexual identity: ...the contemporary usage of these ideographic terms equates male (hetero and homo)sexual identities with specific sexual activities. (Grindstaff, 265) The promiscuity of the male homosexual serves as a longstanding trope against the gay male. Grindstaff elucidates this through a passage by D. Prager, which, in essence, defines the heterosexual woman in the heterosexual relationship as the basis of monogamy, insinuating that the male propensity to promiscuity would simply overwhelm most homosexual males marriage vows. (Grindstaff, 265) The AIDS epidemic and its equation to male homosexual sex also serves to buttress and

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reinforce claims that the gay male libido, defined by promiscuity and unchecked by the monogamating forces of the woman, is transgressive to the institution of marriage. And, according to Grindstaff, the rhetorical and ideographic equation states that a transgression on marriage is a transgression of procreating, a transgression of life -- and, ergo, a representation of death.
Marriage as an institution of power -- one marked by delity and productiveness (i.e., the

act of procreation) -- is disconnected from the homosexual male through Grindstaffs ideographic equation. In essence, the mere performative essentializing of gay men with promiscuous, deviant and unsafe sex disavows them from the institution of marriage. But, what if the male homosexual disavows the promiscuity to which he is constructively equated? Judith Butler in a 2002 essay for differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies (13:1) entitled Is Kinship Always Already Heterosexual? introduces the concept of the intelligibility of sex and sexuality. Butler contends that the sexually unintelligible realm should not be written off as necessarily undesirable or unproductive:




On the other hand, there is always the possibility of savoring the status of unthinkability, if it is a status, as the most critical, the most radical, the most valuable. As the sexually unrepresentable, such sexual possibilities can gure the sublime within the contemporary eld of sexuality, a site of pure resistance, a site uncoopted by normativity. (Butler, 18) Heteronormativity may work to add levels on intelligibility to what, on the surface, seems

to be the inherently subversive sexual and afliative relationships of homosexuals. Prescribing to an afliative rigidness, i.e., marriage, may help to legitimize homosexual relationships, especially if this rigidness takes the form of that within the normative heterosexual relationship. This prescription to heteronormativity may not be an advertent tactic in the gay arsenal; but,

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rather, heteronormativity may work within Foucaults power-knowledge regime to make the gay relationship intelligible within the Scientia Sexualis (Foucault, 1984). In other words, heteronormativity, situated within the bounds of the state, science and other disciplines, works to de-pathologize the homosexual and his afliative dynamic by setting out to dene a normative truth. Through the lens of Foucault, one can see heteronormativity as an agent in resituating homosexuality outside of the pathological and perversive periphery of Scientia Sexualis. However, Butler argues that exiting the periphery may not be the most efcacious move in trying to transgress the heteronormative hegemony that has kept the homosexual within the perversive periphery. Butler highlights the normalizing agency of the state in affording gays (and lesbians) the right to marry: That the states offer might result in the intensication of normalization is not widely recognized as a problem within the mainstream lesbian and gay movement, typied by the Human Rights Campaign. (Butler, 16) More than a mere upholding of the desire for equality, gay marriage may uphold the agency (and the willingness for) the state to determine what forms of relationship ought to be legitimated. (Butler, 17) This is an agency that Butler argues gays and lesbians may not want: The sphere of legitimate intimate alliance is established through producing and intensifying regions of illegitimacy. (Butler, 17) Indeed, the legitimate way of married life is not a savory concept for many homosexuals. And, more importantly, this legitimacy comes straight from the power-knowledge structure, and in a very tangible and coherent fashion. In What If? The Legal Consequences of Marriage and the Legal Needs of Lesbian and Gay Male Couples, David L. Chambers contends that the discipline of law may work to normalize homosexuals into a realm in which many of them may not want to be:

Many lesbians and gay men will nd state-imposed delity repugnant on more than one ground. They will do so in part because they reject the notion of criminalizing any

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voluntary sexual conduct between adults. They will also reject the legitimacy of
state-dictated terms of the intimate relationship between partners. (Chambers, 460)

While Chambers argument may be motivated by the very rhetorical and typied structure highlighted by Grindstaff, it brings to light the constructedness of delity within and outside of the realm of marriage. The repressive power-knowledge structure (herein represented as the institution of marriage vis-a-vis the state) mandates delity and monogamy within the heterosexual relationship as a means of upholding the legitimacy of sex and sexuality, which may only afford said legitimacy when linked to a certain productiveness, i.e., procreation. Promiscuity, heterosexual or homosexual, does not actually pose an inherent or imminent risk to the sanctity of marriage; using adequate prophylaxis can adequately safeguard one from the risk of HIV infection -- arguably one of the largest tools used to demonize male-to-male sexual afliation and, in turn, male homosexuals. And, moreover, ones sexual exploits and endeavors have little bearing on the stability of marriage as an institution. (Emphasis is given to institution as a means of differentiating said marriage from that of the mere social practice for ones marriage may, indeed, avow indelity, however such a marriage may fall outside the institutive intelligibility of marriage.)
At the crux of the gay marriage debate seems to be the child. This child does not

necessarily represent a literal manifestation, i.e., gay adoptive rights, etc.; but, rather, this child represents the abstract and essentialized futurism of marriage and the intimate relationship. Lee Edelman in No Future (2004) denes futurism and highlights how it works to disavow queerness: ...reproductive futurism: terms that impose an ideological limit on political discourse as such, preserving in the process the absolute privilege of heteronormativity by rendering unthinkable, by casting outside the political domain, the possibility of a queer resistance to this

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organizing principle of communal relations. [Emphasis Added3] (Edelman, 2) In her essay, Butler discusses the debate concerning gay domestic partnership in France around 2002, stating popular French philosopher Sylvaine Agacinskis contention that gay adoption and homosexual families goes against the symbolic order. For Agacinski, this disruption of the Symbolic seems to come from the biologic: Heterosexual coitus will be understood for her, regardless of the parent or parents who rear the child, as the origin of the child, and that origin will have symbolic importance. (Butler, 31) While Agacinski equates the biologic with the Symbolic, Butler seems to argue that the biologic, i.e., male-female parenthood, heterosexual coitus, is not necessary to what she terms the hypostatized heterosexuality (34): According to its precept, those who enter kinship terms as nonheterosexuals will only make sense if they assume the position of Mother or Father. (Butler, 34) Even though the homosexual couple cannot literally reproduce (excluding reproductive technologies, i.e., surrogacy, which still makes one of two parents a reproductive parental), the homosexual relationship is only legitimate when semblant to the heterosexual, procreative and futurist relationship -- a relationship institutionalized as marriage. Furthermore, this requisite seems to exist in all relationships, regardless of childbearing status; and, this exists to reinforce the procreative imperative of sex and sexuality -- sexs productivity. Edelman discusses how reproductive futurism uphold Lacans Symbolic and the concept of linguistic meaning, similar to intelligibility as outlined by Butler. And, within the Symbolic per Edelman, the procreative underpinning of heterosexual sex, and ergo heterosexual relationships, preempts truths of heterosexual sex and heterosexuality as inessential to procreation and child-bearing today, upholding Grindstaffs rhetorical equation (heterosexual=procreation=life[Grindstaff, 269]).

Emphasis Added to highlight use of heteronormativity in lieu of heterosexuality, etc.

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According to Edelman, the queerness of the non-heteronormative relationship may serve

as a vehicle outside of the symbolic -- outside of the institutive bounds created by marriage (and congruous afliations) vis-a-vis futurism by precluding the need for meaning (Edelman, 25), representing what Lacan terms jouissance, the discomforting state outside of the Symbolic and, in turn, Foucaults power-knowledge structure, each of which work to reinforce a heteronormative imperative: ...queerness undoes the identities through which we experience ourselves as subjects, insisting on the Real of a jouissance that social reality and the futurism on which it relies have already foreclosed. (Edelman, 24) If the sustainability of life and humanity that helps to motivate the institution of marriage may work to predicate a certain heteronormativity within homosexual matrimony, then how can homosexual couples be intelligible and legitimate within the institution, without disavowing their queerness? A queerness that may be necessary to transgress a heteronormative structure that may never legitimate same-sex relationships.
According to Foucault, the elusive, multifaceted and omnipresent nature of power means

that nothing exists outside of the power-knowledge structure, not even the myriad nodes of resistance to said power: They [nodes of resistance] are the odd terms in relations of power; they are inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite. (Foucault, 96) Samuel A. Chambers in An Incalculable Effect: Subversions of Heteronormativity (2007: 55, 656) highlights Butlers thoughts on transgressing hierarchical power structures: Butlers critical readings of Foucault, Kristeva and Wittig consistently demonstrate that subversion cannot serve as a radical practice or fund a radical politics if we conceptualise it as external to or beyond the system that it subverts. (Chambers, 660) The heteronormativity existent in the regime of marriage is neither unique or exclusive from the heteronormative facets that permeate culture and the power regime.

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Heterosexuality as the norm is reinforced through ubiquitous and unsuspecting repetition; and, as much, any transgression to heteronormativity must effect change on levels deeper than a single instance of heteronormative ways. Some academics, such as Chandler, believe that subversion of heteronormativity in its general sense may be neither predictable nor calculating; instead, as the regime of heteronormativity is increasingly challenged, the inner-workings of the hegemonic practice will be critically exposed. For instance, Chandler gives the example of the introduction of DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act, to illustrate how the increased presence of the hegemonic regime of heterosexuality in the discipline of law may shed light on the progressive weakening of the regime. (Chandler, 675) While homosexual couples may or may not evince heteronormativity in their relationships, the act of marriage upholds the agency given to the state to decide whom and what it decides to label legitimate, which seems to be one of the bases that drive the debate on gay marriage. Gay men are allowed nuptials only when they evince the heterosexual binary as dened by Grindstaff and others -- only when they disavow themselves from the promiscuity associated with gay men and uphold the rigid futurism upon which marriage is dened as a productive and necessary institution.
Chambers contends that the ultimate subversion of heteronormativity can only come from

the complete disavowal of the institution of marriage. (676) Butler struggles with this in Is Kinships Always Already Heterosexual?, understanding the basis upon which gays and lesbians may ask for marital rights, yet simultaneously being critical that such a sanctioning is even necessary: For a progressive sexual movement, even one that may want to produce marriage as an option for nonheterosexuals, the proposition that marriage should become the only way to sanction and legitimate sexuality is unacceptably conservative. (Butler, 21) However, while Butler express her discontent, she alludes to Foucaults ubiquity of power in discussing just how

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pervasive the mechanisms of the state are; and, more importantly, how the states many mechanisms may make it seem more formidable than it may actually be: The state is not reducible to law, and power is not reducible to state power. (Butler, 27) While Butler believes transgressing heteronormativity can come from the exploitation of the law and the state, it seems to take more than mere judicial or legislative rethinking. According to Butler, it takes a quintessential rethinking of the conception and motivations of the state (and when I use state here, I use it as a referent to power as aforementioned throughout the paper). Inasmuch, gay, lesbian and other non-heterosexual relationships stand a chance at transgressing the heteronormative requisite of marriage by identifying the hegemonic mechanisms that uphold it. While dismantling marriage and powers role in sanctioning relationships represents the consummate transgression to the heteronormative framework, according to Butler, to nd effective nuggets of transgression within the framework, one must take advantage of the structures necessity for recognition and sanctioning: ...it is crucial that, politically, we lay claim to intelligibility and recognizability; and, it is crucial, politically, that we maintain a critical and transformative relation to the norms that govern... (Butler, 28) And, in coupling Butlers theory with Foucaults conception of power, one comes to a sort-of nihilistic dead-end, wherein the inability to lie outside the mechanisms of power (Butlers state being an instance of such) seems to stymie an ability to truly subvert and disconnect from a binding heteronormativity. Thus said, the intensifying rhetoric and purposeful avowing of heteronormativity within the system seems indicative to an equally intensifying challenge to the heteronormative. While homosexuals may have to afliate within the heteronormative realm today, the recognition of the very mechanisms that necessitate the requisite may be a step in the right direction.

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Works Referenced Berlant, L. & Warner, M. (1998) Sex in Public. Critical inquiry, 24(2) 547-566 Butler, J. (2002) Is kinship always already heterosexual? differences: a journal of feminist cultural studies, 13(1) 14-44. Chambers, D. (1996) What if? The legal consequences of marriage and the legal needs of lesbian and gay male couples. Michigan law review, 95(2), 447-491. Chambers, S. (2007) An incalculable effect: subversions of heteronormativity. Political studies, 55, 656-679. Edelman, L. (2004) No future: queer theory and the death drive. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. Grindstaff, D. (2003) Queering marriage: an ideographic interrogation of heteronormative subjectivity. Journal of homosexuality, 45(2/3/4) 257-275. Folgero, T. (2008) Queer nuclear families? Reproducing and transgressing heteronormativity. Journal of homosexuality, 54(1/2) 124-148. Foucault, M. (1990) The history of sexuality. New York: Vintage. Krause, H. (2000) Marriage for the new millennium: heterosexual, same sex -- or not at all? Deutsches und Europaisches FamilienRecht, 2, 208-211.