RE: Jason Collins
Part 2: Why homosexuality has not been allowed to be a "private matter".
1. Early national policy toward homosexulity.
Government policy since the second World War has both subtly and overtly attempted to exclude a gay identity from American society. Central to historian Margot Cannaday's discussion of the gay exclusion from welfare benefits lay the 1944 GI bill which provided programs for soldiers returning from World War II. The bill technically only excluded soldiers who obtained dishonorable discharges; however, the Veterans Administration set up their own guidelines for exclusion that would target homosexuals (143-149). Gay men and women, who were discovered, received undesirable discharges from the military along with drug users and other petty offenders, and the VA decided some of the discharges constituted dishonorable conditions, specifically homosexuality (148-152). Canaday explains, â€œThe institutionalization of heterosexuality in federal welfare policy was a two-part process that required the state to provide economic support for marriage (through male breadwinners) at the same time that it stigmatized homosexualityâ€(172). The GI bill both excluded homosexuality from the national norm and created a benefit system that rewarded heteronormative sexual structures.
Likewise, in the post-war era the witch hunts for lesbians in the military began to match the vigor of those against gay men during the war. At the heart of targeting lesbianism in the military resided a need to preserve the gendered norms of martial citizenship as masculine and that the type of women joining the military complimented male dominance in the ranks. Canaday explains, â€œto preserve gender hierarchy in citizenship, though, the state had needed to constitute lesbianismâ€ which denigrated female soldiers as a class (212-213). Like their systematic exclusion from welfare benefits and the military, congress enacted laws that attempted to exclude gay men and lesbians from entering the United States and began deporting those convicted of morals charges already residing in the U.S. Along with these laws also came a need to identify perceived homosexual traits. These included not merely conviction of sex acts but also pro-gay sentiments, mannish tendencies in women, and effeminacy in men. Canaday asserts, â€œhomosexuality was much more like race: a certain set of rules produced out of the stateâ€s own murky encounter with differenceâ€ (254). In the process of defining citizenship, the state also had to define those who would not be included. As a result, they helped constitute how a gay minority would be understood within the national culture, and both reacted to and normalized stereotypes of that community. Through legal approaches to the gay community, the state helped create homosexuality as a minority status by excluding gay men and lesbians (255-264).
What this means is that the government through a variety of subtle ways had worked to construct gay identity as not only different but as unamerican and something worthy of shame. In these cases, people were not allowed to exist simply as private citizens with their own sexual desire in relation to the federal government. While sodomy laws, DOMA, the less than stellar reaction to AIDS when it was a "gay disease", and don't ask don't tell may do this more overtly, these more subtle examples display a historic systemic tendency by the state to attempt to exclude gay people from many of the basic benefits of citizenship.
Source: Canaday, Margot. The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.
2. Local police and the private-public
In the time period leading up to a gay liberationist politics, the national exclusionary tactics played out in repressive local measures that further reinforced the notion that in the United States sexual choices (at least homosexual ones) were not in fact private. John D'Emilio states, "The widespread labeling of lesbians and homosexuals as moral perverts and national security risks gave local police forces across the country a free rein in harassment. Throughout the 1950s gays suffered from unpredictable, brutal crackdowns. Men faced arrest primarily in bars and cruising areas such as parks, public restrooms, beaches, and transportation depots, while women generally encountered the police in and around lesbian bars. But even the homes of gay men and women lacked the immunity from vice squads bent on increasing their arrest records. The utmost caution did not guarantee protection from the hand of the law" (49).
What this speaks to is the fact that private space was never something that the gay community were allowed to have. From bars to homes, gay people were denied the right to even private space. This context would fundamentally shape the nature of gay politics that Cali seems to find so odious. Sorry if this is stylistically, ridiculously scholarly for a message board, but I want to address, Cali relatively uncited "facts" in the most scientific way possible.
Source: D'Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities See full info in post 1.
See also, Boyd, Nan Alamailla. Wide-Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.
Enke, Anne. Finding the Movement: Sexuality, Contested Space, and Feminist Activism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.
Meeker, Martin. Contacts Desired: Gay and Lesbian Communications and Community, 1940s-1970s. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Part 3: Stonewall, Coming out, and why Jason Collins at least to some degree matters
For the sake of simplicity, all of this subterfuge of oppression comes to a head with the 1969 stonewall riot. On June 27, 1969, New York City police raid the stonewall inn on Christopher street. Normally, these raids were accepted as a part of life by gay people, but on this occasion, residents of Greenwich village started a riot in response to decades of other such raids and intense policing that had mostly gone unchallenged. The stonewall riot spurred large networks of gay rights groups. What emerged were groups like the Gay Liberation Front whose politics focused on a narrative of openess/coming out. In the Berkeley chapter's statement of purpose (1969), they asserted, "We reject society's attempt to impose sexual roles and definitions of our nature. We are stepping outside these roles and simplistic myths. We are going to be who we are" (quoted in D'Emilio, 234).
D'Emilio explains, "Gay liberationists, on the other hand, recast coming out as a profoundly political act that could offer enormous personal benefits to an individual. The open avowal of one's sexual identity, whether at work, at school, at home, or before television cameras, symbolized the shedding of the self-hatred that gay men and women internalized, and consequently it promised an immediate improvement in one's life" (235).
What D'Emilio is getting at and what this longer historical narrative of mine has been marching towards at a snail's pace, is that the significance of coming out is specifically tied to a political system (that certainly is in conversation with society and popular culture) that has historically attempted to prevent gay people from existing in private or public spaces. The ritual of coming out is not significant so that Calitennis knows that Jason Collins is gay. It is not for you. It is for Collins and other gay people who have for good reason felt a necessity to hide in plain sight and have been for sometime starting to refuse to do so. It is a political act in that, the mass of coming outs in the last forty years are a part of a refusal of one group to be marginalized by the majority. This politics is not someone just deciding one day to inform you of their sexual proclivities, but a response to years of both formal and informal repression, and when you half-hassardly throw out your "facts" you discount a longer (although more recent than the greeks, who's relevance to Jason Collins appears dubious to me) history and the role of straight culture in providing a catalyst to the need for liberationist gay politics.
I am tired, and I might respond tomorrow to your nitpicks with my narrative which certainly is at times oversimplified for the sake of brevity.
(This post was last modified: 01-May-2013 12:42 AM by Riotbeard.)