May 17, 2011

When liberation becomes limiting: anti-homophobia rhetoric and the essentialized homo

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Written by: Erika
hoover and tolson

Were J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson homos? Ooops. Let me be politically correct. Were they a “same-sex couple”? Apparently some people think so. Happy International Day Against Homophobia.

In Montreal today, I checked out Fondation Emergence’s display at Complexe desjardins where this year’s theme focused on same-sex couples. Look! Cute fishes in love! (Bottom of page!)

Large panels in the atrium displayed examples of same-sex love throughout history. Photographs of famous couples like James Dean and William Bast, Jodie Foster and Cydney Bernard, Leonardo De Vinci and Salai, Mahatma Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville -West, or J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson. Oh you didn’t know these were famous gay couples in history? Well they aren’t. Fondation Emergence has actually just decided to reconstruct a history that suits their politics, to essentialize same-sex desire and love in order to promote a false notion of liberation and cohesive and consolidated queer identity.

Under J.Edgar Hoover’s photograph, it is written: “Since the 1940s rumours circulated that suggested Hoover was homosexual.” The placards describe Clyde Tolson as “most well known as the protegee – and possible lover – of J. Edgar Hoover since the 1930s”. Are you effing kidding me? On a day when we are supposed to be combating homophobia, the Fondation Emergence uses the POSSIBLY closeted examples of politicians and literary giants to argue for the acceptance and recognition of same-sex couples.

There are so many good reasons to support the love between two people and their commitment to one another. We can rely on theology, and philosophy, or on ethics. There are enough sound moral, economic and social arguments for queer love, desire, and even marriage that it is reprehensible that we rely on old fashioned outing, speculation, and false reconstructions of history in order to do so.

Hey guess what? Jodie Foster has NEVER come out, and has denied her relationship with Cydney Bernard on multiple occassions despite years of speculation. Why the fuck is she on this list? Since when has our job been to out, to categorize, and to define people’s orientations, relationships and identities? What is the value of liberation when you are not free to define yourself? What is the value of liberation when when once liberated your community constricts and essentializes you?

We are not going to defeat homophobia and heterosexism by proving to the world that homo love has been around forever or that we were all “born this way”. There is no “thisness”. To say we are all born “this” way, means that we are all born one way, that we have a common experience, a common identity and history. It means that our experiences of sexuality are alike or the same, and that gay means one thing. This reconstructed history aims to prove that same-sex desire or same-sex activity equals gay. Men who have sex with men and women that have sex with women are not always gay, nor are they always couples, nor is it always love. Why must we rely on this construction to legitimate ourselves? Why must the opposite of homophobia be essentialism? And finally, is “couplehood” supposed to be the definition of acceptability?

This is to say that today I celebrate love, desire, and diverse sexuality and I refuse to submit myself to a rhetoric and assumption of sameness or of acceptability. I also stand against the outing of individuals, and the naming of people’s identities for them. A world without homophobia and without transphobia should include, for me, a queering of ideas and identities, and the true liberation of diversity.

About the Author

|Executive Editor & Co-Founder| A mostly hippy and always hungry cultural critic, closeted pop-culture lover, and food know-it-all. Half cowgirl, half Ivy leaguer. You will find me writing on the crazy sh*t that happens on my teevee, feminism, philanthropy, religion and politics. I like singing shows, high-waisted skirts, scotch, two-stepping, and all forms of breakfast foods (sweet AND salty).



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  1. Heather

    Unfortunately, in an effort to have people accept homosexuality, we have ‘allies’ (and I use that word in quotes because calling yourself one doesn’t make you one) who demand and/or assume that people must come out. They’ll go as far to out them to further their own agendas. It’s sad, pathetic and shouldn’t ever happen. EVER.

    Gay or Straight, I don’t care what a notable person does in their bedroom. Yes, knowing that they play for my team is awesome, but not at the cost of their own personal happiness.

  2. Karine

    I do love the fish… but not the rest!

  3. Michael

    Couldn’t have said it better myself….literally, really well said. Also, can’t ignore the blatant anglophobia present at the event…

  4. Kayla

    I completely agree to not only what you said, but also with Michael’s comment about the anglophobia at the event. The whole thing could have been handled much more professionally, and in a more visible and active location.

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