straighten the queers
Tolerating the queers at once marginalizes the
queers and legitimates "our" own sense of straightness
By Afsaneh Najmabadi
March 8, 2004
I must start with a confession: When I first read "Being
straight with queers," I was tempted to write a response with a title
like: "What a straight job on the queers!" Then I was
reminded of the hadith-i nabavi, a prophetic narrative, about woman,
which goes something like this: "Woman is crooked [being born
from the rib of Adam]; don't straighten her, she will break." So
I wanted to echo the prophet's words: "Don't straighten the
On second thought, I remembered the sometimes rampant,
but more often subtle, homophobia that has been expressed in the
the columns of Iranian.com by some writers. So perhaps even a patronizing
normalizing tolerance is better than intolerance.
But more seriously: here is my trouble with Golnar
Shirazi's well-wishing piece.
The article is structured, from its very beginning
with the sub-title "Let
us stop hating homosexuals," around two categories of people:
we/us, the straights, and then those other people, they/them, the
queers. The "we" includes, beyond the "I" of
the text, through the address of the article ("Let us...")
and its content, the readers of this article, in particular the
Iranian readers of Iranian.com, thus prescribed as straight.
the margins of this straight community there are some queers.
Queers are persistently referred to with the use of third person
reminding me of parents who talk about their children in the
third person, as if they were not in the room. It seems that in
room of Iranian.com no queer reader is expected to intrude.
Shirazi is pleading for "our" tolerance of these queers
by connecting to the national spectacle of gay and lesbian marriages.
This national scene provides the occasion for declaring queers
as almost "virtually normal": "They" are almost
as normal as "us". The normality of "us" straights
of course always goes without saying; heterosexuality never needs
an explanation, nor do we see its constant public display as a
sign of its need to state itself over and over again.
On the other
hand, the displayed visibility of the desire of some gay and lesbians
to marry in public is taken to be a singular sign of their normality:
they are happy and want to get married, they stay home and take
care of their kids, they work hard, they are ambitious, are intelligent,
beautiful,.... The listing of virtual normality goes on and
on. By doing the same things as "we" do in "our" daily
lives, "they" have gained the privilege of not being
hated by "us."
It is for the normalized queers that Shirazi
is begging tolerance. The problem with tolerance is that, to be
frank, we tolerate not what we like, not what we think belongs
to our community, but what we really would prefer not to have in
our midst, but then being nice tolerant people, we know better;
tolerating the queers at once marginalizes the queers and legitimates "our" own
sense of straightness.
Yet, not all queers are or wish to be so normal.
Being normal is not as "natural" as one may think. As de Beauvoir said
about woman, one is not born a woman, one becomes one. None of
us are born normal; becoming normal is a "learning process," a
continuous struggle to perform what a culture at a particular point
in history has come to define as norms of normal womanhood and
manhood, straight and queer.
Normalcy gains its meaning through
many repetitious daily performances; we all modify gender and sexual
scripts as we perform; sometimes more radically, sometimes through
resistance to the norms. Queer norm-resisters appear in Shirazi's
article by their exclusion from the good gays: occasionally the
modifier "most" creeps in; "Most gay people I know..." "Most
of the people I see getting married...."
It turns out
that after all "some" queers refuse to be normalized;
these terrible folks continue to engage in life styles that perpetuate
instead of "breaking the stereotypes of the gay lifestyle" against
all these other "normaller than normal" queers. Do "they" deserve "our" tolerance?
Yes, there are many privileges that the legal contract
of marriage bestows upon husband and wife and deprives other partners
in the rush to get marriage extended to gay and lesbians, what
gets lost is the recognition that this rush is because partners
have been refused those social goods through any other legally
recognized sanction; why could we not have extended such goods
to partners who have formed "families of their choice" to
love and care for each other?
Some gays and lesbians have turned
to extension of marriage as the way to obtain them; others (including
both straights and queers) are less jubilant about this; as the
extension of marriage is at the same time a reiteration of marriage
as the only recognizable institution through which such social
amenities and recognition are bestowed. As such it reinforces
marriage as a key normalizing institution in this society.
As a friend recently said, "Otherness begins at home." It
seems that one place that otherness of Iranian queers starts is
on the home page of Iranian.com.
Afsaneh Najmabadi teaches History and Studies of Women, Gender,
and Sexuality at Harvard University.