26 November 2010

Book Review: Why Marriage?


George Chauncey is an American historian and professor of history at Yale University in the United States. He wrote this book shortly after the 2004 US Presidential election which focused as an issue, same-sex marriage.

I was going through my library looking for books that I had bought or received and never read or for books to reread and I stumbled across this little volume. I remember buying it and not reading it. As a committed queer theorist at the time, at that time, I was deeply ambivalent about the marriage question feeling that the 'revolutionary' call of gay liberation was being suffocated by the marriage proponents.

I remember asking myself why the terms of the conversation were yes for same-sex marriage or no for same-sex marriage and the question of marriage not being the focal point.

In any event, I have discussed some of this at other points and I would refer readers to my post on Michael Warner's Trouble with Normal if you'd like to hear an additional thought on the topic.

Chauncey is certainly not Andrew Sullivan and thankfully so. Like my friend, a retired Supreme Court justice, he is practical. He starts with the premise that marriage is not a static institution and many of the claims regarding "traditional" in "traditional marriage" are really references to the whole hierarchical, male-dominated property-right regime of pre-Capitalist Europe.

He shows why same-sex marriage is so hotly contested, not because of a real threat to heterosexuality or marriage from loving, committed relationships of same-sex couples, but because of four changes in American society that have altered our understanding of marriage, that has made same-sex marriage conceivable and that conceivability is the underlying threat:
Four fundamental changes in marriage since the nineteenth century have made the right to marry seem both more imaginable and more urgent to lesbians and gay men. In its own time each of these changes seemed as momentous as the prospect of same-sex marriage does today. First, the right to choose one's partner in marriage, no matter how much that choice distressed one's family, ethnic community, and co-religionists, came to be seen as a fundamental civil right. Second, the sharp differences in the marital roles assigned husbands and wives declined, so that it became easier to imagine a marriage between two people of the same gender. Third, marriage became a crucial nexus for the allocation of public and private rights and benefits, so that the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage imposed increasingly significant economic and legal consequences. Finally, the power of any one religious group to impose its marriage rules on others, while never strong, sharply declined.
The book goes into tremendous historical detail, relevant and easily contextualized, to understand exactly how same-sex marriage was an inevitable consequence of the modernization of family life in the U.S. (and elsewhere). It is the third point, more than any other, however, that Chauncey focuses on for Why Marriage? as opposed to other things.

The story is complicated and the U.S. has really linked social security services to recognized family forms. He goes into detail which is fascinating. The main thrust was the consequences of that married/family structured social security net and two phenomena: gay men's experiences when friends and partners died of AIDS and lesbian's experiences of trying to raise children. It turned out that "private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot directly, or indirectly, give them effect[,]" did not apply to same-sex couples. (Chauncey citing Palmore v. Sindoti, 466 U.S. 429 (1984))

Many lifetime partners were denied hospital visitation with their partner in the last days, hours or minutes of the partners life. Once dead, the hospital would turn to the families of the dead and not the partner and would exclude the partner from any participation. Well crafted wills were contested by families claiming that the partner had 'unduly influenced' the dead partner to defeat the will of the dead partner. Chauncey does summarize many of the more publicized cases that were reported in the mainstream media in the 1980s and 1990s.

At the same time, lesbian mothers were stripped of their parental rights, harassed and discriminated again. In one case, the commonwealth of Virginia's legal system terminated a mother's parental rights (already a single mother) because lesbianism is a "class 6 felony." Chauncey goes into the more publicized cases that appeared in the 1980s and 1990s.

But these experiences and the shifts in the role and purpose of marriage in American society answered the question of Why Marriage? While right-wing gay activists were claiming that marriage would "civilize" gays and lesbians, many gays and lesbians looked to marriage as a legally recognized institution to eliminate the uncertainty and unnecessary suffering associated with a non-legitimate relationship.

I always was fascinated by the recycling of arguments that evangelical, fundamentalist Christians used in the 1940s-1960s against desegregation and integration of Black Americans. In the 1950s, the main sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not homosexuality, as has been played up in recent decades. In the 1940s and 1950s, fundamentalist preachers claimed it was race-mixing and interracial marriage!

In a sermon the late fundamentalist preacher leader Jerry Falwell gave in 1958, he said: "If we mix the races in schools, in churches, the ultimate end will be the social mixing which can only lead to marital relationships." In the 1950s, it was widely believed that the tempter of Eve was not a serpent but a Black man. In the late 1990s when US senators debated same-sex marriage, Southern senators referred to Noah and "one male and one female" for proof that God intended heterosexual couples to "be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth." Yet, in the 1950s, that same argument was used extensively to oppose racial integration. Chauncey cites one 1954 pamphlet: "God destroyed 'all flesh' in that part of the world for that one sin... Only Noah was 'perfect in his generation' ... so God saved him and his family to rebuild the Adamic Race."

He does not use this to say that LGBT struggles are the same as Black America's struggles. Only, in the limited instance of opposing same sex marriage, the same Biblical stories are brought out that were used against integration and desegregation.

This small volume is worth reading for LGBT advocates anywhere in the world and for those interested in looking to the causes and conditions of a same-sex marriage movement. It is a great complement to How the Religious Right Shaped Lesbian and Gay Activism.

The version I read was a 224 page paperback published by Basic Books (December 13, 2005), ISBN-13: 978-0465009589. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks.com (and its for the hardcover at $1).

24 November 2010

Pope Really Meant It, Transsexuals too

A merry Christmas for AIDS activists round the world

The full story, Vatican: Condoms lesser evil for heterosexuals too

Snippet:

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told reporters Tuesday that he asked the pope whether he intended his comments to only apply to male prostitutes. Benedict replied that it really didn't matter, that the important thing was the person in question took into consideration the life of the other, Lombardi said.

"I personally asked the pope if there was a serious, important problem in the choice of the masculine over the feminine," Lombardi said. "He told me no. The problem is this ... It's the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another with whom you have a relationship."

"This is if you're a man, a woman, or a transsexual. We're at the same point. The point is it's a first step of taking responsibility, of avoiding passing a grave risk onto another," Lombardi said.

22 November 2010

Movie Review: The Sensei

It never occurred to me watching this movie that it had any Filipino connection. You see, I didn't pay attention when D. Lee Inosanto flashed over the screen. Of course, that mistake ended when the grandmother in one scene started shouting Tama Na! Tama Na! to two brothers fighting. It took me a few minutes after and then I replayed the scene. Yep. Tama Na! is what she is shouting. It's funny because I thought earlier, this woman doesn't seem to have a Japanese or even fake Japanese accent. I guess they didn't have the budget. It is only later that Lee Inosanto tells a Pure Land Buddhist minister that she was raised in a Japanese and Filipino mixed household.

That being said, this is a great movie about the dangers of narrow-mindedness and the power of love. The lesson that every warrior must learn is not that "you have a right to defend yourself against hatred" but that it is being in contact with the power of love (including self-love) which is the ultimate protection. A few scenes are a little slow but worth the watch.

happy birthday victor =P

21 November 2010

Pope's New Direction on Condoms

"Tu vuò fa l' americano?"


Preview snippets:

Benedict upholds the view that the Roman Catholic Church does not see condoms as “a real or moral solution,” and says that they are “not really the way to deal with the evil of H.I.V. infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.”

...

“It is not only the abuse that is upsetting, it is also the way of dealing with it. The deeds themselves were hushed up and kept secret for decades. That is a declaration of bankruptcy for an institution that has love written on its banner.” [Benedict said]

16 November 2010

12 November 2010

Book Review: Celluloid Comrades

Song Hwee Lim is a Film Studies lecturer in the United Kingdom. The research of this book was the basis of his doctoral dissertation.

I found this book to be refreshing in many respects. It more or less disposed of many of the postmodernist arguments about representation and still addressed issues of colonialism, imperialism, etc., without doing what many postmodernist theorists do, indirectly, exoticize the East by villainizing the West. Lim's piece more or less just moves the West out of the frame of the shot and looks primarily at Chinese gay cinema. He doesn't deny the effects of globalization or the role of "film festival" capital at channeling how Chinese gay cinema comes to be created, but does not fall into the trap of many Western theorists set for themselves by indirectly asserting Western supremacy in the production of Chinese cinema.

Now, enough with that, the book got me to thinking about the first time I saw the Wedding Banquet, Farewell my Concubine, Happy Together and East Palace, West Palace. These are the primary films that Lim deals with. It has been ten or fifteen years since I've seen any of them. When I subsequently read film criticism about them in English journals, I almost felt guilty for the affect the films produced in me. I identified with the main Asian character in the Wedding Banquet and in Happy Together, I felt like a struggle between my inner-Fai and inner-Po-wing was raging on and on occasionally spilling out into a love life where sometimes I was Fai and sometimes Po-wing and wondering when my own Chang would come. (I know, heavy of the father issues, di ba?)

With East Palace, West Palace, it reminded me of the complexity surrounding many young gay Manileños who have adopted this Western approach to sexuality and gender where kabaklaan is somehow an inchoate identity or a retarded form of homosexuality or a backward or primitive relic of a savage past. (This has seeped into theory elsewhere, but I'm not going there, for now.) I was captured by the movie when it first came out. It was tragic, all around. Although I was more focused on the seduction of the police officer, it really wasn't until later, did I see how I was being seduced by the entire constellation of images and how much in identification I was with Ah Lan's character. Ultimately, it was a struggle of Ah Lan and Xiaoshi, in me, that was engaging in a careful dance. The question and issue of my own masochism.

This is a must read for any survey of gay Film Studies.

The version I read was a 247 page paperback published by University of Hawai'i Press (February, 2007), ISBN-13: 978-0824830779. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at amazon.com.

10 November 2010

Queer and Loathing


There is a great article in November/December 2010 issue of Mother Jones about gay kids in the U.S. foster system and the failures of the system. It's worth reading.