[semi] daily academia 11252008

Question of the day: How long did it take for someone to write the word “homonormativity”?

1995: “In a society whose institutions embody a presumption of heteronormativity and homo deviance, arguing that we are just like everyone else convinces no one. Further, the argument may not be true: we are just like heteros in the fact of our humanity, but I believe we differ markedly in our view of sexuality, gender, power, and moraity. The values around which we have built gay and lesbian relationships, made family, and formed communities are not identical with the values that we were raised to hold by our hetero parents – nor are they merely the gay and lesbian mirror images of those straight values. They are values that are uniquely our own, arising our of our experience as outsiders, built out of the experiencing of resisting sexual repression.” (Vaid 1995: 46). 

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was re-reading Urvashi Vaid’s Virtual Equality recently. This is a tiny snippet of it – from 1995. It seems like “the gay and lesbian mirror images” of “straight values” is exactly the definition of homonormativity from which we work – from which we begin. Yet, it took until 2002 for Lisa Duggan to write about it in an essay in Materializing Democracy and suddenly it’s a chic term.

In 2008, Susan Stryker wrote “the term was an intuitive, almost self-evident, back-formulation from the ubiquitous heteronormative, suitable for use where homosexual community norms marginalized other kinds of sex/gender/sexuality difference” (Stryker 2008: 147). If it was so intuitive – why was it intuitive in 2002 and not in 1995? Perhaps the naming of something so simple and so obvious was unnecessary? Perhaps homonormativity is nothing more than the gay and lesbian mirror image of heteronormativity – the gay and lesbian rights movement almost posits it that way these days.

Yet Lisa Duggan gave it a little bit more. In describing the aim of homonormativity, she wrote that it worked toward “a politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them, while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency, and a gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption.” (Duggan 2002: 179).

The more she gave it was the connection to neoliberalism and capitalist consumption. If, indeed, Jonathan Ned Katz was right, and capitalism led to the creation of both homo and hetero sexual identities (particularly, the industrial revolution and the move away from family-based economies), then any further production of sexuality and sexual difference within the homo part of the divide (or at least the non-hetero part) must necessarily be linked to capitalism. And since neoliberal politics and globalization have taken over, each production must also be linked to neoliberalism and globalization – including consumerism and the denial of production – and the shift of production to the Third World. This equates somewhat to the distancing of everything found to be dirty within society – Americans are too clean for this (and so are Europeans), so all the dirty work gets shipped out to people who are so unlike us – so un-American – that they deserve only dirty, soiled work – work no respectable, self-respecting person would do.

So, perhaps it took the entrenchment of neoliberal ideology and globalization into the lives of average Americans for the word “homonormativity” to become the intuitive, self-evident back-formulation of heteronormativity that Stryker (2008) says it is. Or perhaps we were too busy with queer?

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