"We have spent so much time hating ourselves. Time to love ourselves. And that, for all lesbians, as lovers, as comrades, as freedom fighters, is the final resistance."
Queers tend to be cynical about love, ourselves included. After all, most of us usually learn about "love" as it is defined as a heterosexual norm, with marriage representing the most serious and sacred form of its expression. Love, according to this definition, creates a nice, safe, private world the family which offers protection from the hazards of everyday live. Love, for the more cynical, seems clichéd and hokey, like a hallmark card and a happy Hollywood ending. And because of the ways love is represented either as heterosexual union, hippie free-for-alls or the stuff of harlequin romance some may feel that a serious politic should not be based on love. Queer politics, one might say, are about anger and rage and power. Well, we believe love is, too. But can it work as a forceful political strategy?
Publicly, oppositionally, historically and loudly, queers stake our lives in love. In the '70s, during high levels of surveillance and police violence, queers went into the streets demanding sexual liberation. Today when national gay and lesbian leadership is trying to send us off into the army and then into the married couple, possibly the most vital thing that could happen to queer politics is to reclaim love as an oppositional strategy and redefine it away from heterosexual norms.
Consider the family as this country's preeminent model of love. Supposedly, the family is a space of safety, intimacy, and privacy. Hard at work all day, aggravated by the toils of our labor, the family supposedly offers us respite from the hardships of the public workaday world. The family is where we're supposed to go to "relax," kick back with a newspaper and reproduce some more laborers. Or so the story (myth) goes. And so the family falsely emerges as a place of safety and a happy Cleaver life. But, as anyone who has spent any time in a battered women's shelter knows, the family model has not protected women and children from violence. Even in families where physical violence doesn't occur, ideals of "love" mask the power that men have over women and parents have over children.
Queer have never had the same kind of access to privacy as the "traditional family." Some people have reacted against this by demanding their right to privacy. But, while the idea of equal treatment certainly is a sound one, we don't want to fall into the trap of supporting a system that protects patriarchal norms at all costs. We should fight against state control and surveillance of our bodies, but not by creating a privacy that mimics the nuclear family at the expense of vibrant and diverse communities. It's time to reject a fantasy of "privacy" and act up for our love rights! This is the power and the beauty of queer life. We have the potential to wrench apart a social order where the personal, the private and the public are maintained as separate realms. We have the capacity to upset the strict set of rules prescribing what is allowed to take place in each one. To be queer is to make love public, to take love and sex and desire out of the enclosed, private space of the heterosexual couple and the mythic family unit. Will you take the risk?
Where is the love?
In the normal, white, middle-class family who kicks their 15-year-old son out of the house for fucking the captain of the football team? Or in the courage and bravery of that boy when he goes to live on the streets, understanding his own desires in the face of hatred and violence? That's where the love is. Love is the butch-femme couple in 1940s Buffalo who went to the bars every Friday night claiming and producing a public culture for lesbians in the midst of unbelievable abuse and violence that they both expected and endured. Love, not just for their sexual partner, but for their community, is what kept them going to that bar after getting beaten up time and again. Although the bars were dangerous, they were also the space of community, love, desire and collective strength. Where is the love? In the AIDS "prevention" (read abstinence) ad campaigns on t.v. that can't even say the word "condom" but condescendingly insist that you should "take care of yourself" (you're worth waiting for, it tells us)? Or in the incredible resilience and strength of communities of gay men to re-invent sexual culture in the face of AIDS? You decide.
People hate us because we love one another. We've all participated in family dinners, school dances, offices parties, etc. where coming out meant risking humiliation, rejection, or violence. In the face of hatred, we have maintained our self-respect. Despite the names and fists hurled at us, we keep loving each other.
What can we learn from this struggle to love? Because we know that it's possible to realize our dreams in a hostile world, we should also be able to envision all sorts of ways of being. We've rejected compulsory heterosexuality as a model; we can reject other bad models as well. Let's construct families that respect the rights of children that don't claim ownership and power over their lives. Let's make sure that our communities maintain our thorny differences. Now is the moment to embrace those who refuse to (who couldn't possibly) assimilate. And let's not ever forget what it feels like to be rejected, hated and physically attacked. Because if it's not happening to us today, it's happening to someone else. We live in a society where someone is always being placed on the margins, and a politics of love can help us to maintain a connection to the world around us.
Love is the vital life and yet untapped potential of queer revolutions. It can start to connect fragmented peoples and groups. Even though the "queer community" is extremely diverse, contested and dispersed, love may be one of the most powerful ways to create connections between us and open up avenues for solidarity work. The "love" we are describing isn't meant to erase or flatten out social, cultural, and political differences and styles. It respects them and gains energy and strength from the ways we diverge as well as the ways we come together. The power of love is to connect our politics to our lives, to define the stakes of an oppositional and transformative movement not only in abstract terms of "rights" but in the everyday terms of how we live the desire, the violence, the fear, the intimacy, the power, the anger, the sex, the people who take care of us, the families we create. A politics of love has the power to shift a revolutionary struggle from one based on identity to one based on the intensity of our experiences and the deep commitment to our survival. Radical love can bring black power, brown power, queer power, immigrants' rights, anti-poverty struggles, anti-racism struggles together not simply in coalition but fighting on the same battleground.
It's time for the love revolution.
Set it off.
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