Thursday, December 20, 2007

Anne Lorimer:
Do Tibetans Think Iran Is In The Middle East?
Or: From What Direction Is This Utopia Gay?

Hey Noah. Your symposium’s topic is timely and intriguing. But one thing troubles me: why the heck is it called gay utopia? Since it doesn’t belong as a utopian project to gay men, nor is same-sex orientation, male or female, what's at the center of its content. Rather, the title's resonance depends on the recent schoolboy sense of "gay" as embarrassing, not-quite-right, etc., and more generally on how gayness functions as a put-down in milieux in which you and Bert enjoy playing and ventriloquizing.

If I choose not to enter this frame, your gayness reads not as self-mocking utopian aspiration but as misguided minstrelsy, a
topsy-turvy misunderstanding of a world actual people are building. Let me illustrate.Last Thursday, Rebecca and I went to see Dan Savage speak at Reed. He talked for a while about how gay folks need to have less sex than they can (because 1970s-level germ-swapping isn't “biologically sustainable”), how he doesn't go down on men in airport bathrooms (other than his boyfriend) because he has too much self-respect, and how he'd like to instill in his fellow gay men a healthy sense of cooties. And in this regard he positions himself as a reformer, I'll grant you, rather than as speaking for his fellow gay men. But he also talked about how when he first moved to Seattle he had 5 lesbian friends, of whom 3 are now married to men, and 2 are men; and how this simply doesn't happen to his gay male friends.

(He then went on to say that he thinks this is a result of human genetic evolution –- you may be able to get Rebecca to write down for your blog a rant (with many chunks of anthropology) about why this is a dumb theory, if that's something you're interested in.)

Anyway, the point is, calling what you're talking about “gay utopia” rather than "bi-trans-androgynous free-love utopia" (or just "bi utopia", if it's brevity you're after) comes off as rather naively bigoted, because it suggests that the only way to have a gay utopia is for people to have more hip, postmodern flexibility & freedom in their sexuality -- as if there weren't folks whose set-in-stone identity is gay, or stone butch, or what have you.

And that's surely not what you meant, nor want to promote more of in the blogosphere.

A minor note: in your message you use as examples of “gay utopia” Susie Bright and The Left Hand of Darkness. Whereas plenty of Bright's buy-more-vibrators cheerleading encourages us to think of ourselves as living in a pomo consumer paradise, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness is not a sexuality-is-freedom utopia, nor a gay utopia (hello, all the sex is het sex!), nor the sort of utopia that exists only as a hermetically sealed elsewhere, rather than being imbricated in explicit, politically problematic links to the author’s society. I actually found the book really confusing and disconcerting the first time I read it, because of how much it violated my philistine genre expectations. What made the book make sense to me was M. Suzanne Menair explaining it’s a tragic love story. And the tragic androgynous hero certainly isn't shown experiencing sexuality as freedom when he gets trapped during his change with a manipulative politician, nor for that matter with the human explorer. Your invitation mentions you “find any utopian project a little ridiculous”; but I reckon utopian projects are truly ridiculous insofar as they seek to hop into an elsewhere and pull up the rabbithole behind them, or think change will bring us into a socially unmediated world, where good intentions map transparently into good results, etc. -- and am glad to know Kroeber's daughter was smarter than that.


PS: Yes, actually, Tibetan monks who find themselves living in exile in northern India do speak of "the Middle East". The sun never sets on the British Empire!

©Anne Lorimer. Used by permission.

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