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Queering my mind, opposing the textual fundamentalism of the Right

I've often said that my identity as both “queer” and “gay” is a direct criticism of textuality, and after this recent vacation I've had time to think more about what I mean by that statement.

It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I don't like fundamentalisms. Anyone that relies on words on a sheet of paper and someone else's interpretation of those words for moral guidance isn't free and isn't living their own life.

And if there's something that can't be described on paper, it's sexuality. The wordless mania of an orgasm, the strong and silent pull of attraction, the emotional reaction to desire – it's non-textual. There's no McSexuality because sexuality can't be reduced and replicated in a way that works for everyone.

Not that some people won't try. And that's pretty much what heteronormativity is, or any sort of sexual normalization: trying to make one form of sexual expression fit everyone based on the assumption that it can. There's one reduced form of sexuality, one way to have relationships, one way to express desire, and it works for everyone (never mind the fact that most people don't follow it, it still works!).

Fundamentalisms assume the same thing that sexual normalization assumes about sexuality, but instead with regards to other aspects of the way people live their lives. A Christian fundamentalist takes the Bible literally and assumes that there's only one interpretation of that text (always his or her own, conveniently), a libertarian takes the Constitution to only have one interpretation (which seems to benefit those in power), etc. There's one interpretation, it fits everyone's experiences, and if you don't like it you have to suck it up and deal with it.

I think this is why people wonder so much about how a country like the US, with such a strong tradition of Separation of Church and State, can also have such a strong Christian fundamentalist influence on politics. They're influenced by the same epistemology of textuality, but they rely on different texts.

But Americans love just reading something and taking it literally, setting up black-and-white borders around interpretation, and then just arguing over which text is more important.

Not that there aren't ways to advocate the Separation of Church and State that aren't flatly textual (or be Christian, for that matter). They'd start with an inclination towards multiple voices and a recognition of context. As someone who'd fall on the side of separating the two concepts in practice, I'd defend it anyway if for nothing other than I don't want to live in Pat Robertson's vision for America.

But a textual fundamentalism about such a concept can turn against its original goals by becoming a strait-jacket instead of a guiding principle. A flat separationist attitude can lead to a situation, for example, where private individuals use their religion as an excuse not to hire gay people. If their religion is really telling them to fire the queers, then can a government that doesn't interfere with religion punish them?

And, of course, this would go against the primary intent of the Separation of Church and State – that people are free to choose the religion of their conscience without interference from various loci of power.

Getting to the point, I think this is why we often see the “Religious Right” battling “Small Government Conservatives” on the right. It's easy to say that they're just in an alliance for political convenience, but, then again, anyone else could be in such an alliance. And considering the major policy differences between the two factions, it's hard to believe that a coalition of convenience would have lasted this long or have been this powerful.

It's something I see in libertarian-conservative sorts like Andrew Sullivan or George Will – the same sort of reliance the Religious Right has on the Bible, instead directed at the Constitution (or the Federalist Papers, as Will is so fond of mentioning). They're the same thing – they're just arguing over which text to interpret literally, flatly, and decontextually.

Which helps explain the coalitions of the left – when you're not in a position of power, you don't have the privilege of believing that your worldview is universal – you're reminded daily that your experiences are different, abnormal. It makes you think bigger picture and helps put yourself in others' shoes, the exact things that libertarian or Christian fundamentalists are bad at.

Originally posted on The Bilerico Project. 



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Alex Blaze

Alex Blaze