Sunday, December 7

Sexual Programming and Laws

I wrote this on a whim and a rant, and it will appear in a journal about gender.

Sexual Programming and the Law: contemplating same-sex marriage and transgender rights  

or my unfortunately aborted career as a drag queen

There is an undercurrent of sexual energy that society structures to produce healthy, engaged individuals and sustain good institutions. What do you really desire when you are getting a law degree? A wife and kids? What do you really desire when you are competing in a sport? To be immediately muscular and attractive? The fulfillment of this desire is not necessarily immediate. If one has had their libido redirected into one pursuit which is sufficient outlet for them or has had a particularly bad experience with intimacy, there are roles to fill as well. What do you really desire when committing to celibacy for a religious purpose? Probably some sort of eschatological union which promises the kind of bliss you feel when you kneel before the priest to receive communion or worship. Society has built roles and avenues for sexual desire to be pursued in conjunction with things which build society and serve a greater purpose.

If you do not line up with these defined roles, you face greater challenges. Today I was contemplating whether or not I could make it as a drag queen. I would enjoy it for sure; it would be rigorous and I would have to give up my other pursuits, because as my friend said about professional drag, “Those bitches will eat you alive!” So I might be forced into a refined, highly artistic poverty. Not much cash to go around, but plenty of sequins. In a materialist sense, I would become pretty useless. But I could imagine my desire growing even in that poverty, even in that uselessness outside of the people in the audience to whom I would bring joy and entertainment and affirmation. I would sit in front of my dressing mirror, as if that mirror were an impenetrable wall, and throw myself at it with curses and crescendos in glory and get nowhere, but loving every useless second. And if I were in a place where that was the only outlet for my desire, I would take it and pursue it passionately.

I don’t blame straight people for being uncomfortable with gay people. I don’t think they immediately judge gays, I don’t think that they even immediately think that it is a sin. I think that straight people don’t understand the sexual program, and it is bothersome because their passions are set on a certain course in a different direction. In the same way a drag queen wouldn’t get along with the stiffs above ground, running around in their grey, straight, money filled worlds. She would build up her defenses, and try of course to lure them in with her charms, an effervescent evangelist. My inner drag queen pictures them being jealous of her freedom to pursue what she absolutely adores, and see their lives as just as futile as her own. The truth is that I have been raised to direct my desire toward providing for a family, and so the lifestyles of these stiffs appeals to me if it includes a partner I love and a family to provide for.

The question I ask my inner drag queen, and my inner above ground money-loving stiff is can we build a queer sexual program that fits in and contributes to society in concrete, meaningful ways? The answer is clearly yes, and the proof is in the queer people all around us who are contributing in wonderful ways to their communities, partners and families. But sometimes desires and experiences point us down different paths, and to different, less clear outlets for our lusting. An illustration that comes to mind is an anecdote my psychologist told me of the artist grants towns offer to attract gay men, and the single apartments they plan for in the midst of residential areas, because gay artists gentrify the area and raise property values. Creating art, which in a cold materialist view could be seen as pretty useless, becomes in a strange twist of modern capitalism an outlet for frustrated, single gay men who are brought to town to raise property values and ultimately taxes which will largely go to fund public schooling for children these men will never bear or raise.

Couldn’t we provide a legal framework that encourages gay people to build families and give in more concrete ways? Would not legalizing same sex marriage create a sexual program for gay people in this society which would direct them towards productive, stable lives that contribute to things above ground in concrete ways? Wouldn’t allowing same sex adoption, of course with all of the safeguards currently in place around heterosexual adoption, give gay kids growing up now something to look forward to, plan for, and build their lives around which will immediately contribute to society? Isn’t raising a healthy next generation inherently good? I think we need all the help we can get. Give orphans to gays to raise, and make sure that gays grow up stable and with outlets for their desire that leave the option of living entirely above ground available. And make sure that our transgender citizens have the same opportunities and privileges.

It is time that our laws help us all build a better society. Making same sex marriage illegal will lead to the same underground outlets that illegalizing marijuana created. Except this isn’t a mild drug that is being illegalized, this is love which has the potential to build enduring, supererogatory partnerships.

If this course seems like a “slippery slope”, it may well be a slippery slope for some. That is, it may well be a challenge to a straight person’s sexual programming. It may be uncomfortable and deeply disturbing even. But try to put my inner drag queen into a lifetime of wearing a suit and she would tell you it is just as disturbing. It may make a straight person feel some sexual programming dysmorphia, (body dysmorphia is the term used to describe how a transgender person feels when they are not comfortable in their body). It may make a straight person feel uncomfortable about his marriage or hopes for marriage, but for a queer person that discomfort is known territory.

So here is some advice from a drag queen who has some experience living in a straight world. Remember that it isn’t the law that helps you be straight, it isn’t even the years of tradition, it is your own libido honey, and nobody can take that away from you. The purpose of the law is not to erode family structures, but is rather trying to provide the same family structures for more people. Couples therapists will tell you that gay people have the same hopes when creating a family as straight people, and all of the same relationship issues and pitfalls. Think about what it would be like for a gay kid to grow up and not be able to raise a family. How would that have changed your life? If same-sex marriage still makes you uncomfortable, and you live in a state that hasn’t illegalized it yet, remember that you can always be as straight as you want underneath the legal framework. Sometimes it is enough for my inner drag queen to wear some sexy underwear underneath the suit. Would it be enough, for a straight person, to draw from the rich tradition of heterosexual art, literature, and ritual and look down at their wedding ring in the middle of the day to remind them that their sexual outlet is supported (is in fact, positively fabulous) when they are reminded that the legal code allows for more than what they might desire for themselves?