Adam Frew argues that the struggle for LGBT equality must be about much more than achieving equal marriage rights.
As we enter LGBT History month the movement to secure rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans peoples has made a plethora of political gains over the many years people have been fighting for equal rights. The term ‘gay rights’ no doubt does a disservice to the many fights being waged under the banner of LGBT, but it has long been a common terminology that people fighting for equality have identified with. Keeping this in mind, one of the battlegrounds for equality in the 21st Century is the fight for gay-marriage.
It might seem contradictory to discuss the issue of contemporary gay-marriage when writing about LGBT History month, but we must ask: as more and more countries and jurisdictions legalise gay-marriage, will full legal equality around the world be the culmination of our movement? Will the politics of LGBT rights enter into post-history?
If indeed marriage equality around the world for all people is the ultimate objective of the movement then we will be left bitterly disappointed. Curiously, however, it is also one of the most important rights we must secure before the real advances in society can be made.
True freedom of sexuality extends far beyond the confines of ‘gay’, ‘straight’, ‘bisexual’, ‘transgender’ et al. We know nothing about ‘human nature’. If such a thing even exists it may be impossible to decipher – but ‘human behaviour’ is a more fluid and malleable aspect of our species, and something we can observe that tells us humans are capable of a vast array of feelings, emotions, beliefs, morals and principals derived from our self-constructed socio-economic environment. Under the confines of class societies, driven by wage exploitation and the profit motive, we are incapable of exploring the full spectrum of experiences that would otherwise be available to us.
Sexuality is just one faculty of human existence controlled and defined by a ruling class who tell us that to behave one way is to lead to this type of lifestyle, and to behave another way is to lead to another type of lifestyle, and we are expected to adhere to our taught stereotypes. Hence our confusion or surprise on seeing the ‘straight-acting gay guy’ or ‘feminine lesbian’. Sexual freedom is the exploration of all dimensions of sexuality at any time of our choosing throughout our lives, without the confines of labels or stereotypes, let alone criminal prosecution or the death penalty.
Yet, this brings us back to the fight for marriage equality. The de-criminalization of ‘homosexual acts’, banning discriminatory labour laws, introducing inheritance and adoption rights, establishing civil-partnerships, and finally marriage rights, are seen as the milestones of progress in our movement. But many in LGBT politics also fall prey to the capitalist definitions and notions of sexuality which threatens to pacify the movement by arguing that equal marriage is the endgame of our struggle. In a society where sexual freedom is possible there will be no gay or straight people – there will just be people. And if marriage is what two people choose then no barrier should stop them.
That society is not now however. In a capitalist system rights must be won by the pressure of the many on the few. Presently, the LGBT movement is fighting on all fronts to win these legal rights, despite the conservatism that has taken root over the past 20 years in the established vanguard. The outbreak of HIV/Aids was a massive set-back for society which called time on the explosion of sexual exploration that emerged across the US and Western Europe. Without the energy of huge swathes of people expressing themselves in the most open culture permissible at the time, the movement stagnated.
Those who stood against gay rights went on the offensive, attacking homosexuality as an unhealthy way of life on a par with paedophilia or polygamy. The LGBT establishment, now in rear-guard action, began to articulate arguments advancing the idea of the ‘gay-gene’ as definitive proof that being gay is not a lifestyle choice. The logic of this is that rights should be granted to LGBT peoples in much the same manner as people born with a non-white skin colour or with disabilities because, as Lady Gaga so aptly put it, we were “born this way”.
Though the evidence for the existence of a ‘gay-gene’ is highly questionable and likely promoted merely as a political tool, it is also important not to fall prey to the ‘lifestyle’ argument. I would offer that sexuality is something developed deep within us at the earliest stages of our social development from birth. It is neither genetically encoded within us, but neither can it be ‘learned’ or ‘unlearned’ depending on one’s particular social environment or circumstances. The social factors which influence us in our early lives are so immeasurably nuanced that, although no-one can be born with a defined sexuality, they may as well have been, as the ultimate outcome is the same.
Full legal equality is not an end in itself. As socialist we stand side-by-side with those demanding these final rights that complete the move to full equality between same and opposite-sex marriages, but we must be clear – legal equality is not real equality. The current fights by the LGBT establishment and wider movement must, however, be our own. We must be critical of regressive arguments from within but be unconditional in our support for equality.
The legal rights won are for everyone to benefit from, but more importantly, they are the vanguard for which a more fluid, uncategorized, label-less sexual society can exist in the wake of. Only then will the LGBT movement achieve post-history. But until that society is realised, every person who enjoys these rights must identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. This is a political statement, a statement which advances LGBT politics and forces people to engage in arguments of equality.
From International Socialist Group site.
Adam Frew is a renewable energy design engineer, a Radical Independence activist and a member of the International Socialist Group based in the South side of Glasgow